Monday, April 29, 2013

When NFP Doesn’t Go According to Your Plan

I recently came across an article in an NFP series on a blog I had never visited before. (A click here, a click there, and you could end up wherever!) Some phrases caught my eye, and at first I thought that it was another woman in the trenches of infertility. But no – actually the opposite. It was written by someone struggling with the fact that she and her husband conceive children even when they're hoping not to. Now, of course that’s an experience I have absolutely nothing to say about, because it’s as foreign to what I’m living right now as another universe. But what I found interesting is that the way she described her experience with NFP (meaning, for her, the fact that charting hasn’t seemed to help her and her husband avoid pregnancy) is so, so similar to how I describe my experience with infertility. I just thought it would be interesting to select some quotes from her article and comment on them. I don’t know why. I guess because it so often feels like I have nothing in common with my Catholic sisters who conceive children easily and never had a disappointing CD1 in their life. (I’ve been thinking a lot about authentic communion among Catholic women with varying fertility experiences – I have a lot more to “think out loud” in that arena.) But I think one thing I have in common with someone like the author of this post is that both of us are being educated in a radical way to see, as she says, “God plans our family.” The outcomes look very different, for sure. But the interior life, the process of acceptance, surrender, trust, and so forth – I don’t know, maybe they’re more similar than I had thought.

(Quotes from her post are in quotes. My comments follow. You can probably find the article yourself; I didn’t feel like posting a link because I’m not up for a back-and-forth with the blog – hence why I’m writing on my own blog, and not leaving a comment. Maybe someday. For now, it's just something I want to think about.)


“What happens when NFP is difficult or ineffective for a woman?” What happens when you faithfully chart your fertile signs month after month, and come together with your spouse on the “right” days, but still don’t conceive? It seems like NFP doesn't "work."


“Practicing NFP can become a true trial of faith” when despite your greatest hopes, you still don’t become mother and father together. Trying month after month to no avail stretches your faith to the breaking point.


“We need to acknowledge that NFP is not simply a scientific formula but a concrete way which God uses to bring about life – even when our human plans seem to deem the timing to be wrong.” NFP is not a plug-and-chug method. It’s not as easy as “do this, and you’ll conceive.” There’s waaaaay more mystery involved. In our human plan, we’d love to have a child or two by now, but we don’t. The timing for conceiving seems perfect – we’re young, we’re healthy (expect in the area of reproduction, apparently), we’re aching to hold a child in our arms. But NFP isn’t some magic bullet to get us pregnant.


“When going through this difficult period of their lives its also so important to remember that God’s perfect will can use these sacrifices for the good.” Yes! Infertility is so difficult. But our faith teaches us that suffering is redemptive. Trust in God is so hard when the desire for a child is so strong – but He is our loving Father.


“Only God can plan your family… [we] have always been open to His plan for any children He would bless us with.” Amen! Doing all the “right” things – sex on the right day, eating the right foods, exercising the right amount, using the right organic products – this isn’t a guarantee that a baby will come! The radical trust in God’s plan for our family is so key…and so hard. We’ve been open since day one of our marriage to the children we hope will join our family, but so far they haven’t arrived.


“God’s plan for our family turned out to be much different!” Same here! (So far, anyway)


“For some reason my body is most definitely not functioning the way it should in showing signs of fertility.” My body is not functioning the way it should, period. It should have conceived by now. It shouldn’t have irregular bleeding. I shouldn’t be on my 23rd month of charting with no pregnancy in sight. My body is not doing what I’d like it to do, that’s for sure.


“Practicing NFP and, in turn, accepting and welcoming surprise pregnancies has been the most difficult part of our marriage.” I would substitute “this current season of waiting for a child” for “surprise pregnancies,” and the same is true for us. Infertility has been not just the most difficult part of our marriage, but the most difficult part of my life to date.


“This can impact almost every part of married life.” Every part indeed. Our times of intimacy, our shared hopes and dreams, our social lives, and so on.


“Our situation with NFP has also greatly affected my own relationship with God. Its stretched me in every possible way. I’ve felt many times as if my faith is being tested, that God is asking way too much of me, that I couldn’t possibly follow His will.” Amen amen amen! Infertility is a HUGE test of faith. I’ve written in my journal: “I am the wrong person for this cross, God!!! Pick someone stronger, please!”


“But we all have to embrace the cross in order to embrace holiness and God’s will for our lives.” Yes. The only way to Easter is through Good Friday.


“I’m not sure what God’s plan is for this suffering.” I wonder that myself…although I don’t have any children to look at and thank God for. I imagine that would be a consolation, although I can’t speak to the experience of bearing many children in a row, and I don't doubt there would be difficulties with that.


“Our marriage has also been made stronger through all these difficulties.” I agree. Mr. M is my confidant, my listening ear, my shoulder to cry on with CD1 arrives again. Infertility has pushed us toward our faith and toward each other.


“I also have a long way to go in fully trusting God’s will for our family, its a daily trust I have to choose.” Trust is so hard. Trusting God’s will when He doesn’t seem to be listening to my prayers for a child is really, really hard.


“I still strongly believe that God plans our family. And I know that when you come down to it, only God can make a baby.” So true. God wills each and every human being that’s conceived. Why has he not blessed us with a child yet? I don’t know. But it's not because we've done something wrong or failed in someone. Our future children (if there are any) will be direct gifts from God and not an "accomplishment" on our part.


“I sometimes pray that this cross of NFP might require a little less heroic virtue from us.” I pray that all the time. Learning virtue through the boot camp of infertility is effective - but exhausting!


“I have learned through this experience that we sometimes need to direct the conversation surrounding NFP in general from one of method effectiveness in preventing pregnancy towards a conversation more about following God’s plan for our families, His intimate workings within NFP, and the openness and blessings that this brings.” I agree 100%! At the heart of NFP – at the heart of marital spirituality – is openness to life, openness to God. That might look like accepting child after child, or it might look like accepting what feels like an indefinite period of waiting, desiring so, so much to conceive a bear new life but trusting in the valley of tears. Thinking about NFP just in terms of avoiding pregnancy truncates it. It makes it just a method, just a work of technology, instead of a way of life. I believe so, so strongly that "openness to life" is key to every marriage, whether they're blessed with children or not.


  1. Wow, love your reflections! It is so interesting how her thoughts can be flipped for thos going through IF. There are times I want to stop charting and using NFP but I know it is what God is asking of me at this time.

  2. This has definitely been an interesting take on IF vs Non-IF. I have thought about those woman who having children is a big burden and difficulty...whether they are just tired from the other children they have or they can't afford another mouth to feed and comes another baby. I bet not being able to exactly plan ones children can be stressful..whether one is IF or not. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. So much of this life really is learning to let go of our false sense of control, isn't it?

    It's almost uncanny how similar the struggles are for two seemingly very different crosses.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  4. You have shared something I'd never given much thought about ... the super fertile who practice NFP ... except when I was being jealous of them having so many babies. We do have so many similarities than I thought. FANTASTIC post!!!