I'm not sure I really would get permission to post this, so I figure it's easier to seek permission, as they say. Anyway, I was inspired by reading Jennifer F.'s great article, "A Sexual Revolution," on the America website and thought I'd share our personal mini-conversion story re the Church's teaching on contraception in the form of our "witness talk" as a newly minted NFP teaching couple. Also, I'm really proud of DW for having written 98% of it as I procrastinated. This is an edited version in order to protect some modicum of anonymity, so bear with it. Our decision to use NFP has made our Catholic faith so, so much more meaningful to us over the years. PS, a "H/T" (hat-tip, in the parlance of Deacon Greg at "The Deacon's Bench) to Whimsy for her prominent role in this process. So, here you go:
HIM: I am a cradle Catholic, and [DW] is a convert. Both of us grew up thinking that contraception was no big deal. Neither of us was catechized as to why contraception was wrong. We had learned the lesson that to be responsible was to prevent pregnancy.
HER: So, it really isn’t all that surprising that we first went down the contraceptive path. We eloped in July of 1999 and, because we were both still in college at the time, we thought it would be in our best interests to use birth control until we graduated. Not only that, but we were planning on staying in Denver after college and, with the higher cost of living there, thought we should plan on having a smaller family when we did start having children. So I went on Depo-provera and experienced a number of side effects, even though I only received two shots (6 months of birth control). For one thing, I gained a large amount of weight while on Depo. Worst of all, though, was that I did not see the return of a cycle for almost three years.
HIM: During the time we were going through this, we would frequently visit one of my cousins and her family who also happened to live in the Denver area. She is very strong in her Catholic faith—so much so, in fact, that we thought she was kind of nuts at the time. I don’t really remember talking with her about the problems we were having with contraception, but she still volunteered the information that she and her husband were very happy using NFP and often urged us to take a class. Seeing how enthusiastic she was about it (not to mention how badly our decision to use contraception had backfired), we finally signed up for a class.
HER: By this point, maybe in part because we enjoyed spending time with [DH]’s cousin’s kids so much, we had determined that we would like to have a larger family…not huge, just larger than average. Our teaching couple was pregnant with baby #8 during our classes. I was very impressed by them, but at first thought that NFP must not work, if they were on kid #8!
HIM: Our minds and hearts were converted through our NFP class. We knew that we didn’t want to continue with chemical birth control…but we still had a more difficult time understanding why barrier methods were problematic.
HER: To compound the confusion about barrier methods, my lack of a cycle for a number of years after coming off Depo made charting almost impossible. Fortunately, since that time, research has been done and CCL now has some great rules dealing with coming off long-term chemical birth control. I really could have used that information 8 years ago!
HIM: NFP was also really the catalyst that helped us to trust in the teachings of the Church. We still had a long struggle to accept the authority of the Church, but at this point we know that the Church will not lead us in the wrong direction, even if we don’t understand intellectually why a teaching is what it is.
HER: That’s very true. NFP has helped to teach us virtues. When we were first married, we tended to be very selfish. When I graduated from college, [DH] had decided that he wanted to go to law school…in large part, I believe, so that we could live on one income, but in another way, to prove himself intellectually. I struggled the same way! When [DH] decided on law school, a couple of my college professors started to strongly recommend that I go forward with my education to get a PhD.
HIM: So, we went off to graduate school, willing to compromise so that we were at the same school, but we both wanted our degrees. I think what we really wanted, though, was the recognition and status that comes with having a higher level of education. In other words, we were focusing a lot on how other people would view us. However, it didn’t take very long to convince me that I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
HER: And it only took me one semester of teaching to realize that I didn’t want to be a professor!
HIM: At that point, we took a closer look at what WE wanted as a couple. We realized that, even though it wouldn’t get us any honors or titles, what we wanted most in our heart of hearts was to settle down, have children, and raise them in a small town where they could be safe and surrounded by a loving extended family—the way I had grown up.
HER: However, God wasn’t done teaching us about selfishness…in fact he probably isn’t done yet! We faced difficulty in conceiving, unlike so many of the teaching couples and NFP users we had met! We tried charting to achieve pregnancy, but I still had difficult cycles…in the end, we put our trust in God that He would build our family in whatever way it was meant to be built. In 2004, we had our first daughter, Eva and in 2006 our second daughter, Charlotte.
HIM: This whole process of learning to trust God, which was really initiated by our decision to learn NFP, has also led us to be more grateful for the gifts we’ve been given and to be better stewards of them. When you leave your fertility in the hands of God, you need to be a little more careful with the resources you are given. CCL taught us the importance of a mom in the first 3 years of a child’s life. In being open to life, that may mean giving up a second income for a long period of time.
HER: Realizing the importance of a mom, and deciding that I would stay home with our children if and when they arrived also helped us to be more counter-cultural. We have gone without a lot of things that many people think of as necessities. We have two 10 year old cars, we have dialup internet and we have the most basic phone service we can have and still have a number. We only have cell phones because our parents have family plans to keep in touch with us. We live in a small house and we avoid debt as much as possible, all because we know that for me to stay home, we have to make ends meet.
HIM: We also communicate better as to what our hopes and dreams are for the family because of NFP. Regularly we have to consider how having another child would change our lives, rather than just not thinking about having kids at all. We won’t have a perfectly “planned” family, because it is not our plan we are following.
HER: Probably the best thing about NFP for me is that I do not have to deal with the harmful (or just not comfortable) side effects of contraception. I don’t have to pump my body full of chemicals, and by charting my cycles, I can tell my doctors when a baby is due, which is a great help since I still have longer than normal cycles. The fact that NFP works well with irregular cycles is great!
HIM: As for the practical, how we use NFP…
HER: I have to say that practicing NFP would be a lot more difficult without [DH]’s help. On a purely practical level, I am so not even CLOSE to being a morning person. Our temperature taking time is sometime before 6 am!
HIM: 5:40, to be exact!
HER: Right, way too early to be awake any way you look at it! [DH] has to get out the thermometer, get me to take the thermometer and put it in my mouth, and then get the thermometer back from me after it is done. I have a hard enough time concentrating on the beeps so that I stay awake and keep my mouth closed until an accurate temperature has been taken.
HIM: That’s not to say that she isn’t capable of dealing with her temperature herself. If she’s away from home, it gets done. But as a husband, I am the head of our family, and as head of our family, I accept the responsibility of helping with our charting. I also am in charge of marking down temperatures and observations on our chart in the evenings. Because I help so much with the charting, I generally know what is going on in [DW]’s cycle. She likes things like interpreting charts, so she generally does that part.
HER: If a husband isn’t involved in the process of NFP, or isn’t supportive of the use of NFP it will probably be a source of frustration for him. But, as a wife, I know that when I used contraceptives, it was very easy to feel used by my husband, but with NFP, there is not the feeling of use. We have to mutually agree that we are willing to be open to another baby if we are using the fertile time.
HIM: I really encourage husbands to get involved and have at least a basic understanding of NFP. Your support of your wife will mean a lot to her. She will appreciate your effort, even if you struggle with some of the sacrifices using it might entail. NFP has really improved our marriage, and I think it can do the same for yours.