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.