By Céline Gaeta for Family Foundations magazine.
Illeane & Travis Athougies’ belief that the most important and effective way to show our children the beauty of the Faith is by example, is lived out in their ministry as a CCL teaching couple.
Céline: Travis and Ileane, tell me about where your journey as a couple and as a family began!
Ileane: Travis and I went to a small tech college, and we were both computer science and math majors. We became fast friends at orientation when we discovered that we were the only Catholics in our class. Shortly after graduation, we got married. At first, we wanted to postpone pregnancy for a while because we were so young, but within a few months, we discerned that we wanted to start our family. We had a bit of a rough start. Miscarriage followed miscarriage, and after many doctors and our seventh loss, I went on blood thinners for our eighth baby. She is almost five now! Following her birth, we used CCL’s postpartum method and had our (now) two-and-a-half-year-old. Baby number three is on the way!
Céline: When did you learn that NFP was an option for family planning?
Travis: I had heard about NFP in my religion class at Catholic school, but I wrote it off when I was young. I’ll be honest, Ileane and I both went to very secular schools and probably would have used birth control when we got married because we didn’t know there was another viable option. Surprisingly, it was my statistics professor who introduced NFP to me in earnest. When she found out Ileane and I were getting married so young, she suspected we were Catholic and told us about how she and her husband successfully used NFP.
Ileane: Before we took the classes, I was a little skeptical that NFP would actually work. There are no artificial hormones involved and you use paper and a thermometer? It almost sounds too good to be true. We were twenty-two years old, and we didn’t have a lot of money to afford a big family right away. However, it appealed to me that there is no barrier to life and no medication involved with using NFP. After witnessing other couples successfully use NFP in their marriages, Travis and I came to realize that NFP is not only realistic and effective but also a truly beautiful gift!
Céline: How has using NFP in your marriage strengthened your relationship with each other and helped you build a stronger family?
Travis: Having a miscarriage is always hard, especially when you are first married. It makes you feel like you are off track when you see all your other married friends having babies. NFP was a huge help during this difficult time. It allowed us to choose on a monthly basis whether we wanted to try for a baby again or whether we needed to wait because we were still healing and mourning the loss of our previous babies. We experienced a lot of peace from that knowledge.
Ileane: Considering the difficulty of our medical situation, we didn’t even know if we would be able to have a second child postpartum. Being able to track my cycles was a huge help to the NFP doctors we were seeing. Most doctors want to test your hCG levels before they provide any monitoring or treatment for pregnancy issues, but our NFP doctors were able to operate off of early information from my charts.
Celine: The Church teaches that the family is ultimately ordained to fulfillment in Christ. How do you understand and practice that teaching in your own family?
Travis: Ileane and I are dedicated to raising our children Catholic and try to incorporate catechesis into our daily lives. I think the most important and effective way to show one’s children the beauty of the Faith is by example. I hope that one day, when our children get older, they see our devotion and it rubs off on them. We believe it is so important for parents to model the behavior and beliefs they want to pass on to their children, and Ileane and I try to practice that in our family life.
Ileane: Being a parent is very humbling, and it has certainly taught us patience in many ways! One of the most miraculous things about children is that they come out as their own people with their own, little personalities. It shows us right from the beginning that we are all made in God’s image, but we are not made the same in God’s image, which is a beautiful reminder to us!
Celine: In what ways have you found teaching NFP to be a ministry that contributes to building stronger families?
Travis: As a teaching couple, we have witnessed that other couples, like us, often have a hard time finding access to knowledge about the aspects of married life pertaining to fertility. The reproductive side of the marital act is often completely outsourced to doctors because a genuine, widespread knowledge of fertility is not something prevalent in our society today. I noticed amongst the couples we teach that the working knowledge NFP provides empowers them to feel less daunted by their fertility, whether or not they discern to grow their family right away. As a couple, teaching NFP has helped us appreciate the gift that fertility is!
Celine: How would a more widespread knowledge and use of NFP in society today positively impact the strength of families?
Ileane: We see a lot of couples in our classes who come in thinking they want to postpone pregnancy for quite a while, but as they get more accurate information about their fertility, they are able to make more informed decisions about their family size. Couples realize they don’t have to be afraid of their fertility! In society today, I think people make very permanent decisions about the size of their family based on temporary factors in their lives, such as financial situations. One of the greatest things about NFP versus other forms of family planning, like birth control or vasectomy, is that there is never a permanent closure to life. We have witnessed that couples are more trusting and open to life when they learn NFP. The understanding and trust that NFP provides would have a very positive impact on families in society today. We have certainly found NFP to be a blessing in our lives!
Céline Gaeta is a graduate of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts with a passion for writing and teaching. She is currently earning her MA in Elementary Education and lives in New Hampshire, where you can find her cooking, hiking, reading, and playing the violin in her free time.