Natural Family Planning has been in my vocabulary since my junior year of high school, ever since we talked about Theology of the Body in my religion class. But for a while NFP was just this term, this magical thing that I would use to faithfully and lovingly plan for my future family.
Throughout college, I learned to love NFP for its theological and practical basis. How cool was it that God provided within our own being a way to responsibly and lovingly have a family? As many of my friends could attest to, I was a huge fan of natural family planning and was willing to proclaim it to anyone who wanted to listen!
Finishing college did not change much in my fervor, but it changed how I spoke about it. After undergraduate graduation, I moved to Seattle to start a doctoral graduate program in psychology. I was no longer surrounded by like-minded Catholics, but rather many Protestant Christians who were confused why the Church promoted NFP instead of just making it easier for everyone and say that contraceptives were OK. My passion for NFP shifted to defense mode, talking about how wonderful it was to use as a communication tool in marriage and how natural it was.
During this time, I started dating my now-husband, Michael. When we got engaged, there was no question about what we would use to plan our family. We both loved the teaching of the Church and were excited to be part of the community that actually practiced NFP. It was pretty important for us to postpone children at first since I was still finishing up my doctorate and we needed to wait with children until after my internship year that could relocate us anywhere in the country. And deep-down, I was excited to be an example of a couple using NFP for my friends who were still skeptical.
Color me surprised then when only two months after our wedding, we were pregnant. Because we were charting, Michael and I both started noticing some signs that I might be pregnant before I ever missed my period.
The time between guessing we might be pregnant and confirming that we were pregnant was a trying time for me. I felt like a failure. After all of my planning and all of my hope that I would convince others how “effective” NFP was for family planning, we had an unexpected pregnancy before the newlywed glow had gone away. What would people say? They would never trust NFP ever again and it was my fault! I realize now that this was quite a dramatic response, but hey, I can partially blame it on the pregnancy hormones.
Before actually taking the pregnancy test, Michael and I talked about what this would mean and I revealed to him my worries of how we would look to others. My husband lovingly looked at me and said, “Who cares? We’re going to have a baby!” I laughed on the spot because he was right. This human we had created was so much more important than my own pride of being the champion of NFP. It didn’t matter as much what others thought, what mattered was our journey as a family and to make sure that this baby was loved.
After having this conversation and taking the test the next day, the rest of the pregnancy was filled with joy, anticipation, some annoyance (morning sickness is not just in the morning, false marketing), and excitement.
Once we got over our fear, we realized that the timing was actually perfect for our family. I would be finishing my classes in June and our little baby was due in July. I didn’t have to start my next practicum rotation (supervised clinical work) until September, giving me a built-in maternity leave. And since I was done with classes, all I had left for my graduate career was one more year of part-time clinical work, writing my dissertation, and finally an internship year. By the time I will be on internship, our little baby will already be a year old. We couldn’t have planned it better if we tried!
Looking forward, Michael and I have realized that we need to be a little better about following the rules of NFP. A combination of inexperienced charting and being newlyweds made us a bit more lax with the rules and we misread my peak day. While this experience helped me grow in humility, I also understand that doesn’t mean we should be flippant about our family planning. We realized that we need to be more educated and more conservative in our practice of NFP.
Sadly, I can’t just read a book once and be an expert (I totally wish that’s how it worked). So, I have started studying more about NFP, specifically how to chart and practice NFP while breastfeeding. While this means more times of abstinence which can bring up other frustrations and issues, it also means being responsible about my health (many doctors recommend waiting at least 6 months after birth to become pregnant again to allow for the body to heal properly), and being responsible about what our family can handle.
Michael and I are now on the other side with the most adorable 2-month-old, Clare Rose. She has made our transition into parenthood one that is filled with joy and patience. In reflecting on our journey, the pregnancy has only strengthened my faith in God. As many times before, God’s plan was much better than ours. He worked with my pride and gently reminded me that He will take care of us, no matter the circumstance. I now like telling my story to other newly married couples to help give a bit of perspective, to help them understand that NFP is beautiful, but sometimes it provides challenges that help us grow in our faith and our relationships.
— Sadie Teal is in her fifth year of doctoral studies in Clinical Psychology. She lives just outside of Seattle with her husband, Michael, and daughter Clare Rose (pictured above).