I entered the RCIA with full intentions of becoming a Cafeteria Catholic. I had never heard of the term before, and of course I had no clue there might be something less than ideal about this, but that is exactly what my intentions were. The master plan was to become Catholic and pick and choose to believe what I thought made sense. Something unexpected happened though. Everything made sense. Everything. It was the richest, deepest, most perfectly logical theology I had ever learned. Not that I had a large background in theology. I had spent most of my Sunday school days and confirmation classes passing notes and goofing off. But the teachings of the Catholic Church were so beautiful and made so much sense they just completely penetrated my heart and soul. I became like a sponge soaking everything, and always thirsting for more.
A little over halfway through the year the catechists started tackling the some of the more controversial teachings of the Church. My husband and I had entered the RCIA as a contracepting couple. I had absolutely no clue that there was anything wrong with this. No clue. Not even a smidge of a clue. I had no recollection whatsoever of any hint of this teaching being presented in our pre cana classes. I am certain none of my fellow teachers shed light on my lack of knowledge about this topic while we chatted in the teacher's lounge of the Catholic school I taught in. This was the first time I had ever heard that in the eyes of the Church contraception was wrong. Lucky for me God's timing is always perfect. Lucky, because we were in the process of trying to conceive our second child by the time this class took place. This made hearing this news significantly easier to accept and to at least be open enough to learn a little bit more about why the Church's teaching is what it is.
So when the lead catechist asked us during a private meeting if we would be willing to accept this teaching and give NFP a try, my husband and I looked at one another, shrugged our shoulders, and said, "Sure, why not?" Learning NFP was not at all difficult for me. In fact, I was already practicing it, without calling it NFP, while trying to conceive. I had also used it when trying to conceive our first child. I already knew all about taking temperatures, being aware of changes in mucous, ovulation strips, the luteal phase, etc. None of it was new. I knew from living my secular lifestyle that using these signs was the quickest way to find yourself staring at a positive pregnancy test. What I had never heard of was using these same signs to avoid a pregnancy, but it didn't matter to me. We were months into a six month wait to conceive our son and wanting to avoid a pregnancy was the last thing on our minds. We fully embraced NFP and learned all that we could, committing fully to the teachings of Holy Mother Church.
I'm not going to lie. NFP was not quite so beautiful after our second child was born. It was time to test the effectiveness of NFP when trying to avoid pregnancy. It was scary. It was difficult. It was not fun. But we did it. We did it and it was the right thing to do, and THAT made it worth it. The obedience and trust in God's will for our family did bring us closer together and it did eventually bring with it, beauty. NFP does not come without sacrifice. It is often mocked by the secular world and glossed over by the Catholic world. Sorry to all of you ob/gyn's who roll your eyes at me and make snarky comments about how ineffective it is, you're wrong. It is very effective when used correctly. But it's not all roses like so many in the Catholic world proclaim either. Throughout my ten years of NFP I've liked it, hated it, and am currently starting to fall in love with it and see a little more depth into its' beauty.
Our first child was breech. I chose an elective c-section. At that time the risk of too much scar tissue and a ruptured uterus in future pregnancies was not even on my radar. However, after my second c-section my biggest fear became the chance of a doctor telling me (somewhere down the road) that it would not be safe to have anymore children. This was my biggest fear, because I could not imagine having to use NFP for the rest of my fertile years. I loved using NFP for achieving pregnancy, but hated using it for avoiding. Every pregnancy I feared the doctor declaring, "This scar tissue is out of control," but instead, every pregnancy the incision would be made and I would hear, "Wow, your uterus looks great! Very little scar tissue, for all the c-sections you've had!" So I was feeling pretty confident that we might actually make it through the fertile years without having to endure years and years of NFP. I was wrong though.
Very often our plans are not the same as God's plan. We lost our third child 20 weeks into the pregnancy. This made future pregnancies for me a time of extreme emotional stress. My last two pregnancies have been spent in a constant state of panic and fear that the baby will die. In addition I've dealt with gestational diabetes and cholestasis of pregnancy (which carries with it an increasing risk of death to the baby the further along the pregnancy progresses). So while many moms worry about losing a baby in the first trimester, it doesn't end there for me. I have an overwhelming and often debilitating fear of losing the baby until it is safely delivered and in my arms. Telling myself to trust in God doesn't exactly help either, because I know that sometimes His plan hurts like hell, and even though I can rattle off a list of ways He brought good out of our loss, I never want to feel that pain again. In essence, during pregnancy I am petrified of what God's plan might entail. All of this makes my pregnancies difficult, not only for me, but especially for the rest of my family. So near the end of my last pregnancy and at the height of my cholestasis when my husband hinted that we should probably not do this again, I was completely devastated. I was mad. I was hurt. I could not believe it. I decided not to say anything and I assumed that after the baby was born and things returned to normal he'd be ready to continue filling our house with little ones.
But, in the weeks that followed delivery, I began to face the fact that he was right. My heart rate was in the lower 40s for weeks after my surgery and though there was concern, no one could explain it. The doctors shrugged it off as some sort of reaction to the anesthetic and sent me home. I would lay in bed and hear this slow creepy throb pounding in my head, "Thump......................................................................thump........................................................................thump." Now I was scared in a new way. I remember laying in bed, hearing that throb, scared that something was seriously wrong, wondering when/if it was going to get back to normal. Wondering who would take care of my babies if it DIDN'T get back to normal and something happened. I admitted to myself that my husband was right. I admitted that maybe God was not calling us to have as many babies as possible. Maybe He was calling me out on my prideful motives for wanting more babies. All my friends have loads of babies. It's like a badge of honor, and I wanted to continue wearing that badge. I knew some moms who looked forward to a day when God would give them a break between pregnancies, but I'd spent many months waiting for God to give me babies, and then even had Him take one away after the waiting. Having a full womb was never a cross for me. Ever. It was then that I realized that God may be calling me to a different kind of cross. While my friend's wombs continued to expand with new life, mine would remain empty. Laying there, sobbing, I made the most painful promise to God that I have ever made. I promised Him that if He just allowed my heartrate to go back to normal, than I would not try to have any more babies. I would not selfishly be with my husband whenever I wanted. I would use NFP. BLAH!
I very much wanted to keep having babies. I felt like God was smacking me in the face, telling me I didn't make the cut as a "mother of many." It was very hard. I don't remember how many weeks I cried, but it was a long time. To top it all off, this meant NFP for the rest of my fertile years. Not because a doctor had said my uterus couldn't handle another pregnancy, but because in prayer, I had discerned that GOD had said that I could not handle another baby. Even worse.
I've never hated NFP more than the I did during the first two years post partum after that last pregnancy. I was miserable, and the intimacy within our marriage suffered badly. I felt like there was no point in our embrace anymore if it would never again result in new life. I knew that even if my body could handle another pregnancy, that mentally I couldn't, and this made me mad. I couldn't imagine taking care of my current children and going through another pregnancy. "No wonder God doesn't want me to have any more babies," I would tell myself. Those words stung and even as I was saying them, the question was always in the back of my mind, "What if you made a mistake, and He IS calling you to more babies, and you are throwing away your fertile years?" This, I believe, is where my true frustration and fear came from.
It wasn't the NFP. It wasn't that I probably wouldn't get to be pregnant again. It was a fear that we may have messed up in discerning His will for us. That is what was causing the misery. I have learned this in the last year. The further away from the "scary" pregnancies we have gotten, the more loosely we have followed the NFP rules. NFP is extremely effective...if you follow the rules. Not so much so, if you smudge the rules a bit. So, in the last year, there have been a handful of times when He has definitely had His chance to gift us with another child, and He has not. Each time this happens I go through the same emotions. First, panic, followed by hopeful excitement, and ending with a somewhat sorrowful, somewhat relieved, peaceful confirmation that He indeed is not calling us to another pregnancy at this time.
The most recent incident was a little over a month ago. We do not use the most conservative rules for the beginning of the cycle and usually do not cut off relations until after day 8. This is risky, because you can always ovulate earlier than usual, which is exactly what happened during this cycle. I ovulated on day 12, which has never happened in all of my days of charting. As soon as I realized what was happening I went through my little stages of panic, etc. I was more excited than ever though this time, because it was so very clearly in God's hands. Other times we have been selfish and given into temptation to cause the possibility, but this time, I really felt it was in His hands completely since I can't MAKE myself ovulate early. Wow, maybe I CAN have another baby! The fear of pregnancy problems melted away because of the NFP, because I knew this was not Him giving into OUR WANTS, but something HE was specifically arranging by having that egg drop earlier than usual. I started looking at baby names. I started peeing on the strips at 8 days past ovulation. My temp stayed high. Negative tests did not deter my excitement, I knew it was WAAAY to early. Then came Easter Sunday. I woke up. My temp had dropped, and I thought, "Empty tomb, empty womb." I wasn't pregnant. That old voice telling me I'm not good enough came sneaking in, but this time it was stomped out by a new voice. A new confirming voice reminding me that God calls families of all sizes. A voice telling me what a gift NFP is because it is cycles like this that help us to continue to discern His will for us. He gifts me with cycles like this, not to crush my hopes, but to reassure me that we are following His will for us. So for the first time ever, filled with peace and more confidence in discerning His will, I am beginning to see glimpses of the fruits and rosiness proclaimed in all the Catholic promotions of NFP as a marriage builder, and I'm kinda starting to fall in love with it!
My favorite Method
My Top Pick for Post-Partum, Before Cycles Return
Most of the Ladies I Know Use This Method
My Favorite Place to Chart This one is not an NFP site, but I have been charting there since before conversion when I was trying to concieve our first child. It is not meant to be used to avoid pregnancy, but I still use it to chart.
Info from the USCCB