Oh Natural Family Planning... I have such a love/hate relationship with you. Mostly hate if I'm being honest, and I especially struggled with it during the early years of our marriage.
So when those babies come so unexpectedly, they come with a huge dose of fear, shame, and uncertainty. I wish I could take a pregnancy test and exclaim joyfully that we got the answer we were praying for, but I'm usually being comforted by Phil instead. I hate that. I hate that to the outside world, we are living totally open to life, but then when pregnancy happens against our will, we aren't exactly on board with this openness. I hate that even though we got married wanting a huge family...I feel like we've white-knuckled our way through each announcement. Why couldn't I have just rejoiced in the Lord's plan and timing. We wanted lots of babies! He gave us lots of babies! Why couldn't I live more relaxed about it all?
I felt like I needed, no deserved, a better way. I wanted the church to figure out a method that was fool-proof. I wanted to feel supported, both physically and financially, from the church who proclaimed that being open to life was the only way to live a Catholic marriage. I wanted like-minded moms to talk with openly about the struggles of raising a huge family. I wanted to live in a way that encouraged younger couples to use NFP without scaring them away with all our unplanned blessings. I wanted to stop being jealous of couples who made NFP look easy. I wanted to stop viewing children as a failed result of NFP and see the blessings which they truly are.
Time has a funny way of settling down Type A folks like myself. Years and maturity and grace have helped me realize some major lessons when it comes to NFP. So I thought I'd share :)
God is in charge.
We may want to be able to control everything in our lives, but we can't. And if we really think about it, who would want the responsibility that would come with that control? Not I! God already knows the bigger picture and knows what chances and circumstances we need to gain eternal life with Him. That's all that matters. I don't need to worry about another couple's family size or the perfect timing of my own. It's freeing to finally feel this way. Also...
Being open to life doesn't mean being open to another pregnancy right now.
Being open to life means accepting God's Will in the daily moments. Sometimes that makes us feel sad, happy, scared, or excited, and feelings are okay. We need to work through them to come out the other side in living in accordance with His Will. Having a child is a big decision, and we are co-creators in the act, so we have the ability to try and steer the ship a certain way, but being open means that we could end up in a different harbor. I used to be so scrupulous in this area. I used to envision God saying to me at the end of my life "Well, I wanted you to have ten, but you only had 7 kids. Off you go." I've learned, through lots of conversation, confessions, and prayer, that putting off having another baby (or trying to at least!) means looking at the needs of the family you already have first. Assessing the timing based on the state of the marriage, children, and finances that exist, then accepting the timing of an unexpected blessing if/when it occurs. Because...
Fertility and infertility are not choices we can make.
Just as an infertile couple doesn't deserve to have a child, as much as they want one...neither does a fertile couple deserve the ability to control when their children come, as much as they want to. Children are gifts from God and not in our control. When Phil and I get the news that another little Martin is on his (because we all know my odds!) way, that means we were loving each other and God right. It means our bodies were working correctly. It doesn't mean we failed using NFP. Besides...
The fertility window is a limited time in a person's life.
When your babies are coming in rapid succession, you can honestly feel like you'll be pregnant forever. I know I did. But one day, no matter how fertile you've been, it will come to an end. I hear from older moms all the time that they wish they would have had more kids in their 20s and 30s because now they can't. That being said...
NFP LIFE is hard.
When you try to follow all the church's rules and wait until marriage and then can finally be totally one with your spouse, it's hard to have to live like you're dating again. Especially when it's a no-go time, but you go to sleep next to the person you're crazy about and your hormones are telling your head to just shut up and love your spouse already. Just me? ;) It takes a lot of will power to abstain, and many will fail if the reason to abstain isn't strong enough. And that's all part of the plan and why there are so many Catholic babies. Sometimes I just need to accept something is hard, stop complaining about it, offer it up, and realize that I can do hard things. Anyway...
I think a little "struggle" in this area is good for a marriage.
Younger Colleen can't believe older Colleen is saying this now, but looking back I can see how many graces and blessings and gifts we received by struggling with NFP. I'm actually glad my cycles were irregular and we didn't know what we were doing most of the time and God was completely in control. If I had everything all figured out, I'm sure I wouldn't have the sweet children that I have. When young couples plan to get married and not have kids for a long time, I literally ache for them. How do they know if they can even have children at all? What if they are postponing through their fertile years and then suffer from infertility? I want to tell them that if having a baby right away is the worst thing that can happen, then they probably should wait to get married. Marriage is ordered to family and not being in complete control only brings a couple closer to each other and God. It's team work and lots of conversations and loads of lessons in being unselfish. And in the end...if you're really lucky...
You get a beautiful family out of the deal!
And that folks, is winning, not losing, at Natural Family Planning.
(Linking up with Kelly)