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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22 thoughts on “Teaching NFP as a subfertile couple

  1. We are that couple that never bothered to learn NFP at all cos we just figured it wouldnt be diff to learn and we were juggling other things – how naive ! Not only did we discover that where we stay cycle beads are the only method taught bt we also discovered that doctors always defaulted to ABC

    2 NFP methods later and almost as many children as the number of years we have been married we are depressed , the marriage is faltering and we dont know what to do – so from a super fertile couple to a sub fertile couple there is a lot that tugs at the seams of a marriage

    • Your story is exactly the reason we don’t shake those couples. As hard as this path is for me to walk, I get that it is the uncommon path. Most married couples will not struggle with our same cross – their’s will look much different. Learning about the reproductive cycle in a way that allows you to respect – not destroy – fertility is the ideal. Maybe you can agree though, that as tempting as contraception may look for you or as tempting as ART and IVF seem sometimes to me, and while we might not always feel it, ultimately we know it to be true that to live a life unaware of the sanctity of the marital embrace would be worse.
      That, to us, is what the “worse” option is (not infertility). And that’s why we’ll keep teaching NFP.

  2. Thanks for another beautifully vulnerable post.

    I recently mentored a younger (fellow-Protestant) woman as she worked towards learning NFP, and we had conversations on a similar topic. She’s getting married in a couple of months now, but her husband-to-be will still be in school for another year after that so they’re hoping to delay pregnancy at least until he’s out of school. She’s totally pumped about NFP, but one of the reasons she REALLY hopes she doesn’t get pregnant within the first year is to prove to others that it works. “I want others to be able to believe in it, too!” she said. She would embrace a child, even if it came to them outside of their plans, but she wants to prove to herself and others that it really works. Everyone thinks she’s crazy for not going on the Pill, and she wants to show the world that NFP isn’t crazy. The Pill is crazy!

    I can also relate to the frustration with people who are so terrified of having too many children, or having them at the “wrong” times. They should be happy they can have kids at all!! (Easy for someone like me who has wanted kids for years to say). I wish everyone recognized what a blessing fertility is. But we’ve been taught that it’s a curse and an inconvenience. What a tragedy.

    • Yeah, it seems like people prefer remembering when things don’t work vs. when they do…much like bad news stories getting more publicity than good news. Which is why I’m a stickler on clarifying when there’s user error vs. method error. I too remember feeling like the sole spokesperson for NFP that people IRL knew. I hope your friend doesn’t feel too much pressure. The science is there whether or not she uses the right time.

      That reminds me, over the summer I had a fertility doctor tell me that NFP doesn’t work, but that I also shouldn’t worry because I’d only been trying to get pregnant for 10 months. If his thought process was consistent, he should have considered me TTC at just about 2 years then. Although I know that not to be true, I wish people would be consistent! Especially medical professionals.

      • alison –

        ur right! ur crosses will be diff in this area. bt u will always be gratwful for people who will be honest abt all of it so thank u !

  3. sorry – just realised i had several grammatical errors-

    just meant to say – our crosses in this area may be diff bt we will always be grateful for people who are honest abt them

  4. Excellent post as always Alison. I don’t think your first thought was crazy in the least.

    I can totally relate to Kathleen’s friend – I was so excited about learning NFP but I felt like I had to be super cautious when postponing at first so that people wouldn’t assume it didn’t work!

    And you are definitely still that couple that people can relate to! If anything, you’re even better than that – because you’re really cool! And I’m completely serious in saying that – everybody likes you and you’re active in GSA and stuff – you’re in the popular crowd (if I can say that and not sound like I’m in middle school)! I remember thinking before I knew you that if cool people like you two used NFP, there must be something to it. So don’t worry about your challenge barring your effectiveness and keep up the excellent work!

    • That was comedy about the popular crowd. Were any of us in the popular crowd if we were at Rice? Ha!!
      (PS: I would add that all that was Mike and I just rode his coat tails :P)

  5. I found your post very intelligent and incredibly interesting as someone who went through the NFP class and did all my own research, even to the point of knowing more than my NFP teacher and some NaPro physicians. I read every last word of the Creighton Model guide written by Hilgers. First, our class NEVER mentioned infertility. The charts were never shown as a tool to potentially diagnosis infertility. (Not that, that would have helped me as my charts are very normal.) Using NFP to achieve pregnancy was as brief as, “use the days of best quantity and quality.” Although we used NFP for a year to avoid, after 15 months of trying to use it to achieve, I can’t be confident the method works for me at all. I don’t think I could have ever gotten pregnant in any given month for my entire life post puberty.

    My NFP teacher and my NaPro surgeon both told me it took them 7 months to conceive their third and first child, respectively. Now this falls outside the NaPro statistics which say that “a published survey of 50 pregnancies indicates that 76.0 percent of the couples (of normal fertility) became pregnant in the very first cycle in which they utilized the days of fertility.” I’d argue both my teacher and doctor have normal fertility so a statistic like this is hardly reassuring to anyone who needs more than 6 cycles to get pregnant.

    Although I appreciate NFP and will continue to use it because it cooperates with my natural body functions, it’s a hard sell to the larger population because, I think, in the most recent government study of contraception use, about 0.2% of the American population uses NFP.

    • I’m curious why you think you never could have gotten pregnant since puberty if you have very “normal” cycles? I have normal cycles as well and while that doesn’t necessarily indicate perfect health, it can eliminate a lot of common problems for infertility.

      And yeah, you’re right about the hard sell. All the more reason to teach, in my opinion :)

      • Perhaps your post caught me on a bad day? ;) I just think I couldn’t have ever gotten pregnant. I’ve never know and that’s fine; being unmarried and pregnant was never an option. I think it’s great that you’re teaching NFP; I’m sure you’ll have a valuable perspective for other couples having fertility issues. God Bless.

  6. You know I’m extremely grateful that you are an NFP Teaching Couple – I’ll never be able to thank you enough. I too can relate to the wanting to prove that NFP works, sometimes I wonder if maybe that’s not what why we are called to use NFP even though we are not called to have children at this time.

    • Haha! Thanks :) Well, I definitely think those scientific articles should try to pick up the slack if you ever decide you are called to be open to fertility!

  7. Beautiful post!
    I’d actually never thought about what it feels like to teach NFP and struggle…and my heart definitely goes out to y’all! It’s a lot more work, I’m sure, but I wanted to say THANK you for doing what you do!!

    • Thanks! Sometimes I do have to let the hubby talk during those infertility slides…especially if it coincides with CD1, which has actually happened a few times somehow. If anything its always a great activity to bring us together and remember how much we can be open to life, although apparently not biologically. I highly recommend it!

  8. Interesting post and I know I”m a bit late reading it. I find it interesting that you don’t touch on infertility much at all. We don’t spend tons of time on it, but there is an emphasis on understanding that infertility is real and on the rise. We also talk a bit about how the charts may be able to spot a problem if there is one. Though I was never considered infertile since it took a little less than 6 months, I tell my story of how my NFP ob/gyn was pretty certain from my charts and symptoms that I had endometriosis and recommended surgery to remove the problem hopefully before infertility became an issue from it. I talk about it in my class as a real possibility and how using NFP keeps the couple connected instead of once again putting it on the girl to start meds or shots or whatever to fix her “problem.”

    Having too many kids or not at all are two different crosses to bear. Even though you have one, I agree with the others. You are still relatable to your students and I’m glad you’re still teaching :-)

    • I guess to clarify, we do mention many times through the 3 class series that infertility is real, increasing, and can be helped with NFP methods, if not our symptothermal method than the NaPro method especially, similarly to what you mentioned.
      However, the slides I was referring to where the ones that really focus on how to deal with infertility. How can you still be open to life? What does that mean for the sacramentality of your marriage? I think it is rarer to actually discuss that some couples just WON’T have children. That is just a really sad thought (and why we’re instructed to not spend much time on it). Everyone always tries to say, “Do this and this to increase your chances” whereas these slides try to show that you are still valuable and your marriage is still fruitful, something that is equally important to those couples.

  9. Love this post. Well, all except the subfertile part ;) Hehe.

    But seriously, I could have written this. I felt the same exact way when we we officially crossed the line from “bad luck/timing” to infer, er, subfertile :P (I’ll show the same respect on your blog as you did on mine!)
    Except working in the NaPro Dr’s office, I also have the added pressure of wondering how the subfertile couples I’m working with feel about the system. (“Well, SHE can’t get pregnant, and she’s been charting 5 years and doing NaPro 4.5!”) So I feel like a failure all around!

    Anyway. I still think the work we’re doing is important and IS helping others. We just have to stay positive about it, and not let the Devil get his dirty little thoughts in our head.

    • I totally get what you’re saying…and that’s a lot of pressure too. I’m sure you’ve helped so many couples though and have the stories to prove it! One thing we’re still struggling with is how much personal detail to tell our clients. Have you figured that out?

      Ha, and your comment cracked me up! Don’t worry I don’t take offense! And now all I can think of is Ali G. Respec.

  10. “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.”

    AMEN. THANK YOU. My partner teacher was saying something about, “Oh, my goodness, what if you get pregnant right away?” in a negative tone. I think I totally caught her off-guard with my nonchalant “So? There could be worse things.” :-P

  11. I can relate to this post so much. I feel the same way–that I need to be an example for clients that NFP works…and now, that NaPro works, too… I don’t normally share our story with clients unless they ask directly, but that’s probably because I tend not to share personal stuff until I really get to know someone. Now that I think about it, only one infertile client knows that DH and I are pursuing NaPro for ourselves, and that was only because when they asked me if I wanted children, my answer of, “Oh, yes. We’d love a large family,” wasn’t enough info for them.

    It’s funny—when I was being trained as a practitioner, they told us it’s okay to be a pregnant CrMS practitioner (reaffirming that you can use the method to achieve pregnancy even when many people learn the method to avoid). Now I wish they had said it’s also okay to be a subfertile practitioner… ;)

    You’re lucky you can have your DH step in to present the infertility slides if necessary. :) On my rough days I tend to just go on auto-pilot through all the infertility slides since I’ve presented it enough times…the Holy Spirit definitely carries me through those presentations.

  12. Pingback: Awareness after NFP « Matching Moonheads

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