Teaching NFP as a subfertile couple

Believe it or not, one of the first things I thought of when we didn’t get pregnant right away was

Oh great, now no one we know is going to believe that NFP works.

And I don’t think that was a crazy thought.  I’ve been in the NFP world long enough to know that when women or couples are considering usage of NFP, barely anyone actually does their own research (though these amazing people do exist – and can I include myself in that list? ha!).  In fact, I would venture to say that after hearing about NFP for the first time, the overwhelming majority of people rely purely on anecdotal evidence when discerning whether or not to use NFP.  For example, the couple that taught them NFP may be old and totally ‘out of it’ or they knew someone they once heard of who got pregnant using NFP or the couple teaching them has 6+ children so NFP must not work.

I wanted so badly to be that teaching couple that people could relate to.  And I know that in reality that translates into making a good first impression.  Being that young couple that looks just like them.  Still in school, trying to figure out how to foster the best marital relationship.  My husband and I feel so passionately about promoting healthy marriage and this being such a huge part of my conversion story, we just knew that this was our calling.

But now part of me feels like we have just another reason for people not to believe us when we stand up there, explaining the scientific details of how NFP works.

Oh, they can’t get pregnant.  No wonder they’re down with NFP.

And it sucks.  I don’t want to be another anecdote.  And I don’t understand why God would give us such a calling and at the same time, such a handicap to hurt our effectiveness along the way.

But, eventually, I know its not about us or what we do or say that will change people’s minds anyway.  I could shout from the rooftops what a gift fertility is (and I have and will continue to do so) but that doesn’t mean people will listen.  It is not people that change people.

When we get a new class of clients, before we start our first NFP class we make small talk and study those faces, some eager, some bored, some there for the other one.  They don’t know anything about us, maybe other than we’re going to talk to them about mucus and sticking thermometer’s where? (correct answer: mouth!).  But a single question will bring everyone together and remind them why we’re here.

We just ask about their upcoming wedding and there’s an instant smile on everyone’s face. An excitement that we all can relate to about the new relationship about to occur, as the bride looks at her soon to be groom and gushes about the details of the event.  An appreciation for this new, sacred relationship.  After all, that’s why they’re pursuing a Church wedding and taking the necessary classes.

And then as we warm up to each other, there are always those same first questions. Somewhere along the lines of

“So you guys are going to teach us how to not have 20 children, right?”

And that’s when my heart sinks.  I realize how different my husband and I are.  How our path is not the common path.  I remember that naivety that I see in their faces.  The thought that oodles of children and the associated financial and emotional drain is the biggest marital concern that everyone is trying to avoid.  The innocence that there’s not something worse out there that’s capable of tearing at the very seams of your marriage.

I just want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them, and tell them now that they should be so lucky! I want to save them from planning out their life and getting their hopes set on dreams that they have no control over.  I want to tell that even if things don’t go as planned and they have a ‘surprise’ baby that was not orchestrated in the month they set aside, that there are still worse things.

But I don’t.  People don’t change people.  The spirit does.  We laugh and continue on, because our path is not the common path.  Even in our NFP class, we’re instructed to not spend too much time on the infertility slides because statistics say that the young couple sitting in front of us will get pregnant.  And while I once held my breath that everything would be OK with our client’s fertility, when I do hear from past clients about their new pregnancies, I breathe out a sigh of relief.  And I am once again reminded that our path is not normal.  Normal people get pregnant.

As a subfertile couple teaching couple, those Duggar family comments make me realize how even though our path may be different, we can still focus and teach about what a gift fertility is.  Because we believe so strongly that if there’s one thing that’s worse and threatens the sanctity of marriage more than oodles of children and the associated strain they cause, one thing that’s worse than the physical and emotional pain of infertility, its the lack of appreciation and respect to that gift of fertility.

And we’re there to provide an example and to teach that if they keep their focus on God, they will be able to get through the things that life throws their way if they just stick together.  Because ultimately, that’s what we’re doing too.

I just hope they see it like that.

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Advent Reveal

This advent I had the pleasure of praying for the sweet and thoughtful writer of a blog I’ve read for a while now and have often cited here on my own blog, which made this season feel that much more personal.  When I received the email I admit I was a bit nervous, knowing what a spiritual dry spell she had been going through lately – but I took that as a challenge to pray harder!  And then when I read on her blog that she was going on a blog fast, although I was a little sad I’d have less to read, I knew things would be  getting better for her soon.  Blog fasts do that.

Crazy enough, two days later she heard about her first potential adoption situation for a baby to be born in February and I got to add 3 more people to my prayer list!  I’m glad she popped back in a few times to let us know how it was going with meeting the birth parents and other things related to life, although I know how refreshing a blog fast can be too.  I particularly liked her spiritual adviser’s advice to shift the focus from suffering to thankfulness for a new perspective and I’ve been trying to apply that to my life.

I got to pray for….A Complicated Life!

I prayed for her daily the St. Andrew’s novena with the intention of “peace in her life and a baby”.  I also prayed the novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe (after recently visiting the Basilica!) and whenever I attended Mass this advent season for her.  I also prayed for her birth parents – they now have names! D and E – after the St. Andrew’s novena each day that they would make the best decision for this new little baby.  You have no idea how excited I was to add them to my prayers!

I hope you felt these gifts of prayer and I’m happy to continue praying for your family!

Who are the lucky ones?

Have you all followed Arwen’s writings?  She writes at Faith and Family Live as well as on her own blog, which ironically, was started as a place where she would write to work through her thoughts on infertility.  While her recent posts are filled with talk of children and struggles of motherhood, her archives are filled with beautiful reflections like this one.

I read it several months ago and it had me in tears and those tears reemerge every time I reread it.  Please go and check it out.

When I relearned of the story of the Passion as a young adult, the characters involved took hold in my heart, especially Simon, a seemingly insignificant character.  He’s not mentioned anywhere else and yet played such a key role getting to be so close to our savior.  How lucky was he, right!?  But Arwen’s (Dad’s?) reflection on his role offers a different perspective (emphasis mine):

Last spring my father wrote me a letter in which he told me of an image he’d gotten while praying for me: that of Simon of Cyrene. In Gibson’s portrayal in The Passion Simon is drafted into service against his will, but after being with Jesus for a while he does not want to leave Him; he has realized what a blessing it is to help carry that cross.

But, Dad pointed out, if Simon had been forced to carry the cross without knowing it was for his Christ, would he have caught on so easily to the goodness of what he was doing? Almost surely not, and yet the act itself would have been just as valuable.

We see Simon as a chosen one, blessed to have been so close to the Savior at such a time. Yet I’m sure that many of those looking on must have pitied the one who was forced into humiliating labor for the sake of a criminal condemned to death. Perhaps there was a man standing next to Simon in the crowd who drew a breath of relief when the guards passed over him, and went on his way thinking himself lucky. But it was Simon who was given the life-changing chance.

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, which also happened to be Cycle Day 1 for me, the reading at Mass was the story of the Annunciation. The priest talked in his homily about Mary and the amazing fiat of motherhood, and I couldn’t help it. Tears just kept pushing themselves out of my eyes.

That afternoon, my mom pulled me aside. “I was watching you during Mass, and I just wanted to tell you,” she said, “motherhood is a great thing. But wanting to be a mother, and having to wait – yours is the higher calling.

My first thought was that I can’t really believe that. I’ve been thinking about it since then, though, and about the little voice inside me, and about Simon of Cyrene being pushed to the ground by that bone-crushing cross. I think about the person I might be now if we’d gotten pregnant that first cycle or even that first year, and you know what? I know I am a lucky one.

Ack, so beautiful, I’m crying now.  I had been so eager to say how lucky Simon was even if the reality of carrying such a literal cross appears otherwise.  But if I truly believe that, there is no alternative other than to admit through our sufferings and although we may not consciously acknowledge they are bringing us to Christ, just by going through this suffering, we are lucky as well.

Lucky, not a word I ever would have used to describe this position, but it seems true.

Please, please go read the rest of the article.

Giving Gratitude 12.20.10

Been a while since I’ve done this…so I’m back to it, starting with

Hot water. That it exists somewhere, although that somewhere isn’t here.  Cold/luke-warm showers are great for waking you up, but they are tortuous to endure.  I can’t wait until we can have hot water showers while we visit family for Christmas.  It will be glorious.

Cold weather. It makes my husband not only endure but suggest cuddling, which I am a fan of :)  We may have to move north for this reason alone.

Mexican nativity sets. I realize that most (all?) churches in the states have nativity scenes somewhere on the church grounds, but I have never seen anything that compares to the intricacy of the one at our local church here (but I am a new-ish Catholic!).  It is truly beautiful and expansive, covering the terrain, all the characters, and the stars in the night sky.  I feel like I could stare at it forever and really feel like I was there witnessing the birth of the Christ-child.

Online friends. I didn’t start a blog to make friends.  I honestly didn’t think anyone would read this blog besides the people I knew in real life.  And I am shy about emailing people I don’t know.  But then I discovered network of women who were dealing with similar situation as I found myself in and it has been a blessing to have their example, encouragement, and incite-fullness to help me remember perspective as we travel this road together.  I have several friends in real life also dealing with sub-fertility but while I have been fairly open about our struggles, it is hard to receive reciprocation and openly share about it with them.  Sometimes I believe it is because they are holier than I am and are not as broken by the realization of their sub-fertility.  And then this past week I virtually attended a baby shower for the woman who was responsible for helping me pursue learning the Creighton method.  And while it was surreal and hilarious and my husband thought I was mildly crazy, I appreciate this network and their openness more than I ever thought I would.

An exchange of hope

I saw this picture today and thought, wow, I have a good looking husband did I really go to India?

Traveling is not something I take for granted and is something that I hoped and hoped for for so long.   I get giddy like a schoolgirl as soon as I plan a trip and quite literally bounce off the walls.  I always wanted to travel when I was younger and I’ve always been drawn to the idea of distant places, probably because my dad would bring back strange mementos from all over the world but pictures were few and far between. So I was left to dream.

Exactly 5 years ago I did my first (and only) international service trip.  I was thinking about applying to the Peace Corps after I graduated college and knew I needed to have more experience doing similar activities if I was going to commit to two years of it.  We were to go down to a tiny village in Nicaragua with a group called Engineers without Borders and install a solar panel at their school to produce electricity.  We’d also be performing a health survey and testing the household wells for contamination in order to plan the next trip.

I wasn’t Catholic at the time.  And it wasn’t remotely even on the radar. So imagine my surprise when I was looking back through pictures and found this one:

I’m the one chilling on top of the ladder installing wires in the church, right up next to a giant crucifix and a giant mural of Jesus.  A little foreshadowing, perhaps?  We were supposed to install the solar panel onto the school, but when we got down to the community, the residents told us they wanted it to serve their church instead.  This being a secular trip, I remember we all talked about it and eventually justified the change in plans because the church really served as their community center so we wouldn’t really be promoting their church.

I’m not lying when I said I developed a love of children on this trip.  My younger brother is only a few years younger and we never really lived around younger cousins, and although I’ve done my fair share of babysitting for neighborhood kids growing up, my experience with little kids was limited.  You know those people who just attract kids?

My friend reading "Huevos verdes con jamon"

Yeah, that wasn’t ever me.  That was always the other girl.

Kids didn’t scare me, I just didn’t know how to act around them.  But boy, these kids broke me down!

Helping me put together the solar panel

 

And I particularly love this one!

By the end of the trip they were flocking to me!

And then there were these most adorable little twins with strawberry blonde hair.  I was so shy around them but by the end I snatched one up because he was too adorable not to have a picture with.

I’d just met the hubs a few weeks prior to leaving on that trip and when I think back to that time, the feeling I get in my stomach is synonymous to the feeling I remember having when I first met him.  It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but after our first couple conversations I had the distinct feeling that this man would change my life.

One of the last days on the trip we had a couple hours free in town and I wanted to send him an email to let him know I was thinking about him.  I asked our translator how to say “I miss you”.  Well, somewhere along the way I messed it all up and I proudly signed the letter “Te extracto mucho” which, all Spanish speakers already know, is definitely not how you say I miss you.  Its been our little inside joke ever since.

Anyway, that feeling that I get in my stomach, those butterflies of a new love, a new approach to life, and the feeling that you can go out there and change the world, all wrap up as one for me.  I’ve decided its the feeling of hope.  Before we got to the village, we thought we were going to change the world.  And we’d do it starting with this one community.   A few tests later and we realized how contaminated their well water was.  Bacteria and nitrates, it was no mystery why the rates of disease were so high.  We sat around contemplating what would be our next project.  A health center, a better school, clean water.  They needed it all.  How could we change the world if we couldn’t fix the problems in one village?

But we had to start somewhere.  We could give them a bit of electricity.  And the next time, a clean water source.  Although the basic civil infrastructure was what was lacking, engineered solutions could only skim the surface of what was really a political and sociological problem.  We worried if what we offered would have longevity.  Electric generators were common in the town and they powered tiny TVs and radios.  They could have easily used our solar panel for the same after we left.  Would our water system made out of PVC last or would they get tired of walking all the water to the town center to get clean water and just go back to using their contaminated well water?

Towards the end of the trip, it really hit us that all we had to offer was the idea that there was someone out there who was willing to help.  A hope of something that was greater than themselves.  Of course we could help provide limited tangible assistance as well, but we were unconvinced that that was the most valuable thing we offered.  Its frustrating, seeing a situation that you can’t change even if you really, really want to.

Of course the big surprise was that they offered us hope as well and planted the idea that we worried about all the wrong things.  How could they seem so happy, didn’t they know they had nothing?  Where were our children, our families? the younger women wanted to know, as they were our age and already had little packs of children running around their ankles.  A party they threw for us actually turned out to be a lengthy, fiery sermon about Jesus.  Too bad it was lost on us as only a few of us understood Spanish.  But the music and dancing later was universally understood as a celebration.

Soon after I returned from that trip I decided to go to grad school and study drinking water treatment.  With more education maybe I could help people on a larger scale.  Soon after that trip I also started attending Mass, which led to the start of my faith journey.  And soon after that trip I followed that butterfly feeling and started dating my now-husband.

My life really did change directions from that exchange of hope.

I wonder how anyone’s life in that village changed.

Not meant to be? Discerning parenthood

“I think clearly God is telling you guys you’re not meant to be parents right now.”

I was catching up with a friend the other day and this was what she came up with after I had filled her in with the going-ons of our life these days.  All I could think of in response was,

“Well, duh.”

I wasn’t upset she said that, because it is probably the most direct and obvious statement of the truth I’ve heard in a while.  In fact, if I were to get upset, I guess the response would be purely an emotional one, more along the lines of “Well why doesn’t God listen to ME because I WANT to be a parent right now” and not actually refuting the truth of what she said.  That would be besides the point.  Her statement still rings true.  It stings and is hard to swallow probably because yes, in my situation, it is true.  I don’t believe God could be making a mistake right now.

I have to remind myself as a married couple we have been called by God to be open to fertility, not necessarily to be parents on demand – which very well may have been our desire.  I think back to how we discerned to no longer use NFP to avoid pregnancy and I remember the decision vividly.  While the decision was complex and personal, it was blatantly clear we no longer had just financial reasons and while neither of us had graduated and had certain jobs, we would have been in a position to properly care for a child had one come along in 9 months.  I’m slightly embarrassed to say that it was not that we had a strong pull that now was the time for us to become parents, although part of me wishes it was so I could have more clarity on our move from here, its just not true.  And in hindsight, I would consider it a blessing that it didn’t happen that way for us.  It was only that our just reasons to not share our fertility with each other were gone, which thankfully, is more than enough reason to not use NFP.  While one great benefit of NFP is that it can help you target your fertile time to achieve pregnancy, NFP’s main purpose as far as morality is concerned is to help those with just reasons to avoid pregnancy.  I do not believe the Church teaches anywhere that NFP is meant to be the default condition of all married couples.  What it ultimately came down to for us was that we knew by using NFP to avoid pregnancy, we were literally holding something back from one another.  Yes, we had not contracepted and done anything immoral, but we were both conscious of the fact that we were not entirely giving ourselves to one another.  For just reasons, our fertility still remained guarded.  And over the course of a few months, it became clear to each of us, first separately and then together, that we weren’t being called to hold back from one another anymore but to take what came.

Take what came.

What came is that we discovered that the opposite of a call to avoid pregnancy is not a call to pregnancy, which unfortunately, many people of varying degrees of fertility believe.

1664 Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce separates what God has joined together; the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its “supreme gift,” the child

This is why the comment,

“Perhaps God’s just telling you guys that you’re not supposed to be parents right now”

is so funny to me.

What else could God possibly be telling us?  We have given him ample opportunity for Him to bestow on us the ‘supreme gift’.  Just as I don’t believe He makes mistakes with “oops” babies, I know that if we give Him the openness of our fertility, He’s not up there saying “Oh crap!  Those little guys missed the egg again!  Sorry Moonheads, I’ll try harder next month!” In fact,  I believe that only by giving Him the openness of our fertility after responsibly discerning parenthood can we be certain that our desires aren’t getting in the way of His will.  Just like we can’t accidentally become parents, we can’t accidentally not become parents.

Which then brings me to the statement which I do find rational disagreement with,

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

I’ve stated the call to not use NFP to avoid pregnancy is not necessarily a decision to become parents.  God gets to make that decision.  For us, God has made the decision to not make us parents so I do believe I should approach our journey to continue to be parents with the utmost prayer and selflessness, which of course is not an immediate decision.  I’ve talked to other women who felt, much like I did, that the first year of not postponing pregnancy felt more like a year of being a mother without a child, rather than just a woman with no children (which is in reality more accurate).  I believe that it was because somewhere in there, in either my anguish to hide the fact that I wasn’t pregnant or in order to try to keep hope alive and prepare for what still may have come statistically,  I made the decision that I was to be a parent.  At this point I’ve realized I have no power to make that decision.  (I will add in here for those who wonder that my husband has remained level headed and not had to play these mind games with himself.  One difference of how infertility affects men and women!) The fact that God is so clearly not making use of our biology, is a large, harsh, but realistic sign to me that perhaps not only am I not to be a parent right now, but not at all.  Maybe we are supposed to fulfill our desires to become missionaries or some other non-traditional way of serving others, as opposed to parenthood, at least at this moment.

In order to “just adopt”, I would want to be sure that God is calling me to parenthood, which does not necessarily follow from not being able to have children biologically and in fact may be a large sign that we’re not.

I must also add that while adoption may not necessarily be the conclusion for all infertile couples for a variety of reasons, I do believe this period of being open to fertility is quite necessary as a step towards adoption.  I don’t know of any couples that have used NFP to avoid pregnancy while pursuing adoption, although that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.  God can use this time to plant this seed, prune us and see if we are called to parenthood.  However, that of course means that the time of working through the grief accompanying infertility is also necessary for adoption.

In short, I’ve learned (the painful way) that being open to fertility is not necessarily the same as discerning parenthood and that for some people, the painful way is how discerning parenthood has to happen, because God does not accidentally leave those childless.

On goaltending

Thank you for your kind comments.  A long Saturday morning Skype conversation with the hubs averted the derailment of the sanity train – at least this time!  [Note to self that not exercising for 3 weeks may also not be good for my mental health.] In case it ever appears that I have it all together, let it be known that I don’t.

I did want to share a funny story.  This weekend, while I was holding back tears after a friend asked if we stopped trying – because if we’re not pregnant by now we must have stopped, right? – and then quickly changed the subject as if the question had never been asked when I answered that yes, we were still trying (maybe I just imagined the whole thing?),  my husband was answering his own questions in Mexico and with way more pizazz!

I don’t know all the details of the situation, but he was at dinner with other people in the program and there was a conversation about kids.  Everyone was chiming in with their “We want 1.5 kids” when my husband responded “Oh yes, we want an army” – an answer that he likes to give because, well he would welcome an army of children and he enjoys seeing people’s reactions who have just professed to have a fear of children.  He can be obnoxious like that, but he likes to answer with humor rather than preaching.  Of course, the response, as always is “Well, what about Alison though…does she want that?” because as we know, all women hate children.  “Of course she does.”  And then came the next question,

“So then, are you guys going to pull the goalie?”

At which point in the Skype conversation, I started hysterically laughing.

Apparently my husband responded in his gangster wanna-be way, “Oh, the goalie’s been done pulled!”

Have you heard that saying before?  Pulling the goalie?  Really?  Hilarious.

I couldn’t help but think later that that phrase isn’t very accurate for NFP couples because, well, there was never really a goalie to begin with.  So I started brainstorming phrases to respond to next time people ask if we “pulled the goalie”.

–  The goalie didn’t even get to practice with the team!

–  The goalie never even showed up to the game!

–  You guys play with a goalie?

–  What’s a goalie?

–  Anyone who uses their hands is cheating.

–  We don’t play with a goalie, our offense is that good.

 

Ok, that’s all I got.  Perhaps I have taken this analogy too far.

 

…or maybe I didn’t take it far enough!  Got any others?

That dark place

Its coming to get me again.  I’ve been living in a beautiful world of I’m-not-pregnant-not-because-I-can’t-have-kids-but-because-I-can’t-see-my-husband and those negative thoughts that seemed to be a little too common in these preceding thoughts had almost all but disappeared.  Hope and normalcy had replaced them.

But I’m starting to feel them coming back.  Even though I’m still living in this beautiful, chance-less world.

And part of me is blaming these blogs.  I can’t seem to follow my own advice and even though I have a rule to not post when I’m emotional, I’m doing it now.

So I’m going to put my headphones back on and drown my irrational, garbled thoughts in audible encouragement to the tune of these songs.

 

 

 

At least, that’s what encouragement sounds like to me.

Mastermind Moonhead

I took that Keirsey temperament test that JBTC has going on over there and found out that I’m a Mastermind! AKA an INTJ (Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging).  I always wanted a nickname and they never seem to stick so, maybe this one will?

Actually, I admit it all I keep thinking about is that game “Mastermind”…anyone remember it?

To be fair, I only expressed “weakly” as a Mastermind so I don’t think it entirely explains me.  Interesting description though, are there seems to be a lot of truth to it.  I’m in the “rational” category.  Big surprise.  While I know I’m emotional and have strong feelings, usually I don’t express them publicly and am able to talk myself out of their chaos or into reason that supports why I feel that way.  I say usually because this has not (especially recently) always been the case.

Here are some other things that describe the Mastermind:

– Masterminds are rare, comprising no more than one to two percent of the population, and they are rarely encountered outside their office, factory, school, or laboratory. (Ha!  Or blogs!)

– Although they are highly capable leaders, Masterminds are not at all eager to take command, preferring to stay in the background until others demonstrate their inability to lead. (Totally true.)

– Masterminds are certain that efficiency is indispensable in a well-run organization, and if they encounter inefficiency — any waste of human and material resources — they are quick to realign operations and reassign personnel.  (Sounds harsh, but is probably true.)

– Masterminds do not feel bound by established rules and procedures, and traditional authority does not impress them, nor do slogans or catchwords. (Ha!  Does not impress me! And I do hate catchwords.)

– Problem-solving is highly stimulating to Masterminds, who love responding to tangled systems that require careful sorting out.  (When I’m not too impatient.)

– Masterminds tend to be much more definite and self-confident than other Rationals, having usually developed a very strong will.  (Really? Oh, great.)

– Decisions come easily to them; in fact, they can hardly rest until they have things settled and decided. But before they decide anything, they must do the research. (Hmm, true I must do the research but decisions do NOT come easily… Starting not to believe this.)

– Masterminds are highly theoretical, but they insist on looking at all available data before they embrace an idea, and they are suspicious of any statement that is based on shoddy research, or that is not checked against reality.  (Most definitely true.)

– Complex operations involve many steps or stages, one following another in a necessary progression, and Masterminds are naturally able to grasp how each one leads to the next, and to prepare alternatives for difficulties that are likely to arise any step of the way.  (Hopefully this has some payout now that I’m dealing with a very unexpected situation!)

 

Anyway, you can take the test here to find out what you are.  Even if you’ve done it before, do it again.  I always forget what I got beforehand.   Let me know your combination!  Especially if I know you in real life!