Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why I Don't Do NFP

And I don't just mean because I'm pregnant, I mean I don't do it ever (anymore).  Not to worry, I don't do anything ELSE either.  I just find, that in my particular circumstances, NFP is WAAAAAAY more trouble than it's worth.  And way more trouble than just having babies.


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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 morning all-day sickness, so you know I mean it.


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.

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51 comments:

  1. Thank you, thank you for writing this! I can totally relate to this feeling! My husband and I teach NFP classes, and I feel hypocritical because I don't actually keep my own charts. I am so glad to know that there is another woman in the world that thinks that having babies is easier than charting. My husband went back to school almost two years ago, and we too were trying to be "responsible" by postponing pregnancy while we were economically down. I too had the same feelings of "I could be X months pregnant right now", and I was a little resentful that my husband was sticking to our plan. God answered my son's repeated prayers with a little baby brother (after three sisters!) and baby #5 was the only baby we've ever had that was covered 100% by our insurance. I have to tell you though that as a family with five kids living in student/family housing on campus - we are definitely an oddity! Happy Ascension - God bless your beautiful family!

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  2. I would love to give it up, because I am bad at charts and also, since I'm 46-almost-47, my cycles have become a little irregular. BUT it is very, very, very hard for me to be open to the idea of having a brand new baby at my age and with my other two 11 & 7. Although I adore my kids and love being a SAHM, having a toddler at age 50 doesn't really appeal to me. I know I should be open to God's plan, and maybe the plan is that we only have two, but the selfish part of me tends to take over.

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    1. I had my last baby at 46. She is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I love doing all that little kid stuff with her and I think being her mom makes me seem 10 years younger to everyone else!

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  3. We love all the kids you have now and any more you have in the future. The "Thundering Herd" are all amazing but I'm going to need more blow up beds at my house.
    Nanacamille

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  4. Wow, Kendra, great post. And it summarized my feelings about the whole thing perfectly. Alas, as you know, we now have a very grave reason to practice it, but I long for the days of leaving it in God's hands.

    Suzanne

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  5. "How practicing NFP draws you and your husband to each other in this embrace of understanding and togetherness and harmony and stickers." Ha ha haaa! Ah, those stickers.

    I always found the emotional side of NFP much more difficult, though the practical, chart-interpretation part, once I really learned it, is mind-blowingly amazing.

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    1. I have to agree with you there. I'm glad I have an understanding of all of my inner-workings that I wouldn't have otherwise.

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  6. I love this post...and I love how you talked about your kids that came along at what would be a "bad time" where a huge blessing. That is how I feel. My 1st and 4th were conceived at a time which most people would say was a "bad time", and they have brought us so much joy. Of course all my kids brought joy, but they seemed to bring a little extra.

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  7. I love this and feel the exact same way. I laughed at the part about your husband being the "responsible one" and having to remind you of "the plan" because that was so us too. We don't really use NFP either and for many of the reasons you've mentioned. I personally went from gung-ho birth control, to NFP, to nada. God certainly has a sense of humor and He certainly knows what He's doing, (we're currently expecting our third). I wish all women could know this type of peace when it comes to their fertility.

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  8. Nice post (and I also love the harmony and stickers)! We have had good "success" with NFP in the past, because I'm very regular (and also because nursing even a little has been 100% effective birth control), but I'm also much happier since we abandoned charting in favor of... nothing. Since I was pretty confident that I wasn't going to get pregnant on accident, NFP never felt to me like I was being all that open to anything. It's a humbling feeling, but a nice one too, that God is in control of all things, including my fertility. Here's hoping that #6 comes around soon!

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  9. Thanks Kendra, great post! The nice thing is that now NFP is made much easier with the nifty NFP apps and websites out there. They really do take the guess work out of all the interpretation as long you record basic things - body temp, external signs, etc. Anyway, we have tried it once since we were married, but gave it up....looks like for now nursing works great for us :) When people find out we don't really do "anything" to prevent pregnancy and I'm expecting our 5th, they are shocked. I politely tell them that I knew I could get pregnant every single time I did :)

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  10. Hey! Aw, baby #7 is a great place in the sibling line. I owe u a huge congrats hug!

    Great post btw. I personally get an F rating in my charting :+). Still, 5 pregnancies... 4 great kids... Hoping for more if it is His will.

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  11. Well, as you said of Jen's post, I'm glad that this one of yours is "out there" as well. Too many people seem to talk about the "super awesome wonderful amazingness" of NFP, and not enough people are coming out of the woodwork to remind others that its possible to be a perfectly good Catholic without ever using it.

    I feel similarly to you. We don't have grave reasons to postpone pregnancy. And charting is a hassle (though, I admit, knowing a conception date can be helpful), so I don't do it. And I don't know...my husband and I sorta like the idea that we will be somewhat "surprised" by when the next pregnancy might occur.

    I've been tempted to do a little parody of the whole "#iusenfp" thing, but say "idon'tusenfp" instead. But that might be snarky of me...

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    1. Oh, but that's a GOOD kind of snarky! The funny and true kind.

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  12. I don't know of this was your intention, but this post really helped solidify why Nfp is so beautiful and necessary to spread the word about! I remember being single and thinking contraception was the responsible choice like you did. Looking back at your story, learning about Nfp and a natural method to tell when pregnancy could be avoided really seemed to allow the holy spirit to work in you to give faith in God and let him work in your life! I'm pretty sure that without NFP there is no way I would have gone from contraception to absolutely nothing. This is the beauty of learning about our bodies and discovering these natural, cyclical times of fertility and infertility! And this is why I teach Nfp, to share that knowledge and hopefully lead people in that same freedom away from fear and hypercontrol but at the same time if something in their future should happen, they can know enough to know there is a moral way to protect their health. But how great to be free from the daily observations in the midst of the childbearing years!

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    1. You're right, NFP was a necessary step along the path for me. I just don't get the "NFP is awesome" sales pitch. The one that sold it for me was "contraception is really bad for you and the environment and you'll mostly likely end up unintentionally killing some of your babies so you'd better do NFP." Why does no one put THAT on a tote bag?

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    2. HAHAHA! Yea I dont get the NFP is awesome. We mutually agree it stinks mostly...

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  13. Thankfully, your lifestyle and your husband's career choice allows no planning to be your version of responsible parenthood. However, I think this puts you in a minority of Catholic couples. Most people have to grapple with restrictions on what they can handle or afford.

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    1. You made me think of this quote from Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (I think the rest is rubbish by the way, but I love this quote):

      "To begin with, it is the smallest house in the Lane. And besides that, it is the only one that is rather dilapidated and needs a coat of paint. But Mr. Banks, who owns it, said to Mrs. Banks that she could have either a nice, clean, comfortable house or four children. but not both, for he couldn't afford it.

      And after Mrs. Banks had given the matter some consideration she came to the conclusion that she would rather have Jane, who was the eldest, and Michael, who came next, and John and Barbara, who were twins and came last of all. So it was settled."

      I would happily give up absolutely any comfort or convienence to have my children. I'd eat beans and rice in a trailer with them in a heartbeat.

      But I'm very grateful to God and my husband and our families that we are able to live as we do.

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    2. But for some people, it's really more about being able to provide a safe place for their children to live.

      We've been in low income housing, and let me tell you, the kids were exposed to things there that we very much wish they hadn't been.

      We were willing to do whatever it took--including postponing children--to get ourselves out of there.

      So it's very often not a choice of "we'll have more kids but have a smaller house and drive an old car" but "we need a safe place to raise the children we already have."

      These are the kinds of decisions many couples in this world face.

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    3. Of course, it sounds like you are being a responsible parent and a responsible Catholic. Your situation sounds like exactly why God and the Catholic church provide for NFP.

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    4. The same NFP you find so onerous and ineffective? That's what the other 99% of Catholics are left with? Wow. That is probably why 98% of Catholics in the US use contraception.

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    5. Admittedly it took me a while to figure it out. I don't think that's the case for everyone. And once I figured it out it was very effective. But I think in my situation it has come down to trust. That was it for us in the beginning. We took what felt like a crazy leap of faith to not use contraception mostly because we couldn't convince ourselves that we knew better than the Catholic Church and what she has taught for two thousand years. I think that was MY "yes" moment to God. I can't tell you how Catholics who have made other decisions feel. But I know that in my case, I feel that the grace God has poured out into my life as a result of that one decision has given me the strength to handle everything that has come since with true joy and trust in God.

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    6. I struggle with how the world has changed in 2000 years. It's me alone pretty much with our 4 children, at the time when the last set (yes, twins, were born, it was 4, aged 4 and under). I don't have the help of anyone other than my husband. And, although I stay home, I still work in the evenings. And, I am in my early 40's and just plain beat. I struggle with not having the faith that maybe I should have. I welcomed these children into this world but worry about my emotional health to bring in more. Also, my physical health and stamina. Maybe if I had the help of parents or in-laws or anyone really other than my husband, it would seem possible. But, with our situation, I just don't see how. Not everything can be black and white. There are definitely gray areas and circumstances for each family or individual. I ramble or digress. This has been a struggle for me, but I am doing the best that I can and just hope that God knows my heart and that we have not stopped having children for selfish reasons--I feel like I am giving all the time. Anyhow....

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  14. Great post, but I wouldn't write off ALL methods of NFP, especially the method (Creighton) that can monitor and treat all manner of women's gynaecological issues, most of which can be identified from studying the charts. Also, the wonderful Creighton doctors can help infertile couples achieve pregnancy with close to 80% success rate, treat at-risk pregnancies, and prevent many premature births. So, if couples don't want to use Creighton to avoid pregnancy, that's fine, but a GOOD reason to use this method of NFP is for monitoring the mother's health before, during, and after pregnancy.

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    1. I'm just reading this post after Kendra mentioned it in her recap of the year - but AMEN Cathy. NFP is a huge pain for us, but we have to do it in order to achieve pregnancy. It was such a good thing for me to chart and realize that we would have problems getting pregnancy before we were married. I would absolutely be throwing charts out the window if I could, though!

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  15. Dear Kendra,

    I really believe that when you say "yes" to God, He finds a way to reward you! Look at how blessed you and Jim are! And as a result of your blessings, so are we and the rest of the family. Your "yes" starts a lot of conversations, and gives me many opportunities to praise the witness of your lives. People need to hear how important it is to live a Catholic life.

    Oh, and by the way...thanks for the lovely Mother's Day comments. You know how much I love you and how blessed I feel to have you love my Jimmy in the world. He's awesome, isn't he?!

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  16. I realize that for some couples, fertility is indeed a heavy burden to bear and NFP plays an important role. Glad we have NFP for that. But I think there is a fine line between promoting and making it appear as though it was the 8th Sacrament. When my husband and I were engaged, NFP was sold to us as though NFP = holier marriage...but that's not at all the case as your story so clearly illustrates and it certainly has not be true for us.

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    1. Amen!

      It seems to me that since so many Catholics use the Pill, the Church is trying to fight this by educating everyone in NFP. They really, really try and promote NFP. The one unintended consequence is that they force a NFP mindset on the faithful who are not planning on using the pill. So now it appears that the Church is teaching that God's will for every marriage is for the couple to use nfp throughout their marriage, every month sitting down and praying and asking God if they should be open to bringing in a child that month. If the couple feels that they have some reason for not having a child that month, then the couple avoids sex on fertile days. Then the same is repeated the next month. So the impression is that Catholic couples are called by God to plan their family size and spacing very diligently.

      But I wonder----only 100 years ago, nfp did not even exist. If it is God's will for every couple to be so diligent in planning their family, if that is the foundation of every Catholic's marriage, then it seems very peculiar that this life style has only been so recently made available. Perhaps instead nfp has become too much of a focus and too central to Catholic practice and needlessly so.

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  17. Creighton 'user'June 19, 2013 at 7:42 AM

    I'm glad to read this. It's been a frustrating path for us with charting along with hugely irregular cycles, near-constant 'peak' mucus, and headaches with the whole bit. We have a few grave reasons to postpone children, but with the frustration we have with charting we are just being abstinent. My suggestion to those that are unsure whether you have a 'grave reason' or concerns: seek out a spiritual director and/or Catholic therapist (of which I have both), and of course, pray about it!

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  18. I can relate. We used it to postpone when we first got married (husband was a grad student) but after 5 months, we decided that nothing had changed but our heart and we started trying to conceive (we did use NFP to do it). I had hoped we'd never have a reason to postpone again, but we've had some serious economic setbacks since then (my husband couldn't find a job after graduation and we had to move in with my parents, I was the main bread winner and wasn't making much bread, etc.) and have been using NFP to postpone pregnancy again. But my husband just found a job! I'm so glad because I'm so anxious to have more babies and I'm hoping that I will never, ever need to use NFP again!

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  19. Thank you for this post! I could relate to so much of what you wrote.

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  20. Wow. I loved this. Thank you for your ministry to moms like me!

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  21. When you have a grave reason you know.

    I'm on medicine that I can not be pregnant on, ironically this same medicine also makes hormonal birth control non-effective in women!!!


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  22. Kendra, some of your very best writing is on this blog.

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  23. I'm glad we have NFP but it is over promoted (basically as an alternative to ABC) and the definition od grave reasons seems to be very very flexible.

    its lovely to read of a family happy just to go with God's purpose !

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  24. I'm sure it does, but does it ever occur to you that what you are saying is exactly what God intended. We are not supposed to chart, measure and calculate so that we can have deliberately infertile sex. NFP has it's place for couples who really need to prevent and cannot accept mutually agreed abstinence but it is not what God intended for marriage.

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  26. So glad there's another wife whose *husband* is the responsible one!!! lol.

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  27. Love this post!!! I know this was written a couple of years ago, but I am so happy I found this post! I relate souch to you on this issue. I feel as though God has been working on my heart in this area, and for me it has been a perspective change. Seeing children as a gift, as my calling, has been very freeing for me in not feeling anxious about becoming pregnant. God has been teaching me about trusting in Him. This has also been so freeing to look back and see just how beautifully God has paved the way for each and every one of my children to come into the world. He is so faithful and provides so well. Thank you for writing this post.

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  28. One of us is not able to do NFP, and it's not me, which gave us five lovely babies in the space of nine years, who are now 1, 3, 6, 7, and 10. I was lucky. I can read my body very easily. I knew the exact days I could conceive, and the signs were regular and obvious. I could feel the moment of ovulation. I was easily able to mark the dates mentally with very little effort. It would have been quite easy, except the slightest shaking of my head, or the smallest, meekest suggestion of "not today" would throw *one of us* into a desperate panic, like someone gasping for air. Reverse psychology textbook case. So *we* meant to space them a bit more, or not have quite so many (seven now, and I believe we are done as I am pushing 46). But, I absolutely cannot imagine my life, or the world, without these unique little souls God created and who are living in our house. Each time I knew I would most likely become pregnant, I remember thinking "This is God's jurisdiction!" and surrendering it all joyfully and happily to Him for His glory, and I offered up each positive pregnancy test in dedication to Him from the very first minute. These children are His, and He knew them before they were in my womb! He knew their intended purpose for His kingdom. I am doing my best to make sure they fulfill that! God help me!

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    1. I tried to add this--I hope it doesn't appear twice:

      While thinking back on our history of pregnancies, I also want to share how I could see this being God's jurisdiction. I remember certain days each month where I knew it would be "these three days." And God allowed illness, or a business trip, or even a little "spat" or irritation (making us "not in the mood")--or something else to come up--all things that very clearly showed me how He was the one who really was in charge of it all and I could trust Him. Because I knew the days so easily, it was easy to see how God was ordering it around it all. My testimony is saying, you can trust Him!

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  29. I love this post! We have used nfp for ten years and have 4 children; and it drives me nuts!!! Can I ask an odd question?! How big is your house?? We have a 3 bedroom apartment (we don't live in the U.S.), I would love to have another one or more - but space?!?!!!?!?

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    1. Space is a challenge. Right now we have eight kids and four bedrooms: a boys room, a girls room, a guest room for my parents who visit often, and the master bedroom. But we also have a playroom and a yard, which is much more important to me than the bedrooms. A place to send them outside is really nice to have.

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    2. Thanks! I agree! I think that I fall too easily into the trap of thinking all these big American Catholic families all have giant houses!!! We can definitely reshuffle our space a little. 😀

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  31. Wonderful post and comments! My husband and I are both converts so NOT using contraception was SUCH a foreign idea to us! When his family found out I'm Catholic and that he was converting they were shocked that we actually intended to practice the Faith. We learnt the basics of NFP, mostly the terrible consequences of contraception, not only for a woman's health but for your marriage too, but we did not learn the how of NFP too well. I knew to look for certain signs and so far it has worked wonderfully, we know the conception dates of both of our babies. I've never charted. Maybe we've just been very blessed and lucky to conceive when we were emotionally ready. We'll see how it continues in the future as I'm only on my second pregnancy and would be delighted if God blesses us with a large family. What a change from my younger years as a non-Catholic only wanting 3 babies, 1 boy, 1 girl and a surprise. The non-contraceptive mentality of a married couple is what I feel is one of the most beautiful results of following the Faith (besides babies of course). But the openness to life, to additional love, to additional sacrifice, to living unselfishly - those things are what builds a rock solid marriage!

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  32. Please pray for me. Having to chart right know until we have some health issues sorted out. I hate charting...Please pray for my healing!!! But amen and amen to all you wrote.

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  33. Thank you for sharing! My husband and I have the opposite problem : in five years of marriage and no contraception, we have never conceived. We tried charting and talked about maybe doing NaPro, but then realized it was easier and more peaceful for nature to take its course than to try and force something God hasn't ordained yet. We are much happier being open to life, but learning how to embrace life with just the two of us. After all, NFP is a useful tool, but it can be used like contraception with the wrong attitude.

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