Welcome to our first 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 first series, we’re talking all about fertility. We’d love for you to join the conversation!
I can honestly say that I’ve never taken a pregnancy test and gotten a positive result that was not a complete surprise.
The first pregnancies shook up my world in a jumble of chaos that inevitably comes with new motherhood. I found myself very quickly with three babies under the age of three! I was overwhelmed of course, but I did have a supportive husband, stable life circumstances, and family support.
I bobbed along the ocean of baby needs for those three years, knowing that these babies were meant to be because my husband and I had been trying our hardest to learn and practice NFP to postpone pregnancies. I was working with a very knowledgeable NFP teacher who was regularly going over my charts, teaching me about the variables of women’s cycles, and encouraging me that what appeared to be indecipherable would one day become clear.
To the Brink
And then I became pregnant for the fourth time—completely unexpectedly and while following all the NFP rules—when my youngest child was 14 months old. Not only was I overwhelmed but completely emotionally exhausted. I felt like I couldn’t possibly be happy about another unexpected pregnancy. Processing bringing another life into the world by experiencing feelings of being completely out of control of my body, my life, and my family was all-encompassing. Practicing NFP and having any amount of trust that I would not spend my entire fertile years always pregnant felt hopeless.
My fourth child was born safe and healthy, thanks be to God, but six short months later I was again pregnant when the chances of conception seemed beyond slim. I was at my breaking point emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. My marriage felt as if it was on a brink, and the daily work of keeping four very small children alive while pregnant felt crushing.
My husband and I were going to have to make some hard choices. It was more than apparent through my charting and various medical testing that I had undetermined health issues that were affecting my cycles and the ability to effectively identify times of fertility. The upending hormonal cycles of pregnancy, postpartum, and breastfeeding for the past six years was making any clarity impossible to determine.
Without some spacing between pregnancies my hormonal challenges and charting would remain difficult if not impossible to understand. Another pregnancy honestly felt like it could end either our marriage, my mental and physical health, or our family life.
The stakes felt astronomical. The stakes were not just every part of our lives as a married couple but also our Faith. Every one of us knows that the option for birth control in its myriad forms is easily available at any time. But it was even easier to find people who told me that the choice of birth control was totally warranted in my situation. I was told it was no big deal, I had had enough kids, sex was important to keep a marriage together!
The Teaching is Purposeful
But the Church’s teaching on birth control is not an arbitrary teaching because old guys in the Vatican were mad about the sexual revolution. The Church’s teaching on birth control is wise and true because it reflects the importance of sex, the dignity of each spouse, and of course, the importance of the process that creates a new human life.
Yes, the position I was in was extremely hard, but no matter where I looked in Scripture or the Catechism, I could not find a clause stating that when circumstances got difficult and hard choices and sacrifices were required, someone could stop adhering to the teaching they know to be true. Actually, Christ calls us precisely to do difficult, sacrificial, and hard things. The fact that my difficulty was found in marriage, sex, and family planning was not a good enough reason to choose to deny the Faith I professed.Nowhere in Scripture or the Catechism does it state that when circumstances get difficult and hard choices and sacrifices are required, someone can stop adhering to the teaching they know to be true. #blessedchats // Click To Tweet
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The difficult decision my husband and I had to make was to abstain within marriage until we could understand what was going on with my body enough to practice NFP again with a reasonable amount of confidence.
We made the choice together, with the support of a faithful priest and spiritual director, and it was a choice we continued to make for over two years. It was never easy. It caused frustration and pain. It was a decision that demanded we seek healing and confront disordered ways of relating to each other and made us have a lot of difficult conversations we otherwise could have ignored for years.
We knew we were making a huge sacrifice by choosing abstinence because it was difficult on a daily basis! But we also knew that this mutual sacrifice was being done for the sake of our respective mental health, for the future of our marriage, for our current family which required so much of our time, attention, and presence, and ultimately for our souls.
We loved each other enough that we were willing to make such a large sacrifice because we didn’t want the other to jeopardize their soul by using birth control.
The Virtue of Chastity in Marriage
This is what chastity lived out in marriage can look like. As Catholics we need to recognize that the virtue of chastity is a call for every person. Chastity is not simply for single people: it is the call of priests and religious, people with same-sex attraction, and people who are married. We don’t get to abandon a virtue simply because we get married. The Church is calling us no matter our vocation to integrate our sexuality properly to our stage of life.The virtue of chastity is a call for every person. #BISblog #blessedchats // Click To Tweet
NFP can be difficult to practice because there are many seasons of married life that can require abstinence, my experience is just one of them. My experience of married life is unique just as yours is unique, but what remains the same for all of us is the fact that marriage and the rest of our lives call us to growth in chastity because that is a part of growing in holiness.
A Lifelong Journey to Growth in Holiness and Marriage
NFP for me today looks like continuing to chart daily, continuing to work with doctors and NFP professionals, continuing to watch my health, and taking medication.
I’m still happily married and we still have to have many difficult conversations about our sex life. We are still guided by God’s plan for our family while our youngest child is now seven. I haven’t arrived at a magical and unrealistic place where charting is unnecessary and sex can happen anytime I want; that is not the goal of NFP, marriage, or chastity. I’m still firmly on the road of practicing natural family planning not because it’s easy or fun but because it’s part of what practicing chastity looks like in my marriage.
And if we’re called to the vocation of marriage, we need to recognize that it will be through marriage that we will be purified and made holy through the practice of all the virtues.
How has practicing the difficult parts of NFP helped you grow in virtue? Please share your story with us in the comments below!
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