An unorthodox case of “NFP working”

I got a call last week from a couple we taught NFP to a few months back.  I knew that they were recently married, so when I saw the woman’s phone number come up in our phone I thought “Oh, maybe they have a question about the rules relating to NFP”.

Oh, boy did they.

The question was “I’m on cycle day XX, which makes me a week late.  I’m never late.  Am I pregnant?”

Hmm.  Over the phone.  It might surprise you that by listening to her observations over the past month, I was actually able to tell her that yes, she was pregnant but that it might help her to confirm with a home pregnancy test.

Newly married.  Open to life (thus, NFP) yet still with a vague plan to postpone for “maybe a year” (her words).  Now pregnant.

“We plan, God laughs.”

While part of my was slightly flattered she called instead of immediately peeing on a stick, I’m not gonna lie, this is probably an NFP teachers worst nightmare!  You teach a method.  Method fails.  Couple gets pregnant when they didn’t want to and blame you and your method.  Eeekk gads.  I was already freaking out a little on the inside, but I remained calm.  I know NFP works.  I’ve used it.  I’ve seen the data….

Yet this is the uphill battle we users of NFP face, everyone has a friend that “tried to use that method has like a bazillion surprise kids” and therefore knows that it doesn’t work.  With contraception as the default mentality, everyone still thinks you’re crazy for not using it.  And everyone knows that eventually, you’ll end up pregnant when it wasn’t perfectly planned according to your will.  And isn’t that horrible?  Not being in complete control?

The reality is that to some people, no, many people, yes it is that horrible.  And while I do believe God equips those He calls, there are life-threatening situations when pregnancy needs to be avoided.  So here I was, a little NFP teacher stuck where most NFP users are.  Between trying to appease the world’s desire to “space and control” according to our will yet still using morally licit means and being open to THY will (Matthew 6:10).

Back to the situation.  Facing a woman trying to postpone, now pregnant, and couldn’t quite figure out what happened.  So as their personal NFP teacher (important – read: not book or internet site from which you learned an NFP method) my husband and I met up with her and her husband to go over their chart from the last month.

After 5 seconds of looking at the chart, I could immediately tell what happened.  There was a confusion about a rule and then there was breaking of this rule.  There are rules to NFP and although that doesn’t sound like fun, there are rules to most forms of birth control, licit or not.  Like “must take pill everyday at the same time”.  Science has helped us determine the fertile periods of a woman’s cycle and in order to use that knowledge we must follow certain rules.  Not following certain rules is akin to not really using NFP.  And yes, NFP may have a few more rules, but its also morally licit.

So there is “knowledge of rules” and there is “adherence to rules”.  For NFP, the ultimate check-and-balance is that the later is correlated to “motivation to postpone having a child”, since the intended and likely result of marital intercourse during fertile periods is having a child.

After talking with this couple, it was clear that in their ideal world they would maybe have postponed for a longer time, but in reality they both felt this was God at work since they were in no grave danger of having this child now.

So the question is, did NFP work?

It depends on who’s answering.

Rules were bent and yes, flat out broken.  To say that the couple had no control over what happened and that God completely interfered to make this baby happen would be a mistake, since there were clear rules that could have been followed to statistically improve the unlikeliness of conception.  Yet who’s to say God’s will wasn’t done by this pregnancy?  At the same time, this couple’s hearts were at ease with taking this risk.  Being unsure of the rules/signs and choosing to act in spite of that uncertainty.  Choosing to take the risk.  There have been times in our short marriage where we have been in the same position of uncertainty and have felt uneasy about willfully taking a greater risk of having a child and have chosen the more conservative route (although there have also been times that we have not!).  Although we can try to say “no” all we want, God still must be present to make that child a reality.  It can’t happen without him.

Who can know for sure?  Who knows.  But I can say that by believing the theology of God’s plan for us as male and female and respecting the natural, two-fold purpose to sexual intercourse (babies and bonding), using NFP can help bring a couple understanding how to bring their will to one with God’s will.

In the meantime, its beautiful to know a couple that so lovingly accepts their gift from God (they gave Him a window of opportunity – and broken rules aside, it was still a veerry small window – and He gave them a baby!) and still seeks to use NFP in the future :)

The tricky question is now, how do they answer if NFP works in 30 seconds or less to the average Joe/Jane (complete with the common misconceptions)?  Any ideas?


15 thoughts on “An unorthodox case of “NFP working”

  1. 30 secs is tough… If I were in that position I think I would say that NFP works by allowing each month to be open to the possibility of new life while the couple can make a conscious decision to postpone. That decision isn’t set in stone (like detoxing from the pill) so a lot of times couples choose (risk) getting pregnant earlier than expected.

    I think you could say that in 30 seconds? But to expand I would say that NFP really fosters conversations about when to have a baby and when you think about it more often, time-lines often get shorter (I know mine has!)

  2. hmm I’d say NFP works, but you have to follow the rules. Even more, you need to know ALL the rules of the method you use.
    Also NFP has a side effect to make you more open to life, and faster than you’d think. Using NFP changes your mindset towards children. Most people see it as “we’ll have a child when…” and forget to discuss it for months, when a NFP couple needs to review the reasons to postpone more often. the question goes from ” why having a kid” to “why not?”
    There is no short answer about NFP.
    I hope this event will not discourage you from teaching! :)

    Our teachers were very clear about the rules: When unsure, check the rules, contact us by email and yes, you may have to wait an extra day. But if you take the risk then you are not TTA.if you are not TTA, you are TTC.

    I guess that helped us figure out if our reasons where serious or not. We took chances only twice in the last cycle before we TTC. So I guess we were already TTC..

  3. Yay for the couple with a baby! Though what an adjustment for the newlyweds.

    I am quite certain that in our earliest days of NFP using there were days where we chose NOT to err on the side of caution and throughout our marriage many rules have been intentionally bent. Fortunately, there has never been any unintentional rule-breaking around here.

    I like your reminder that even the bc pill has rules. Is confusion about a rule and thus breaking really any different than oversleeping or forgetting to take your pill one morning? Neither is intentional, both are the users’ failure of a method’s use, not necessarily the method. Look at the statistics – nothing has an actual usage rate anywhere near the perfect use.

    I read in a parenting magazine that 50% of all pregnancies are unplanned yet 80% of women have been on birth control at some point. Pretty crazy, when you think about it – we have all of these methods to avoid pregnancy yet unplanned pregnancies still happen at an astounding rate. Obviously, the focus is in the wrong place – unless you are a pharmaceutical company making all the money, right?

  4. I think the biggest change I want to send to our Diocese is the wording on this little “cheat sheet” we give our participants. It has a list of all the rules but I do believe they could be worded a little more clearly to say “If you are trying to postpone, do this….” rather than the current language. It can be a little confusing. I definitely know that I will stress the importance of picking and following a “pre-ovulation infertility” rule a little bit more than I already do in class (which I thought was a lot!).

    I also try to follow up after the last class ends with clients who were having a difficult time charting during the class and stress how I’m available for help even after the class is over.

  5. Alison, I think you’re a great NFP instructor and I’m so glad I had (have!) you!

    I guess for the 30 second explanation (if you even have that long), I would also tag on something along the lines of “as long as you follow the rules.” I usually just say “it’s as effective as the pill” because it is, and as you point out, there are rules for both!

    Out of curiosity, how could you immediately tell her she was pregnant? A secondary temperature rise?

    • aww, thanks Elizabeth! I have to say, having them be such a thoughtful and prayerful couple definitely helped ease my worries about my own “skills” a little. of course, we can always improve.

      and about the confirmation, although she had no secondary temperature rise, we were able to go back and see her peak day and her first high temperature to confirm it, and then count (more than) 18 days from there. I was having trouble understanding her over the phone but I could tell she was on either day 18 or 20 of high temperature, either which are enough to confirm a pregnancy!

  6. It does work! I think it works perfectly! It is hard to explain it to a world that only sees it as a much more arduous way of achieving birth control. It is effective when the rules are followed (and if there is a serious reason for not becoming pregnant, it can be necessary to observe them more closely). But I also thinks that it works in that it does allow life to happen on God’s time more than our own.

  7. I have friends who have gotten pregnant with it seems like every form of birth control… even after their tubes were tied. So I figure if you are meant to have a baby in your life, there’s not much you can do to stop it. haha. BTW, not one of those friends have ever said they regretted having a baby even if it was a surprise.

    • hmm, i definitely agree that all contraception can fail, yet i disagree that you can’t do anything to stop pregnancy (you can use contraception which decreases your chances by a large degree). i guess i don’t really buy that “well, if God wants me to get pregnant, He’ll break through all these barriers i’m putting up” because if you can’t do anything, then why use contraception at all?
      my post was more about how the definition of NFP “working” is different than contraception “working”, which by definition doesn’t “work” if you get pregnant (whereas that’s not the case with NFP). and if your will is saying “please God, I don’t want any more children, therefore I use this contraception” and God gives you a child anyway, yes, God trumped you, but is your will closer to becoming God’s will? I think that’s the harmony NFP helps provide.

  8. I got pregnant during my first cycle after we were married, even though we were planning to postpone. Then I was fertile on our honeymoon…you see where this is going, haha. We did not know I could even get pregnant at all, since I have had PCOS since an early age.

    Although I lost the baby, it was a major consolation to know I could get pregnant. And that experience made us realize how much we really want a child, so now we are no longer postponing.

    I think it’s good that we have NFP, as it forces us to accept the fact that sometimes God knows what’s better for us than we do. We do the best we can by our consciences and what our faith teaches us, but ultimately a baby is a gift, no matter how it comes. :)

  9. I think that you answered the question well in pointing out that all methods of birth control have “rules”. I think that you could take one of those charts that has the method related failures and user related failures & compare NFP with hormonal and barrier methods.

    I actually really like the fact that NFP users can “break the rules” each month. It seems like a perfect safeguard against the “abuse” of NFP which is being so over-hyped at the moment. If you do not have a serious reason to avoid a pregnancy, then following the rules is probably going to seem unnecessarily hard. But if you do have a strong reason, then it will be worth your time to call your instructor and clear up any confusion!

    I love your blog and was glad to read that you figured out what rule they had not followed.

  10. This was a great post! Not only because my own blog name answers the question–yes, it works. It always works.

    Thanks be to God the couple joyfully embraced their pregnancy and child. This is a sticky situation (all judgement aside on postponing, just reasons, etc.) because in reality EVEN WHEN COUPLES BREAK THE RULES, there’s the potential for a lot of anger, disappointment, which they often take out on NFP, the instructor and the Church.

    I think you handled the situation well–personal contact and follow up is the key! I had a mini-brush with another Catholic lady blogger who was a total proponent of NFP book learning/ web site forums, to which I replied that there’s a huge deficiency in DIY NFP. She disagreed and got defensive about it. But *this* is exactly why there’s no substitute!

  11. I’m desperate to know what rule was broken…

    Plus, I think I just need to email you with some deeper questions…I don’t have easy access to any NFP teacher in my area. And I’m sure my friends are tired of hearing about my cervical mucous…

    • i’d love to help you! i left out some details of this story…maybe i should have included more, but I guess I didn’t for privacy’s sake. the rule was a “pre-ovulation” rule, which is when almost all surprise pregnancies happen. please email me and i can help you more!

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