Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Throwing Out NFP

My husband and I had a little "kitchen summit" meeting after a pregnancy test came up negative on Saturday. I had some signs of pregnancy, and I never really know when Aunt Flo is going to reappear after childbirth. Twice, I've conceived a new baby while nursing a nine month old older sibling without having a period first. Currently, my newborn is ten weeks old and failing to breastfeeding in a normal pattern due to colic.

I surprised myself by being a little sad that the wash of blue sailed over the blank space without coalescing into that all import blue line.

I've read six million blog posts extolling the virtues of Natural Family Planning (NFP), so I want to share the thought process of one, insignificant Catholic family--who decided not to use contraception, of course, but also decided not to use NFP either.

Our Catechism talks about things that are not allowed in fertility planning, contraception, IVF, artificial insemination, etc. There isn't a real deep discussion of the flip decision --when to be open to life. This is a really important spiritual concept. The entire salvation of our human race happened because one person said "YES" to conceiving Our Lord at a time when pregnancy wasn't exactly the best fit on her personal life timetable. I'm not trying to irresponsible with my fallopian tubes, but there is this sense that my husband and I share, that good things happen when we trust God.

Our hearts have been shaped by leaving the sin of contraception, an unplanned contraceptive "accident", a miscarriage, secondary infertility, and a sick infant who almost died in the NICU. We're blessed by these trials. We're not the same people who flippantly talked about babies belonging in our late 30s after we're done settling into marriage and seeing the world.

Our humility in regard recognizing that God controls our fertility and not us, is hard won. We know that babies are gifts. The best ones are often unplanned. Babies might not stay in your womb or your arms as long as you want. I'll be damned if I'm going to answer this question "When am I ready to care for another child?" in the same way at age 37, that I did at age 28. I'm a different woman. I'm a different mother.

The Catechism talks about decisions regarding "responsible parenthood." Jon and I broke that down into three categories during our kitchen summit: financial standing, physical health and emotional health.

First, the financial facts. My husband and I are blessed to be Carmelites. We expect poverty. Its actually a spiritual blessing to have more mouths to feed with the same amount of money. My husband is blessed with work currently. We can afford to feed and clothe another baby. We home-school, so additional education expenses aren't a problem.

In deciding to be open to life right now, we decided to not worry about catostrophic events in the future. My husband might lose his job in this horrible economy--and if that happens, I might be too afraid to get pregnant until he finds another--but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I won't turn down a new baby because of some future "what ifs".. what if he loses his job, what if this kid needs braces, what if we're forced to pay the full cost of 6 college educations, etc.

The same goes for my physical health. For now, my health is good. My fifth c-section was my easiest one. We're going to double check with experts to make sure that my uterus is healthy and healed. Everything in our experience is pointing that I've received extra grace to heal well from surgery, so there is nothing to say I can't heal similarly from a sixth. I'm not going to stop having babies based on some abstract number. I'm going to keep being open to babies until I get some sort of firm direction (in prayer or in my doctor's office) to stop.

Then there is my mental health. I think there is some sort of social pressure which says that having babies "to close together" is too hard on a Mom. There is some sort of deep seated fear I'm going to turn into one of those psycho Moms who drown the kids in the bathtub. It's so weird for me, because I have anxiety issues and post-partum depression in my past. So its not like I'm randomly walking around going "Hey, six kids under age 10--no problemo!"

I guess where I am, is that I really, truly trust God. I know that he's got me firmly by the hand. I know in the marrow of my bones that the grace he hands out to all Mothers is real. I just feel like, if he's got me through Five, there's no reason to not trust him to get me through Six.

Once again, I've got humility. Things might change. If I get cancer and I need to go on dangerous drugs, Jon and I will need to practice abstinence. If my anxiety issues get out of hand, then we'll revisit the issue. On the other hand, if I get to 43 without a new baby, we might revisit our old friend, NFP again. This time to try to become pregnant, not avoid it.

However, I'm not going to be afraid to have another baby because I'm convinced that it might ruin my physical health, drive me to the insane asylum, or drive us into the poor house. God has too good of a track record with us to fall for those old tricks.

Which leads me to the real issue for the Benjamins not to have another baby 10 weeks after childbirth--its embarrassing. My parents will hate it. His mother will hate it. People are church will raise their eyebrows. Strangers in Wal-Mart will say "are they all yours?" with even greater inflection.

Vanity is a pretty stupid reason to say no to God. Even for me. And I'm very, very vain.

So I'm saying YES. Or more accurately, I'm a little overwhelmed with caring for colic girl right now so my response is more like "Well, maybe a new baby..."

16 comments:

Alishia said...

While we haven't thrown out NFP entirely, I can totally understand a lot of what you wrote. We've had health/wealth issues with pregnancies--I've had cancer twice! I'll be having my fifth c/s in August and while I don't think I'll be rip-roaring ready to get pregnant for a year, I'm open. I understand what a gift babies are. It's also funny to *me* when people are worried about pregnancy the older you get...of course there are increased complications but it also seems like so much more of a gift. Also, I was the most sad when I found out I was pregnant with my fourth baby--I cried. I wasn't even nine months post partum. But he's been our only boy so far and sometimes I laugh at foolish little me crying at the pending arrival of such a gift. Thankfully, Leila is a IRL friend and I emailed her first and she practically pointed out--you have eight months of maturing for your household before the baby comes. So simple and so true. God bless you!

allyouwhohope said...

NFP to avoid will never be something we do, due to infertility and now secondary infertility. So I will never be able to relate to the NFP debates. I don't know how I would've felt if I was fertile, but I'm thankful infertility has given me the perspective that it has and I think that if I were suddenly fertile, that we still wouldn't use it to avoid (barring some serious reason).

One question though.. I did avoid after Luke was born because I had been told it's very dangerous to conceive for about six months after a c-section. Is that not true? I would hate to think I might have missed the only fertile window I might ever have again!

Sarah said...

What a beautifully candid post Abigail, thank you.

Kaitlin @ More Like Mary said...

Great stuff Abigail.

Sarah said...

Thanks for writing this. We're expecting #1 in September after infertility. I am 31 and just constantly debating/wondering... how close is "too close"??? Because I really don't have the same attitude about babies and fertility over 30 that I did when I was in my early 20's. I don't want to miss out on more (b'c we *definitely* want more) and yet all the fears can still be there. It's encouraging to hear that being open and having kids close together really isn't "crazy." :)

Christine said...

My husband and I look at the NFP question in the same way...saying "maybe a baby right now wouldn't be the most ideal or convenient for us, but we trust that God knows what He's doing"

Second Chances said...

Amen! We're in the same boat.

L. said...

Thank you for your candid sharing. I admit I am not on the same page as you -- I decided after 3 c-sections that we are D-O-N-E. Even though my husband still hopes for more babies, I use contraception.
But I am always fascinated to hear about what others do, and why it's right for them.

Jen said...

Wonderful post :-) Having had 5 csections as well, I would only caution about back to back pregnancies due to the scar. Keith and Maia are 14 months apart (Keith was only about 5 months old when I got pregnant with her), and when they delivered her, they could actually see her through my uterus. It was a scary moment when the surgeon went it. I loathe NFP to be honest, but that experience is the one reason that our babies after that are close to three years apart. You know negative pregnancy tests always make me sad as well, and even though your uterus seems to have more superpowers than mine :-) just be careful. I never have a cycle while nursing. I actually just got my first period back on Sonja's SECOND birthday. I kid you not. So, perhaps you will experience breastfeeding amemorrhea this time around??

Jen said...

Wonderful post :-) Having had 5 csections as well, I would only caution about back to back pregnancies due to the scar. Keith and Maia are 14 months apart (Keith was only about 5 months old when I got pregnant with her), and when they delivered her, they could actually see her through my uterus. It was a scary moment when the surgeon went it. I loathe NFP to be honest, but that experience is the one reason that our babies after that are close to three years apart. You know negative pregnancy tests always make me sad as well, and even though your uterus seems to have more superpowers than mine :-) just be careful. I never have a cycle while nursing. I actually just got my first period back on Sonja's SECOND birthday. I kid you not. So, perhaps you will experience breastfeeding amemorrhea this time around??

This_Cross_I_Embrace said...

Good post. On a similar note, we have come to a place where we are no longer using "NFP" (more accurately referred to as true family planning) to achieve a pregnancy, for the same underlying reasons you've found: trust in God. Yes, I may always have messed up cycles in one way or another, and yes, I may not know when to expect my next cycle and therefore when to test if a miracle ever happens... but God's will be done. I know basically when I'm fertile, and I've covered ALL my bases in 5 years to get as healthy as I can be... so no more charts :)
Thanks for this post. Of course, the decision is between each couple and God, and I do not take your post to imply that everyone needs to do it this way. But the way you did choose to do it is beautiful :)

KAT said...

I love this! I'm pregnant with our third after having a rough year with 2 open heart surgeries and countless procedures for our precious Max. I was very nervous at first, and now I can't be any happier. I also worried what my mother would say having babies so close together, and your point on vanity really hit me. Of course after this pregnancy, my husband and I will have to discuss using NFP again, but my heart is leaning more to exactly what you have said in this post. Thank you!

KAT said...
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Lena said...

This is very inspiring about dealing with the now, not worrying about the future, and trusting God.

Jennie said...

Love this! I'm right there with you.

My first two are only 16 months apart (and both were c-sections), but my OB said the uterus is pretty much healed by 6 weeks postpartum. Eat plenty of protein and greens.

God bless!

Jennie said...

Oh, guess I should clarify that the protein and greens help your body heal post surgery.