Welcome to our Blessed Chats series! Each month, we will dedicate an entire week of blog posts to a topic that affects many of us. These conversations often come up in our Facebook groups and in our real life friendships. We want to share a variety of perspectives on the topic at hand, so we’ve asked women to share their stories and how the teachings of the Church have guided and comforted them. In this series, we’re talking more about fertility. We’d love for you to join the conversation!
“Just don’t tell them you are on the pill or they won’t let you become Catholic.”
His words circled my head as I sat in the RCIA director’s office for the first time. Rather than coming straight at the issue, I tiptoed. “I think I am fully committed to becoming Catholic, but there may be one or two… okay, just one of the teachings about which I am not 100% convicted. I am already raising two kids, and we have conceived three times now very easily in just a few years, and I am just not sure I can handle a bunch more of kids.”
I rambled slightly, but was met with a loving, understanding reply, “Many feel like you do when they start out. Just come to the classes, learn about actual Church teaching, and then make up your mind.”
Facing Assumptions about Catholics and Fertility
We had heard the assumptions about why some Catholics practice NFP:
- The Church just wants more Catholics.
- It’s a patriarchal system keeping the women barefoot and pregnant.
- Priests are obsessed with what goes on in the bedroom because they are celibate themselves.
There were lots of suggestions from people outside the Church, but I had never heard a rational explanation.
In preparation for the class Marriage and Family Life, I listened to a recorded talk by Janet Smith on the topic of contraception and it blew my mind. I subtly slid the CD of the talk to my husband to listen to on his commute. He came home as convicted as I was after really listening to the science.
“You mean we are putting your life at risk for convenience? Let me see your pills.”
The engineer in him wanted to look at the data. Sure enough, in teeny-tiny print, the risks were laid out. As a couple we completed the risk-reward evaluation and signed up for NFP classes.
Many Roads Lead to NFP
Many approach NFP from a purely spiritual dimension, embracing the trust, obedience, self-control, and discipline that comes from practicing NFP. The Church does not require that we commit to the tough stuff on faith alone. We use both faith and reason. We were motivated by the science behind NFP and were rewarded by an outflowing of grace and continued growth in trusting the Lord, obedience, self-control and discipline, which in turn help our faith life to flourish.
We sometimes joke that my husband wanted two kids, I wanted three, and so we compromised with four. In a compromise though, no one gets what he or she wants without making concessions. In reality, we didn’t compromise in terms of family size. We opened our hearts to love, and to cooperating with the grace of God in the most intimate part of our life.
And we got more than we could ever have thought to hope for.
After switching to NFP, we gained two daughters to follow our two sons, attained a respect for natural fertility, came to a stronger understanding of the beauty of God’s design, and developed a deeper intimacy than we could have found otherwise.
Learn and grow in our Faith and love for the Lord.
Fertility After Children
About 10 years later, we found ourselves faced with another fertility challenge. After five pregnancies and four c-sections, my reproductive system was a mess. I was in pain, married life was suffering because of it, and my devout Catholic, “second opinion,” pelvic pain specialist had to break the news that it was time for a hysterectomy. I was fairly certain our family felt pretty full at the time, so I could be okay with not having more children naturally. We had always talked about adopting any future children anyway.
Not only was pregnancy not sustainable for me, but my life would also be at risk if I did become pregnant. A lifetime of what had become chronic pain and risk could be avoided with a clear solution. After speaking with my parish priest, I was able to see that being open to life can take many forms. Sometimes it means showing prudence in a way that forces us to give the gift of self in another way.
Marriage After Hysterectomy
We experienced first hand how NFP changes the dynamics of a marriage and in particular how chastity and patience is cultivated when we were obedient to the teaching of the Church. What would happen when we entered an infertile time of life and those teachings were applied differently?
And so it is, now in this third decade of togetherness, my husband and I find ourselves living without the restrictions placed on us by phases and body signs. After having grown in intimacy, respect, and lots and lots of patience, we have a very different relationship than when we first fell in love. Our time practicing NFP helped us to recognize our intimacy as a gift that we treasure. Our fertility, although passed, hasn’t been taken for granted.
As I look at my parents and my husband’s parents, I see a deep respect they have for one another. They have a connection in their post-fertile lives that runs deeper than any goal-oriented intimacy or passion-based romance. Their love is found in the coffee they share in the mornings, the walks together in the evenings, working side by side in the garden or playing together with the grandchildren. I know they share intimacy in other ways too, but we don’t really talk about that!
Growing Closer to God and Our Spouses
In our years together, my husband and I have moved through phases of fertility and grown in both our love for one another and our love of the Church. Whether you are struggling with the teachings as we did initially, fully open to life, struggling to conceive, hyper-fertile, or living with infertility at any stage of marriage, your fertility likely is something that is, has been, or will be dynamic. Our attitude towards family life, family size, God’s providence and our own fertility is something that grows and develops as well if we let it.
Our experiences can help us to grow closer as a couple and as children of God, or it can make us divided and bitter. As someone who has experienced many sides of fertility, I can say there are blessings in all situations. I encourage you to continue to let the Lord into your heart throughout your fertility journey, and when in doubt ask him to reveal the blessings in the moment.
If you want more on the Church’s rich teachings on these engaging topics, our best-selling study, “Blessed Conversations: Rooted,” dives into the Catechism’s teachings and now offers a video companion series along with it featuring Theological Editor Susanna Spencer and Managing Editor Nell O’Leary. Get it here.
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