What is the Nature of "Natural Fertility?"

I am trying to understand the point Devona is making regarding the natural fertility of a healthy woman. To be honest, I enjoyed my Lenten blogging fast so much that I was tempted not to begin blogging again! ;-) My home blog, beggarsall, is closing in on its 50,000th visitor. That's overwhelming, and scary insofar as it is like a black hole that can suck in a lot of time - something I don't have a lot to spare, with 6 kids and lots of jobs and responsibilities at home, church, and school.

Anyway, Devona writes: "It [a healthy woman's natural fertility] very much relates to the topic of contraception inasmuch as the culture (as we have discussed before) treats fertility as an illness to be treated and controlled by medication. But if one understands the natural unmedicated workings of a healthy woman's cycle, by which I mean more than just her monthly cycle, we can learn a great deal about the great care God took when making us reproductive beings."

The first question I have is this: Is learning about God's creation of man and woman as reproductive beings the true extent of your purpose in expounding upon knowledge gleaned from NFP teachers? Are you sure you do not have any motive tucked in here (intentional or unintentional) of advocating NFP prior to making the case for its being God-pleasing? If not, why the statement: "I could go on and on in order to help explain this, but it is really best if you find a good source for NFP and learn from a trained professional."

I certainly agree that a knowledge of how God designed us as reproductive beings would be helpful. However, there is a huge difference between a general knowledge of human physiology and the charting of one's own personal fertility cycles - the former possibly being helpful in understanding God's creation, the latter being a matter of being able to use such personal knowledge to our own selfish purposes. We are by nature 100% sinful! If we are to fear, love, and trust God alone, are we not tempting ourselves by tracking our personal fertility on a daily basis?

Finally, I'd like to ask: Are you sure that the way our natural fertility works in this fallen world tells us what God's initial perfect plan was in the beginning? Creation was fatally damaged in the fall. Many excellent theologians theorize that pre-fall fertility was intended to be much higher than that which resulted post-fall - possibly not inhibited at all by days of the month or nursing, etc. Pain and tribulation were certainly increased. Is it not possible that studying the relative times of fertility and infertility will tell us more about our fallen world than about God's perfect creative plan?

Once again, I think the problem here is a matter of getting the cart before the horse. What do the cycles of the natural fertility of the so-called "healthy" woman really tell us about? I think they tell us about the perversion of God's creation by sin, death, and the Devil. The image of God is so damaged that we can only see a shadow of it in the current state of nature, as if we are looking in a shattered mirror.

Rather than looking at nature, we should be looking at God's Word in an attempt to discern God's will.

What think you?




Madre said...

If another system in your body was not functioning properly, wouldn't you want to know so that you could tend to it medically? Many women have irregular cycles, may have ovarian cysts, endometriosis, blocked fallopian tubes, double uteruses, hormonal imbalances, PCOS, etc. to just name a few problems that could be going on in the female reproductive system without any "unusual" symptoms. It just happens that most women don't pay much attention to their cycles unless they're trying to become pregnant and it's not happening.

Christopher Gillespie said...

"Rather than looking at nature, we should be looking at God's Word in an attempt to discern God's will."

Theologically speaking, looking at Nature for God's will would be a perfect statement of the Theology of Glory. You are indeed correct that God reveals himself through his Word and not nature.

Caspar said...

Mrs. Ostapowich,

Do your comments answer any the points I make. How does what you say apply? I'm trying to understand your counterpoint.

I am aware of the pathologies which can exist with the female reproductive system. Somehow I doubt that any significant percentage of NFP users employ the method primarily to identify these pathologies. Even so, your comments would support the point I was making: a study of NFP examines more of what has gone wrong with God's creation rather than what His original intent was.


Thank you. That's specifically my point. This discussion of the "Natural" fertility of the "healthy" woman is fine, as long as we understand that it does not address the question this blog seeks to address: What is God's will with regard to family planning?

I have been guilty myself of making this mistake, e.g. identifying the spacing caused by nursing as "God's family planning." Perhaps it was part of the original plan, but we have no way of knowing this because Scripture is silent on the issue and nature is a notoriously unreliable and deceptive source of revelation. Perhaps this reduction of fertility is part of the the perversion of nature caused by original sin.


Madre said...

My point is that the methodology taught by NFP alerts a woman and her doctor to problems with the reproductive system. It seemed to me that you were making the argument that charting and making note of the female reproductive cycle were somehow inherently bad because they could be used for gaining control over conception. The first thing a doctor will tell a woman who is having trouble conceiving to do is to chart her cycles for a few months. It seemed that you were suggesting that a couple should just accept infertility as God's will for them since actively trying to become pregnant is just as wrong as actively trying NOT to become pregnant and avoid any sort of observation of the menstrual cycle because that's what would be going on. Is that what you're saying?

Anonymous said...

On the contrary, Christopher, God does reveal Himself in nature--but not His grace in Christ:

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--His eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, becing understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20).

Chi Chi

Devona said...

Caspar, I think that you have grossly misunderstood my purposes in writing about the natural cycles of a woman's fertility. I said nothing at all about using your knowledge to practice NFP, or to space children, or to do anything other than to know about it. And maybe I was hoping that someone who didn't already know might say, "Hey, that's pretty cool!"

And secondly, I really do not put much more emphasis on what "excellent theologians" speculate a pre-fallen fertility would look like much more than I do on how many angels can dance on a pin. There is no evidence to anything towards the issue in scripture, merely human extrapolations.

I think that your knee jerk reactions to the letters "N," "F," and "P" are making you feel biased against a point I never intended to make. All I said is that I learned about my cycles from my NFP teacher, nothing more.

And still more. Though we are fallen and sinful, I do think that it is throwing the baby out with the bathwater (and maybe a little gnostic) to say that cyclical fertility is a result of the fall and that it is evil precisely because it has to do with our bodies.

When God created nature he called it good, and though it is surely fallen, He intends to resurrect us in body, so I wouldn't be so quick to name things that aren't clearly illnesses and death as the result of sin.

Once again, though we know that there is sin, and that our bodies are fallen, scripture has never spoken as to the patterns of fertility as the result of said sin, so therefore it is human extrapolation to say that it is. No one would even think to say that the fact that there are 365 days in a year is the result of sin. It shows God's care in providing us with a predictable calandar to plant our crops and determine how long we've been spinning aound here an Earth.

Let's practice some 8th commandment here, and give me the benefit of the doubt that I was only trying to show how our bodies work, and never once saying anything about how "we can therefore determine that it is God's will that we have children every 2 years because the cycle of a woman's fertility... blah blah blah..."

Devona said...

And then the next thing...

I think that I didn't read as much positive intent to your post as I was asking you to read into mine.

I see that you were just asking questions, though you really didn't trust that I was unbiased in my purposes. So, sorry for getting so defensive in my tone. :)

And to answer one more of your questions, I don't think that learning and tracking your fertility is any more tempting towards sin than learning and studying scripture is tempting towards heresy. :)

Caspar said...


Thank you for the clarification of your second comment. You initially took a lot from my post that it did not actually say. I assume you have re-read my comments.

I am puzzled still by your apparent denial that you believed the pertinence of your post about the "Natural Fertilty" of the "healthy" woman is that it can teach us about how God created us.

You did write that:

"It [a healthy woman's natural fertility] very much relates to the topic of contraception inasmuch as the culture (as we have discussed before) treats fertility as an illness to be treated and controlled by medication. But if one understands the natural unmedicated workings of a healthy woman's cycle, by which I mean more than just her monthly cycle, we can learn a great deal about the great care God took when making us reproductive beings."

I did not read that into your post. Those are your exact words. These words are what I have an argument with. If it was not your intent to present this information to show us "the great care God took when making us reproductive beings," then you should not have said that was the pertinence of your post to this blog's topic.

I believe the knowledge gleaned from NFP may or may not show how God intended us to be. We do, indeed, live in a fallen world. Therefore, it is only safe to look to God's word to discover "the great care God took when making us reproductive beings." Nature is not a reliable source for this information.

Any speculation on my part that the relative infertile times of a woman's cycle may be a result of the fall is just that: SPECULATION. God's revelation to us is via his Word, not nature. If we are to ever get to the bottom of the question this blog seeks to address, we should stick with the Word and stop speculating about what nature shows us. We are Lutherans, not Natural Law Romanists. The Word is all-sufficient.

Comparing the tracking of your fertility to the learning and studying of Scripture is ludicrous. Scripture is the source and norm of Truth. Nature is the source of confusion, death, and sin.


Devona said...

OK, I don't think that you understood what I meant in my last sentence, that's ok. I in no way meant that we should be studying Nature in equal light to God's Word. I just meant that just because the knowledge of something could lead us into temptation (like having access to and knowledge of scripture could lead us into formulating heresies) is no reason to avoid that knowledge.

And I guess that I disagree with you about your first point.

You're a dentist, right? Don't you think it fruitful to learn how a person's teeth would naturally grow in? Isn't it remarkable that everyone's teeth grow in in a predictable way? With that knowledge we can know why our babies are really fussy between 4 and 6 months, and we can go to get work done if one of our teeth come in wrong.

THAT'S why I think that it is fruitful to learn these things. I am a woman (and you are married to one) and I think that it is the responsibilty to learn about this for information's sake, as well as to thank God for our bodies and help us take care of them.

You still have not given me reason to doubt that woman were created cyclically fertile. And, I stand by my assertation that I don't believe that God reveals his Will through scripture, but yet, He still created things the way they are and we can count on that. Just like we can count on the rising of the Sun and Moon.

Devona said...

WOAH! I made a huge typo. I meant in that last sentence:

And, I stand by my assertation that I don't believe that God reveals His Will though NATURE, but yet...

Caspar said...

"He still created things the way they are and we can count on that. Just like we can count on the rising of the Sun and Moon."

Please clarify. I don't believe he created things exactly the way they are. The way they are is a far cry from the perfect way He created them. We can only see the way he created them as if we were looking in a completely shattered mirror. The Word, however, is a perfectly clear looking glass.



Devona said...

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;"

Psalm 139:14

That's all I mean. :) You know, and I know that nature is fallen. But yet we can still say, "I am wonderfully made!"

Caspar said...

Yes, Devona, we are "fearfully and wonderfully made," but we cannot point to certain specific aspects of human reproductive physiology (such as short periods of fertility or nursing infertility) and say conclusively that they are or are not the perfect way God intended it to be when He made us. It is always possible that various aspects are a result of the fall. The only way to discern God's will conclusively is by looking to His Word. We deceive ourselves when we look at nature for such revelation.

Devona said...

And yet, I still stand by my point that this is cool, and women have a responsibility to their health to learn about it.

Even for the simple fact of knowing when it's time to get the tampons out after having Amenorrhea for 11 months. (I don't mean to be crude.)

And there is something very special about knowing the exact day to use a pregnancy test, as well as knowing you due date with more certainty. I am the only preson that I know personally who found out she was pregnant (both times) the day of my missed period.

That's both convenient and cool. And I think that it is a blessing from God

You don't. That's cool. It's not the first time we've disagreed. ;-) And I'm sure it won't be the last. :-P

Caspar said...

My wife does not chart her cycles except to note the beginning of her periods on her personal calendar (so she knows when to expect the next one and just in case we want to figure when conception occurred). Every pregnancy we've had (8 to be exact), she knew prior to the day of her missed period that she was pregnant. I guess she is just really in-tune with her body. We always have to wait a while before a pregnancy test will confirm her pregnant state. She's rarely been wrong.

You are incorrect to assume that I don't think these things are cool. I do! We're not in disagreement on that.

Devona said...

I am not regular enough to only mark my first day. If I don't pinpoint my ovulation day as well, I can be off by as much as a week.

Your wife is lucky to be so regular, and so in-tune. I think that many more woman would be so well in-tune if they were taught the phases of their cycle when they we teenagers, and then never put on the pill and taught to ignore the way their body makes them feel naturally.

The education that we get from our moms is often none, and the education we got in my high school was taught by Planned Parenthood. That doesn't help make things very clear.

Caspar said...

What you say is very true, Devona. However, I would like to ask what the importance is of knowing the day of your next period with less than a one week discrepancy?

You assume my wife is regular, which actually she often is not. She knows when she's pregnant, but she is not so accurate at predicting her next period. It never has caused us any perceivable problem to not know her cycle with any better accuracy. What is the importance to the normal couple of such accuracy in predicting the cyles of a woman's healthy fertility and menstruation?

The only thing I can think of that such accuracy is necessary for is the timing of marital relations relative to ovulation. You know that I believe intentionally avoiding fertility is always sinful. We don't need to argue that point at this time. I also do not believe it is incumbant upon a couple to employ any methods to increase fertility, though I do not believe such action is sinful.

Paul tells married couples in 1 Corinthians 7:5 not to ignore the healthy sexual desire for each other except if mutually agreed to for the purpose of fasting and prayer, and for a fixed time, making sure to come together again soon to avoid sin.

I don't think "scheduled" marital relations (outside of this allowed purpose of fasting) is ever healthy or wise. When either or both spouses have the desire, they should find the soonest practicable time to come together, regardless what the thermometer says. Unimpeded marriage relations are a roadblock to sinful passions. Impeded relations are an open door to sin.

So, other than the purposes of increasing the chances of conception, what are the benefits of such accurate charting to the normal, healthy couple? Predicting exactly when you are going to be in a bad mood? ...in "the" mood? Being more "in touch" with your emotions? I know many believe this is important to the building of the marriage relationship. I don't believe any man needs a thermometer to tell that his wife is in a bad mood, nor does she need a chart to know she's in one.

It is interesting and educational to see how the body works, but one doesn't have to continue charting once one has learned how her body works if this was the only intent.

I'm not into the whole natural/holistic medicine scene. Is this part of the attraction to NFP? I know NFP fits well in the holistic health promotion model.


Devona said...

I am kind of crunchy, yes, so some of the appeal is my interest into holistic medicine and the like.

It is important to me, particularly, to know when my period is coming because I have in the past been extremely infertile. Though that it lessening as I get older, and having a baby seemed to help a lot. Before I was 20 I had been known to miss periods for up to six months.

I was diagnosed with PCOS, but I don't think that was an accurate diagnosis since I have been so fertile since then, and since I have very few of the symptoms. But with that in my history I take special care in making sure that I am healthy by charting pretty regularly.

Some women just want to know. I know a lot of women like that.

I guess another reason that I take the act of charting so seriously is that I feel like my fertility, motherhood and wifehood defines me as a person. I feel connected to the being God created me to be by being intellectually involved with my cycle. I gave up a lot to fill this God-given role. I wanted to be a PhD in medieval lit, I wanted to travel, and I wanted to start my own buisiness. Instead God gave me my family, and at this time I am forsaking all else to try and serve them in my God-given role.

Charting my cycle keeps me daily connected to who I am. It sounds like a step backwards for "feminism" but really it's not for me. I hate the way the feminist movement removed feminity from the person of a woman. This resores that for me.

As you can tell, I'm an idealist. I'm an all or nothing kind of person. Maybe I'm just crazy. Regardless, I'm pretty sure that was more of an explaination than you were looking for!

Caspar said...

No, that was a great explanation. It helps to know where people are coming from in the way they approach an issue. I am an idealist also, but I do not believe it is ideal to pay so much attention to bodily functions. Knowing when the fertile period is would be a huge temptation for my wife and myself to avoid conception. Our sinful nature combined with the fact that we already have six children including a six month old makes the thought of another child right now enough to kill any romantic feelings we might have. We prefer to be blissfully ignorant of the dramatically increased chance of conception that is attached to our marital relations at the time of ovulation.

This temptation to avoid conception is something I think most people would have a very hard time avoiding if they become too aware of the timing of ovulation. That is one reason I am averse to the whole concept of NFP. Sin is always crouching at our door.

If one WANTS to have another child, then I see nothing wrong with charting out the fertile period, other than how naturally aware it might make a person of the symptoms of ovulation. Being more aware of the fertile period makes one more able to avoid it when sin causes one to despise God's gift of life.


Favorite Apron said...

So now that I have the dangerous forbidden knowledge of knowing, just by physical symptoms, when I"m fertile ----- what's a girl to do? I can't get my innocence back.

Caspar said...

Thanks for your post, F. Apron. It would be nice, but you can't go back to that blissfully ignorant past. Yet, we must not fool ourselves. Even a lack of this knowedge of when one is fertile does leave one "innocent."

We are all selfish and contraceptive at heart. We are all conceived sinful even before we have ever committed an actual sin. Sin is there from the moment of conception. When knowledge of the law comes in, sin increases. Let your sins be strong! Don't minimize them!! Rather, rejoice that God's grace is even stronger!!!

Romans 5:14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. ...20 Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, 21 so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

There is a big difference between stumbling into sin and living in it. Now that you know your fertile period, you are tempted to sin more, but falling into that sin is not the same as living in it.