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)
Great post,Colleen! You are always so real with what you write. And honestly, I was expecting take number 7 to be an ultrasound picture!ReplyDelete
Haha, nope! Not yet :)Delete
Love this Colleen! I remember being on our honeymoon cruise and a couple at our dinner table celebrating their one year anniversary. They had an unplanned child right away and were basically trying to convince us, and the other newlyweds at the table, NOT to have kids right away. Thanks to NFP, we didn't take their advice and I'm so glad it worked out the way it did! They argued that you need time alone together to just enjoy each other (meanwhile I'm thinking that's kinda how babies happen isn't it???) but, I've learned more about my husband and our relationship has improved because, I think in part, to our openness to life and large family. Even when it's been hard and scary and I don't understand it, God's plan has always been better for us.ReplyDelete
Yes! I always hope I'm not like that couple, making having kids look bad through my actions/complaints/honesty about the difficulties of large family life. It really is great even though it really is hard :)Delete
All of this is so true! We just gave a talk to a bunch of engaged couples and we told them openness to life, is openness to the life God has planned for you. Which could be surprise pregnancies, infertility, miscarriage, adoption, or diligent NFP. God's plans are always better than ours!! Great Post!!ReplyDelete
Love the lesson you preach (and live)!Delete
Kallah basically spoke verbatim the wisdom of take #4 to me and Theresa the other day! �� I love having awesome Catholic witnesses in y’all!ReplyDelete
Kallah is so wise :) ... I definitely feel like I’m in the PREGNANT ALL THE TIME phase. (This after a couple years of infertility where I though I WILL NEVER BE PREGNANT.) It’s so nice to be affirmed by someone with a little more perspective that it’s all worth it!Delete
9 children in 14 years, I can relate to all of this. Do you remember the movie with brad pitt "The curious case of benjamin button" where he ages in reverse? I feel like that. I've had more babies in my late thirties (my 4 month old being born the month I turned 40) than in my 20's. Thank you for sharing your experience with nfp. I really enjoy your blog; its great to be able to read about other large, Catholic families!ReplyDelete
You're awesome Jenny, thanks for reading!Delete
9 babies in 16 years here. And 4 miscarriages. All while trying to postpone. Lol. God has a plan, and I love it. (I didn't used to love it...but glory be to God I've grown.)Delete
Such a great post! I am really appreciating the"now me looking back at young me" perspective. We struggled so much and the babies came much closer than planned and everyone including us thinking we're crazy and yet- it was God's plan for our marriage, His gift to us, and His Grace overflowed. Right along with CM. ;-)ReplyDelete
You are crazy! Crazy in love ;)Delete
I'm on my 5th (very surprising) pregnancy in 7 years and I'm 31, and pretty darn fertile I guess. I needed to read this today, but I almost didn't click. I'm very glad I did.ReplyDelete
You can do this Jessica, and it will be hard but god will so reward you!Delete
Excellent, excellent! I could definitely agree with so many of these, even though our NFP/child bearing story is different in many ways. And yes, as the years go by and our age increases, the perspective has changed. I look at Benny almost every day and think "I sure would've hated to miss this. I'm grateful God softened my heart and opened it for one more."ReplyDelete
Wonderful post! As a 39 yo mom with 7, who has struggled with both infertility and "super fertility", miscarriages, and unexpected pregnancies from "failed" NFP, I completely agree!ReplyDelete
Such a great post! And you do have a beautiful family.ReplyDelete
Thank you for this! We’re celebrating our 3rd anniversary this fall and are expecting our 3rd blessing in April. I know all of our newlywed friends are scared of what nfp will lead them to because we’ve been diligent and still had 2 “unplanned” babies. We are thankful we are so fertile, but I do feel like I’m going to be pregnant forever. Thank you for affirming my feelings! I should be so thankful and grateful it’s been easy for us to get pregnant, when we know so many who struggle for years and years, but sometimes I feel like I just don’t want another one right now! You’re totally right, God is in charge, and his plan for our lives is far more perfect than we could ever hope for.ReplyDelete
I want to do NFP but another pregnancy would risk my health right now when i already have children to take care of. Do you have any advice for this?ReplyDelete
I hope other readers might want to jump in on some helpful advice here. I guess I'll just say that NFP is supposed to be 99% effective for preventing a pregnancy when done correctly and under the strictest of rules. I've gotten pregnant many times while using NFP to postpone, but I didn't have a medical reason to not get pregnant, and if I did, I would have been much more strict with the rules and taken no chances. I think, as someone who only practices NFP, if I was told I could NOT get pregnant for fear of my life, I would probably have to abstain until the fertile years were over. That would be a VERY difficult way to live but I know if my husband thought I might die from another pregnancy, he would go nowhere near me anyway! I don't know how serious your condition is, and I know many docs suggest not getting pregnant again because the health of the mother isn't ideal, but it's also not life threatening. You're in a very tough situation and I pray you can find some advice from others in the same boat. I will pray for you!!!Delete