I wrote this up for another project, and considering I’m exhausted from taking the kids to the beach today, I’m just going to post this today. (Sightly edited from my original version for privacy issues.)
Every NFP story starts with a love story. My husband and I met while we were in high school
and nearly 800 miles apart. We’re part of the first waves of people who met on the internet. In our case, we met on a Christian message board for teens. When we first noticed each other, it was because we were part of the small minority of Catholics on the board, and even more important for us, we both wanted to attend the same college, Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Our friendship and shared interests led us to fall in love and we began a long distance relationship. I was away at college at FUS for one year before he joined me. We later transferred back to my home area of Detroit and became engaged. During this time, we did slide into sexual sin, but we never used contraceptive methods. After years of explaining Church teaching to our Protestant friends on the message board, the teachings were deeply ingrained in us.
We were married after 4 years of dating and right after I completed my degree. We were
charting with a sympto-thermal method that we taught ourselves. We successfully avoided pregnancy for a few months, until we decided to try for our first child, our Grace. My pregnancy was uneventful, as was her birth and early babyhood. The details are foggy (as many things become with “mommy brain”), but my fertility returned fairly quickly for a breastfeeding mom. I don’t recall us having many issues with avoiding in this first postpartum phase. Things were back to normal quickly and painlessly. We avoided pregnancy for a few cycles, and then decided to start trying for our second. He was conceived after a couple cycles and was born 23 months after his sister. My pregnancy was again uneventful, but after his birth I suffered from Postpartum Depression. I’ve always dealt with depression,but this was especially difficult. When my fertility returned after my son’s first birthday, we avoided again, wanting me to have time to wean off the medications I was on as they were not safe for pregnancy. I weaned my son at 18 months, and experienced a few more cycles of avoiding, but they were also wonderful months of being able to have a bit of a “honeymoon” experience with my husband. It was the first time in three and a half years here I wasn’t pregnant or breastfeeding, so we were able to focus on building our relationship. My fertility signs were all at “normal” and very easy to interpret.
After a few months, we decided to just relax on the rules a bit. We knew that there was a chance of conception, but we were fine with whatever. I was working on weaning off my medications and was at a low enough dose that if I had to go cold-turkey, it wouldn’t be difficult. Our third child, our second daughter, was conceived that month. She was born this past July and while I wasn’t entirely ready for three children, she is a wonderful addition to our family.
This time, however, NFP has not been so easy. The transition to three kids has meant that our times of being able to be together have significantly decreased. Two of our children are night owls, often up until 10pm when us adults are ready for bed. The other is an early bird, up at the crack of dawn most days. I lost my part time job shortly after giving birth, losing a significant chunk of our already meager income. My husband also started working two jobs, some weeks working 90+ hours. We had always struggled financially, spending much of our marriage on food stamps, the kids being covered by Medicaid and I was on Medicaid for my pregnancies. We dealt with problems at DHS with continuing our food assistance, and while we still have WIC, we are currently not receiving food benefits. One of the worst parts of all this was when we were cut from food stamps, a friend told the person at our parish of the issue, who then called us to offer to have us come in to “shop” the food pantry there. We were currently fine, I was busy with all the little children and couldn’t return her call right away. I was told a few days later, by my mother, that the woman in charge was angry at me and probably wouldn’t let us receive help now, since I couldn’t return her call. I had already been nervous about asking for help after hearing horror stories of unemployed family members who had been shamed and verbally berated for needing help. Now it felt like we didn’t have that option at all. I also had another experience with a fellow parishioner who publicly said to me on Facebook (when I was venting about the problems with DHS) “Maybe just procreate when you can afford to have children. You really have nerve.” If we had followed this woman’s advice, none of our children would have ever been born. We’re victims of the recession who were convinced to take student loans out for jobs that disappeared before our eyes. For me to go to work full time would result in us having less income to work with, thanks to expensive child care costs. And here we were, struggling and relying on God, but being utterly unable to trust or rely on our own parish to help us. On top of this, we were constantly told not to take our children to Mass, because they were “loud” as very small children often are. We ended up switching parishes, from the one I had grown up in and we were married at and all our children had been baptized at, to one nearby that is full of families with young children.
With my husband’s new job we are looking at being able to scrape by each month. God
provides for exactly what we need, I trust and believe that. I also believe that God gives us the skills and knowledge to be prudent, and right now I’m teetering on the edge of another round of postpartum depression and we’re on the financial edge. I also have significant weight to lose before I would feel comfortable becoming pregnant again. I have three children who need a lot of attention and love and while I’m sure I’ll be wanting another baby soon, we need a little breath of air.
Compounding all these external stresses, my return to fertility has not been as easy as in the
past. Confusing signals have led to extended periods of abstinence. I have hope that as my fertility continues to normalize, that our times of abstinence will shorten. It is still an incredible stress to me, though, to feel as though there is no support for us as we grow our family.
And as I read stories of new-found friends who struggle mightily with NFP, I know there has to
be a better way. There needs to be more local support for families who are struggling financially. There needs to be people in charge of services who are compassionate and kind, not people who will make you feel even more ashamed of being in poverty. Churches need to welcome families with small children, who are often loud. Priests need to be instructed to welcome those noises and work through the disruptions during Mass. I once had a priest stop the Mass to tell me to take my daughter out of the church, when all she was doing was asking me if that was Jesus on the altar!
People sometimes say that NFP is a sin if you use it with a “contraceptive mentality”. I think
that’s foolish, because the real contraceptive mentality is that of those who sit in the pews each week, judging families like mine who struggle financially with each child born yet continue to follow Church teaching. The contraceptive mentality is seen in those who tell mothers to take their children to “cry rooms” when all they are doing is talking about what they see in church and how they love Jesus. The contraceptive mentality is seen in those who shame the ones who ask for help, telling them that maybe they shouldn’t have had “so many children”. Our priests are the ones who need to take the lead here. They need to be talking at Mass about how contraceptives are not allowed, about how you might have more children than you plan on, but that you will always receive help and grace and kindness when you ask the Church. And I think that our priests and parish employees and volunteers need to be on the lookout for families who appear to be struggling and coming to them to offer help. It’s hard enough to ask for help from the faceless government. It’s even more difficult to open up to those you sit with in Mass each week. If someone had come up to me after Mass with a bag of fruits and veggies for my kids,
or even a bag of cookies and ice cream, I would have been blessed beyond measure.
I also would love to see the Church working to finance those who would like to develop methods
of NFP that are easier to use. Church funds are tight, as we all know, but the more science develops, and the easier NFP becomes, the more likely it is that people will be able to embrace it and see the wisdom in Church teaching.
I look forward to days full of more babies, growing children who love the Lord and tell it loudly
(even at Mass!), pantries that will always have just enough food, and hopefully days where I can connect with my husband, both in sexual and nonsexual ways. As tempting as it might be to use the “easy way out” with condoms or birth control pills, I see the wisdom in Church teaching. I see the potential for people to learn more about it, to open up to using NFP as resources and support become more readily available. Hope abounds, as it should where Christ is found.
NFP awareness week runs from July 20-27. There’s LOTS to read and lots of bloggers are getting involved. My personal favorite, Simcha Fisher, is running a HUGE giveaway all this week, so make sure you stop by her blog every day to enter for prizes! Today’s post is here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/simchafisher/2014/07/21/the-winners-guide-to-nfp-day-one-thirteen-prizes/