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NFP Uncensored: Growing a better marriage

NFP Uncensored is a series of candid accounts of the way NFP informs every aspect of life. You can follow the posts by searching for “NFP Uncensored” here in the Living the Love blog (use the search bar on the righthand side of this page), or by searching #NFPUncensored on social media.

When I was 22, I had been on birth control for a few years for heavy, painful periods, and had only heard about NFP from the religious nutcases. I had nightmares of having more children than I could handle physically, financially and mentally. The thought of NFP terrified me.

Still, I considered myself a fairly devout Catholic and, when I discovered my then-boyfriend Joe’s deep commitment to Catholicism, it made him pretty attractive to me as a possible husband. When he asked, “Have you heard of NFP?” I knew he was really serious about Catholicism and I had a lot to learn.

But the idea of actually doing NFP? No way.

I never once thought the pill was doing anything detrimental to my body. I never considered it anti-Catholic, really. I wasn’t getting abortions, right?

Fast forward a year or more: We got engaged. We started planning our wedding and NFP came up.

Again.

I was still on the pill, and time was running out for me to decide what to do. We went to a pre-Cana weekend with a little class on NFP and I felt a lot better. [Editor’s note: Lauren’s NFP class was not affiliated with CCL.] We had an amazing teaching couple who gave us a very real talk. They didn’t have a perfect past, but they’d changed and believed in the Church’s teachings now, including NFP and what it did for their family. They had large crew (six kids, I believe), but every single one was planned and spaced — each two years apart. They taught us that NFP was more than just crossing your fingers hoping you wouldn’t get pregnant month to month.

So I agreed to try it.

The plunge

Before our wedding, I went off the pill for a few months and started to chart my cycles. It was challenging at first, but it worked pretty much exactly as we were taught. My transition cycles would be all over some days (I didn’t have regular periods; some cycles were over 40 days long), but I could tell when the post-ovulatory infertile time started. Soon, I was pretty confident identifying my infertile and fertile days.

But after our wedding I was so nervous that we would have an unplanned pregnancy! Every time my cycle was late (which was normal for me), I panicked and would convince myself I was pregnant, no matter what the chart said. Ugh — we were going to be that couple who got pregnant right after the honeymoon! I was only 24. I didn’t want to start a family yet!

I constantly had questions. I would take pictures of my chart and send them to my NFP teachers who always gave really helpful responses! I am so grateful for their support; the wife especially made it possible for me to trudge through the tough beginning.

Paradigm shift

We made it a year. Whew! I was relieved.

At this point, I actually felt it would be OK if I got pregnant and got lazy with charting. Then it happened: I had a cycle go longer than 40 days. I got nervous. I took a test.

It was positive! OK, so we didn’t actually plan the pregnancy — I hear you out there. It was a surprise! But, we weren’t doing NFP fully and we were OK with it. In fact, after about 24 hours of shock, I was ecstatic! I was ready to be pregnant and be on that journey.

Unfortunately, about two weeks later, I lost the baby. This changed a lot.

I knew I could never go back on birth control. Preventing life now seemed like the silliest idea in the world. Why would I prevent life when I held on so tightly to that life I couldn’t keep? It really had felt like the biggest miracle in the world that we were blessed with a pregnancy. And then it was gone.

This began a few dark months in our marriage. I felt like it was my fault that we lost the baby. I wanted to get pregnant again right away, but my husband didn’t want to jump back in after the tragedy we experienced. I felt like I was suffering alone, but found out later that many women feel this way after a miscarriage or loss.

More than one miracle

At this point I refused to chart. I did not want to know when I was infertile or fertile. I didn’t want to have control for once. I just wanted to be pregnant again. Three months later, we were blessed to find we were expecting once more. Since I was hoping to conceive, I consider this baby pseudo-planned. After a healthy pregnancy, we had our first daughter.

Then we hit a time when our NFP use really bumped our marriage up a notch.

As most moms would agree, watching your husband bond with your newborn baby is a love that cannot be described. I fell in love with Joe all over again. We couldn’t be physically intimate because I was still healing from delivering our little girl, so our relationship almost felt like it was brand-new again. And while that early newborn love would eventually lessen, I still sensed a new appreciation for my husband — for my new little family.

TTA – Trying to avoid

With this newfound affection, we finally started to really discuss NFP together. Once my period returned, Joe would occasionally help me chart. At that point, I was adamant about preventing pregnancy as I didn’t want two babies that close together. I was also worried about my mental health if I were to get pregnant right away. We need to avoid a new pregnancy, but by not using the pill! Never again!

Using NFP to temporarily avoid conception brought a new level of communication to our marriage. It brought a new level of respect. It wasn’t just about sex; it was about marriage. NFP almost became my definition of marriage. We communicated about sex much more often. We tried to make time to be intimate when it worked in my cycle. It wasn’t perfect. Marriage isn’t perfect. It’s about compromise. It’s about communication. It’s about faith.

TTW – Trying to whatever

When we decided to perhaps be open to a second child, I wasn’t ready to purposefully try just yet. But lo and behold we were pregnant at the end of that very cycle; daughter number two was conceived in the same “partially planned” fashion as the first.

Then I felt another shift in our thinking about NFP. I felt like our marriage had not only grown in communication, but in faith. NFP wasn’t just about family planning; it was about growing in our beliefs together. Even though as a mom of two I had trouble concentrating in church (I still do!), I felt more connected to my Catholic faith than I ever had in my life. I had two little girls who were proof of it. I felt God in my life. I felt we were really compromising and working together in all areas of our marriage. We really were more comfortable helping each other out with everything. We were growing.

We were finally starting to understand marriage.

The journey carries on

It’s not all cupcakes and rainbows — my husband and I still have typical communication struggles — but we’ve gotten so much better over almost eight years of marriage.

Additionally, I have gotten to the point with NFP that I almost don’t have to record my symptoms. My cycles are fairly regular; my periods are a healthier five days long rather than 11 days long; and my cycle lengths are now consistently about 30-32 days instead of 35-40. I can pretty easily figure out when ovulation has passed.

The pill never did any of that for me — never helped my relationships, never really targeted the source of my crazy periods. In fact, I’m pretty sure the pill contributed to my migraines and a friend of mine shares the experience. I think the pill has many more side effects than modern medicine is willing to discuss.

When I talk to family, friends and even doctors about NFP, I get the looks that I probably would have given someone back when I was 22. And that’s hard for me.

But even though it’s difficult, it doesn’t change what I’m doing.

Recently we decided to make space in our lives for baby number three. I am currently 13 weeks along and sick as a dog but excited for the adventures ahead. We don’t know now if we will want more, but I am confident that as long as I am consistent with charting NFP methods, we will only have as many as we (and God) want.

— Lauren Cleeton teaches mathematics at a local university and lives with her family in the tiny town of Damiansville, Illinois.