Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NFP-take 2, revisited.

 this post is long. very long. and has no pictures. you've been warned.

 tonight as i finished making dinner and ben was putting forks on the table, he wondered out loud, "what would it be like to have five people in our family? or six? what if we had eight kids in our family?!" he and max both agreed that it would be great. "why would it be great?" i asked. "because there would be soooo many of us!" was their response. max questioned if he and ben would still be brothers if they had a bunch of other brothers and sisters, to which ben assured him that yes, they'd always, always be brothers.

as we ate dinner and they jabbered on about other things, i had to wonder what God has in store for our family. i am number seven of eight after all, and if you would have asked my parents after their number two child if they were up for six more, well, i probably shouldn't type what they might have said ; ) i wondered, as i often do, if ben and max will be our only kiddos or if we'll have a whole gaggle more.

my thoughts reminded me of the following post that i wrote sometime during the winter, maybe february? at the time i ran out of energy to finish it and stored it away, deeming it too long and whiney. i fished it out of my drafts and figured i might as well share it.


 back in july i tried to cover the topic of nfp. i'd say i did a pretty good job ; )

today i had a big to-do list to cover. unfortunately, in the middle of the night i woke up not feeling so great and it hasn't gone away yet. so you are not left in suspense-no i'm not pregnant. but when  i'm sick like this, it always reminds me of how i feel during the first trimester of pregnancy. i have never thrown up due to morning (or all day) sickness. i just feel extremely nauseated and exhausted for those first three months-ish.  if i lay completely still, i don't feel too bad and sometimes even think the nausea has passed until i do something silly like stand up or move. so feeling like that all day today has made me think a lot about being pregnant again-something that is often on my mind and in my prayers. thankfully, tim has today off and i've been able to mostly lay or sit around, not having to do to many mommy duties.

(i realize that in comparison to some women, i am incredibly lucky and have absolutely no reason to complain about my first trimester experiences. but since i'm wimpy and whiney in general, pregnancy is no exception for me.)

some background:

 be warned, this is a long post. come back later if your kids are going to need your attention for the next two hours.

when i was pregnant with ben i was still finishing up massage school and working a lot, so although i didn't feel great, i just had to power through. but once i came home in the evening, tim and i pretty much just watched tv and movies in our bed. this worked well because it was winter and we kept the theromastat at 50 degrees to save money, so bed was the warmest place anyways. (yes i know. we are models of productivity!) because it was just the two of us, the only rooms in the house that got messy where our room, the bathroom, the dining room (where we dumped all of our stuff when we came home), and the kitchen. because we weren't home at all during the day, it was very easy to ignore those messes, although we were thoroughly embarassed (or at least i was) when family dropped by unexpectedly.

my pregnancy with max was very different.  actually, the pregnancy was pretty similar, but the circumstances of our life were very different. on top of feeling sick all the time, i was very sleep deprived because ben still, at 18 mos old, didn't sleep through the night. during the day, as well as at night, ben was pretty high maintenance. he was extremely active, social, curious, and stubborn. so while i wanted to just spend the day laying still, ben had completely opposite plans. i know-how rude of him. many huge, some permanent, messes were made at the cost of a few minutes of rest. plus, he was very attached to me and had a hard time with things like tim putting him to bed. sometimes tim would try to send me to our room in the evenings so i could lay down, but the sound of ben crying and "needing" me was just as exhausting as the pregnancy and i didn't want him to be upset.

i have an introverted personality with a strong need (desire?) for quiet and personal space, which is intensified when i don't feel well. ben is pretty much the complete opposite. but because my perception of being a "good mother" to him meant doing everything in my power to keep him "happy" i totally exhausted myself.

on top of being completely overwhelmed by ben, i was equally frustrated with our house. unlike when i was pregnant with ben and simply wasn't home to be bothered by the messes i didn't have the energy to pick up, i was home all day, every day, still with no energy, but also no escape. when i did try to muster the motivation to say, clean the bathroom, i had ben at my side trying to "help" and throwing major fits if i didn't let him. while tim enjoys a tidy house, it rarely occurs to him to clean without my asking him. and it wasn't just cleaning, but also repairs that needed to be made, clutter, yard work, meals, work and money stress-basically, life.

i won't go into more details, but even after max was born and honestly, up until the beginning of this year, our family still really struggled. it was not all constantly "bad", but we definitely had more really hard days than we had "good" days. sometimes we had stretches where it was hard to even remember a good day. sure, most days had good moments, but they were often overshadowed by the rest of the stresses of the day.

at times, tim and i's marriage was under extreme stress.  i often felt that i had to chose between my own needs and those of my boys. i mostly chose the boys, thinking that was the best and again, what it meant to be a good mother, but it was not good for me, my marriage, and thus, our family.  there were times that i actually considered getting in the car and never turning back. times i thought tim and i were done. times i stood in my mom's kitchen crying, trying to describe how it felt like i was drowning and couldn't breathe.

again,  i don't think that my situation was unusual or unique to only me, but for me, it was a very difficult time. i know many of you have endured much more challenging circumstances.

so what does all of this have to do with NFP? good question.

several times in the last year i have had friends and acquaintances comment about how tim and i "are really good at NFP" because max will be four in september and we are still not pregnant with #3. for our group of friends and family, excluding fertility issues, i think that is a record. many couples that we know who got married the same year we did are pregnant with or have already had #4. i realize that's definitely not the norm, but for our microcosm, it is. i don't ever take offense at their comments. we are a close knit group who often share our joys and struggles. and there have been a few "surprise babies" in the last couple years, so i've always felt like i understood what they were saying.

but it makes me think (and we know i'm really good at thinking, and over thinking); what exactly does it mean to be "good" at NFP?

as we all know, there is no one definition. no form that a couple can check all the boxes on to gain a gold star and stamp of approval that says, GOOD NFP CATHOLICS. although we all know this, i think it's easy to fall into the trap of judging other couples that we think we know and know their choices. or even, shamefully, if you're like me, couples you don't know well.  i remember looking around church when ben was a baby, spotting large or quickly growing families, and thinking, "oh, maybe we'll be friends with those people because we are obviously like-minded good catholics." and when max was a baby and i was feeling totally overwhelmed, wondering if we were going to be having a new baby every two or three years for the rest of our fertile years, wondering what could constitute a "grave reason" to avoid pregnancy, i remember looking at other couples who had two kids who were of grade school or middle school age and i assumed they "were done" and was jealous of their peaceful mass experience and how easy their lives obviously were now that they didn't have pesky babies around and could do whatever they wanted. while wanting that control and definite knowledge of the future, i also knew that wasn't what i really wanted, nor was it what was good for our family. but again, goodness gracious i was just so very overwhelmed by our little circus.

i knew better than to judge. i knew families with only a few children who desperately wanted more children but couldn't get pregnant again or sustain pregnancy. not all families that are small are small by choice. i also knew big families that weren't necessary healthy or holy families. i would try to catch myself and redirect my thoughts of jealousy and judgement, but it happened. even more than jealousy at some couples "freedom", i was scared. i knew that i wanted more children, but i couldn't imagine how we would ever be able to handle more responsibility and challenges.

with tim's job change and subsequent challenging work schedule and some financial strain, my own physical and emotional exhaustion, and the demands of our boys, we felt like we had a justified reason to postpone another pregnancy. for a long time we practiced extrememely cautious NFP rules. with tim's work schedule and my issues (husband repelling "grumpiness"), that wasn't particularly difficult, logistics wise, but it was often frustrating. because tim got off work late, was tired from a 10+ hour shift, and to avoid temptation, tim often stayed up playing video games, while i read online and then went to bed by myself, if i wasn't already asleep when he got home. instead of investing time and energy into our relationship and family, or simply and wisely getting more sleep, so that some of our "grave" reasons wouldn't be so grave anymore, we actually perpetuated our problems. not only were we not united physically, but we were also very distant emotionally.

as time has passed, the boys naturally have gotten a little more independent and i've gotten used to tim's crazy, always changing schedule. instead of just talking about (or fighting about) our issues, we've been working more on our relationship and consciously investing more time together when we can. we've both matured and admitted our faults and made efforts to work on the things that we need to work on. because of tim's hard work and my added income from working, we feel much more financially comfortable than we were a year ago. we are still using fertility awareness to avoid pregnancy, but the future of our family and it's size is something that is often on my mind and in my prayers.

do we still have a grave or serious reason to avoid pregnancy? some might argue that we never had a grave reason.


and that's where i stopped. why? because i googled, "grave reason for avoiding pregnancy" or something like it and tortured myself by reading several blog posts and forums about how people abuse nfp and very, very, VERY rarely have a real grave reason to avoid pregnancy. one friar mentioned st. catherine of sienna and her umpteen siblings who lived in a single room, dirt floor hut, and said that if they could get by, we spoiled modern families with our big houses and multiple cars could certainly afford another child. although that one was the most extreme, it certainly messed with my head.

would we have ever gone bankrupt if we had another child? no. we had money in savings. was i just being miserly with our money? was my physical and mental exhaustion (often begging tim to find a new job so he could be home more and crying myself to sleep) a valid reason? tim said yes. crazy mary was not so sure. although i prayed for wisdom for tim and i to make the right decisions for our family, i worried a lot too. what if God wanted to give us an "easy" baby who actually slept at night, but i was too worried thinking about how i was still being woken up at night by my two other non-babies. what if He was trying to give us a gift and we weren't accepting it.

looking back on it, it now seems obvious how ridiculous i was being. and yet, not obvious at the same time. i know God would have given us the strength to get through another pregnancy and tricky baby if we implored His help, and i'm sure that another baby would have been an awesome addition to our family. but i'm thankful for the time that tim and i have had to work through a lot of things, personally and as a couple. i guess there is no right answer, just different answers with different outcomes.

these simcha fisher articles were good food for thought for me: "Why doesn't the Church just make a list?" 
and "NFP, Providentialism, and Future-You"

the couple to couple league had a whole issue of Family Foundations devoted to family size descerment a couple months ago that was incredibly helpful to me and gave me a lot of peace. i have kept up our membership solely for the reason of getting this publication and would encourage anyone, regardless of which nfp method you use, to subscribe.

finally it was a conversation with my mom that really gave me peace. it was a conversation that we actually had twice, but i'm dense and needed to hear it again for it to really sink in. or maybe she prayed for me, knowing my heart was heavy. basically, she said that, no matter how conservative you're being with nfp, if it's God's will for you to have another baby and that if your heart is truly open to His will, He'll take care of things, reminding me of several "tricky babies" of her's and other people who seemed to defy the normal rules of fertility.

so much to pray about.


  1. Some very wise advice i received about discerning God's will: God is not trying to trick you. His will is not a complicated puzzle to be solved. Stay open to his will through prayer and sacramental grace, use your common sense, seek council of prayerful friends/family and it will be made obvious.

  2. Mary- I have a lot of things to say about this post (all positive!!), but I feel weird being all deep and stuff in the comments section. So, for now, I will just say *thank you* for your sincere honesty. Seriously. I was really moved by your words. I am sure they were tough to "put out there," but I have no doubt your struggles are echoed by many well-intentioned souls out there.

    Well done.

  3. Yes, thank you for sharing, Mary. I often feel on the opposite end of the spectrum, like I'm testing God by having more kiddos when we are so poor to begin with! This guilt is made worse when we qualify for "help" through various programs and actually get desperate enough to accept it! There is definitely a fine line that is walked by each family. Many prayers to you!

  4. This post emanates the beauty of sacramental, authentic Catholic marriage, even in its tough times. Thank you for sharing your heart Mary.

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  6. I agree with Sarah, this is such a heartfelt post, I feel weird commenting on it. I too have agonized in the past about those "there are very few real grave reasons for avoiding pregnancy" posts. But really these days I just feel like we own one of those clown cars, where all the kids just keep coming out. And then I strap them on my back, legs and arms to tote them around Target.
    Sounds like you and Tim are in a pretty good place with your NFP decisions, and as long as you are both on the same page and are open to God's will, you are doing the best you can.
    Okay, enough rambling. Really good post. And thanks for the Simcha links :)

  7. I love you, Mary. Congratulations on writing and publishing this post--it means you are at a better place in your life, a place where you can actually write and share about this outside of the moment. You couldn't have written or shared this in the thick of it.
    I was telling Steve that this reminded me of our first few years of marriage and kids. And even the last two years were pretty crazy for me still. I felt a little bad reading through some of this; I wish I could have helped you more and prayed for you and Tim more--I will.
    I relate to the confusion/guilt of the 'grave' reason decision. Like I said on FB, mental health can definitely count either toward or against that! For us, I think this and physical health is weighed more heavily than financial reasons. If we were super rich but my mental/physical state wasn't so super, we'd try to postpone. If we were super poor but I was (somehow) feeling great mentally/physically I'd trust in God's plan for a new baby better. It's 'easy' enough to find financial help when needed but there aren't any 'free good mental health' centers anywhere around.
    I think one way to test how 'grave' a reason is for postponing is to see how seriously the couple uses their NFP or abstains all together during that time. I mean why else would a couple intentionally talk about their cervical mucus and actually decide *not* to engage in the oh-so-wonderful 'marital act'? ;) Or, (more seriously) why else would a good Catholic couple breakdown and (sadly) decide to use contraception/sterilization under misinformed/misguided/desperate pretenses if they didn't feel they had a 'serious' enough reason to postpone another child.
    My point here is just that any reason can be 'grave' depending on who is looking at or who is in the given situation. For the most part, I feel NFP fosters a better conversation about this between the couple and allows 'room for the Holy Spirit" in those conversations.
    Either way, the trick is not only discerning this but also loving your spouse even during these 'grave' times of postponing.

    I will pray for guidance for you and Tim and your family as I hope you'll pray for ours! :)

  8. as always, thank you, for your kind words.