This week is NFP Awareness Week, yay! If you haven’t heard of NFP, it stands for Natural Family Planning. This blog post isn’t meant to be an introduction to NFP or a post lauding its many positive benefits (that’d be a whole different post). If you want to learn more about NFP here’s a good place to start: I Use NFP.
This post is about our journey as a couple. I share the challenges that NFP has presented us with so far. If you are currently struggling with NFP then I suggest reading Simcha Fischer’s book, The Sinner’s Guide to NFP. It has brought us some solace.
Dreams for a Large Family
When William and I were courting we enjoyed discussing our many hopes for our future. One of our dreams was to have a large family. On our wedding day, one of our younger guests said with certainty, “this means they’re going to have lots of babies.” That made me smile and think, “Hopefully, we’ll see.”
As we went through our journey as an engaged couple and as newlyweds, many people gave us the advice, “wait a year to start having kids, so you can have some time to yourselves and to get used to each other.” We did wait, but not for the reasons people suggested.
We still hold on to the hopes that we shared early on in our relationship, but we don’t have any idea how large our family will be. It’s just us for now, and that’s okay. Our first year of marriage has been filled with health struggles, and that has directly impacted our family planning. You can learn a little bit about my health struggles in my post On Suffering and what I’ve learned in my post Seasons of Waiting.
Why We Choose To Wait
Right now, we are waiting for my next round of tests before we decide whether or not we will try to conceive in the upcoming months. When we first learned the Creighton method of NFP as an engaged couple, we never anticipated how soon we would need to actively postpone pregnancy.
Even though we are waiting, we would welcome a child into our life right now with pure joy and utter bliss. At the same time, we know it wouldn’t be prudent for us to try to conceive considering all of our circumstances. This will likely change as my health improves. As a couple, we continue to prayerfully seek God’s will and consult with my doctor in this area of our life.
For us, NFP is a shared responsibility. We both track my cycle and have ongoing conversations (almost daily) regarding our intentions with family planning. It puts the responsibility of parenting at the forefront of our minds. St. John Paul II says in his address Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality:
Truly, in begetting life the spouses fulfill one of the highest dimensions of their calling: they are God’s co-workers. Precisely for this reason they must have an extremely responisble attitude. In deciding whether or not to have a child, they must not be motivated by selfishness or carelessness, but by a prudent, conscious generosity that weighs the possibilities and circumstances, and especially gives priority to the welfare of the unborn child.
The hardest part of this responsibility has been actively choosing to wait, to put aside our desire for children and do the responsible thing. We don’t take postponing having a child lightly. We also recognize our fertility as an amazing gift that we want to use properly with honor and respect.
We are amazed that we even have the ability to be co-creators with God and want to respond with our full intellect and cooperation in God’s plan. We want to give God our full “yes” even in this area of our life. Our “yes” right now is in response to God’s prompting us to wait.
Struggles with NFP
It’s a cross for us to postpone pregnancy. Having a serious reason can compel us to wait, but it doesn’t take away our desire for a child. With each month our desire only grows stronger. The communication and intimacy that we’ve found practicing NFP has allowed us to face our fears of the future and challenges of waiting together.
Sometimes I might want to err on the side of carelessness, as St. John Paul II mentions. I’d be willing to sacrifice my health in a heartbeat to have a child, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. When I admit this to my husband he instantly reminds me of the importance of health and I’m brought back to the reality of the situation.
Challenges of Discernment
At times it’s incredibly hard to discern what is a serious enough reason to wait. At the moment there’s no simple answer to that question. My health has improved a lot, to the point where I can live a more or less normal life now. On the other hand, I still have many “bad days.” It’s heart-wrenching to hear our doctor say that we haven’t actually solved any of the underlying problems, even though the symptoms are reduced.
Although a pregnancy wouldn’t be life-threatening right now, our doctor still does not recommend it. Is this a “serious reason?” After a lot of prayer and careful consideration, we have come to believe that it is. I still have a lot of healing left to do. We just wish that discerning these things was simpler.
We fit into a weird category where it’s hard to find support. We aren’t infertile (that we know of), we aren’t trying to conceive, and we don’t already have children. We can relate to the struggles of couples with infertility because we greatly desire to have a child and know the pain of waiting, but we don’t share that exact struggle. We know couples who choose to postpone more for financial reasons, but that’s not exactly us either.
We can glean things from each of the couples we know who are choosing to use NFP, but we have to actively start these conversations. Every couple’s discernment looks different, especially at different stages of life. That’s why we appreciate the couples we know who share about their journeys with NFP. That is why I am sharing ours now.
NFP is both an amazing blessing and a huge burden at the same time. It’s hard to be open to life, and it’s hard to wait. That’s a part of the cross and what we are called to carry as Catholic married couples, so there is a peace in knowing that we are pursuing Christ in such a critical part of our lives. At times postponing is hard, because more than anything we want to err on the side of life, of selflessness, and of love, but that doesn’t always look the way we expect.
For now, we try to think of things in a positive light – that we are actively trying to start our family by first getting me healthier. In a sense, we are preparing for that day when we can be parents. Hopefully it won’t be too far off from the time I write this, but for now, it feels more like a distant possibility.
I have to remind myself that just because we aren’t trying to conceive now doesn’t mean we won’t have a child in the future. A friend who struggled with infertility reminded me that a child is a “gift, not a given,” and that has helped put my heart at ease.
More than anything practicing NFP has taught me the great gift that fertility is. It has taught me how important discussions about family planning are. Practicing NFP has taught me that ultimately this area of our life is in God’s hands. We may not be fruitful in the sense of having children yet, but we still pray that our marriage can bear good fruits in the other areas of our life.