Last Thursday, I introduced this “NFP in the Trenches” series with a promise of real-life stories from the non-poster children of NFP. Today, I’m sharing the first story, from “L & B”. Some of the couples you’ll get to know a bit better, but due to the sensitive nature of the material, some couples, like L & B, have decided to remain anonymous.
“L” is a Ph.D. student in the social science field, and her husband “B” is a military officer. They’ve been married for eight years and began using the symptothermal method of NFP four years ago.
I asked them a few open-ended questions about their experience with NFP, and here’s what L had to say:
What was your longest period of abstinence when TTA (trying to avoid)?
We have been TTA (trying to avoid pregnancy) our entire time using NFP. We have followed all the rules of our method (SymptoPro) to use Phase 1 (through day 6) and Phase 3 days. We have had no pregnancies. We are likely switching soon to TTC, but have been TTA for a variety of reasons. At first, we felt an overall sense of unease and not really being ready emotionally for a baby. My consulting work was demanding a large amount of time, and we lived in a tiny apartment in a high cost of living area. My husband’s ops tempo was also very busy. We were both traveling a lot. Adding the uncertainty of a baby to the mix just didn’t feel quite right. Layered into that, we were making some lifestyle changes to lose about 20-30 pounds each and keep it off. We wanted our health in order.
Maybe 1.5 years into TTA, I think we were finally feeling like we could make the switch, but then my husband was suddenly given an overseas assignment, throwing a real wrench in the plans. We both attended military language school full time for 9 months before this assignment, as we live in a remote location, and language training was essential. Needless to say, school and the overseas move delayed our TTC plans further. There was just too much change going on.
Here overseas, I enrolled in a Ph.D.program and wanted to get on my feet with it before focusing again on possibly making the switch. Even though we have to move again soon, I think we both finally feel stable enough to begin planning for a baby. We are more secure in the uncertainty. We are more secure with the calling to (try to) become parents.
Was there anything that helped you avoid temptation and frustration while TTA?
It has helped me to simply think of avoiding times as a different phase or type of our daily routine. If we have decided we have a reason to avoid, then we avoid. There is no day to day negotiation. I can go about my business knowing that sex is not an option until it’s an option.
Personally, from a coping perspective, I find it far easier to exist completely without something than with the carrot dangling in front of my face. It’s sort of like the lifestyle changes we implemented for our health; if I have a bag of potato chips around, it’s far easier to eat too many of them than when I simply don’t buy a bag at all. To me, NFP success comes from how one frames it mentally. I read recently it might be thought of as “owning” your abstinence, that is, realizing you have chosen it freely and embracing what comes with it.
I can’t say we do anything specific like work out more or do house chores more in order to feel less on edge. For me, avoiding frustration is far more mental. I try to praise my husband a lot during the waiting times and let him know how much I appreciate him being on this journey with me and waiting for me. I try to say thank you a lot. On the other hand, I sometimes do try to mentally find positive aspects to avoidance time. I have to admit, sometimes it’s nice to just crawl into bed at the end of the day with no expectation to do anything other than sleep.
What made you decide to keep charting instead of switching to artificial birth control or complete abstinence?
We have dealt with long cycles (mine range anywhere from 35 to 60 days), deployments and travel schedules often limiting available days. My husband has a joke where he calls my long cycles Lenten cycles because there have been many times we have abstained 40+ days at a time. I think what keeps me going with NFP the most is the knowledge that contraception is a mortal sin, and it is one I was tired of carrying around for so long. The sin aspect was probably what motivated me most to make the switch. I don’t want to risk my soul for birth control pills.
When one really starts thinking about possibilities of damnation (yes, it’s important to use the real, raw, scary terms to understand the gravity of what is at stake), sometimes it makes simply not having sex feel like a small price to pay for such a great good. I am not saying that I don’t fear other mortal sins, but I can say with certainty that it was the most prominent one in my life for a long time, and now that it’s gone, I have much greater ability to think about avoiding venial sin and to expanding other parts of my faith. I need to expend less energy worrying about carrying around such a burden.
As we don’t have any children yet, I can’t say what I might feel if we encounter a very difficult situation in the future, but, the fact that contraception is a grave sin won’t change, and for me, it is useful to keep this gravity in mind when navigating choices in married life.
Do you have any final advice for couples using or considering NFP?
I think one of the most interesting things about the fear of ditching artificial contraception is this idea that “protected” sex somehow feels better, safer or more secure. Personally, I have experienced the exact opposite. Sex with NFP is freer and fuller. I own my choices much more acutely in terms of knowing what consequences they might bring. I know I am finally giving my whole self to my spouse.
Even with my long cycles and weird deployment schedules, we honestly probably have more and better sex than we did with contraception.
With contraception, there is no reason to prioritize sexual intimacy, unlike with NFP. Of course, the scheduling brings its own challenges. Sometimes, it is difficult to have sex in the phase when biologically my body wants it least, and it is difficult to suddenly switch gears from being more like roommates to lovers in one night. But, again, that goes back to prioritization; NFP requires constant work and prioritization of each other to overcome these challenges.
With contraception, it is far easier to simply live with such difficulties as the status quo because there is no time incentive to fix them, unlike with NFP where I might only have 10 to 14 days to prioritize physical intimacy before a months-long dry spell.
But, I would have to say, the biggest change that NFP has brought in my life is that I am beginning to truly understand the concept of sacrificial love. I am finally beginning to realize how marriage is meant to show us an example on Earth of God’s love for us. With NFP, I see my husband’s sacrifice of his physical desires for me. I see every day how much loves me, that he loves my whole self, fertility included, not just my sterile body or genital cavities. NFP has shown me what a great, giving and loving man he truly is, that he can work with me to make decisions about our mutual fertility, own the choices and then bear the consequences of those choices together with me. I can see in my own life how somebody loves me so much, that his body is given up for me. And how much like the Cross is this?
I love L’s encouragement and honesty, and I’m very thankful she shared her perspective, particularly about her switch from artificial birth control, and fortitude through “Lenten cycles”. As the series continues this week, I’ll take a look at why we should start teaching NFP well before engagement, then another couple’s story early next week.
Quick disclaimer on comments: If I see a comment on the blog or any of my social media pages about how any of the people sharing their stories don’t have a good reason to TTA, I will delete your comment quicker than you can say “basal body temperature”. Read this, and this, then keep your judgment private. Muchas gracias, dear readers!!