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Shortly before my husband and I were married in the Lutheran church (in which we’d both been baptized and raised) I began taking birth control pills. I hardly thought about it at all; in my sphere of existence, going on the Pill was just something you did when you started having sexual relations. I was a strong enough Christian that I believed sex was reserved for marriage, but in the faith I was raised in, making babies wasn’t the purpose of sex, but rather a side effect that could be pleasant or unpleasant depending on your particular circumstances. In my mind, and in the view of the church I attended, you were irresponsible if you didn’t go on birth control if you were in circumstances that weren’t “ideal” for having children (“ideal” circumstances tended to involve two incomes and the purchase of a home, and preferably occurred several years after marriage). As I was still in college and my husband’s employment was sporadic, we thought it best to postpone parenthood until we were “ready.” Sadly, praying about this decision never crossed our minds.
I didn’t like the Pill’s side effects, but resigned myself to them, thinking that it was the most reliable way to “control” my fertility. About two years went by, and my husband suddenly announced that he felt he needed to become Catholic. I was blindsided by his decision; unbeknownst to me, since before our marriage and after it he’d been having long, complex theological conversations with his best friend, a devout Catholic, and had become convinced that the Catholic Church had the fullness of truth. Part of that truth, he told me, was Church teaching regarding the intrinsic evil of contraception. He asked me to go off the Pill and for us to start using Natural Family Planning.
I argued, but eventually I agreed to at least research NFP. Up to that point I had never heard of it; all I knew was that Catholics used “Vatican Roulette,” also known as “the rhythm method,” and everyone knew that didn’t work. I sent an e-mail to a multi-denominational Christian e-mail list I was on, asking for more information; a Catholic friend referred me to The Art of Natural Family Planning and a Protestant friend told me to read Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I purchased the latter and checked the former out of the library (I didn’t want to buy a Catholic book, after all.)
I read them both, and when I was done, I was furious.
Why hadn’t anyone ever told me I could chart my cycles? I had taken biology courses in both high school and college, and had earned As in both, but I had never been told about basal body temperatures or cervical mucous. I had never known that it was possible to track ovulation. I hadn’t known what a luteal phase was. This was valuable information! As a woman with long, irregular menstrual cycles, I hated being surprised by my period. That was the one big benefit to the Pill, to my mind—for once in my life I could predict when my period would come so I wouldn’t be caught by surprise every month. But here was a way, a natural way, for me to get that information and no one had ever told me about it! Maybe these Catholics knew what they were talking about, after all. The discovery softened my heart toward the Church and made me more open to beginning RCIA, which in turn led to my acceptance of the Catholic faith.
I shared my findings about NFP with my husband and told him that I no longer had any issues with going off the Pill; in fact, I was eager to try out NFP. I threw away my pills and started charting my cycles several months prior to our conversion, and by May 29, 2003 (the date of our confirmation) we were full-blown NFP users. (Although largely self-taught, we also took an NFP class from our diocese several months after our conversion—and I did end up purchasing a copy of The Art of Natural Family Planning, after all.) We used the symptothermal method (STM) for most of our marriage, but we recently switched to the Marquette method, as it seems to be more accurate during the postpartum period. Each method has helped me learn my body’s natural fertility rhythms, make sense of my unpredictable cycles, and has helped me know when to expect my period so I can prepare accordingly. Also, it’s helped me know the exact date of conception for each of my children, which has amazed all of my care providers during pregnancy (they have always been impressed at how I knew the age of my child to the day, as confirmed by a dating ultrasound). Knowing the date of conception means you have a much more accurate due date range, which can help avoid unnecessary interventions in childbirth (e.g., induction for a “late” baby that isn’t actually “late” at all).
The use of NFP also drastically changed the way my husband and I communicated with one another. Every month and every new cycle meant we had a discussion about eventual parenthood, our current physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual circumstances, and a new discussion about if we had serious, just reasons for abstaining. One month, in May 2004, my husband shared that although he knew we weren’t in absolute “ideal” circumstances, he felt God was calling him to become a father and that perhaps we shouldn’t abstain this cycle. I was initially hesitant, but I wanted to follow God’s will for our lives, especially when it came to our fertility. I also wanted to trust my husband in his capacity as head of our spiritual household. Two weeks later, the pregnancy test was positive, and our daughter was born in January 2005.
NFP allowed us to conceive the very cycle we decided to start trying—a virtual impossibility with the Pill. If we’d remained Lutheran, I strongly doubt I would have ever gone off contraceptives as soon as we did; I also don’t know if we’d have been as open to conceiving children as soon as we did. Our circumstances, according to the secular word, weren’t ideal for having kids (my husband was in college, I was the sole breadwinner, we were living paycheck to paycheck in a small two-bedroom apartment). At the time of our marriage, as Lutherans, we tended to listen more to the secular world; as Catholics, we opened our hearts to God’s will for our lives and our fertility and He granted us an amazing blessing as a result – and since that time, He’s granted us six additional blessings, two of whom are with Him in heaven, and one of whom is due to arrive in October of this year. Two of those blessings were conceived during cycles when our original plan had been to avoid, but in the midst of my cycle we discerned that God was calling us to trust in His plan instead of our own.
That is one of the aspects of Natural Family “Planning” that I didn’t realize at the outset – sometimes your plan changes, and sometimes God has a different plan than the one you had. As it turns out, His plan has always been better than ours.
© 2013. JoAnna Wahlund. All Rights Reserved.