One of a series of six special columns written by Catholic women on family planning issues.
My husband Ed and I have been married eight years. We were not always on the natural family planning (NFP) bandwagon. It took a lot of prayer, years of bad decisions and some very encouraging friends to help us find the way. Like many women today, I used contraception. I was a convert to the faith and knew little about NFP. I did know that most women, even Catholic women, chose to use some form of contraception. I didn't feel any real remorse about my decision. It was the "norm," and we wanted to be in control of when we had children.
I first encountered NFP when I participated in RCIA my junior year of college. It was briefly mentioned, and sadly, I didn't give it much thought. I didn't hear about NFP again until our marriage preparation, and while the message that the married couple delivered about God's role in their love was beautiful, we had already decided that we would "follow our conscience" and choose to use "the pill."
Like any other newly married couple, our first year of marriage was hard, and contraception only added another challenge. Our culture considers contraception a convenience, not a hindrance. But it conveniently allowed us never to talk about what God had planned for our family and how he was a part of us. We communicated about our intimacy only when we had a forgetful moment, like when I left my birth control at home during our honeymoon, or when our new puppy ate an entire package of pills. These stories are funny now, but in those moments I panicked.
There was something else working behind the scenes. There was this gut feeling that I had the hardest time explaining to Ed. I felt lonely and our marital act never felt complete. There was something essential missing. This feeling was horrible and our marriage suffered. Then God intervened. A friend invited Ed to an NFP class, and I agreed to go. As Ed told our friend, "We'll finally know whether it's 'safe' or not." To which our friend responded by laughing and kindly offering, "And you'll be living what the Church teaches!"
I was skeptical about the efficacy of the sympto-thermal method. But we attended the entire three-part class series. Guess what: NFP works. So, we threw the pill out of our marriage. Best decision ever. Using NFP is not only easy, but it is effective. Immediately, my feelings of loneliness and rejection were gone because there were now three of us making decisions about our family. I even began to feel healthier because I was no longer tricking my body with hormones. Since we made that decision, we have been blessed with three children during our marriage, none of whom was a surprise, and we continually pray about what God has planned for us.
NFP brought Ed and me closer together. It requires love, communication and patience. Each day we communicate about fertility. I never thought I would discuss temperatures and mucus with my husband. But we have learned that if we can openly talk about mucus, we can talk about anything. Each month we prayerfully consider how we will answer God's call for our family. And we patiently spend time reconnecting during times of abstinence.
For me, the best part about NFP is that we are finally allowing God to participate actively in our marriage. I feel more joyful and more faithful. I feel closer to Ed, closer to God and closer to the Church. Who knew living the Church's teachings would bring such joy?
Dana Dodge writes from Hensley. She, her husband Ed and their three children attend St. Edward Church in Little Rock.
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