8 June 2013

The Misnomer of Family Planning

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase "family planning"? Maybe you think of the WHO definition of it simply being a way to plan the number and spacing of children through contraceptive means or treating infertility.  I think most, though, focus on the first part and not the second, and never consider that it might include a woman who is fertile choosing to add to their family either through NFP or just by letting things happen.  

Now, of course there are times when a couple might decide that it is best if they postpone having a child for a time, and that certainly can be a part of family planning.  My objection is that, for most it seems, family planning denotes avoiding children and nothing else.  Even though the WHO includes treating infertility in their definition, the main page on family planning focused on limiting the number of children.  The local family planning website didn't mention help with conceiving at all, only stating that they provided pregnancy tests, contraceptives, and counseling.  Another health site described a typical visit at their family planning clinic and again only discussed contraceptives along with STD prevention.  So whatever the official definition, the connotation is one of preventing conception through contraceptives.

Unfortunately, this mindset then enters the view of NFP.  When people ask about NFP or want to learn about it, many do so meaning that they want to know how to avoid conception.  Some, of course, recognise that NFP is, at its core, about knowledge of one's reproductive health and potential and learn it for that reason, and some are seeking to conceive and learn for that.  Most of the couples who come to me, though, wish to avoid conceiving for a time. As an instructor, I find I have to be careful in how I talk about NFP, too, so I don't focus on that one aspect alone, so pervasive is this view. 

I don't know exactly what to do to combat this view and get people to start viewing "family planning" as truly talking about planning one's family.  I hope that talking about it and ensuring I use it in this way could help slowly change that view.  Sometimes I'm unsure how I feel about "family planning" as a term even then, since it inevitably implies that one should plan a family instead of taking things as they come.  That's not to say that planning is bad, for it isn't, but I think we sometimes obsess about planning for everything.  There is certainly a time when more rigid planning is needed, but I'm not convinced it should be the default or that it is bad if a couple chooses not to plan as such.  In fact, I'd lean towards the default being to do nothing, and then use NFP as needed. (Note: I differentiate between charting in order to know one's cycle for general health reasons and identifying a more accurate EDD and charting to avoid conceiving).

I suppose all I can do is be a witness through my own family, and watch how I talk about it when I'm teaching NFP. And maybe I'm just weird in even thinking about it like this. Even with my complaints I am glad my diocese requires NFP instruction during marriage preparation so couples can perhaps start thinking about this more.

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