sharing the Story. 9 comments

Last week was Natural Family Planning (NFP) week. Typically I’m one to join right in, praising NFP and how wonderful it is, but this year I didn’t. Instead, I sat back and read truth after truth about how hard NFP can be.

I started charting years before I married Anthony. When I learned about my fertility I found it empowering. It was incredibly helpful to begin to notice patterns, not only in my chart, but in my general mood, and more (i.e. when I could expect headaches, cramps, etc.). When we got married we had a deep desire to start a family early and conceived quickly. After our first daughter was born, however, my fertility returned with a vengeance. My first post-partum cycle started at a mere 8 weeks after giving birth. Those first few cycles back were long (45-55 days) with most of those days being fertile days. As much as we loved our daughter, I was in no state to be pregnant with a two month old at home. I could barely figure out motherhood as I returned to work full-time and tried to manage these crazy cycles.

After our second child was born, I got a bit more of a reprieve – a full 4.5 months before my cycles returned. But even since then my charts have been filled with fertile days. Our second daughter had reflux which threw me for a giant loop. Her sleep was horrible and it took some time before we were able to get her some help (yay modern medicine!) and finally see a happy baby. There were more than a few nights that I cried to Anthony that I wasn’t sure I could ever handle more kids if things were going to be so challenging – such little sleep, plus a toddler transitioning to being a big sister, and a fussy baby who couldn’t be set down. Then throw in missionary life, bouncing around the country all summer, kidney stones and impending surgery for said stones and you’ve got just a tiny glimpse into my present reality.

Both of my post-partum phases have led me to struggle with NFP. More than once I’ve wished things were easier. If I’m being honest, I’ve even had moments of being jealous of contracepting couples. I’m grateful for my fertility, grateful that we have been able to conceive, but I’ve also railed against it too, frustrated that I’ve either been pregnant or fertile, with very little time of infertility. I want to be part of those happy, NFP loving Catholics who sit around, eating their bon-bons and talking about the beauty of NFP, the honeymoon-type love when couples can come together after temporarily abstaining. There have been days I’d like to throw the chart out the window, even despite being newly post-partum with raging fertility. I’ve read books and blogs from wives, mothers, priests, and bishops about the good of NFP and yet sat here staring bitterly at my own charts. We discern and discuss, pray and talk, and then the stickers come out on the chart and the hype of natural family planning meets the realities of actual fertility and married life.

It wasn’t until we were at training for FOCUS in June that I found some real solace in the struggle of NFP. During training there was a retreat for married couples that featured an NFP panel – three couples with different experiences of NFP. One couple struggled to conceive and NFP helped them in their infertility. Another couple who desired children but also needed space between them because the wife’s fertility returned quickly after giving birth. Another couple who never charted and accepted children as they came. What was so moving about this panel was their stories. It wasn’t about how wonderful NFP is or the happy, beautiful, picture-perfect experience they had all had. Their stories were real. They were raw. Tears were shed as they shared.

As humans we are hard-wired for stories. We can share all day long about lower divorce rates in couples who use NFP and other benefits of using NFP (and there are many!) but if we share those things without sharing our story, we do NFP and ourselves a disservice. We encourage each other by our stories, by the triumphs and the struggles. If we leave out the sacrifices, the frustrations, the please, not another fertile day, I’ve already had 20 of them in a row rants and tell only the pie-in-the-sky ideas then we are selling a lie.

So let’s be honest, shall we? NFP is beautiful. It is also hard. It is sanctifying, in more ways than one. It tries my patience and brings me to my knees – as well it should. Before I got married I only ever heard the good about NFP. Maybe I wouldn’t have listened, but I sure wish I had known someone who struggled, so that when things got tough I’d have had a friend to reach out to, someone to commiserate with and console me. Instead, I’m three years into marriage and just now finding that community, that sense of honesty among NFP users and it is a much needed breath of fresh air. As we go forward from NFP week, can we all agree to be more honest as we share? To be unafraid to pull back the covers (pardon the pun!) and share the unabashed truth? Maybe you love NFP and it really is all hearts and rainbows, and that’s great. But maybe NFP is a daily cross and you are struggling to find your proverbial Simon to help you carry that cross. Let’s stop sugar-coating the hardships because even though NFP can be a cross, it is only through the cross that we find our salvation.

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9 thoughts on “sharing the Story.

  • Lindsay Wilcox

    Thank you for sharing your story! I agree that we need to hear the not-so-happy, hard stories along with the happy-go-lucky ones. I disagree that there are no negative stories out there. Over the last several years, I have seen such a big push of the “marriage is hard” line that I started to feel bad for still wanting to get married. I started to worry that my risk of choosing the wrong spouse was too high. It started to sound easier to be celibate forever and decide that single life must be a vocation. (I don’t think single life is a vocation.) This year in particular, the “NFP is hard” stories are out in full force.

    • Amanda @ worthy of Agape Post author

      I do think that NFP is hard stories are coming out this year more, and I’m glad for that. It is as if one person decided to rip the band-aid off so others are more encouraged to say, “hey, yea! This is hard for us too, so glad we aren’t alone!”

      And marriage is hard – my spiritual director once gave me the best bit of wisdom I’ve heard about marriage thus far (and I’m totally paraphrasing): it is your path to heaven and it will sanctify you. Christ returned to heaven on Calvary, did you expect marriage to be easier than that? (there is SO much grace and goodness in marriage too, but that is hard to remember when times get tough)

  • Beth Anne

    This is so good! I totally agree no one shares their story of the hard times. They just say yeah it’s hard b/c you have to abstain. And don’t get me started on different libido levels. My grandma was a story teller and I always have loved hearing and telling stories and those personal stories is what is going to get people to embrace NFP.

    • Amanda @ worthy of Agape Post author

      Yes! The stories of NFP (or anything, really) actually being lived provide encouragement and support for the difficult times! And UGH differing levels or libido and hormones and gah!

  • Christina

    Wow…well I’m so happy to hear the raw honesty of it all. In my case, NFP isn’t exactly known or talked about in my region but I did make it a point to my husband that we wouldn’t use contraceptives and just be careful during my ovulating phases. We got married six months ago and honestly, it’s been tough because my cycles decided to go crazy during this stressful period (what I thought would be our “honeymoon” phase turned out to be much less than that…although I’m still thankful for our marriage.), and I too have been jealous of the couples who seem to use contraceptives and “enjoy” themselves more than we can. It’s sapped a lot of emotional security for me but it’s also forced me to reset my values into loving Jesus above all- as it had been before I met my husband. Seems like satan doesn’t want to back down on families these days. Praying for you- Keep the good fight up! seems like we’ve both been going through quite a bit these years.

    • Amanda @ worthy of Agape Post author

      Oh yea, the whole idea of NFP being a great mini-honeymoon when you can be together drives me up a wall. The last three years of marriage have shown a different reality of NFP, not that it is all bad, but certainly what I was sold during marriage prep! It definitely brings you to your knees!

  • Jenn

    Love your post. I wish we had more Drs around here who understood it. When I went in with my pregnancy I could tell my dr the 3 day window in which we conceived yet he acted like I was wrong and I was two weeks along further than I knew I was. The ultrasound only showed 3 days ahead of what I thought so bam! 💥. While I like my dr he doesn’t 💯 support NFP but I’d have to drive 2.5 hrs min to find a napro dr. The joys of a small town. Any suggestions in finding a pro-NFP dr? We are struggling post miscarriage with cycles and my dr wants me to do a cycle of BC. When I said I didn’t want to he showed displeasure in my choice. I want someone who will support our decision whole heartedly. ❤️