Written by Anne Marie Stroud. Originally published in Family Foundations.
NFP is always countercultural, but today’s young married couples face pressures from media, friends, and even family to contracept and close the door to life. There’s definitely a gap that needs to be filled in showing newlyweds the goodness of self-gift through NFP and openness to life. Stacey and Adrian Nagle are filling that gap through their joyful witness of love and life. They have been married for 26 years and have five children. In addition to all of this, they have been teaching NFP for 20 years and Stacey is the Couple to Couple League National Volunteer Coordinator. Here, they share some of their stories and insights from their beautiful journey.
Anne Marie: What words of wisdom do you have for engaged couples about to embark on the journey of marriage?
Stacey: Well, my daughter just recently became engaged so this is pretty realistic for me! It might seem like there are all these things that you have to do – but take advantage & think of this as a really great moment in your lives, to learn about each other, to grow in your faith for yourself, and to grow together. Because all of these things you’re going to talk about will affect the rest of your life. Your wedding day is one special day (That something is totally going to go wrong with! And that is okay!). You’re preparing for a lifetime of being married; it’s more than one special day. You don’t want to get married and then ask, “What did God want for me in my marriage? How are we called to live this out?” You want to know that before you get married. If we hadn’t learned NFP when we were engaged, I don’t know how we would have been different – because it really opened my eyes and my heart to a lot of different things.
Anne Marie: Drawing on your experience of marriage, what is something that you think every newlywed couple should know?
Stacey: I think it’s a little bit like parenting – my advice to new parents is that the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes. And once you figure out, “Oh, you got your baby to sleep so well!” then in two more months, that’s not going to work anymore and your baby’s going to change. That’s how you go through your married life. You don’t want it to be static and it’s always going to be moving. The only unchanging thing is that you’re doing it all together. So that’s my advice – don’t be afraid of changes or unexpected things, because you have each other and that’s what you need to make it through anything.
Adrian: Spend time together! I think sometimes some couples have separate friends and go off a little separately – but just remembering you’re married; you have this new commitment. There is a new journey together and you get to share those experiences together.
Anne Marie: What advice and encouragement would you give to newlywed couples in regards to approaching NFP?
Adrian: In class, I point out that NFP is a lifestyle – not just family planning. You develop new habits – if you’re doing the CCL sympto-thermal method, you’re taking the temperature, and the woman is tracking her mucus but in the end – it’s a lifestyle and you are working together as a couple, you’re making mutual decisions, you’re having conversations about your current state, your family planning, and your marriage life… With that I think you recognize the life-giving aspect of NFP; that you’re supporting your spouse in a spiritual and emotional journey that you just need to continue. So don’t think of it as, “We’re going to decide when or when not to have a child.” You’re using NFP to develop a deeper relationship and reinforce your commitment to each other.
Stacey: I think one of the things I point out is that it’s “knowing your why” and that really helps solidify for me using NFP. Once we believed it to be the right thing to do – I remember telling a friend of mine that it wouldn’t matter what would happen in my life, I would never not do this. And I think that’s what you need, you need to have this true belief and understanding of how God has created you. That gets you through the difficult times, maybe the heartbreak when you miscarry or the great joy when you do have pregnancies, or even just the joy of going on vacation and it’s phase three.
Anne Marie: What discernment advice would you give to newlyweds on whether or not to try to get pregnant versus avoiding pregnancy?
Stacey: You don’t ask yourself the question, “When should we have a baby?” You’re asking yourself, “Why shouldn’t we be open to having a baby?” When you think about it this way, you know what the reasons are for avoiding this month, and then you have to go through that and have the conversation together. Sometimes in hindsight you might even say, “Well that was kind of a dumb reason, why did we wait two more months?”
Adrian: Well, how did you decide to marry your spouse, right? It is kind of a similar question. It’s a prayerful, conscious decision that this is what you feel and this is where God is leading you…and so it becomes a prayerful decision. It’s always a discussion between a couple to discern Stacey’s question: “What is the reason that we’re postponing?”
Stacey: And then, adding one little thing to that, we have five kids, but our oldest kids are 22, 20, 18, 15, and then we have a 9-year-old. So we have this really big spacing of six years- but we didn’t have an “oops” we didn’t plan. We were constantly re-evaluating at every point. We had finally got to a point where we didn’t have that seriousness that we had felt before. We’re all learning and we’re all on the same path and, even though we’re older, we are asking ourselves the same questions that newlyweds are asking themselves. Part of our conversation sounds a little different, but we’re still having the same conversations.
Anne Marie: What fruit have you seen in practicing NFP as a married couple?
Adrian: It is being open to life. Growing up, I had one younger brother and that was just life as I knew it; that’s how I understood family life. When Stacey and I got married and were asking the question, “Well, why not?” that opened up the doors to the five children that we have. They’re all special and they’re all unique and they’re all similar and it’s been the part of life that I would never want to miss.
Stacey: My first thought went to our five kids- those are the literal fruits. They draw you into wonder all the time…and that fruit helped me realize that all of the other fruits that came in our marriage and our relationship are manifested in them and they bring us closer together still.
Anne Marie Stroud is wife to Colin and mom to Magdalena Grace. She currently works for a Catholic marketing company. You can connect with her on Instagram @thecatholichypewoman or read her blog at thecatholichypewoman.wordpress.com.