I have to be forever grateful to NFP, because I believe that our decision not to contracept when we first got married was the one decision most responsible for me ending up where I am as a happy, faithful Catholic with a loving marriage and a wonderful family.
And it wasn't a given for us, I had never even heard of NOT contracepting before I was engaged. We attended the required marriage prep for our diocese and I have to say, the lady they had speaking on NFP wasn't helping their cause much. She made NFP sound fringe and spiritual to me.
But somehow or other we ended up with a copy of Janet Smith's talk, "Contraception: Why Not?" Even though at that point it seemed crazy to even consider, we listened to it and found it pretty convincing. Then we went to the (optional) NFP seminar also offered by the diocese, and THAT was really good. We were thoroughly convinced by the doctor who spoke there that contraception was no good for a woman's body.
So then, we set to learning about NFP . . . because my soon-to-be husband was about to start graduate school and we thought that was a grave enough reason to postpone pregnancy. And it was in the NFP classes that we learned about how TOTALLY AMAZINGLY STUPENDOUSLY AWESOME NFP IS.
How you get totally in tune with the beautifully predictable rhythms your own body, sometimes while standing in fields of sunflowers.
How practicing NFP draws you and your husband to each other in this embrace of understanding and togetherness and harmony and stickers.
But we ended up having to wait a few more years to really discover those joys for ourselves because we were newlyweds and I can show you exactly where we blew it because I wrote it down on my chart. Then I got pregnant with my second before my cycle came back. Which I probably should have known was possible, but didn't.
None of that, by the way, is NFP's fault. And it is in no way my problem with NFP. We did not follow the rules. I got pregnant. It worked perfectly.
Looking back now, I cannot imagine a better time to have had my first baby. The husband's first year of business school I was working, and was only peripherally involved with his classmates and friends. Then I had Jack and we moved into family housing and I had one of the best years of my whole life. There is no better place and no better time for me to have had my first baby. And the second, nineteen months later, was perfect too. Clearly God knew better than I did.
But back to NFP. I reviewed my books and got out my charts again to give it another go. And I think we made it two months that time before baby number three was on the way, and this time we realized that I could get pregnant outside the "normal window." Note to selves. The next time I took a new class in a new method with new charts and stickers and equipment because THIS time we were going to do it. We messed it up again. It turns out I can get pregnant way outside the normal window. And this one was kind of a doozy.
Because this time I found out I was pregnant three days after my husband had been diagnosed with stage III melanoma (a very serious cancer diagnosis). But guess what? It turns out that husband with cancer is absolutely the BEST time to be pregnant. He worked throughout his surgeries and interferon treatments and when he was home, exhausted on the couch, we had our new baby to think about instead of doom and gloom. And when he did finally have to take a few months off at the end of his treatments, he sat on the couch with baby Gus, who even once Jim was all better and back to work, was my first baby to prefer Daddy. Gus would literally dive out of my arms towards Jim when he would get home from work.
We had a happy ending - the husband has been completely cancer free for over six years. But even when that was in doubt the thing I was most grateful for in the world was that at least I would have this one more baby, this one last piece of my husband. So I certainly wasn't mad at NFP for that. Or number five, who arrived nineteen months after her brother (again) without me getting my cycle back in between (again).
No, I got mad at NFP only after I figured out how to do it. The husband sold his company and was job hunting. He really felt that it was important that we figure out how to practice NFP responsibly and well.
So we did, we added extra days where we needed to. I filled in my chart every day and interpreted the signs carefully. And it worked, it totally worked as advertised. But, for me, Natural Family Planning didn't feel like this:
It felt more like this:
I found NFP to be messy and time consuming and complicated. And it hurt my feelings. Not that my husband was anything but his usual awesome self, it's just that he's the responsible one. So, he was always the one to remind me of the plan. And be responsible. I did not like it.
And even though "economic" is right there on Pius XII's list of serious reasons to use NFP I was still really uncomfortable with the idea of me being in charge of how many babies I would have and when I would have them. I know that that's part of the beauty of NFP, that it leaves room for God to change your plans, but it never sat well with me.
Finally, after a year, I just didn't feel like I could take it anymore. I had a heart to heart with him and explained why I thought it wasn't good for us. He thought about it for a bit, but came to agree with me, and I happily abandoned charting.
And what did I get for all my responsible waiting? Frankie, that's what. God must be cracking up.
But still, I have no intention of ever practicing NFP again. I'm not good at it, I don't like it, and I don't think it's worth it. The times I felt like I really wanted to delay another pregnancy were in those early years of all little kids. Those are the hardest years, for sure. But I was young and energetic and I could handle it.
I think people assume that just because their first three were really hard, each subsequent three will be equally hard, if not harder, because now there are MORE of them. But I have not found that to be the case at all. My first three were each hard. Three kids was hardest for me. I needed all the help I could get from my husband and my mother and my mother-in-law.
But then, like a major league baseball player, all of a sudden the game slowed down. I could see the ball. I could see what I needed to do next. And more than that, now there were people who lived in my house who could help. Who wanted to help. There just aren't words to explain how much better it is to have a baby with an eight-year-old girl in your house than without one. It's a whole different world.
I really suffered every month of our time doing NFP, so when Frankie was born almost 28 months after Anita, I knew I wouldn't be pulling my charts out again. I had kept a running tally in my head of how pregnant I "ought" to be if we hadn't been postponing. It really haunted me. So now, here I am, expecting number seven, who should arrive 25 months after Frankie. Nearly the same spacing as the last two. And I hadn't even noticed the gap between babies widening. I knew we weren't doing anything to stop a baby from coming, so I felt so at peace with whatever the timing would be that I didn't even notice it.
I honestly and truly believe that having babies is less trouble for me than not having them. And I say that in the throes of first-trimester
I should add that, while I don't think *I* am one of them, I know that there are people who have important reasons to use NFP. I thought Jennifer Fulwiler's recent post on NFP at Conversion Diary was amazing. I'm glad to know it's out there. And that it works. I just really hope I'll never have to use it again, because I found it to be the greater sacrifice.