Women Speak on NFP: I Wish I’d Known About NFP Sooner

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This post first appeared at Kathleen’s blog, Becoming Peculiar. She graciously gave permission to include it 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.

I always thought I’d have a big family.

I come from a family of seven, and most of my cousins come from families of five to eight. My mom and dad had seven and nine siblings respectively. I loved having a big family, especially being so close to my sister, only seventeen months younger than me.

Now, at the age of 28, with one child who was a long time coming and now battling secondary infertility, I’m wrestling to come to terms with the fact that I will not likely have a lot of kids.

And I keep coming back to this: I just wish I had known about natural family planning (NFP) earlier.

* * *

Growing up between the crossroads of Mennonite and Evangelical culture, of course I learned the One Rule of Sex: Don’t Do it Until You’re Married.

That was basically the extent of my sex education from a faith perspective. Beyond that, there was little guidance offered. Once you’re married, enjoy! Sex is God’s wedding gift to you, et cetera.

Then there was my sex education from the secular perspective: have sex responsibly – use contraception. And my faith community shrugged and said, “Yup – good idea. If you don’t want too many babies (and you definitely don’t want them within the first year!), use contraception. Within marriage, of course.”

In fact, at my church’s marriage preparation retreat, when one girl asked about contraception, the pastor’s wife told her, “Well, the Pill works well. Condoms too. We’ve used both.” The End.

There was no mention of a safe, natural, and effective alternative. No one ever suggested that contraception might be problematic in regards to one’s physical, marital, or spiritual health.

When it came to my menstrual cycle, I was taught that once a month you bled and felt like crap. My mom taught me how to use disposable pads and which medications were best for treating cramps.Menstruation was a 5-7 day event involving bleeding, bloating, and misery. It was our curse. It sucked, but there was no way around it.

With this knowledge, once I got engaged I did what any self-respecting Western woman would do: I went on the Pill. I was still in school; I didn’t want to have babies. Not yet. I had some medical coverage through the university, which covered most of the cost, so that wasn’t an issue. Besides, I’d always struggled with acne. A lot of women found that their acne improved when they went on the Pill. Win-win. In fact, there were even more perks to it: on the Pill, my menstrual cramps got less severe and my double-A-sized boobs got bigger. So, win-win-win-win.

Finally, five years later, I was ready to start having babies. I was 25 years old. I was ready to becoming a mother, and I wanted it with all that was in me.

I did what any normal Western woman would do: I stopped taking the Pill. And I waited.

And waited.

A year went by. A tumultuous, frightening, heartbreaking year. No babies. I took pregnancy test after pregnancy test. Nothing. I had no idea what was wrong, or what was wrong with my body.

Meanwhile, my skin erupted in acne worse than anything I’d seen since puberty. It covered my face, neck, back, and chest. I wore turtlenecks throughout the summer and avoided swimming. My cramps came back with a vengeance – they were so debilitating, I had to take a day or two off work each month to just lay on the couch and moan.

My friends started having babies. For them, it happened the minute they even began considering having babies – for many, much sooner.

I sank into intense depression. I felt helpless and alone, and I hated my body.

Then, by the grace of God, I got to know a few Catholic bloggers online. And they were going on about this great thing called natural family planning (NFP). They said it was so awesome because it strengthened their marriage; was natural and healthy; it affirmed and celebrated female fertility; and it could be used to avoid OR achieve pregnancy.

I was captivated. I had to learn about this.

I learned and I learned and I learned.

I found out that the menstruation is not an event; rather, it’s part of a month-long cycle. I learned that a woman was typically only fertile for a couple of days a month, and you could pinpoint those days and time sex accordingly if you wanted to avoid or achieve pregnancy. Huh.

I learned the disturbing history of the Pill, and that it wasn’t simply an innocuous tool that enabled you to control your destiny. It was, in fact, a Group-I carcinogen that wreaked havoc on your hormones (and thus your overall health). It didn’t cure acne or cramps — it acted as a band-aid to cover up symptoms so you could forget about the underlying causes.

I learned about my own body. I started charting, and I learned how to read the signs and determined that I was low in progesterone – a common consequence of taking oral contraceptives. My body had probably been leached of B-vitamins from all those years on the Pill, crippling my body’s ability to regulate hormone levels on its own.

More months went by. I learned about NaPro Technology – a scientific but Catholic-based approach to addressing fertility problems – one that worked with the information that NFP charting provided.

Aided by all this information, almost two years after I first decided I wanted to become a mother, I finally got pregnant.

* * *

 

My miracle baby is now well over two years old. I’m getting closer to thirty. We’ve been trying for a second baby for over a year without luck. Thanks to my charts, I can see that I’m dealing with the same problems I was dealing with the first time around. If I ever do get pregnant again, it won’t be happening any time soon.

I always said I wanted at least four kids, and I wanted them to be close in age. I now know that I will be very lucky if I manage to have two, and they definitely won’t be close in age.

I wish I could have known all these things about my body from the start.

I wish I’d never gone on the Pill. There’s a good chance the Pill was at least partly responsible for my two years of infertility. If not that, it certainly prevented me from being aware of the problems so that I could address them much sooner.

I wish I could have started having babies as soon as I’d graduated from university. Then I wouldn’t be so anxious about the fact that it’s taking a little longer than expected for the second one. I’d have plenty of time.

Life as a stay-at-home mom is blowing my mind every day. I’ve finally found my calling. I discovered myself in motherhood. I wish I had started this life sooner.

If I would have known about NFP from the start, by the time I was emotionally ready to have kids I would already have known whether my body needed treatment. I wouldn’t have lost those precious years to turmoil and confusion.

I regret those years of needless ignorance, bewilderment, and grief.

Of course, regretting the past is useless. I love my life — even with only one delightful child — and I’ve been blessed with an amazing little family. The only way to move is forward.

I want to use my experience to improve other women’s lives. I want girls to know from the beginning how their beautiful bodies work. I want them to get the whole picture – not just one tiny segment of it.

I want girls and women to be able to appreciate and honour their bodies, and not feel like their bodies are diseased, that their fertility must be suppressed and managed with drugs. I want women to be aware of all the options available to them when they get involved in sexual relationships.

I want to start with my own daughter. As she gets older, I intend to explain how her body works, and give her the whole story: how her body will acquire a cyclical rhythm, like the cycle of the moon. Every month her body will prepare to create new life, full of abundance; and if the time for new life hasn’t arrived, then her body will release old energy and make space for what is to come. Every phase is important and beautiful and good.

Her body is beautifully and wonderfully made.

I wish I had known this from the start.

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Kathleen is an overeducated stay-at-home mom and homesteader wannabe, living and seeking Jesus’ backwards Kingdom in Ontario with her husband and two-year-old daughter. You can find her at becomingpeculiar.com

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Comments

  1. says

    Kathleen, great post! I think it’s so sad that many of my peers have very little knowledge of how their body works – why is that not an essential part of raising a child? Why is the reproductive system minimized to the basics – a sperm and egg meeting, don’t have sex until you are married (or use birth control) – and that’s that? There is SO MUCH MORE!

    • says

      Thanks, Mandi. RIGHT?! When I first read Taking Charge of Your Fertility, I couldn’t stop thinking, “Why isn’t this standard education material?! Even if you don’t choose to FAM/NFP route, at least we should know that it’s an option!”

    • Ducky says

      I completely agree! I think that many people including health educators perceive FAM/NFP as unreliable, and I wish it were more in the mainstream perception that there are some effective methods that have comparable efficacy rates to condoms when used perfectly.

      It was always presented in our books in health ed but lumped together as one method, usually with an efficacy rate of 85% or something. I feel like going on the Pill is just the thing to do when you become sexually active in mainstream culture and it’s encouraged so casually by the medical profession without much thought to potential side effects.

      NFP might be a hard sell to secular people as a whole package, but I would rather see women use FAM combined with condoms if they can’t abstain for 10-15 days … rather than all be stuck on the pill. At least it’s a physical barrier rather than chemical.

      FAM definitely needs to be better taught in schools. Thanks for sharing your story, Kathleen!

      • says

        Thanks, Ducky! I agree with you completely — I’d rather see couples use FAM/occasional barriers than completely change the chemistry of their bodies and never bother to understand their bodies. At least they would enjoy the other benefits of this method!!

  2. t-ster says

    I wonder if Kathleen has gotten checked out for endometriosis? NFP can point out problems in the cycle, but the best way to get diagnosed with that is to actually see a doctor who can visualize reproductive organs. A friend was trying to conceive for years without success, and soon after surgery she conceived immediately. Just a thought, though she has probably gotten that checked out already.

    • leslie says

      That “NaProTECHNOLOGY” that she mentioned IS physicians treating her and incorporating signs from her Creighton Model charts into their treatments. It’s full blown medicine. The NaPro infertilty work up always includes a laparoscopy.

      • leslie says

        Oh. I should add that I have 3 NaProTECHNOLOGY babies myself after 5 years of primary infertility. NaPro has a 60-80% success rate guys.

  3. Robyn says

    Great post! :)

    My husband and I are both 24 years old and have spent the last two and a half years trying to start a family. While we aren’t using any method of NFP (we’re currently looking into foster care adoption), I do wish that I had never gone on the Pill. I’ve often wondered if the Pill somehow played a part in my infertility. I don’t know…

    I just learned of NFP recently and I’m glad to know that it’s an option should we ever decide to start trying again for a biological child.

  4. Makenzie says

    Your story is so very similar to my own! I spent years on the pill, not even thinking it might be the cause of my horrible mood swings, anxiety, and ultimately my infertility. After I read TCOYF, we charted for a year trying to get pregnant with no success. We decided to adopt (something we both wanted to do in the future anyways) instead of pursuing fertility treatments. Like you said, I love my daughter and our life as a family of three, but I am grieving the fact that I probably won’t have the large family that I dreamed of. Thank you so much for your words!

  5. says

    You’re going to see this issue more and more… I wonder how long it’s going to take for this problem to become mainstream (and how much money the pharmaceutical companies are going to use continuing to cover up this issue). I’m sure my own mother’s fertility problems and eventual breast cancer are because of her use of the pill early in her marriage! So glad we have another way!

  6. LPatter says

    Kathleen,

    Loved reading your post. I started getting a tad anxious as I read about your hopes for your family, because I am at a place where I’m also realizing that the vision/hoped family I’d “planned” in my head is likely not unfolding that way – a vision very similar to what you describe. We have 2 and have been blessed to practice NFP our whole marriage (6.5 years), but have intentionally spaced our pregnancies while my husband has pursued his Pharmacy Doctorate and I worked in ministry (finishing up this year). Now I’m 33 and realizing fertility really could wane anytime, and my oldest will be at least 6 years older than his next sibling, all things fertility-wise being equal, should we be able to conceive this coming year. I have been really struggling to accept that we both (a) married later than I’d desired and also (b) felt we needed to space these pregnancies instead of embrace what Haley calls Awesome Family Planning. (And I sometimes kick myself for not being more courageous on both counts in trying to inspire my husband’s cautious and slow-moving ways!) At the same time, I have come to see that God is a God of great abundance, mercy, tenderness and intimacy, and he knows me better than I know myself. I know for you and for me, there will be great blessings in response to the deep desire to bear life and welcome children we each feel, especially when felt in twinges of pain and regret – and that like you say, there is only the present and the beauty of sharing the lessons learned in these hard realities. On another note, I too have often wondered why more Christian denominations don’t embrace/promote NFP – if you have embraced the premarital chastity thing, it’s the next logical step! Hopefully stories like yours will start to change that. Will be praying for your next baby!!!

    Lauren

  7. says

    Thank you for telling your story…stories like this are the reason I would love to get certified as an NFP instructor (or whatever it’s called)…it’s just so wonderful that I would love to teach it to couples who started off where you did. Incredibly motivating!

  8. says

    Thank you for sharing your story. This was so heartfelt and beautifully written. I too wished I would have understood NFP and the reality of the pill when I first got married. I am grateful for what I know now, and I am searching for the right words to share my experience with others. It is a very sensitive subject, and I often find people want to tune out the message.

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