Women Speak on NFP: When Natural Family Planning Doesn’t Go According to Your Plan

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This is a guest post by Christy of fountains of home in the Women Speak on NFP series. In this series you will hear from women using various methods of NFP, some to avoid pregnancy, some trying to conceive, and their experiences.

Disclaimer: This series is not meant to be a substitute for any method of training in NFP! If you are interested in one of the methods introduced in this series, please contact a certified instructor for information about training in that method of NFP. 

Natural family planning, and the science and research behind it, has come a long way in the last 50 years. The effectiveness of the major methods when followed correctly approach 95-99%. But what happens when natural family planning is difficult or ineffective for a woman? When no confidence or trust can be found in a woman’s charting and cycle in regards to avoiding pregnancy the ramifications can touch almost every part of her and her husband’s life. The self-sacrifice usually required by natural family planning can become momentous and a heroic act of virtue. God’s will and His loving generosity of children to a couple and marriage can become difficult to accept. In short, practicing natural family planning can become a true trial of faith.

The discussions usually involved in natural family planning tend to always drift towards the overly positive, mainly because natural family planning  just has so many great benefits, but the conversation should also include the genuine openness to new life natural family planning creates regardless of how much we wish to control our fertility. We need to acknowledge that natural family planning is not simply a scientific formula but a concrete way which God uses to bring about life – even when our human plans seem to deem the timing to be wrong. With the science of natural family planning progressing all the time hopefully most women who experience NFP ineffectiveness will soon be able to resolve the health issues that can cloud the accurate reading of their fertility, but when going through this difficult period of their lives its also so important to remember that God’s perfect will can use these sacrifices for the good, and the children that they are blessed with are truly gifts from God.

I’m one of those women in the small statistical percentage of those who have yet to find effectiveness through the practice of NFP. My husband and I are both Catholic and knew before we were married that we would be practicing natural family planning for the spacing of our children. When we began dating and talking about marriage we both were fairly open to the number of children we wanted to have and I’ve felt firmly for a long time that only God can plan your family and have always been open to His plan for any children He would bless us with. I began charting before our marriage and was well aware that my cycle was not of the average variety and hoped with both practice and time to master recognizing the signs of fertility in my own body and in turn only get pregnant after careful planning and scheduling on my part. Of course God’s plan for our family turned out to be much different!

My husband and I have been married for almost seven years and have five children age five and under. My children closest in age are 11 months apart. We’ve had a honeymoon baby, a baby conceived at 8 weeks postpartum, one baby who’s conception couldn’t be explained by my NFP teacher with over 25 years experience, and another baby conceived in an near abstinent state and while still 100% breastfeeding. Our first three children could be explained by the rare instances we stretched NFP rules, the last two are very much indicators that for some reason my body is most definitely not functioning the way it should in showing signs of fertility. I’m more than well educated in the method we have always used, the Billings Ovulation Method, and have charted and worked diligently with a great teacher for the entirety of our marriage. My husband and I haven’t broken a rule since 2009. In comparing my charts with the rules and protocols of all the other major NFP methods its clear that I would have gotten pregnant if I were following those methods as well. I’m a walking NFP research case! When I think about my crazy super-fertility, or the statistical chances in conceiving my children my mind literarily boggles.

I can also safely say that practicing NFP and, in turn, accepting and welcoming surprise pregnancies has been the most difficult part of our marriage. Obviously the practice of natural family planning for a woman with a normal and recognizable fertility cycle requires self sacrifice on both the part of the husband and wife. The vocation of marriage and motherhood is also inherantly self-donative in its nature. But when there are no signs to depend upon in the woman’s cycle, natural family planning can become stressful, burdensome, and feel like an almost hopeless exercise to both husband and wife in trying to space children, and this can impact almost every part of married life.

Personally, our situation with NFP has also greatly affected my own relationship with God. Its stretched me in every possible way. I’ve felt many times as if my faith is being tested, that God is asking way too much of me, that I couldn’t possibly follow His will. I’m not sure if I’ve been truly tempted to use artificial contraception, because I fully believe it to be a moral evil, but the easiness, the illusion of it being a safety net, and the temptation to gain control over something I feel to have no control over has indeed tempted me. Its safe to say that NFP has become a cross for me and my husband during this season of our marriage.

But we all have to embrace the cross in order to embrace holiness and God’s will for our lives. Natural family planning is very much a huge sacrificial part of our lives. I’m really not sure what God’s plan is for this suffering. I’m not quite sure yet if this is producing any virtue within myself at all as I struggle with it on almost a daily basis! I do know that my children are the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. And I always say that they must be the most intended by God as they’ve defied all natural family planning odds in being conceived! My experience with motherhood and our family life itself is intense due to the closeness in our children’s ages but also very rewarding in seeing our kids so close to one another. We are constantly awed by how fast they change, how much they learn, and their constant joy and love. They’re a priceless gift and worth so much more sacrifice than we’ve made.

Our marriage has also been made stronger through all these difficulties. We really are the only ones who truly understand our strange situation and we’ve become pretty good at supporting each other and loving each other through the ups and downs. My husband has somehow even survived me being on an almost constant pregnancy/postpartum hormonal roller coaster for the past six years!

Right now I know we have a long road ahead of us before we’ll be able to be confident in my body’s signs of fertility. We first have to discover and treat whatever underlying health issue is at the heart of this problem. Then we have to somehow begin to trust and feel confident again in our natural family planning. I also have a long way to go in fully trusting God’s will for our family, its a daily trust I have to choose. I still believe strongly that God plans our family. And I know that when you come down to it, only God can make a baby. Babies are truly miraculous and it still blows me away that God can use us in His creation of beautiful, individual souls.

Our vocations as wives and mothers call us to self-sacrifice, and although natural family planning has become an especially trying and difficult part of my life I hope and pray that God is using it all for the good. I also sometimes pray that this cross of natural family planning might require a little less heroic virtue from us. I have learned through this experience that we sometimes need to direct the conversation surrounding natural family planning in general from one of method effectiveness in preventing pregnancy towards a conversation more about following God’s plan for our families, His intimate working within natural family planning, and the openness and blessings that this brings.

afterlight

Christy Isinger is a full-time, at-home, sometimes crazy mom to five(!) children aged 5 to newborn. She herds toddlers and tries to keep a chaotic but loving home in northern Alberta, Canada. You can keep up with the craziness at her blog fountains of home where she writes about family, living the Catholic faith, books, and other random observations and opinions. 

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Comments

  1. says

    This was a very good post! I have 3 under 5 with one on the way, and feel very similarly to you. I’m secretly afraid of having “too many.” :) but God is bigger and he knows what we can handle. thank you for a refreshing and encouraging post.

    • says

      Thanks Tacy! Theres no such thing as too many kids as Mother Teresa would say, and I would say that sometimes there is such a thing as too many diapers!

  2. Becky says

    Thank you for having someone write about NFP that is struggling with it!! I too have felt burdened by using NFP. Even though I know it is the right thing to do and I wouldn’t truly want to use anything else, the ease of some contraception is tempting. I don’t have the trouble of an irregular cycle, but my post-partem charting can be very confusing – it doesn’t follow any ‘real’ pattern. We have 4 children 4 and under. Our twins were conceived when our oldest was 5 months old; we ‘bent’ the rules and all it takes is one time! Lol :) But because the 3 boys are so close in age and also because of having a c-section with the twins we decided it best to abstain as we just couldn’t get a handle on my charting even with guidance from my instructor. It was a year before I could say I was truly cycling predictably again! Our now 9 1/2 month old baby girl was the only “planned” baby – we conceived her on our first try (we were trying for our first, but it took a few tries)! But again, the post-partem charting was just all over. When you want to just connect with your husband and be intimate because you finally have a time when all the kids are cooperating at bedtime but you can’t risk getting pregnant it can really difficult not to get a little upset with God. Why does He make me want my husband so much when we really can’t, but when the timing is good I just don’t feel like it? Very frustrating. But my husband is so amazing and understanding. At least I have a wonderful partner who helps me to get past the frustration.

    • says

      I think its sometimes pretty hard to understand. Or at least I struggle with understanding a lot. Its a really big exercise in trust. And I also think that God must be using these sacrifices of ours or difficulties like these in family life because there is so much working against families in today’s culture. But I do hope that these sacrifices won’t last forever, or even for a long season of our life together.

  3. says

    Christy, I so much appreciate this post. Being open to the gift of new life is not an easy thing when you are heavily feeling the burden of the gifts you have already. Yes, they are gifts. Yes, we trust God. That doesn’t mean things always feel comfortable or easy to bear. I can relate, and I’m encouraged by your words and your faith. Thank you so much for sharing.

    And Haley, thank you again for this amazing series. It’s been beautiful- what a great idea to open up this conversation.

    • says

      Thanks Abbey I appreciate it! I think trust can be a really, really, really hard virtue for some of us to acquire! NFP definitely helps you grow in trust!

  4. Kara Murray says

    Christy,
    LOVE this love you, well put. I have to admit we are struggling with some of the very things you have been , and I feel relieved that Im not the only one. Always love to read anything that you come up with Christy :)

  5. G says

    Thank you for writing this. I started using NFP long before I got married and in that, I found out that I had PCOS. I’ve learned that that means many different things for many of those diagnosed PCOS. But in my experience, I learned that I have a crazy and unpredictable cycle. Once my hormones were figured out, we were able to get pregnant… and then pregnant again…. and then pregnant again. My children are not as close as yours (the three boys are 18 months apart between the three of them), but it was quite a journey and quite a test on my spiritual life and marriage especially when the third one came around and I had an 18 month old and a three year old. I feel that a lot of times everyone is just boasting about how amazing NFP and no one ever discusses the struggles of NFP. I still back up NFP, but at times feel alone and out of place if I mention how tough it is.

    • says

      Yeah, I think it can be really difficult for others who can chart easily or who have never struggled with NFP to understand how difficult it can be. Sometimes it helps a lot just to hear that other people have had a rotten time too! It can be a real struggle and sacrifice, and it is something that effects your spirituality a lot!

  6. says

    Thank you for such an honest post! My husband have 3 children all under age 3 (2.5 year old girls and a 9 month old boy). I started charting just before conceiving the first time, although we did not find out it was twins until I was 18 weeks along. The second pregnancy was a bit unexpected, and so now I feel like I lack confidence in NFP (I chart according to the Creighton model). We are so blessed with our 3, but I am relieved to see someone else consider parenthood “embracing the cross in order to embrace holiness”. A refreshing perspective.

    • says

      Thanks Kim! I think it can be a tough climb to trust NFP again after an unexpected pregnancy. But I do believe that the science behind NFP is there. So I really hope that you can work with more NFP professionals to help you get a better handle on things. I also really recommend having a spiritual director you can talk to, that’s helped me a lot. A spiritual director can really help you work through these issues and help identify whats best for you, your husband, and your marriage in terms of how to use NFP and what to do when its really hard!

  7. LPatter says

    I really believe the awesome-ness of the gift of sex and the gift of life are so bound up in all of this, and posts/testimonies like this one illuminate it so well! The “world” must think we are totally nuts- why would be subject ourselves to this?! :) But your honesty/responsiveness to God/acceptance of life-on-life’s-terms is so compelling to me (thank you!). I have really come to believe that the power of sex (and of love) is so important to God, the power to bring another immortal soul into the world – that He allows us to see it in all sorts of situations. Some couples might lose this wonder/awe more easily if they are not confronted with it as often – but the acts of following NFP keep a couple at least always somewhat aware of the beauty and power of this gift, of their love – and of God (our Uncreated Creator!) I also (humbly) believe that the (often questioned) instances of children being conceived in rape, in teenage unions, in incest, etc are difficult but powerful reminders of what the gift is intended to be – like invitations to see again the reality of the gift of human love, and all that it is called to be. (Additionally, a child is always an opportunity for great love.)

    Ok, sorry to wax (so) philosophical! I love this series! Thank you again!

    • says

      Definitely agree with you! Those are great points. I think its almost impossible for us to understand the magnitude of our participation with God in creation. It really is something that has eternal consequences and is miraculous!

  8. says

    It’s obvious NFP doesn’t work. The Women anatomy and body are very complicated and you can’t have rules, leave alone calculating fertility days.

    I had crazy irregular cycle and no sign of ovulation when got pregnant (hadn’t got my period for 3 months when got pregnant and it’s unexplainable wonder to me).

    Christy, you have such beautiful and lovely children – you definitely fulfill the commandment of being fruitful and multiply. As long as it is all right for your health (as physical so mental), you should keep having babies.

    I know almost nothing about Catholicism and I don’t believe in that god who wants women to suffer. Perhaps the new pope will come up with something that will support the contraception for women like diaphragm, he seems so nice ;)

    • Ducky says

      If your criteria for whether NFP “works” is to postpone conception, it absolutely can. Though I think this is beside the point of Christy’s post, it depends on the individual’s cycle. I know people who have been postponing pregnancy for more than three years using the Standard Days Method. The method is tough because you have to abstain for 11 days around ovulation, but it has a published efficacy of 95% (with perfect use) in postponing pregnancy for women with regular cycles 28-32 days in length. Using NFP to postpone pregnancy is certainly more difficult when your cycles are irregular and you’re highly fertile and– I appreciate Christy’s honesty in sharing the challenges her family has faced with NFP. That doesn’t mean the science isn’t behind it, we’re just still discovering it.

  9. says

    Thank you for sharing, Christy! This brought tears to my eyes, as my husband and I are struggling with The Creighton Model in much the same way. We’ve been married for under three years and have two beautiful daughters, 16 months apart. I am striving to let my fear go, and to embrace more of the perspective you have as we seek to trust God’s plan for our family over our own timeline. Thank you, Haley, for allowing the voices who have had difficulties with NFP be part of this conversation.

  10. Jennifer says

    I just want to echo the thanks that have been expressed above. This post resonates so deeply with me, Christy. And Haley, as others have already said, many thanks for running this series! Blessings to you both and to all of the women who have shared their experiences and insights – in both the posts and the comments.

    • says

      Thanks Jennifer! It has been a really good discussion, I think its great we can create a more open atmosphere towards practicing NFP!

  11. says

    Actually Sophie, in scientific terms NFP is much more effective that hormonal contraceptives. There is a lot of science to back this up, and the research is continuing to get better.

    Also; our bodies can mask signs of fertility and have disruptive cycles for many reasons. NFP teachers and doctors are well equipped in helping women discover the underlying health issues that cause this to happen. NFP is focused on helping the individual woman and body, there is no one size fits all approach.

    I also would just like to say that Catholicism does not teach or believe that God wants anyone to suffer. However, God allows suffering in order to bring about a greater good. Suffering also helps us grow closer to Christ and unite out sacrifices with His.

  12. Batrice says

    Great for me to read this as an instructor–I too have had my challenging times with 9 years experience during my marriage. One thing I would suggest–mucus can be confusing (although in my opinion, it is the most valuable sign). One thing that I suggest only occassionally, for women in the situation described above, at least until the underlying health problem is corrected and cycles are easier, is use of the Clearblue fertility monitor–the Marquette Method utilizes this and did a study on postpartum women not in cycles of use only of the monitor (no mucus observations)–the unintended pregnancy rate was 1% (http://nfp.marquette.edu/index.php). NFP can be used too by couples with dire circumstances–in such situations, I advise couples to abstain until after they have confirmed ovulation a few different ways–a naprotechnology doctor I know does a progesterone level test on peak +3 to confirm ovulation is past. More on NaPro here, including a link to search for a doctor near you: http://www.naprotechnology.com/

    Hope this helps–feel free to contact me, batriceadcock@gmail.com

    • says

      Thanks Batice.

      I’ve used the monitor as well, and unfortunately my hormonal levels have always tested as high rendering the monitor completely useless. I know I’ve got underlying hormonal issues…its just taking forever to figure out what they actually are!

      I’m not entirely convinced with that Marquette number of 1% unintended pregnancy rate while postpartum either; as their protocol basically calls for complete abstinence if a woman tests high, and as soon as one test for high is registered it will test high until a peak or the monitor is reset, which makes for many, many unusable days for the couple when the mucus signs could be completely reliable. So maybe I’m not arguing the 1%, but I am arguing that the protocol isn’t very conducive to couple’s intimacy, when most women are experiencing changing hormonal levels but not a return to fertility. I think that the postpartum protocol needs some work, they need more research in that area obviously.

      • Lindsay Teague says

        I use Marquette and actually we had very little abstaining during the postpartum period. Dr. Fehring believes that mucus is very unreliable during postpartum if you are breast feeding ( I agree as I had many days of fertile looking mucous that were in fact not fertile days at all. I would have been abstaining that whole time!). I also have many friends who practice sympto thermal and freight on and abstain completely postpartum until they return to cycles because they aren’t confident in their observations while breastfeeding. I am talking MONTHS of abstaining. For Marquette, for most of the 20 day simulated cycles I had abut half low reading and half high. There has never been anyone who has had more than 3 of the 20 day cycles with all High readings, and those women who had 3 in a row ovulated right after. As someone who became pregnant at 3 months postpartum before return of cycles while breastfeeding, Marquette finally gave me the peace of mind so that my husband and I could actually be together without undue anxiety. Also, I want to comment that with breastfeeding postpartum women, in cycle 0 (women who haven’t returned to cycles yet) there have been 0 unintended pregnancies with correct use. There is a bit of a learning curve but once you get over that, it is very reliable. I sure wouldn’t want anyone to be turned off of Marquette by your comment and miss out on something that could be wonderful for their marriage like it has been for mine.

        • says

          I am not intending to discourage anyone from the method, but was just commenting on my experience and research of the method while breastfeeding. On the Marquette website itself its findings from their last study of those practicing the postpartum protocol while breastfeeding was 8 out of 100 couples had an unintended pregnancy, so that’s an 8% pregnancy rate, a lot higher than the 1% claimed at times. The postpartum protocol may work fine for those with normal cycles/hormonal levels, however for women who continually test high on the monitor the only result is abstinence for a prolonged period of time. I know this happens in the different methods as well, but as of right now the Marquette method doesn’t offer any scientific help to women who encounter this. I’m sure with more study and research this can be improved. I’m glad its working so well for you.

  13. says

    What an honest and beautiful post. I think it’s so important to acknowledge that even when we trust God, we can feel fearful about what’s to come! A dear friend of mine and I have talked about how, if God had shown us in advance what we would go through, we quite likely would have said, “No, thank you.” :) She with her 10 pregnancies (8 living kids, miscarried twins and another miscarried baby) and me with my 8 pregnancies (3 living kids, five miscarriages) have walked different paths, but both paths involved trust, fear, and pain, as well as joy. And we just keep moving forward. Hang in there, Christy. :)

    • says

      Thank you Karen for your sweet words, they mean a lot coming from you! Sometimes I wonder if I’m terrible at trusting in God, but maybe we all have to learn to trust by feeling like we can’t make it on our own at times. And you’re right, we just have to keep going…only God knows whats in store for us!

  14. says

    Thank you so much for this post. I have two beautiful kids ages 1 and 3 but after a traumatic birth experience this past summer with my youngest I have been very anxious about the possibility of having another child. I have PCOS and have never had regular cycles so that, in combination with breastfeeding, makes determining my fertile and infertile times nearly impossible, at least using the Creighton Method which is the only one I’ve tried so far. It does make it very difficult to feel intimate with your husband when you have a constant anxiety of not knowing whether or not you are should be abstaining. Like you, my two times of conception (approximately 5 and 7 weeks after my previous cycle) don’t make a whole lot of sense and my doctor couldn’t even explain them. I do find comfort in knowing that, because my husband and I are intimate infrequently due to my anxiety and uncertainty, if we were to get pregnant again, the baby would be made in our full and uninhibited love for each other! :)

    • says

      I know its can be a really difficult situation Tina, I hope things get better. I also know that the anxiety in itself can be a huge issue! I’ve found that its been a big help to talk about these issues with a spiritual director. I’d really recommend it! It doesn’t solve all the problems, but sometimes an outside perspective can give better insights as to how to deal with them, or at least that’s what I’ve found! God bless you and your family!

  15. Bri says

    Thank you for shedding light on the difficulty NFP can be for some couples. I nearly lost my faith over it in my early 30s, to be completely honest. 10 pregnancies in 10 years had us at the end of our rope–physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually. A summer of homelessness (with 4 young kids!–that was fun. NOT), life in low-income housing (kids were exposed to a whole lot more than we ever wanted them to be), a diagnosis with a serious and life-long chronic illness and a week-long hospitalization for it, and serious post-partum depression finally did us in. The trauma of four miscarriages didn’t help.

    We tried several different methods of NFP, worked very closely with our NFP instructors, and practiced extended periods of abstinence on a regular basis and still ended up with 10 pregnancies in a decade. Those were some really tough years.

    Although we ultimately gave up on NFP, I still love the concept (it was just the practice of it that didn’t work out so well in real life for us) and hope that with scientific advances, our daughters will have the option of practicing NFP without having to live the difficulties of it like we did. And I also pray for very easy fertility signs and very regular cycles for them. I do know of a few NFP-practicing couples who haven’t found it to be a stressor at all in their lives!

    When going through those years of NFP struggle, it did feel very alone. Nobody really seemed to want to admit that NFP could truly be a tremendous stressor on a marriage in a myriad of ways. It was especially alienating when the response to hearing of such stressors was something along the lines of, “You must have a weak marriage if NFP causes problems for you.” Now it just makes me laugh–I’d put our 21 year marriage up against just about anybody’s any day of the week. Best friends from the beginning, the bonds we have forged by being in the trenches and going through so many of the tragedies and triumphs of life have only made us stronger.

    Thankfully, it does seem like NFP organizations/advocates are at least a little bit more understanding that for some couples, it really isn’t the best thing since sliced bread. Our experiences matter, too, and if NFP is ever going to have any kind of widespread appeal, the very real experiences of couples like us need to be addressed and acknowledged respectfully, not written off.

    My prayers are with all of the women and couples who struggle as we did. Let’s hope for advances in NFP that will allow many more people to use it without finding it such a source of pain and struggle.

    • kb says

      Bri,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to wrote such a thoughtful reply. I am one of those women you are praying for who found NFP to be a source of strain and struggle. You are a very courageous woman and you no doubt have a wonderful, loving marriage regardless of whether you use NFP or not.

      I too pray for those scientific advances with NFP. I also hope that the hierarchy of the church puts the time and money into studying them. Even going so far as to have Catholic hospitals offer NFP counseling for free. Although I recognize even with counseling NFP is not a method that all couples can use to postpone pregnancy. It is time the NFP community was honest about that upfront.

      I appreciated hearing your story and the reality of the hardships NFP brings to some couples. It is trying to live garden of eden rules in world that has battles like mental and physical illness which sometimes result in tragedy or death. One of the other stories here said, “Although it is definitely sometimes necessary, it is not natural in a healthy marriage to abstain consistently for so long.” It is definitely a mixed message when others say celibacy is not a problem for a marriage when needed, even if it is for decades. It is placing heavy burdens on couples that they can not bear.

      Over the last 20 years I have come to realize that sometimes there are consequences from having more children that you can physical and mentally care for. I see it in my own family and also in other families who felt they were being open to life by having 4, 5, 6, 7 or more children in a short period of time. Some do well. Other do not simply because they are human beings with human limitations. Kids are resilient and God can fill in the cracks. But sometimes the long term stress is more than a marriage can handle. I also experienced it first hand in my childhood with my mom who battled a severe mental illness and had 4 kids in 5 years. My siblings are a gift and I am grateful they were born (and so is my mom). But the battles and pain we have had to face and overcome are still real and for some of my siblings have been an obstacle to grace. The phrase “God does not give you more than you can handle” is trite. Life does give you more than you can handle sometimes.

      Thanks Bri for bringing your experience into this discussion. While there are plenty of women who will share their story who still hold fast to NFP the ones who have realized they shouldn’t hold fast to NFP stay quiet because of the culture in the church. That includes the gossip, the blacklisting and the name calling.

    • kb says

      Here is the experience of another mom that I read on the internet. I do hope that this series will include stories like this one. Let us truly address the damage that is sometimes done with legalism and this teaching. How good it is to truly have a discussion about these things. If the host wishes to keep these posts to a “NFP is hard but we still do it because it strengthens our marriage” then I respect that. But it would be honest and open to allow for the complete picture to be shown.

      “Continue to pray for us. My husband and I receive counseling weekly from an older Christian (former pastor) recommended by my NFP-only family physician so we are confident that we can trust him. After five months, we had a breakthrough of sorts on Wednesday. I have something akin to post traumatic stress syndrome, except that the traumatic experiences are ongoing. And it began twenty years ago. I took an NFP class prior to marriage, but even then, we weren’t able to identify infertility from fertility. Within weeks of our wedding, I was pregnant, my husband left for military training while I stayed behind with my in-laws, I experienced my first miscarriage and learned that I was still carrying twins, then we moved across country, I went into premature labor at twenty four weeks gestation which took three days of medication to stop, I was prescribed strict bed-rest in the hospital which lasted five weeks, I delivered premature twins at twenty-nine weeks gestation, I watched helplessly as they fought for life in the NICU, and then brought home two very fragile boys weighing less than five pounds a piece. Sometime between their birth and their homecoming, I remember thinking briefly that this was all wrong. I was ready for a normal life, but it never came. We were not able to use NFP to prevent pregnancy, so we were constantly caught between accepting another child or using contraception. And we accepted nine, a very large family. But even that wasn’t enough. In the past twenty years, I spent three pregnancies on bed-rest, and delivered four children prematurely, we experienced the agony of watching five children fight for their lives in the NICU, and now we care for seven children with special medical and/or educational needs including one with Prader Willi Syndrome. Our financial resources are not sufficient for the needs of such a group, and we rely on government assistance. But even that is not enough. Certainly not enough to pay for help with childcare or housekeeping or maintenance. The intensity of such a situation has contributed to a strained relationship between my husband and me. Because we can’t accept another child and because we don’t have recourse to infertile times, any physical touch (even hugs and kisses) causes anxiety because there is the possibility that it will lead to marital relations, which puts us in the situation of accepting another child or using contraception. And all of this for twenty years! I am very sick, my husband is very sick, and following our last counseling session, I am beginning to believe that our kids are also very sick. And I know all too well that there is a human limit. Sometime ago, my friend’s sister, a strong, faithful, prayerful Catholic wife and mother of many, with a supportive, faithful, prayerful extended Catholic family, awoke one morning and killed herself and her children. And just the night before, she told her husband that she needed help. I often wonder if she knew that she was going to snap. I have been crying uncontrollably for several days and am seeking help. Besides the counseling, I take two anti-depressants and a tranquilizer for the depression and anxiety. But my medications don’t appear to be working right now, so I made an appointment to see my doctor tomorrow morning. I understand that God is present, but I still need help, the practical kind, if for no other reason than that ten other people who depend on me. Whether it is a cross or a yoke or something else, it is still TOO heavy for me. It feels good to finally share all this pain; I hope some help will come of it.”

      • says

        kb,

        Although we’re discussing the difficulty sometimes encountered in the practice of NFP we are in no way encouraging a choice towards contraception or, as you put it, not “staying with the Church” but exactly the opposite. I want to share and encourage those facing such struggles an to give hope for those in the midst of trial, because this is a central and key teaching of the Church that has far reaching implications not only to oneself and family but beyond.

        I can make no judgement upon the situations of these women you describe and my heart goes out to their struggles. What I can speak to today however, is that the science exists today that can truly help any woman practice NFP if she is given the knowledge and medical assistance necessary. The science is capable of helping all women and although this can be a tough road it is possible. There really cannot be a discussion about the validity of ignoring Church teaching and choosing to use contraception under the excuse that NFP cannot because of medical reasons.

        Does there need to be increased education of NFP to women, of course. Is more money and research needed to further the science, most definitely. Does the Church need to further support NFP both financially, practically, and through prayer? Yes, yes, yes! But there cannot be an underhanded idea that women and couples who encounter difficulty and stuggle with the practice for whatever reason be encouraged to sin in using contraception. Support and help must be given in following Church teachings not undermining it.

        The beauty and blessings of a life lived in accordance with God’s will can be difficult and include suffering. All Catholics should be supportive in this effort because it has only incredible gifts to give the Church and the world. In talking more about NFP we can help each other through the difficulties and build up a culture of life.

        • kb says

          “What I can speak to today however, is that the science exists today that can truly help any woman practice NFP if she is given the knowledge and medical assistance necessary.”

          Christy, What I heard in this article is a mom who clearly stated that NFP does not work for her to avoid a pregnancy. While she is willing to accept unplanned pregnancies she has not found yet a way to make NFP effective for her. I do hope she will find that. I was thrilled to hear someone be honest about that and it is rarely admitted among those who promote NFP. While the science is there we also see many real life issues that prevent someone from using NFP such as severe mental illness. I thought I heard some progress in this article in the acknowledgment that NFP is not a usable method for all couples. This sort of honesty is desperately needed is you want people to hear your message.

          It is wonderful that for women to share their stories. It certainly uplifts the church and helps others to find a way to follow their conscience. Please know I am not trying to be “underhanded.” I know the NFP community is trying to figure out how to reach all those who reject church teaching. I just wanted to share my thoughts for you to consider as you continue your mission and realize the many issues that would be helpful to address.

          • says

            I think what I wanted to convey was not that NFP doesn’t work, but that the effectiveness for a small minority of women can be difficult to achieve but does not mean that NFP should be abandoned.

            A Catholic marriage is one in which children are a natural expectation and result of the love in that marriage. If there were grave reasons to postpone pregnancy and one did not feel confident in NFP then abstinence would be the required choice. Children are the beautiful result of NFP, and the possible result of every act of intercourse. Not a mistake, or failed byproduct. I think we need to better form our consciences in this direction. The one that is so counter-cultural to today’s society of complete control over one’s reproductive system and the view that sex should be as convenient as possible. Family life requires great sacrifice, and using NFP is one of the best ways to practice such sacrifice!

  16. Tara says

    God is truly in all things…my husband and I are going through the same experience with not trusting His plan for us. This article came right on time, as I have been seriously considering other options for us because the strain is almost unbearable. I would gladly accept more children if I did not have to be pregnant, and we had the resources to support them. You have inspired me to pray and trust that God does, indeed, know what we need.

    • says

      Thanks so much Tara! Sometimes its just nice to know you’re not alone in feeling the way you do. I hope I get better in trusting in God! Prayers for you!

  17. Jess says

    Thank you so much for this! All we usually hear from NFP supporters is the wonderful part, but it has been such a struggle for me in my marriage! I am about to have 3 children under 3 (any day now) and I get a lot of raised eyebrows in the grocery store. I don’t feel quite as alone now. Thank you for sharing.

    • says

      Yes Jess I definitely know how it feels for sure! I’m not sure if NFP is more difficult for some to practice based on their personalities or circumstances, or if its just a cross that God gives to some and not others. One of the many things I’d like to ask him! But you’re beautiful children are not something to apologize for! Clearly they were very planned by God and that’s the important thing!

  18. Jo says

    To those who want a natural way of family planning try to read this about the information of the product: http://www.lady-comp.com/en/page/at-first-sight

    I could say it really helps us spacing our kids. Its really effective. Ive been using it since I get married and its 7 years now since I use the ladycomp/babycomp.

    Thank you for posting bout natural family planning.

  19. Brittany says

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I thought I was the only one with weird charts! I connected with every word you said and many of the responses you’ve received. We will have three girls age three and under this fall, and we were only trying for one of them. My husband and I openly discuss our use of NFP almost daily, and fortunately, we share the same feelings and opinions of our situation. Of course we are both frustrated, scared, angry, etc., but we plan to continue our attempt to use NFP. We feel good about our choice, however it really is hard to feel that you have no control over your family size.

    • says

      It can be pretty overwhelming when you have three kids under three for sure! I found it pretty hard to understand how God would want to give me babies so close together. Its hard to trust in His plan when things are so very difficult in the day to day. I hope that things get easier for you, I’m so happy you continue to trust and use NFP, I’m glad we’re not the only ones!

  20. Mary says

    Thank you so much for posting this! Trust is such a hard thing when it comes to fertility. Our oldest boys were “responsibly” spaced 2 years due to contraception. Thankfully, while pregnant with baby #2, we had a beautiful reversion to our Catholic faith, and my husband and I fully embraced the Church’s teachings, including NFP. As a staff nurse and then paramedic working opposite days to take care of our boys, our crazy schedules didn’t allow for a class, so we chose the sympto-thermal home study course through the Couple to Couple League. Besides, we were healthcare professionals, so how hard could this be, right? God sure had other plans for us.
    We quickly found out that fertility signs are very hard to read postpartum while breastfeeding, with extremely variable schedules. I was never waking up at the same time, since my work schedule was day/evening. I tried setting my alarm for 5 AM everyday (the time I woke up when I worked days), but I would fall asleep with the thermometer in my mouth. My temperature sign was useless. I was lucky to have a pump room at work, but I didn’t always make it down there 3-4 times during my 12 hour shifts (I was trying to do ecological breastfeeding while working). Some days I was lucky if it was 2! My mucous sign was clear as mud, since I was taking antihistamines and breastfeeding. I found out that my cervix is anterior, being difficult to find for even the consummate professional. My charting was spotty at best. We really shouldn’t have been surprised when our daughter was conceived before the return of my cycle when our baby was only 6 months old. But, in true human fashion, we were FLOORED! NFP had failed us! We would have 3 kids 3 and under! How could my husband go back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner now? What would people think? We had gone on and on about how awesome NFP was… People would surely talk. My pregnancies hadn’t been easy, how could I do this again so soon?
    God truly does provide. My husband was even more driven to go to school to provide for our growing family. I was finally diagnosed with postpartum depression after baby #3 came along, which I had with previous pregnancies but never realized. Medication helped me to actually enjoy my children instead of going through the motions. My husband and I decided to do a year of celibacy after baby #3 (partially out of fear- let’s be honest) but it was more fruitful than we ever thought. It helped me to learn my fertility signs without pressure, and helped us heal from the damage that contraception had done to our relationship.
    I’m now pregnant with our 4th son, who will be joining his 3 big brothers and 1 sister anytime now. The last 2 pregnancies have been “planned” (as in deliberately loosening the rules), one while my husband was in grad school with me working full time, and this one since I have been home full time. It hasn’t always been easy, but I wouldn’t trade any of my children for more sleep, money, or less pain. They are such blessings! Each time we decided to let God decide, it took a great leap of faith proceeded by much prayer. Were we abstaining during fertile times out of fear? Why should we fear what is good and holy? Did we really have a serious reason? NFP strengthens marriages by making us ask the hard questions, and sometimes challenging the fearful spouse to truly “Be Not Afraid”.

    • says

      Thanks Mary! Your story is very encouraging and a great testament to the different ways that NFP can bring blessings to a marriage. I’m so glad that you can see the beauty in your sacrifices, that is such a grace! God bless your family!

  21. James says

    Billings and Creighton have the least abstinence, but they also have the most false-negatives (unidentified fertile days) of any method.

    http://realcatholicloveandsex.com/2013/05/28/nfp-how-much-abstinence/

    It seems like going to the “last dry day” in Phase 1 is risky under any method. Phase 3 seems to be less of a problem and can be cross-checked w/Peak, temp shift, and monitor. I am especially curious about the risk of using Yellow Stamp/BIP instructions. Many symptothermal methods have “cutoff rules” that end Phase I after a calculated number of days. (I believe that’s how Lady-Comp works: Temp+cutoff calculations) More abstinence, but also more security.

    Artificial contraception is not necessarily a solution either.
    http://shovedtothem.blogspot.com/2012/03/failure-rate.html
    http://www.helium.com/items/870680-testimonies-the-path-toward-acceptance-when-a-pregnancy-takes-you-by-surprise

  22. Beth says

    I needed to see this article. For our first three children, NFP worked beautifully and we achieved five years between 1 and 2, then almost 4 years between 2 and 3 (Halloween Party, Day 16, no surprise there!). However, after I weaned our third son at 22 months, my cycles went crazy. They had resumed normally when he was 9 months old and everything had been clockwork until then. Suddenly, with no fertile signs, I conceived our daughter, then conceived our 4th son when she was 5 months old. It was so hard to accept that 5th pregnancy, as much as I believed that the new baby was a blessing. I had been crippled by postpartum depression after the birth of my daughter, but when the pregnancy hormones started pumping again, my body balanced and I felt wonderful again. I went from sobbing in the bed every night and avoiding everyone but my husband and children to living again. My pregnancy was not perfect, far from it. I had complications that culminated in my only C-section. My chunky monkey was NOT turning upside down for anybody. A bit of the post-partum returned after he was born, but he was such a sweet and cooperative baby. He slept all night from birth and is so engaging and beautiful, and such a joy. I KNOW God just couldn’t wait to share him with me. In many ways, he saved me from the anguish of PPD, and gave the real me back to my family. Learning to embrace the family that God wants you to have is so hard. We are wired to resist by society. I almost cursed my fertility even as I watched three of my friends struggle with infertility. Before I delivered Gabriel, I asked my Little Friend in Heaven (Our girl is Bella-Rose Therese, after the Little Flower) to intercede for me, to ask our Lord to make my signs obvious and to give us the intelligence and willpower to make good decisions. She has delivered on my request in spades. Although I now hardly ever ovulate, we can see those signs like neon lights. I am finally able to really diet and exercise. We are also enjoying increased intimacy because we know the program front and back. We also have accepted a truly pro-life perspective. Can abuse NFP by having a contraceptive mentality? YES! Now, we know the natural result of marriage is babies. We will practice self-control, but if God wants to send us another gift, why would I refuse? In spite of the challenges (mostly $$$) every day I look at my children and know that my husband loves me and that God loves me. Why would that NOT be enough?

    • says

      You’ve got a great attitude Beth and have really lived through some tough stuff to become such a great mother! It’s really through these times of suffering that we gain so much insight into God’s loving plan for us and our families.

  23. Tina says

    Thankyou, thankyou, so much Haley for sharing your story (so far) with us. Aside from my husband, I have had no-one to talk to about my NFP struggles, and when I did finally turn to a paid counsellor she became determined to convince me I needed contraception. Although most our children have been born close together, (6 in 15 years) and there have been some pretty crazy years, God has truly been there in our lives. Yet I still battle with NFP. Currently breastfeeding baby number six (who were are ABSOLUTELY in love with!) and cannot understand Billings, after years of trying. I am disappointed that my instructor doesn’t understand or acknowledge my battle or refer me to any other NFP methods. I feel like the ones who struggle are ignored. But I think the hardest part has been not being able to talk to anyone, to suffer in silence, and in combination with a diagnosis of anxiety, has felt at times unbearable. Reading these stories, however, makes it bearable once again. It helps me to persevere. I do have to say that, like Jo, the LadyComp has been great for spacing, once it has ‘computed’ your unique temperature fluctuations and cycles have returned after breastfeeding. I keep praying for some kind of encouragement and guidance that I am on the right track. When I look at our beautiful children, I know I am, because they are doing so well. Sometimes I wonder if I am… but I think it is the mental illness that is the problem, not the NFP. Also I believe in the concept of ‘love languages’ – for those whose primary language is touch, I wonder if this method is especially difficult, (ie: some people do not feel loved unless it is expressed through touch) but understanding yourself and your unique challenges makes it more bearable. perhaps there are other ways, such as embracing, that might help address this need?

  24. Tina says

    I’m really sorry, my last entry was made in a state of sleep deprivation, and doesn’t entirely make sense. Thankyou to Christy, Haley and everyone for sharing their experiences. Just to clarify, my anxiety existed before I had any children, so I am not saying that having children caused the problem. However the combination of complete lack of confidence in Billings plus anxiety left me very vulnerable.

    the good news is that one of my pregnancies actually brought healing to my anxiety. Through my antenatal appointments and tests, I discovered I was lacking in certain minerals (particulary vitamin D and magnesium). When I corrected this, my anxiety greatly reduced, and for the first time in years my insomnia completely stopped. I have my little baby Alex to thank for that.

    The reason I share this story is to show how God can take what looks like a hopeless situation and turn it into good. So I believe he can do the same for other couples who trust Him in their use of NFP, even though it is a huge struggle. Perhaps other issues that are brought out in the struggle can be dealt with and healed in the process.

    .

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