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Francis FaithfullyLookingForAnswers wrote:

Hi, guys —

My wife's OB/GYN suggested we not get pregnant for at least two years because of an emergency C-section that occurred during our first pregnancy at 29 weeks.

A pregnancy within two years of the first has a high chance of ending in death for both the mother and the baby.

  • Should we be expected to abstain for two years?

We don't trust NFP (Natural Family Planning, the Creighton Method) because that is what we were utilizing when we got pregnant the first time.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


  { In this situation, should we, as a couple, be expected to abstain from relations for two years? }

Fr. Tad Pacholczyk from the National Catholic Bioethics Center replied:

Dear Francis,

In general, when there are serious reasons to avoid a pregnancy, one must choose morally appropriate means for doing so. The

phrases it this way:

52. Catholic health institutions may not promote or condone contraceptive practices but should provide, for married couples and the medical staff who counsel them, instruction both about the Church's teaching on responsible parenthood and in methods of natural family planning.

Periodic abstinence, NFP, or complete abstinence would be morally acceptable options. Contraception as a freely chosen action would not represent a morally licit (acceptable) option. The decision to have a tubal ligation, similarly, would represent a disordered action, directed against one's own body, where a healthy and properly functioning organ of the body would be mutilated.

Whenever we choose contraception or direct sterilization, we are choosing to treat our sexual fecundity as if it were an evil, by acting directly against it, when it is objectively a good. Whenever we act in such a manner that we treat a good directly as if it were an evil, such an action is an inherently disordered and unreasonable kind of action on our part.

Periodic abstinence does not treat sexual fecundity as an evil, because whenever we choose to share marital intimacy with our spouse, the act remains open to the possibility of transmitting life, which it is properly ordered to.

In my article, [PDF] "A Future Pregnancy Would Be Too Risky . . ." I said:

"While it is clear that we cannot survive without food or water, it is false to assume, as our culture seems to do, that we cannot survive without sexual gratification. Sex is not necessary for individual survival, nor indispensable for a healthy and fulfilled personal life. For a single person, in fact, a healthy and fulfilled personal life will depend on the proper ordering of the sexual faculties through the self discipline of abstinence, and an attendant growth in virtue. This holds true in marriage as well, where spouses must pursue the discipline of sexual self-restraint at various times if the marriage relationship is to grow and flourish. They may have to practice such discipline under conditions of military deployment, work-related absences, and chronic or acute illnesses."

You said:

  • Should we be expected to abstain for two years?

It depends on the circumstances — complete abstinence is sometimes morally required in marriage.

In addition to my article, I am including another titled:

NFP and the Telo of Sex

Both deal with the issue of avoiding a future pregnancy, NFP, etc.

I hope you find them interesting.


Fr. Tad
National Catholic Bioethics Center

Bob replied:

Dear friend,

You have two alternatives to choose from if the medical advice you received was indeed accurate:

  1. abstinence or
  2. reducing the risk of pregnancy in an attempt to keep your intimate life active.

First, I would say that is a very difficult choice to make but I have friends that waited five years for intimacy when they discovered they needed an annulment from a former marriage. Their marriage still bloomed despite the sacrifice and when they re-engaged their intimacy they got pregnant pretty quickly with their second child. It can be done — even joyfully when love abounds.

If you feel the risk is worth it, try getting a better more comprehensive NFP teacher. Not all practitioners are equally adept at utilizing and instructing on successful use of the method.
We have friends that have had incredible success both in achieving and postponing pregnancy.

If it was me, I would wait it out, but that is a very personal choice. You should pray independently and then come together to see where you are each led. God will show you the way and you can find His Answer best through this prayer when you come together and see if a consensus is found in your hearts.

My wife and I have done this more than once in big life decisions and it has always brought peace and clarity.

Best wishes and God bless you,

Bob Kirby

Dr. Stephen Napier from the National Catholic Bioethics Center replied:

Dear Mike:

Thank you for contacting us. I think you are correct in categorizing this as a pastoral issue for which the Church and her members need to support this couple. The Church's moral teachings are not easy to follow, nor should they be. A moral standard I can reach is no moral standard.

There are basically two options:

  1. Practice NFP more conservatively. Get some professional feedback on the wife's cycles if they are irregular. The Pope Paul the VI Institute has a consultation service for couples seeking to practice NFP faithfully.
  2. Abstain for two years.

We cannot give medical or legal advice. I can advise the couple to get a second opinion on whether another pregnancy within two years is a death sentence for either mother or child.

Hope this helps,

Dr. Napier

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