You’re newly engaged; glowing with happiness, showing off your glimmering left hand and so excited to start this new journey with your fiancé. You’ve met with your priest, set the date, and expect marriage preparation will be a wonderful experience. One in which you’ll grow as a couple on this adventure to heaven together. Everything sounds like the fairy tale you’d always dreamed of.
You’re set to take your Natural Family Planning course, eager to prepare for becoming a responsible and pro-life Catholic family. You can totally tackle NFP! A mix of science, faith, and marital self-sacrifice: what could be a more simple, practical, and generous method in which to grow a fine and faithful Catholic family?
Those feelings and emotions are all good, beautiful, and true. NFP is an enormous gift to the families who desire to be prudent and selfless, cooperating with God to bring children into the world.
However, after taking my NFP course during engagement, and then after actually following it as a married woman, I found that the glamorous reports of success I’d heard took me by surprise. Instead,I found myself struggling--failing, even--to learn and practice it..
Thanks to my mother, I grew up well aware of my body’s fertility signs and familiar with NFP since I was a little girl. When trying to learn it four months prior to my upcoming wedding, I started with typical complaints, particularly taking my temperature each morning at 6 A.M, even on days when I could have slept in. Early wakeups became a daily cross. I became aware of my daily routines that needed to be changed. I quickly realized the inconveniences of this new, constant awareness of my own body and of sharing my findings with my husband.
Conversations before marriage about NFP don’t always illuminate the little mistakes and troubles found along the way: forgetting to take your temperature, inconsistencies rooted in stress, an inability to understand your fertility symptoms and record them correctly, a lack of full understanding. I realized there was a myriad of ways in which I personally could fail in the practice, not just the idea, of NFP--ways I was unaware of in the past, when my knowledge was more limited.
I found myself disheartened, especially when listening to other couples tell me of their great successes. I felt like a failure for being unable to clearly read my fertility signs, and felt the weight of guilt when I opted to switch to a different method. I doubted my ability to enter into a self-giving marriage with my husband, where we would be responsible in the task given to us as future parents.
It took several months, a loving and supportive husband, and God’s severest of mercies on my beginner’s errors to find peace in my mostly complicated relationship with the amazing gift of Natural Family Planning. Here are my takeaways, from much trial and error:
Be patient with yourself!
NFP is not supposed to a one time victory, but many monthly victories that allow you to know your body and your spouse better with each cycle. Don’t allow stress or fear of failure to dampen your resolve. I found the stress of learning NFP greatly affected my fertility, which made it all the more difficult to track. Had I more patience and forgiveness with myself, my learning curve might have been more even-keeled.
Comparison is the greatest fiend of self confidence, and I found it took a toll on my process.
I was too busy shaming myself for my struggles and comparing them with my peers’ successes to see the benefits of NFP. The method you choose and your discernment is dependent on you, your spouse, and God. Ask--and trust in--Christ to guide your instincts.
Every woman’s body is different, just as every couple expresses love in different ways. Allow your couple friends to empower and encourage you in your quest, but do not succumb to self-doubt from comparison. I found sharing in vulnerability allowed me to see how pointless my tendency to compare really was.
NFP is ultimately a blessing and a sacrifice.
NFP is truly a fruitful way to work with God and your spouse to determine when you are called to bring forth children. It is difficult in practice, but its fruits include a more valued intimacy and understanding with my husband, a sacrificial death to desire, and a dependence on God’s timing. We are grateful for the work and frustration, as well as the unity we have found through this journey together. We’ve been able to love each other better, knowing we’re in support of God’s will for our future family.
I’ll continue to sing the praises of NFP even in my vulnerability and perceived failures. To all brides who are struggling, know you are not alone!
Have patience with yourself, seek out support, and ultimately trust in God’s mercy. Natural Family Planning should not be a cause for anxiety or stress concerning perfection, but a gift to you and your husband as holy and responsible parents. You--with God--have got this!
About the Author: Recently married to her best friend and partner towards salvation, Kate Thibodeau is learning how to best serve her vocation as a wife while using her God-given talents. With an English degree from Benedictine College, she strives to live in the Benedictine motto: that in all things, God may be glorified. Kate loves literature, romance, beautiful music, pretty things, wedding planning, and building a community of strong Catholic women.