Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Reality of NFP

I don't post for nearly a month and now I'm coming back with a slew of words about something that most of my readers don't even use. Awesome. I am clearly winning the SEO and blogger relevancy awards. Honestly, if you have no interest in reading this, it won't hurt my feelings. But I do need to write it, because I do think someone reading needs to know this. It will be long, but hopefully it will speak to that person or people.

Travis and I have used NFP (Natural Family Planning--there are several methods, we currently use Marquette) the entirety of our marriage. I came into our relationship convinced it was the right thing to do, and Travis shared that conviction after attending a lecture that really outlined and explained why the Catholic Church values this practice of prayerful discernment regarding family size. I'm not writing this post to convince anyone it is the only way to go (although I am happy to answer any questions--ask in the comments, and make sure you leave an email address). I'm not writing this because I want someone to convince me to do things differently. I'm writing this because I want to be honest about the reality of  living this lifestyle, when it is easy and when it is hard.

I was sitting in my OB's office for my annual checkup several months ago. We are friends at church, so a visit is always more than a cold, clinical experience. He asked me how we were doing and I said we were doing well, but that I was struggling a bit with NFP. Not struggling to understand it or with confidence in the method, but struggling with an attitude of resentment and frustration. You see, the key component of this lifestyle is abstaining from sex when I'm fertile if we don't feel called to grow our family. And for us, really trying to be responsible and acknowledging that now is the not the time to grow our family (if ever), that means being very conservative. I said that I know it is the right thing for us, but that I was surprised by how hard it was for me at the time. And he told me he's had so many women in his office, in tears, thinking something is wrong with them because they were also struggling.

When Travis and I first learned a method of NFP (after having our third child--clearly we are geniuses), we heard a lot about how good it is for marriages. The low divorce rate, the healthy communication, and so on. No one really ever said there would be times we would be so frustrated at having to wait, or at each other for not meeting the other person's needs at certain times, or how difficult it can be to find time to be intimate when both of you are interested and it is an infertile time and the kids are finally asleep and you can relax and wait, now we're just too tired. No one talked about how each of us would have phases where we are "in the mood" a lot (and the other person isn't) and then all of a sudden it becomes a chore. Or how being pregnant and nursing for 8 straight years would take its toll on me and our relationship.

Here's the truth: I was in a season of major frustration. Finally out of the newborn and baby phase. Taking care of myself and feeling good about how I looked (and I don't care how shallow that sounds--self-image is huge when it comes to desire) and having the energy to really invest in my marriage. And poor Travis had spent all those years of me being pregnant and having babies and nursing learning to live with what intimacy I could offer and accepting that it was probably not enough, but oh well. We have spent so many years being in different places regarding desire. And then, you have to consider that maybe you are both finally in the same place, but a large part of every cycle is spent abstaining, because you really don't want to have another child right now. And so I was frustrated. And resentful.

Guess what? That does no good when you're trying to live like this and be faithful to what you know is right. So we have talked a lot about what I need and what he needs and what God wants from us. The Church does not actually tell us to have as many kids as possible (contrary to popular thought). She tells us to prayerfully consider each month what God might be calling us to do, in regards to our family. And I had forgotten the prayer part. And the gratitude part--what a blessing, to be frustrated because I'm in such a good relationship and I want to fully experience all of it! It wasn't an issue of having to fulfill my marital duty like a chore. It was an issue of thinking there was only one way to really express that appreciation for a healthy marriage. Using NFP is a challenge. We have to find ways to nurture and express intimacy that are outside the easy ways. But I do believe that there is so much grace in doing what we know to be right, even when it is hard.

So, if you're using some form of NFP and you're frustrated, discouraged, worn out or whatever--there's nothing wrong with you and you aren't failing in faithfulness. You're human, with human desires and challenges and wants and needs. Navigating all of that is sometimes hard. You and your spouse might not always be in the same place with your needs. Sometimes it is hard, but eventually, it comes back around. There is a peace in knowing you are doing what God wills for you, even if it is hard to feel that peace at times.

And seriously, I will answer just about any question you might have. Or if you just need someone to talk to, feel free to email me. More of us need to talk about our experiences if we want the truth and beauty of this lifestyle to be known.

12 comments:

  1. I think your post pertains to more couples out there than ones using NFP. I use birth control, more for cycle issues than for family planning, and we still have many of the same issues as you do. I think open communication, alternative intimacy expressions, gratitude, and prayer come into play in all marriages. :)

    Thank you for sharing.

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  2. Thank you or sharing. I agree balancing everyone's need is hard. C and I after months apart or having some small issues.

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  3. This is awesome, Nicole. Thank you for sharing so intimately about where you and Travis are. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant. I'm 33 and he's 35 and this will be our first baby. Ive used condoms for years now and the last seven months of prayerfully seeking God's will for us with regard to baby has been such a journey. So we're in the opposite space: trying to be as intimate as possible during my fertile time amidst busy 12-13 hour work days, exhaustion, vacations. Trusting that God has a plan for us to be parents and that it doesn't happen on our terms has been a struggle. I really value your experience on the flip side of it and the reminder that parenthood and the act of intimacy is a prayerful endeavor.

    Thank you!!!

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  4. This is awesome, Nicole. Thank you for sharing so intimately about where you and Travis are. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant. I'm 33 and he's 35 and this will be our first baby. Ive used condoms for years now and the last seven months of prayerfully seeking God's will for us with regard to baby has been such a journey. So we're in the opposite space: trying to be as intimate as possible during my fertile time amidst busy 12-13 hour work days, exhaustion, vacations. Trusting that God has a plan for us to be parents and that it doesn't happen on our terms has been a struggle. I really value your experience on the flip side of it and the reminder that parenthood and the act of intimacy is a prayerful endeavor.

    Thank you!!!

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  5. Thanks for sharing:)!

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  6. This is a timely post that brought tears to my eyes because it is so US right now. We have followed and used NFP our entire marriage (almost 12 years). It was easy to say we were using NFP to plan our family when we were in the early years, those 'starting our family' years. And then two children and one miscarriage in, we decided to add again. In walked four years of pain and agony in secondary infertility/subfertility. Thankfully, eventually it also lead to amazing Catholic docs who helped us do everything within Catholic limits to conceive again. And we did! Not to be outdone in His generosity, God 'surprised' us and we became pregnant again just 2 months after delivering our Gianna. So, here we are with a 10 and 8 year old and our 'twins' who are almost 2 1/2 and 1 1/2 next month.

    And in this place, it is about the waiting and discerning. Because right now, right here, we don't know that God is calling us to expand our family. Throw in some difficult to decipher cycles and we could've easily written your post as well. Thank you for sharing this post and blessing me with it. Truly, it is most appreciated.

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  7. We used to use NPF (focus on used to, lol) and I can relate to everything you are saying. We are not Catholic, but I didn't want to use artificial birth control (i.e. chemicals and meds) and the barrier methods were just so annoying, we ended up more or less abstaining during the fertile times. (I say more or less because we got pregnant with #3 while trying NOT to get pregnant.)

    Because our choice was not based on moral reasons but more on convenience and pragmatic reasons, my husband had, ahem, surgery, after our 3rd so that we are no longer fertile. It has been the most freeing thing as far as our relationship goes -- to be able to be intimate when we are both in the mood (which is rare enough, lol, without trying to abstain when we're fertile!)

    My heart goes out to you, and I understand your convictions, but it is definitely not easy.

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  8. We are using NFP to prevent for the first time in 10 years. And yeah, no fun. But better than the alternative.

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  9. I think you know my situation but I admire you so much for holding to your convictions and beliefs.

    And intimacy in marriage is certainly more challenging while running a family and building a career. This I know.

    Thinking of you. I do love your outlook on it all... :)

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  10. Just want to say I love your thoughts on this topic. You're very wise, and this post is a great example to couples out there. I hope a lot of people searching for "NFP" will find it. :)

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  11. Yes, yes, yes. We've talked about all this before and I desperately wish we could talk about this in person. I always remember a line from one of Simcha Fisher's old blog posts about NFp where she said, "NFP is the worst method except for every other method out there." Amen.
    Rob and I are in a tough season ourselves. I am still deep in the baby stages and I am exhausted. And I hate that I look ahead and cringe when I think there are still so many more years that I could be having babies. But I know enough to know that my mindset right now is not my mindset forever. Because that cringing about more possible babies is just fear talking, and perfect love casts out all fear. All of my worst decisions have come through fear.

    And so I keep muddling through, and I keep praying to not be afraid. Sometimes I feel greatly consoled and sometimes I feel mightily alone.

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  12. Just read this post and I appreciate you writing it. I am a Catholic struggling to find a way to incorporate NFP. We have 3 children and I haven't been on any oral form of birth control since the birth of my second child. I started learning about NFP at that point. We started incorporating it somewhat after I returned to regular fertility after nursing #2--more of a rhythm method than true NFP. Low and behold I became pregnant--a total blessing and I am so thrilled, but I am scared of using NFP for that reason mainly. I am open to having another child, but scared of the cost and so many other things. I still have a lot more praying to do on the subject, but I wanted you to know I appreciate your writing about this topic!

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I'm dying to know what you have to say, so talk already! Thanks!