Subscribe via RSS Feed

NFP: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust My Body

July 24, AD2013 9 Comments

 

 

Visit this website for more on NFP Awareness Week.

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.

 

 

About the Author:

JoAnna was baptized, raised, and married in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America but converted to Catholicism in May 2003, on G.K. Chesterton's birthday. She has five terrific kids here on earth, two saints in heaven praying for her, and a wonderful husband of 13 years who supports her in all things. By day, she is a content editor for a global information company; by night, she enjoys defending the Catholic faith online (in between her duties as chief cook and bottle washer for La Casa Wahlund). She blogs sporadically at http://a-star-of-hope.blogspot.com.

If you enjoyed this essay, subscribe below to receive a daily digest of all our essays.

Thank you for supporting us!

  • Use to Love Catholic Schools

    No one ever told you you could chart your cycles? Where have you been living? Every gynecologist and nurse practitioner I have been to has told me to chart my cycles. There’s even an app for that on your iPod.

    • http://stacytrasancos.com/ Stacy Trasancos

      Not my experience at all! I still have to deal with doctors and nurses who have no idea what I’m talking about when I try to discuss charting.

    • Leila Miller

      I’m 46, and no one my whole life told me about charting my cycles, and this was after being a Planned Parenthood client as a teen (they were quick to throw me on the Pill and help me lie to my parents) and then an adult who went to at least four different OB/gyn’s over the years. I was married with three kids before I learned about charting cycles. It had never been mentioned to me (and I am the daughter of a doctor and a nurse, with uncles who are a doctor and a pharmacist). My current pro-life (Protestant) OB still has no idea about charting. So, I’m not sure where you have been living, actually. ;)

    • Jeff_McLeod

      I envy you because you must be very young.

      You must be kidding. You experience life as a long stream of NFP encouragement? You are absolutely blessed.

      Oh my gosh, as my wife and I went through life, the one thing we could count on was that contraceptive guilt accompanies you the entire way!, telling you that you have a responsibility to have a small family. Why a small family? Nobody dares to ask. Try asking the question at a gathering of young parents. The smirks will silence you.

      It never in our wildest dreams occurred to us that there was an army of “gynecologists and nurse practitioners” cheering us on to practice NFP!!!. Where in the world were they, in all due respect?

      Now, the iPod? NFP information is widely available on the iPoid? That’s new. I imagine you mean iPad. I know, details, details.

      I am the third respondent chiming in saying that while NFP information is no doubt out there for someone to find on their own (obviously the internet has made it available, at least to those who can master this confusing thing that calls itself “google”). Still. to the rank and file husband and wife, we get our information from television and popular culture, which the radical left has co-opted, and which for some strange reason has chosen to preach that the best thing one can do for “the planet” is to extinguish your gene pool. You’ve got to be kidding if you think this is not as plain as the nose on your face.

      That is a fact, and that is what Joanna is describing here.

  • Pingback: Fifty Shades of Nothing - BigPulpit.com

  • Shawna Mathieu

    It’s sort of mind-blowing when you realize how easy it actually is. Every time we’ve decided God was telling us to try for a baby, I was pregnant within one cycle. While most medical personnel roll their eyes at NFP for child spacing, they all were impressed that I’m able to come to the first prenatal appointment with the exact date of conception. Interestingly, they’re impressed when I’ve used charting to get pregnant, but roll their eyes when I tell them I use it for child-spacing also.

  • Pingback: Natural Family Planning: I Learned to Trust my Body | Catholic Defender Daily

  • Agnes

    That is a pretty amazing NFP testimony Joanna…I am geting married in 3 weeks and started charting my cycles just 2 months ago…I am still learning (self-teaching) and I hope to be ready by the time we get married! :-) Thanks for the encouragement! It made me all the more excited about NFP.

  • AC

    Just for your information: The Kippleys do not have the rights to their above-mentioned book “The Art of NFP”. CCL does and so John and Sheila have written a new book, “Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach” because they are not associated with CCL anymore {as it is not the same organization that they started}. The Kippleys are still doing NFP work at their Natural Family Planning International site nfpandmore.org. We used their NFP helps for over 20 years and found that the temps gave us a pattern, too, that helped us with post-partum time. Nice post!