On planning babies: Jen from seven years ago talks with Simcha Fisher

Seven years ago, I found myself in a place of great upheaval. I was in the middle of a profound religious conversion and found myself in a no-man’s land, adrift from my old belief system, yet not fully integrated into my new one.

Around that time that I came across a small blog by this woman named Simcha. She was a brilliant, hilarious writer on par with the famous names of the secular world…yet she was religious, describing herself as a Hebrew Catholic since she comes from a family of Jewish coverts to Catholicism. Reading her blog never failed to brighten my day (usually by making me laugh until I gasped for air), and her writing transformed my view of everything from motherhood to what it means to have faith.

About once a week I would think, “This woman’s blog needs to be much, much bigger!” and “When is she going to write a book?!” Seven years later, I got my wish. She’s now a well known blogger and finally published her first book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, which was an instant bestseller in its category on Amazon. The book is a breath of fresh air on the subject, since Simcha manages to uphold the beauty of this sacrifice-based method of child spacing while also being completely — and hilariously — real about the challenges that come with it.

I wanted to interview her about the book, but I thought it would be more fun to do it from my perspective waaaay back when I first discovered her writing. At the time I wasn’t sure what I thought about the issue of contraception and family planning. I was on the brink of converting to Catholicism, and I knew they had some crazy beliefs in that department (here’s a summary for those of you who aren’t familiar with said craziness). I was conflicted about it and would have loved to have been able to hear her thoughts on the issue.

So we’re going to go back to 2006, throw me-from-seven-year-ago into a time machine, bring her back to the present, and have her ask Simcha a few questions about the topics in her new book:

simcha fisher interview On planning babies: Jen from seven years ago talks with Simcha Fisher

JEN FROM 2006:

So you wrote a book about Natural Family Planning. All those Catholic blogs I read are always talking about it too. What is it?

SIMCHA:

NFP is Natural Family Planning, and it can be used to achieve or avoid pregnancy. A woman learns to understand her body’s natural signs of fertility and infertility, and she and her husband decide whether or not to have sex on those days.

JEN FROM 2006:

Mmm. That sounds like a hassle. Also, you admit in your book that practicing NFP has sometimes been a struggle for you and your husband. Why not make it easy on yourselves and use contraception?

SIMCHA:

It’s funny, lots of people are willing to go out of their way to buy organic, untainted food, and to prepare it lovingly and well. To have a fit and healthy body, they are willing to push themselves way beyond what is easy and comfortable. They are proud of the effort it takes, because that they understand they’re doing something important. And yet somehow when sex is involved, the message is: what, are you crazy? Why go to all that trouble, when there’s a quicker, easier way?

How we love, how we make love, are a thousand times more significant than how many carbs we consume or what kind of workout clothes we buy. So yes, it makes sense to take some extra trouble over our sex lives!

I also challenge the idea that contraception makes life easy. I don’t know any married couple whose entire love life is a carefree romp, with bliss and peace and satisfaction around every corner. I do know women who put up with miserable physical and psychological side effects from their contraception, because they think they have no choice. I know couples who have given up on the idea that sex is profound and meaningful. That is tragic.

I would rather deal honestly with the trials and joys of fertility. My life may not be easy, but it’s thrilling, it’s meaningful, and it asks my husband to think constantly about what is best for me and our kids. Our life is not easy, but it is beautiful.

JEN FROM 2006:

Okay. Maybe I could be convinced that there are some benefits to this way of family planning, and everyone says that it can be very effective. But the problem is that, unlike with contraception, it requires me to be competent. I guess I could become an NFP pro if I had a crazy-serious reason to avoid pregnancy, but as it as, I’m sure that at some point my laziness and lack of attention to detail would catch up with me and I’d end up with an unexpected pregnancy — and that thought scares the heck out of me. What would you say to that?

SIMCHA:

I’d say, “Join the club, sister.” And guess what? Now I have a baby. Imagine that! A married couple, having a baby together! Stop the presses! What ever shall we do?

But seriously, it feels very bad not to be in control. I know that feeling. But I also know that complete control is an illusion. People have unexpected pregnancies all the time, even when they’re doubling or tripling up on contraception. What NFP challenges us to do is to think, “What are we really doing here? Why is it called ‘making love,’ anyway? What is love? What is marriage for?” If we treat our bodies like boinking machines, it’s pretty easy to avoid these questions. And that would be a horrible shame.

We won’t ever be able to save ourselves entirely from suffering and confusion, because life is just like that sometimes. But we may be able to shield ourselves from some profound joys.

JEN FROM 2006:

That sounds lovely…in theory. But I’m already calculating when I’ll be done having kids so that I can get back to my real life. As soon as the youngest is in school I have big plans for the important things I want to do. How can you plan your life if you live with the specter of a surprise pregnancy?

SIMCHA:

I think the key is to stop thinking about children as if they’re some kind of unnatural, foreign intruder in your marred life, like a bug on a wedding cake. While it’s true that we are called to do all sorts of important, interesting things in our adult, married lives, it’s also true that having babies is a good thing, a positive thing, a beautiful thing. Life with children IS “real life,” to the max!

I don’t mean to diminish the concerns that people have when they’re planning their lives. It really is hard to get certain things done while you’re raising kids! And there is nothing wrong with looking forward to peace and quiet, and sleep, when it’s in short supply at present. But what a trap it is to let yourself think of your own children as some kind of temporary, inconvenient episode to be endured. Children will enrich your life immeasurably, and will change your life and your marriage forever for the better…if you let them.

JEN FROM 2006:

When you look back on the 16 years that you’ve been married, what is the one thing you’ve learned about that whole arena of intimacy and having babies that you wish you’d known when you were first married?

SIMCHA:

Patience. I wish I had known how important patience is, and how meaningless outside appearances are.

There is an awful lot of outside pressure to get things right the first time. From the secular world, “getting things right” may look like having a super duper body, and fireworks in the bedroom every night, and maybe having one or two perfectly timed children who nicely complement your career. From the religious world, “getting things right” may look like being visibly joyful all the time, and having a respectful, decorous flock of children who just lurve to pray and volunteer and do their chores. Either way, you’re supposed to be a catalogue-ready example of that lifestyle within six weeks, and hold that pose indefinitely. And this is nuts. Dangerously nuts.

Whenever people write to me for advice, the one thing I always include is a reminder to be patient — with themselves, and with each other. Human nature changes so slowly, cell by cell by cell. We may have epiphanies and breakthroughs, but thing that really matters most is making those slow, slow improvements. My husband reminds me of this all the time: Let’s just take care of what we can take care of today. This is true when you’re getting to know each other, or building a life together, or raising kids, or nurturing a sexual relationship, or building a relationship with God. Be patient!

. . .

sinners guide nfp On planning babies: Jen from seven years ago talks with Simcha Fisher

If you haven’t bought Simcha’s book yet, do it. You’ll love it. It’s available as an ebook, and Our Sunday Visitor just announced that they’re putting it out in print and you can pre-order it now. The book is written for Catholics who are currently using NFP, but it’s so accessible and funny that I think that anyone who’s interested in this issue — whether you’re currently using NFP or not, whether you’re Catholic or not — will find it to be a delightful read.

Thanks for a great interview, Simcha!

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Enter the Conversation...

35 Responses to “On planning babies: Jen from seven years ago talks with Simcha Fisher”
  1. Brilliant idea for an interview! Very helpful. I’m currently in a no-mans-land between Protestantism and Catholicism (RCIA), and this hits me where I’m at. Thank you, ladies!

  2. Nikita says:

    I had never heard of this book, will be looking into it! I hope you are having a wonderful Advent!
    Nikita recently posted..Five Favorites Vol. 16

  3. Amy says:

    Oh, I love this! I’ve seen this book before and been curious, but now I may just have to get it.
    Amy recently posted..Book Review and Giveaway – Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from My Six-Month-Old

  4. Fantastic. Great set-up and what wise words on such a tricky, tender subject from Simcha. I only hope this can get spread far and wide, because too often testimonials about NFP are all glossy-eyed and pastel-colored…maybe too many of us who practice it feel so defensive about our position that we’re unwilling to place it in open, honest conversation with others, rather than rushing to prove why it’s the right choice. Simcha’s wisdom does precisely that, but in a spirit of understanding why so many people make other choices about contraception – and how, if we could start to see how children fit into the wider scope of what marriage is about, more might be invited to consider a different perspective.
    Laura @ Mothering Spirit recently posted..advent in the frenzy: as it always was

  5. I’ve read the book, we’ve been practicing NFP for 15 years. I think it’s one of the best ones on NFP I’ve read. She is dead on accurate, honest and funny too. I caught myself thinking, “my husband and I had that exact same conversation”. No matter where you’re at in your NFP journey, this book has something for you.
    Amy @ Consecrated Housewife recently posted..Happy Thanksgiving!!

  6. Kelly Kaczmarczyk says:

    I wanted her book when I first heard about it, and then I completely forgot! ( We’ll blame the one year old..) But I will be adding this to my wish list immediately, thank you.

  7. Katie says:

    “boinking machines” – I snorted coffee down my lap, thank you for the morning laugh!

  8. Caroline M. says:

    Simcha never disappoints! It’s hard to imagine that a mere 7 years ago she was basically unknown. Simcha, I love how you talk about the need for patience. That’s relevant no matter who you are, but especially those of us who haven’t been married all that long. It’s really needed in this internet age too. The internet was supposed to make things “easier,” but it also made it easier to compare ourselves with other people, to wonder why our lives aren’t picture perfect like that beautiful blogger’s life is. Thank you for being real.
    Caroline M. recently posted..Becoming Flesh and Blood

  9. Jenny says:

    The only thing that could make this any more perfect would be if you were both drinking beer and I was actually listening to this conversation take place from the next table over…all my favorite peeps in one place! I also have been stalking Simcha since the days of her ‘original’ blog and I am more than a little obsessed with her writing style and her massive intellect which she manages to downplay so brilliantly and effectively every.damn.time. You’re both ridiculously amazing.

  10. I’ve been lucky enough to get some good personal advice from Simcha, and that woman is very kind & wise & brilliant. Without a doubt. Anytime anyone asks what blogs they should read I always recommend two without fail, Simcha’s and yours Jen. My 2 favorite bloggers, hands down.

    Both of you have been a HUGE blessing to me personally. So thanks. :)

    Great interview. Glad Jen from 2006 came around and embraced NFP. Look at all those adorable kids!!

    <3 jeni
    Jeni @ Patron Saint {of Poopy Diapers} recently posted..Submissive Women, Feminists and the Church

  11. Smoochagator says:

    I love this! Simcha is awesome and I have no doubt her book is awesome and I can’t wait to read it. Can you imagine if Jen from seven years ago could see you now? :-D
    Smoochagator recently posted..Seven Quick Takes

  12. Lynne says:

    So strange to think that the 2006 Jen has morphed into an orthodox Catholic blogger/author herself. What a cool transformation! Aren’t you so amazed?

  13. Jean says:

    It looks like a wonderful book! I may be kind of alone in this, but are there any resources out there for couples who may not be on the same page on NFP – especially when one spouse has made the conversion to an orthodox understanding of the faith, while the other spouse is much less orthodox or non-practicing? It seems that in most of the Catholic or NFP blogs out there, if there was a conversion both spouses had their conversion at the same time and it was the same depth of faith and they are both 100% committed to living out the faith. With NFP it seems that even if one spouse really wants to live out the faith with NFP, if the other isn’t onboard it can be extremely challenging to nearly impossible. I know that praying is the number one thing, and only the Holy Spirit can really convert someone, but when it seems to have worked out so perfectly for others, that their spouses too completely embrace and are on fire with the teachings its hard not to feel like a failure or that I’m doing something wrong when all the other families have it so right:) (With bumps along the road and trials, but at least everyone is all on the same page with the same goals and beliefs.)

    • Janet says:

      Jean, I’m in exactly this situation. If there’s any support or even good advice out there, well, I’ve never found it (and I sure could use it). Fertility in general, and NFP in particular, has been (and remains) a huge wedge between myself and my husband– much to the contrary of the “sales brochures” of NFP, pre-Cana, Theology of the Body, etc. etc. etc.

      I don’t have any good suggestions for dealing with it; but no, you aren’t alone. I would guess that, just mathematically, there have to be more people in our situation than in the “mutual commitment” situation (given human nature and the difficulties of NFP)… but nobody talks about it. Really, if you can’t talk to your spouse about it, how could you talk to anybody else about it without making the whole situation worse?

      • Jean says:

        Thank you Janet! I so appreciate your comment.

        • Karen says:

          Jean and Janet – me too! One day I just told my husband I was not returning to birth control after our second child. He took it pretty well, I think mostly because his fear of the unknown was the problem and I made the unknown a reality and that was that. And I have to admit, after that change my interest in sex totally improved and so did my feeling of “closeness” to him (I’ve always been super independent and almost saw him as more of a partner, but I swear we are happy and loving, “partner” sounds really bad). When he saw that major change in my interest in sex, something started to click for him about how much this could elevate our relationship. But we still haven’t had any official “angels singing on high” sort of conversation nor have we had any mentoring on the emotional aspects of NFP. That, and this book, is on the list!

      • Trista says:

        Jean and Janet: Consider reading Simcha’s book. There is an entire chapter devoted to “how to have a difficult conversation with your husband.” Much of it is just good marriage communication advice, but it slants towards fertility discussions. She explains well the differences between men and women in their approaches to intimacy — which I think is commonsense, but always good to have a refresh from a fresh voice. And she offers a number of conversation starters and suggestions.

        • Janet says:

          Trista, actually I have read her book, and I thought it was excellent… for the 5% of couples who are both committed to NFP, and the celibate priests who hear their confessions. But as for me personally, it was about as relevant as a discussion about how much salt should be added to the water when you breathe it.

          The last “difficult conversation” with my husband ended with him kicking the bedroom closet door off its hinges. The closet, because I was blocking the door to the hall door with my body to prevent him from going toward the hallway to our kids’ rooms. Also, he threw his wedding ring at me. And also, he contacted a divorce lawyer the next day… although he didn’t actually follow up afterward. I’m about 60% sure that was the “good” outcome.

          An open and honest discussion about how much cuddling is “too much” on fertile days… isn’t in my universe. Truly. If Simcha shuts up the scolds and Pharisees in the average parish, she’s done a fabulous job. But help for people like me… nope.

          Imagine, if you will, your random average non-Catholic co-worker or neighbor, with all the misconceptions and negativity about the Church and its teachings that person would have. Now imagine that you have to have sex with that person, or deny that person sex, every night. That’s my life. And I’m the one who changed. (He’s 100% right about that.)

          • anon says:

            Janet, the event your described sounds really scary. Does your husband have that kind of anger in other areas and situations as well? I hope you can find a good catholic counselor or therapist- together or for yourself. And by no means am I being judging you or your marriage- in fact, we’ve had some scary anger outbursts in our home and a difficult marriage from the beginning. I cannot tell you how freeing it feels to finally be addressing the issues in GOOD marriage counseling. I only hope you can find that peace, too. God bless.

          • Anonymous says:

            Janet, I understand how you feel. My husband and I are cradle Catholics who started NFP about 11 years ago, after 10 years of marriage. He only did it because I wanted to. It has not been a beautiful experience d

          • Anonymous says:

            For us. We have had Many heated discussions . I finally told him that if he wanted a vasectomy, he could get one if he could come up with the money. I told him I don’t agree with it but it’s his body and not my sin. I also told him that he wasn’t going to get sex anymore than he currently was. He has not done anything and I don’t think he will. I think it all comes down to selfishness and the key is naming the root sin. Of course he has to figure that out for himself. I hope things get better for you.

      • Amy says:

        I am part of a NFP – Catholic Style group on Facebook, and this issue has come up many times and it is a really supportive group of women and men, many of whom are in the same situation, you might want to check it out!

  14. richard says:

    I discovered Simcha Fisher’s blogs in the latter half of 2011. At the time I had been reading the National Catholic Register. Her name is on a list of other NCR bloggers. Among those early blogs was one which I found particularly hilarious (at least to me). And that was the one on naming children with the names of saints.

  15. Marie says:

    I read this post, linked to Simcha’s blog, read a little there, and came back just to tell you how very LUCKY I feel to be living in a time when I can read messages like this from bloggers like you and Simcha both. Light-hearted, but seriously home-hitting; loving, and understanding; witty and funny. You’re officially, for me, the blogger Simcha was for you. Thank you both for the gifts you share with your readers.

  16. Michelle says:

    I totally blame NFP! ~ for the reason I am still married after 15 years. I read the book and loved it. The timing and reality were perfect. We are actually discerning #9.

    My husband wasn’t aware of NFP when we married and didn’t want to have any. Ha~ I have watched grace intervene and I know that NFP, however haphazardly done, is to blame for the health and longevity so far.

    Also…regarding church teaching, I read this this morning:

    If one yields ground on any single point of Catholic doctrine, one will later have to yield later in another, and again in another, and so on until such surrenders come to be something normal and acceptable. And when one gets used to rejecting dogma bit by bit, the final result will be the repudiation of it altogether.

    – St Vincent of Lerins

  17. I’m still giggling at “boinking machines” lol!

  18. Caitlin E says:

    Brilliant, funny and poignant. As always, you two. Loved this, and as a recently graduated Creighton Practitioner (Intern) I’m bookmarking this for potential clients to read. So much love for both of you!

  19. Em says:

    Love this. I am still laughing at the “bug on a wedding cake” line.

  20. Love this interview.
    I think I have mentioned before; but Jen, you too were a source of Light and humor during my conversion. There were so many things up in the air; but the two most things that I feared most; Mary & NFP, is what made this Protestant’s heart melt and become Catholic.
    Love and Light
    Nicky

  21. I love your thoughts on this Simcha. Thank you. It is a wonderful but sometimes challenging road to walk and the encouragement is definitely needed.
    Jennifer @ Little Silly Goose recently posted..7 Quick Takes (Vol. 3): My Boys

  22. I’m adding this interview to my “Required Reading for All Humanity” list.
    Jenna@CallHerHappy recently posted..Interior Freedom: Resolving the Confusion Over Freedom

  23. Hannah says:

    I love Simcha. As an Evangelical I appreciate the Catholic church’s developed theology of the body and sexuality. It is coherent and fleshed out, and we desperately need it. This is an area where I think the Protestant church is lacking. For this reason I keep hanging out at Catholic blogs though I’m a Baptist. Well, that and the fact that I, too, love a good glass of wine :) Plus Catholic women are always the funniest people in the room. Why is that??
    Hannah recently posted..Ending the Old Year with Peace, Starting the New Year with Joy

  24. Cheryl says:

    I don’t have anything against NFP but it does seem to me that it is just another form of Birth Control. By practicing this method one is essentially putting the timing of children into their own control rather than leaving it in Gods hands. If your motivation is to merely use a natural method then this is a great practice – but if it is to avoid birth control as mandated by the church I feel the intent is the same as any other method.