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The cross of NFP: Shannon & Zach

Shannon and Zach Wendt of Grand Rapids, Mich., never expected to struggle with natural family planning. After all, they weren’t all that worried about it. “We were pretty relaxed – open to life and enjoying being together!” said Shannon, 31, a homeschooling mother and owner of organicmamasshop.com.

But after their fifth child was born in 2011, life took a heartbreaking turn. They had two miscarriages in quick succession, and the second was a partial-molar pregnancy, when the placenta turns into a cluster of grape-like tumors. Shannon had a D&C, but there was a real risk that if any placental tissue was missed, it would regrow as an aggressive form of cancer.

This type of cancer is easy to detect, because the tissue produces HCG. As long as HCG levels continue to decrease, and eventually reach zero, there’s little chance of regrowth. So Shannon took blood tests every two weeks, and in the meantime, they had to make sure they didn’t give the body any other reason to produce HCG – like pregnancy.

That’s when the Wendts ran into trouble with NFP. Just when it was most critical, their charts stopped making sense. With six-week cycles, all-the-time mucus and spotting both around ovulation and near the end of the cycle, the Wendts rarely had confidence that they were infertile.

Eventually, Shannon’s HCG reached zero. The doctors advised them to wait another four to six months before conceiving. “At this point, NFP ‘worked,’” Shannon joked. “We got pregnant at a point in my cycle that didn’t make any sense.”

The Wendts were nervous but excited. And then, 16 weeks in, the doctor could no longer hear a heartbeat. “We were crushed. And angry,” Shannon said. “We knew this was an opportunity to get to the bottom of my health issues. Postponing another baby was very important.”

At this point in their marriage, the Wendts had a love-hate relationship with NFP.

Love: Charting had helped them identify what was wrong in her body. They weren’t dealing with birth-control side effects on top of everything else. And they knew they were following God’s plan.

Hate: Abstinence. Lots and lots of abstinence. As Zach, a 35-year old realtor, said, “No one likes ‘no’.”

Shannon doesn’t pull punches when she describes that time. “The idea that God only gives you what you can handle? That’s such b.s. I said, ‘God, this is too much for me to handle. I just want to fall into the embrace of my husband, and I don’t understand why you’re taking that from us.”

They got through it. Today, the Wendts believe they are on the far side of their NFP struggle. They have found some answers and are counting down the final days to the birth of their long-desired sixth child – a girl. “The emotions of this pregnancy have been hard to shoulder,” Shannon said, “but my husband and I have developed a deeper understanding of each other and have borne these seesawing emotions together. As her kicks and wiggles get stronger every week, the excitement that was at first overshadowed by anxiety has taken over. God is good, and we are thankful to belong to Him!”