NFP: Are You Aware?

NFP: Are You Aware? July 25, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve had anything to say in these parts. So I figured what the hell? It’s NFP Awareness Week and I haven’t written about anything that I can’t stand in quite a spell, so here we are. You all are so lucky I’ve turned off Criminal Minds long enough to tell you about our journey with NFP. Make sure you thank Molly, because she inspired me to talk about something I swore I’d never blog about again.

Buckle up.

The first time I heard the term “Natural Family Planning” I was a senior in college and attending an honors presentation that I frankly can’t remember, other than the man presenting was talking about NFP. Then he casually mentioned that his parents had used NFP and I happened to know (because he was dating my roommate) that he was one of 5 (or so) kids. I still remember clear as day turning to my friend and saying, “Well that obviously worked really well” and rolling my eyes.

Oh yeah, NFP, that Catholic thing where you end up with 5 kids. No, thank you.

Fast forward a few years and I’m dating the man who is now my husband. He is a new convert and I am a spiritual toddler, learning a lot about the faith of my birth.

It was pretty close to the time when you decide to either get engaged or break up (we got engaged), and we were talking about kids. It was a good sign that we both wanted some. Not a whole baseball team or anything, but a few. We were both vaguely aware that there was something you could do, possibly involving some kind of magic, where you might be able to not get pregnant every time.

Since we both had 90’s sex ed, it was like this:

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We decided we better figure it out because we did not want to have a baseball team and I had no clue. Let’s just say, chastity was new for me.

While we were engaged, a friend who was married a few months ahead of us took a symptho-thermal class through Couple to Couple League. She loved it. So when it was our turn to be engaged, we signed up for one too.

It was standard fare. A video from the 90’s with a chubby, smiling baby on the cover and a very nice couple with 4 kids – which somehow seemed significantly less insane to me than 5 – who had no idea what to do with me. We walked out of that class shell-shocked. Atticus said he learned more about the female body in an hour than he’d known in 25 years. I was pretty skeptical, knowing since I was 16 that I have Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I’d heard it could make charting “challenging”.

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No, seriously you guys. It was a damn joke. My first cycle charted with sympto-thermal was 72 days long. But what were we gonna do? It was this or nothing. I’d spent a few years on the pill and it literally made me a lunatic. Even if I weren’t morally opposed to hormonal contraceptives, I’d never take them again knowing how I felt on them.

The instructors who were clueless, told us to give them a copy of the chart and they’d send it off to their supervisor. Then, during our last session with them, they told us that I was ovulating somewhere “around” cycle day 14 and that my phase 3 was variable in length, and that’s why my cycles were so long.

That is not true. Completely inaccurate. But we sauntered down the aisle toward wedded bliss with that nugget tucked away.

Our plan was to avoid for a year because I was in grad school and we lived in a tiny Chicago apartment. Then I got pregnant two months into our marriage on cycle day 50-something, because I did not in fact ovulate “somewhere around cycle day 14”.

Oops.

I was completely shocked and overwhelmed when those lines turned pink. How were we going to pull this off? Yet in the midst of my terror there was joy. I was happy to be pregnant, although the timing was not what I had planned. This was the beginning of a theme, yet it took me many years to embrace it. It never occurred to me that even though I was pregnant, there might not be a baby nine months later. There wasn’t. We learned at an early prenatal appointment that the baby had died very shortly after conception, but my body hadn’t caught on yet.

In retrospect, this little NFP “mistake” was really a miracle, given what happened next.

What happened next?

14 months of trying to conceive again. Of using inaccurate information and trying to make sense of sympto-thermal charts that I charitably describe as a train wreck. Temps so low they’re off the chart, cycles that look like a sawtooth. No discernible pattern. Finally, after we had been trying to over a year, I did a search online for other methods of NFP and things began to change.

We met Creighton.

Creighton Model Fertility Care System is what I found in my desperate searches for something that would help us know what we were doing wrong and why I wasn’t pregnant again like everyone said I would be after our loss.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I walked into our first appointment with our FCP (fertility care practitioner) and actually started to cry when she mentioned that she too had PCOS. She was nurse, and she knew her ish. I finally felt like I was learning about *my* body, not about what normal bodies do. She referred us to a Creighton trained infertility doctor who could help us.

During the cycle we were learning the method, we conceived Maggie.

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Strictly speaking, we violated one of the rules of Creighton, which is to avoid sex during the entire first cycle when learning the method. We ignored this because (a) my cycles were then about 2 months long, and (b) we had been trying to a baby for more than a year and were not going to miss a chance. I was frank with the instructor, and she understood. And there she is.

Though I was not actually under any treatment plan (yet) I credit Creighton with her conception because it helped us accurately figure out days of fertility, and given my history of miscarriage and PCOS, the Creighton doctor prescribed progesterone right away. How much of a difference this made, we’ll never know for sure.

Can I just say, one of the best things about pregnancy is the break from charting? Can I get an Amen?

I was super lucky after Maggie was born and my cycle returned at 10 weeks post partum, due to my inability to nurse, which you can read all about if you’re into that sort of thing.

We crossed our fingers and tried our best with Creighton. We successfully avoided pregnancy until she was just over a year old, and we felt ready for another baby. And one of the things I really do like about NFP is that when you are ready to be open to another pregnancy, you don’t have to change anything other than which days you have sex.

We started trying for another baby when Maggie was about 13 months old, hoping to have kids around 2 years apart. You know, more plans.

Seriously, what is it with people and plans? We all know what happens as soon as you make them.

I was in great shape. I’d lost 20 pounds, was working out, and having the shortest, best looking cycles I’d ever had. I just knew it would happen for us.

But it didn’t. It might sound crazy, but I knew after the third failed cycle that something was wrong. You don’t have sex on peak day three months in a row and not get pregnant, unless something is wrong. We waited another six months for good measure (and a healthy dose of suffering too) and then called the Creighton doctor again.

This time he gave me the big C. Clomid. I was nervous. I did NOT want to have twins. No way, man. I had one kid and knew how insanely hard that was. Two at once? No, thank you. He said, blah blah slight risk. Blah, blah, 6% chance.

Oh, 6%? That’s all. That means you have a 94% chance of not having twins. Right?

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6%. Their names are Mary Cate and Charlie.

In yet another sweeping gesture intended to remind me of who’s in charge here, I conceived twins on 50 mgs of clomid, during the third cycle of taking it. We tried for one year exactly and found ourselves pregnant with two babies.

Listen friends, I have given up trying to be a witness to anything other than the fact that I am not running this show. I got pregnant when I was trying to avoid, experienced sub-fertility twice, and had twins on the lowest dose of fertility meds you can take. You don’t have an unplanned pregnancy, infertility, and twins all in the span of 5 years and think for one second you’re in control.

At the end of the day, I think that’s the best lesson that NFP has taught us as a couple. We are not in control. Control is an illusion, and we humans cling to it like a life preserver. There is only so much control someone can ever have over something like when and how human beings come into existence, and making peace with that is the only way to overcome fear of the unknown.

We have been trying to avoid pregnancy successfully since 10 weeks post partum with the twins and they are 20 months. There’s no end in sight for this for us. Despite evidence to the contrary, I do have a very small filter and no, no one on the internet needs to know why we are avoiding for the foreseeable future. But we are. Yes, its hard. Yes, it often feels like a burden. And yes, we also know that with at least 15 years of fertility left and having already had quite a few surprises, we may be surprised yet.

Yes, it absolutely sucks. NFP is terrible. It’s just less terrible than everything else.  As the wise Simcha Fisher once said, “When it comes to sexuality, all God’s children got angst.”

Yet, for me and my constellation of circumstances, Creighton has been the best possible method of NFP and while I hate abstinence (because I’m human), I truly believe that our children are here because of the treatment I received from Creighton doctors and nurses and I’d be happy to talk with anyone who has questions about it.

Now back to Criminal Minds.

 

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  • eysaint

    “At the end of the day, I think that’s the best lesson that NFP has taught us as a couple. We are not in control. Control is an illusion, and we humans cling to it like a life preserver. There is only so much control someone can ever have over something like when and how human beings come into existence, and making peace with that is the only way to overcome fear of the unknown.”

    Amen! Best paragraph on NFP that I have ever read.

    I have PCOS, too, and I learned NFP (three different methods) to conceive and I without a doubt that I nor any person has control over my fertility. NFP may be able to help me conceive, but it can’t help me stay pregnant. NFP is not a miracle maker. It is a tool that is meant to be used. There will be successes and failures, and there will be joy and sorrow and growth beyond measure. It may be eye-roll worthy, but NFP has taught me more about my frailty and need of salvation more than any other cross. I don’t like it, but I appreciate it. Terrible, but less terrible than the others is an excellent way to word it.

    I love Criminal Minds. Enjoy!

  • Amy

    I love this post it is so good I too use Crieghton with my husband who btw is human and hates abstaining. I do to but it leads to holiness and true love SPICE and everything nice. I am thankful for my first session with MaryAnn Miller now gone to Heaven. My new teacher is amazing and so builds a culture of life and helps us through this theology of the body stuff marriage is not easy but with NFP it makes it so good. God Bless your courage for posting your story and keep being an amazing wife and mom to those beautiful NFP Creighton conceived children of yours and prayers for you all.

  • Loved this post! Thanks for sharing your NFP story..the good and the bad..so many NFP stories are like what you saw in college “We love NFP with 5+ kids” which is fine for some people but not for everyone.

  • I LOVE THIS!!!

  • Love this, Sarah. Thanks for sharing your story. As a convert, I’ve only been doing NFP for a couple of years now (with only one baby to show for it) and sometimes I feel like I’m behind the Catholic curve when it comes to reproduction rate. It’s nice to hear from someone with a slightly out of the norm experience.

  • Pat

    I love your writing style.. From the beginning I knew the end of your story but still loved reading it. Please keep writing. And glad that your story has a happy ending.

  • Mary

    I think the Holy Spirit led me to your post. I needed to read this, I loved it. I am the fifth child of nine from an obviously Catholic family. Most of my siblings above me already have four to five kids and use NFP. I am three years married as of June with twin girls, a baby boy, and just found out a baby on the way.None of my siblings or parents had babies this fast and to be quite honest I feel more like a fool and overwhelmed then doing God’s will and being open to his plan. I only really got serious about learning NFP after the first three came so quickly. I started learning the Marquette method and well…wasn’t serious about the rules after three months. Maybe I am the fool, undisciplined, and actually not working with God due to not being more responsible. I know it is up to my husband and I to truly discuss and work together on this but I don’t really know what that looks like. My husband is coming to know the faith through me and I am doing an awful job of teaching and trusting in it. Lovingly saying no and abstaining is hard for me due to fear of pushing my husband away. I need prayers. Any advice? Your post helped me realize that I am not alone in feeling like NFP is hard and helps me avoid the temptation to abandon it all together. I know it is better then harmful secular alternatives but wow it is so humbling to go from the confident girl who dreamed of the same big family I came from…to struggling with the responsibilities and reality of NFP as an adult. This Catholic life is hard but thank you for your honesty. It is encouraging.