This is really long. Everyone always says that people don’t want to read long things, but I'm not everyone. I normally want to read long love story posts and long NFP posts, and I want it all in one place. So maybe take breaks if you aren’t like me.
I’m not going to get into the teachings on NFP because you can find those very eloquently written about in many forms whether they be encyclicals or blog posts. I don’t intend any of this to end in debate. I hate confrontation. This post has been in my drafts for months and my mind for longer, but I was finally inspired to share by this post to finish it and press publish. As you read, remember that this is our ongoing relationship with using NFP, not everyone’s. However, I feel like there are more practicing couples out there that would resonate with some straight talk.
"All aboard! All aboard!" Ryan kept bellowing from atop an upside down white laundry basket.
He had recently woken up which, of course, began the domino effect of his being up spurring his baby brother being up spurring me being up. We were up!
I asked him, "Are you a conductor?"
"No. I'm just a kid saying. 'All aboard!'"
We knew and currently know the beauty of the teachings behind NFP. When we were engaged, there was never any question if we were going to use NFP, but there also wasn't any question if we were going to wait or not to expand our family of two to a family of three. We were going to wait. Sure, I'd daydream about having our babies the second we got married, but that just wasn't in the plans.
Two years. Yes, two years. Two years would give us plenty of time to pay a good chunk of student loans off. There was no way we could afford children while paying off students loans at first. Plus, we were already going against the grain by tying the knot, and I couldn't imagine ruffling more feathers by putting eggs in the newlywed nest.
But, I didn't do anything about it until four months or so before the wedding. This demonstrates that the gravity of our financial situation maybe wasn't as grave as we thought.
I finally saw a flyer at my school for NFP classes and went by myself. I really was actually by myself because I was the only person beside the teacher who showed up, and Chris lived almost two hours away at the time. Fortunately for the kind teacher, NFP was already going to be the way for us, I didn't need any convincing. She had been teaching for decades, and her material showed it. She taught using slides. Not PowerPoint slides. Real, click, click slides. The rest of her outdated materials are beside the point. What I heard from her that came from her well-intentioned heart, was that NFP would be easy. The idea wasn't that abstaining would be easy, but that the science of it would be easy. It was the same thing I heard from every other couple I had asked. Just temp and check throughout the day and chart and you will be able to tell when you ovulate! What a blessing!
(I want to put it out there that I am not a good example if you do really do have grave reasons to avoid pregnancy and need to be diligent about charting and avoiding. Find a teacher who works for you and begin at least six months before your wedding. It's never too early to learn NFP. I'm pretty adamant about teaching our daughters someday about NFP once they reach maturity and raising our boys to know that NFP takes two people. There is nothing dangerous about knowing more about how a woman's body works - Chris might claim there's something distinctly dangerous about NOT knowing how it works).
I half-heartedly starting charting using a computer program, and I was as stumped as my sophomore self in macroeconomics. My mind was mostly preoccupied with what our honeymoon would be like, fun or not, and every new day charted seemed to contradict the previous day’s forecast for fun or not. With a generous estimate, I had maybe three full charts completed before April 2, 2011. But, oh well, I was told that it was going to be easy so I naïvely thought it would take care of becoming easy on its own! We were totally good was my stubborn thought.
Our honeymoon consisted of alternating between having the time of our lives and shrugging bewilderedly at the signs of the day.
I remember someone strongly telling us on our honeymoon to wait two years to have children, and I completely agreed, definitely. We were going to wait.
Then I remember being home in Chicago a couple weeks later and venting to Chris in our room that I had no idea what was happening and that we could be pregnant. That thought - that possibility I let gestate in my mind suddenly became something that I wanted. It was kind of like the moment I realized I had a crush on Chris. I didn’t know I liked him until I realized he might not ask me to be his date, and I didn’t know I wanted a baby until I realized there might not be one. I realized I wanted to be a mother right then, but damn it, wasn’t NFP supposed to be easy?
Chris told me that if we were pregnant, it would be wonderful. That would be a gift - but also that the odds were incredibly low. We weren’t intending to try, but we always knew our intimacy was open to God’s plan.
His words soothed me and they are some of the most favorite words he has ever spoken to me, but as the week went on, there was that tug-o-war I had planted in my mind. I want a baby, but I’m supposed to make NFP work – I can’t be a part of another "'What do you call people who use NFP?' 'Parents!'" joke.
NFP didn't make us parents. The birds and the bees made us parents.
And then April 29th came. It was the 35th day of my cycle and the longest cycle I had had before the wedding that had been charted was 35 days. I watched the Royal Wedding in the wee hours of the morning, and that night the test turned positive pretty much before I could say wee. That’s a slight exaggeration, of course.
I was ecstatic to be pregnant. But there was that tug-o-war! At the same time, I was also mortified to be pregnant. To my mistaken mind, our honeymoon souvenir meant that I lost a victory for NFP. Easy NFP that is already such a hard sell. I felt horrible that I was going to deter couples from even considering it.
When I told all of my friends we were having a honeymoon baby, I’d follow up each time with a quick plea, “But make sure you tell everyone that we didn’t follow the rules! We knew we were open! NFP does work, we just didn’t really use it correctly!”
Thank you, God, for that.
Thank you, God, for not giving us our plan.
Thank you, God, for showing us that there doesn’t have to be a one hundred percent success avoidance rate for NFP to work.
Thank you, God, for showing us that, bottom line, NFP is about life.
Thank you, God, for giving us our honeymoon souvenir.
Thank you, God, for giving us someone who is half me, half my husband, and all yours. Thank you for giving us our son.
A honeymoon baby seems to have made us more daring because we are more at peace with a plan that isn't our own. I can tell you that if Ryan hadn't been born, Chris wouldn't be chasing our dream in grad school right now. He would still be working a lucrative, cut-throat job that made him miserable.
We have learned that for us at this time of life, NFP is fittingly more like a dare than a promise. I dare you to trust me. Now, I’m more of a truth girl, but I’m going to keep choosing dare.
Once Ryan was uncorked, we knew that we wanted to him to have siblings so Conor was planned. Well, he was loosely planned. This baby just made us laugh. I’m already brainstorming what method will be employed after this little girl or boy. My planning ahead shows that we aren’t considering jumping ship.
But that doesn’t mean it is easy.
NFP is gold, but NFP is hard.
Attempting to learn NFP while nursing and walking in the fuzzy cloud of newborn mom brain for months was, no wait, will continue to be agony.
At present, our reaction when we look at my charts the majority of the time would be most accurately and almost most bluntly described as, "WTF WTF WTF."
However, we choose to be here. I personally don’t feel enslaved to Church teaching, I feel free, humbled and pretty damn lucky.
But how can we fix the marketing? How can we enhance how NFP teachers and users communicate the stunning difficulty to those dipping their toes into the waters without scaring them away? That, yes, NFP is beautiful, but often the beauty really starts to shine and grow after sifting through the grit. I don't have answers for those complex questions, but I know that I can start by being honest about its beauty and its cross when couples come to me asking questions.
It’s been over four years since I saw those blue lines cross, and I still cringe at my attempts to defend NFP rather than fully and unabashedly celebrating our newest vocation. Is Ryan a lost victory for NFP? No, he is just a soul saying, “Lead me home!”