So y'all know that we love and have always used Natural Family Planning in our marriage. Well sometimes I hate it, but mostly I love it.
I love that it's completely natural for my body, it is green for the environment, it is in agreement with the teachings of the Catholic church, and it's leaves the possibility of new babies open for discussion since nothing permanent is ever "fixed".
(Side note: How can you "fix" something that isn't broken? Like a man or woman's healthy reproductive system? How can you "take care of" a problem that isn't there? Like a body's natural fertility?)
But back to the point at hand.
One of the biggest spiritual struggles I have in my role as a wife and mother is knowing when we have grave reason to use NFP, or when we don’t. I have asked many, many people this question, and never seem to get a direct answer.
When Phil and I made our marriage vows, we promised to accept children lovingly from God. That means that we don’t do anything to artificially get in the way of God creating life. We also don’t play God and try to create life outside of His design. Therefore we do not contracept and we do not use In Vitro Fertilization or a surrogate in order to have a baby. We truly believe that babies are blessings and gifts, and not deserved.
We have been fortunate to have conceived so easily in the past, and I am well aware of the pain caused by infertility. I do not know why God has chosen to spare us with that cross, but do know that we all have our own cross to carry.
Since we have been super fertile and have used NFP to space all of our children (some more successfully than others!), I find myself in a constant state of worry that we are trying to space those children for a good reason, and not for selfish motives. Luckily my wise and much less emotionally charged husband often can list off the reasons why we are justified in using NFP at the moment.
I just think it would be so much easier if God would just let me know the answer. If only He could say “My dear Colleen, for the next year, you would be wise to save a little money and rest your body before a sixth pregnancy. But then in March 2013, you should begin trying. That baby will be a boy, and when you try again in 2015, you will have a little girl, who will complete your family.” Great! No problem! Then I would have a game plan from the Master Planner, and stop worrying about making my own.
(I do understand that this is the point of faith ~ to trust that God is in charge even when we feel like we haven't been included in the memo. I'm just a slow learner!)
So whenever I come across a priest I respect, I often ask him to tell me if I should have another child. “Just tell me what I should do, and I’ll do it”, I say, or “How am I ever going to know when we are done growing our family?” Inevitably, Father will say that he can not make that decision for me. That it is a decision to be made prayerfully between a husband, a wife, and God alone. I would always end up frustrated that nobody was giving me an answer.
Just recently I realized the reason why I couldn’t get an answer for exactly what to do and when. It's because the reasons (our reasons) for using NFP to postpone pregnancies are constantly changing.
At the beginning of our marriage, we used NFP to postpone having a baby until Phil was finished with graduate school (John-Paul wasn’t aware of that plan, and came 9 months later!). Then we decided to use NFP to space out babies two and three because of financial reasons (some came a little closer than we had expected). After having three babies in four years, our reason for waiting for baby number four was that I was so tired and overwhelmed (and we were still financially barely paying our bills).
Well, that fourth baby came waaaaaay sooner than we had planned, but was more than we could have ever hoped for. After Maggie’s arrival, I definitely told Phil that I was “done”. Done having kids, done being worried about money, done being exhausted all the time raising a 4 year old, a 2 year old, a 1 year old, and a newborn, and done relying on our failed attempts at NFP.
Not wanting to resort to using contraception, we just abstained. For a long time...poor Phil could probably tell you exactly how many months, weeks, days, hours and minutes! After a while, we very cautiously started using NFP again. And this time we sorta kinda had it finally figured out.
And then you’ll never guess what happened? God changed my heart little by little, the kids got older, and I started to get baby crazy. Alexander was an answered prayer. And having such an easy baby after a long space of 3.5 years has made me realize that I don't need to postpone having another baby for the reasons of physical or mental exhaustion right now. Something I never thought I would say when I was back in the trenches raising two toddlers and two babies.
Now, if Phil had gotten snipped or if I had gotten my tubes tied right after Maggie was born, when I was sure that I was done, we would never have even had the discussion of having a fifth baby. And that is the beauty of NFP…there’s always a discussion going. One between you and your spouse about when date nights are (or aren't) going to be, and one between God and us about why we are using NFP at the moment.
And we need these frequent conversations because the reasons are always changing and evolving.
Just like us.