Since it’s Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week, I’ve decided to share my NFP testimony.
I have ten children. Only six of them are living; the other four were lost to miscarriage and are, God willing, in Heaven. When my husband and I were engaged, we talked about having three, MAYBE four kids, but certainly no more than that. However, our “best laid plans” were obliterated once we converted from the ELCA to Catholicism — and thank God for that.
I’ve spent the last month or so musing about how much NFP has changed my life, prompted by a presentation on Intimacy & Sexuality that my husband and I gave to our parish’s marriage prep class in early July. I have more of a love/hate relationship with NFP, but overall, knowing about and using NFP has changed my life for the better (although when I’m in the midst of my fertile period, I feel like it is the bane of my existence!).
The strongest emotion I feel when I remember the day my oldest child was born is gratitude. The moment she was placed in my arms, I was breathless with awe and stunned that I’d been given such an incredible gift. When the nurse asked for her name, we told her it was “Elanor Mary.”
Elanor was a name we loved from the Lord of the Rings books (why yes, we are geeks, why do you ask?). The reason we chose Mary as her middle name was twofold: we wanted to honor both the Virgin Mother and the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, MN, where my husband and I went through RCIA and were confirmed into Catholicism. If not for our conversion, Elanor Mary might not exist — nor might our other children.
Shortly before my husband and I were married in the Lutheran church, I began taking birth control pills. I hardly thought about it at all; in my sphere of existence, going on the Pill was just something you did when you started having sexual relations. I was a strong enough Christian that I believed sex should be reserved for marriage, but in the faith I was raised in, making babies wasn’t the purpose of sex, but rather a side effect that could be pleasant or unpleasant depending on your particular circumstances.
In my mind, and in the view of my church, you were irresponsible if you didn’t go on birth control if you were in circumstances that weren’t ideal for having children. As I was still in college and my husband’s employment as an IT contractor was sporadic, we thought it best to postpone parenthood until we were “ready.” Sadly, even though we were practicing Christians, praying about this decision never crossed our minds.
I didn’t like the Pill’s side effects, but resigned myself to them, thinking that it was the most reliable way to “control” my fertility. About two years went by, and my husband suddenly announced that he felt he needed to become Catholic. I was blindsided by his decision; however, unbeknownst to me, since before our marriage and after it he’d been having long, complex theological conversations with his best friend, a devout Catholic. Due to these discussions, he had become convinced that the Catholic Church had the fullness of truth. Part of that truth, he told me, was Church teaching regarding contraception. He wanted me to go off the Pill and for us to start using Natural Family Planning.
I argued, but eventually I agreed to research NFP. Up to that point I had never heard of it; all I knew was that Catholics used “Vatican Roulette,” also known as “the rhythm method,” and everyone knew that didn’t work. I sent an e-mail to a multi-denominational Christian e-mail list I was on, asking for more information; a Catholic friend referred me to The Art of Natural Family Planning and a Protestant friend told me to read Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I purchased the latter and checked the former out of the library (I didn’t want to buy a Catholic book, after all.)
I read them both, and when I was finished, I was furious.
Why hadn’t anyone ever told me I could chart my cycles? I had taken biology courses in both high school and college, and had earned As in both, but I had never been told about basal body temperatures or cervical mucus. I had never known that it was possible to track ovulation. I hadn’t known what a luteal phase was. This was valuable information!
As a woman with long, irregular menstrual cycles, I hated being surprised by my period. That was the one big benefit to the Pill, to my mind—for once in my life I could predict when my period would come so I wouldn’t be caught by surprise every month. But here was a way, a natural way, for me to get that information and no one had ever told me about it!
I started to think that maybe these Catholics knew what they were talking about, after all. The discovery softened my heart toward the Church and made me more open to beginning RCIA, which in turn led to my acceptance of the Catholic faith.
I shared my findings about NFP with my husband and told him that I no longer had any issues with going off the Pill; in fact, I was eager to try out NFP. I started charting my cycles several months prior to our conversion, and by May 29, 2003 (the date of our confirmation) we were full-blown NFP users. (Although largely self-taught, we also took an NFP class from our diocese several months after our conversion—and I did end up purchasing a copy of The Art of Natural Family Planning, after all.)
NFP drastically changed the way we communicated with one another. Every month and every new cycle meant we had a discussion about parenthood, and if we had serious, just reasons for avoiding pregnancy.
One month, in May 2004, my husband shared that although he knew we weren’t in absolute ideal financial circumstances, he felt God was calling him to become a father and that perhaps we shouldn’t abstain this cycle. I was initially hesitant, but I wanted to follow God’s will for our lives, especially when it came to our fertility. I also wanted to trust my husband in his capacity as head of our spiritual household. Two weeks later, the pregnancy test was positive.
NFP allowed us to conceive the very cycle we decided to start trying—a virtual impossibility with the Pill. If we’d remained Lutheran, I strongly doubt I would have ever gone off contraceptives as soon as I did; I also don’t know if we’d have been as open to conceiving children as soon as we did.
Our circumstances, according to the secular word, weren’t ideal for having kids (my husband was in college, I was the sole breadwinner, we were living paycheck to paycheck in a small two-bedroom apartment). At the time of our marriage, as Lutherans, we tended to listen more to the secular world; as Catholics, we opened our hearts to God’s will for our lives and our fertility and He granted us an amazing blessing as a result.
Elanor Mary was baptized into the Catholic faith on May 28, 2005, a date we chose deliberately to coincide with the anniversary of our confirmation. She’s thirteen years old now, and she has five living siblings, and four siblings in heaven. Our children are a daily reminder of the joy and happiness that being Catholic—and having a deeper, more intimate relationship with God through the Eucharist and with each other through NFP—has brought to our lives.