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 married my husband at the age of twenty-five. We knew that he would work, I would stay home, and we’d have five babies, one every two or three years. We would live happily ever after. The End.
Obviously it would all work out this way. We were repeatedly assured by everyone in the Catholic Natural Family Planning (NFP) world that this is exactly what could and would happen. Yes, there were some rules we’d have to follow, but NFP was easy! So easy!
And we were so naive.
The Babies Just Kept Coming
We started our marriage with the sympto-thermal method and it worked well. We successfully used the combination of taking my morning temperature and recording my mucous signs to achieve the pregnancy of our first child, avoid pregnancy after his miscarriage, and then again achieve pregnancy when we were ready to try again.
Postpartum charting with my first-born was difficult, but we were repeatedly assured that the on-demand nursing and no use of bottles or pacis meant my fertility would be successfully suppressed. It wasn’t long before a positive pregnancy test proved that while ecological breastfeeding worked for some, it did not work for my body.
And the babies just kept coming. We looked into other methods, even meeting with different practitioners, but the prices and attitudes we encountered left us feeling like we had no options. We were barely living paycheck to paycheck and could not afford to spend hundreds of dollars on special monitors or sticker charts. And the comments we received about the number and spacing of our children by pro-life, Catholic, NFP teachers were belittling and hurtful.
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By the time we had our fifth baby in five years and we were in a tough spot. My whole family suffered through my undiagnosed postpartum anxiety and depression, which had become worse with each year. Things had to change and so we took two huge steps.
First, I started medication—which was life-changing! Second, we went an entire year without sex.
For the first six months I didn’t even chart because we didn’t want to be tempted to even think I was safely in phase III. When our baby turned seven months my cycles returned and I began observing my mucous again, but it took many more months before we felt confident in charting.
And then I got sick, took a prescription medicine, forgot how meds can mess with a woman’s fertility, and got pregnant.
The Missing Piece
It was hard. That year of abstinence had been incredibly difficult. We barely touched, our communication struggled, and tension and fear reigned in our bedroom. People either disrespected our religious views and told us to contracept or patronizingly told us that all our problems would be fixed if we would just try X method of NFP. There was no empathy, no understanding. Only isolation. We knew we had very legitimate reasons to not get pregnant and we knew the only way we could guarantee not getting pregnant was full abstinence, but spiritually we were not mature enough to know how to go through the suffering.
We felt like we were sinking. I often found myself crying out the prophet Jeremiah’s prayer, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped!”
We both were angry that following the rules had not worked and we resented the Church’s teachings. Additionally, my husband was having a very difficult time with the pressure and fear of another mouth to feed, another season of PPD, another potentially terrifying birth experience.
Babies should enter the world with joy, but this one entered with fear and anger and it was heart-breaking.
But even in our bitterness we never turned away from the Lord. At times the only thing we could offer God was our obedience. At times we could only pray, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
It took a long time before we saw it—surely over a year—but Christ had entered into our angst and brought healing. My husband and I used prolonged abstinence again, but this time we prayed together. We took the whole family to Adoration.
When the kids went to bed we drank wine and played board games. We talked openly about how hard the previous years had been and how scared my husband had been watching me suffer in deliveries. We also formed close friendships with several couples who also love Jesus, are happily married, and practice NFP. We were not alone, and there was so much grace in that.We were not alone, and there was so much grace in that. #BISblog #blessedchats // Click To Tweet
God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, allowed us the cross of hyperfertility. We very sincerely wanted to carry the cross that God gave us, but, like St. Paul, we were also kicking against the goad (Acts 26:14). The yoke never felt easy, nor the burden light, because we were fighting it. In the end, we had to accept some truths:
- God does not promise us all the sex all the time, nor even most of the sex most of the time.
- Sex is not necessary for a good and happy marriage.
- The Church asks us to abstain at times and God allows us to suffer but only because Jesus Christ has made all things new.
- If I expect divorced people, priests and religious, and men and women with same-sex attraction to follow the Church’s teachings on marriage, sex, and chastity then I better have the same standard for myself.
- Promoters of NFP had not been intentionally dishonest to us, but they were never really talking to us. The information we were given was for couples with normal fertility or infertility. We needed to forgive and move on.
When our next surprise pregnancy came I smiled. No, I beamed as I touched my womb and told my baby how much I loved her. I blessed the Lord with my whole heart. I was nervous to tell my husband, not sure of his reaction, but when he heard he laughed with joy.
The news of our eighth baby brought the same reactions. Joy. Peace. Gratefulness.
Who else experiences hyperfertility? Please share your story with us in the comments below!
If you want more help with finding your own story, our popular Write + Pray course offers 9 topics, nearly an hour of guided video, and almost 50 Scripture verses and questions for you featuring Managing Editor Nell O’Leary. Find your story today.