I’ve got another NFP power couple to introduce to you today: Kate and Ben Hendricks! I’ve run into Kate here and there online, you might recognize her from Stumbling Toward Sainthood, but in addition, she recently started a podcast with Ben under the umbrella of their site The Holy-ish Hendricks.
What was your longest period of abstinence when TTA (trying to abstain)?
We got engaged in the Spring of 2015 and started taking classes to learn the Creighton method of NFP that Fall. We got married in July 2016.
We have been TTA for the entirety of our marriage for health reasons. Currently, there are a lot of risks for both Kate and the unborn child if we were to conceive.
Kate is a type 1 diabetic. Though she has been working hard at getting her blood sugars better controlled, she is still not quite in the range doctors want her to be. And there are really good reasons to wait. Having a high A1C (a measure of blood sugar over three months) during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, heart or spinal cord defects, premature delivery, preeclampsia, and more. Having a lower A1C reduces these risks.
Early in our marriage, it was frustrating to abstain, but we also knew that we wanted to spend some time strengthening our marriage before we introduced a child. However, it has become much more difficult because we really want to start our family. Practicing NFP is hard enough to begin with, but once the idea of conceiving doesn’t seem as intimidating and your heart longs to start a family, it becomes very difficult. Intellectually, you know why you have to wait, but it’s sad to be avoiding conception when you want to start a family, even if it is the best choice.
The other challenge is Kate’s diabetes can also cause issues on nights we can actually have sex. It is really, really frustrating for both of us to finally reach the end of the day P+4 only to have Kate become hyperglycemic or have had roller-coaster blood sugars all day.
Was there anything that helped you avoid temptation and frustration while TTA?
Kate: For avoiding temptation, I’d say the most important things are prayer and communication with your spouse. I know this is such a typical thing to say, but you really need the grace of God to avoid temptation and to live chastely.
As for communication, setting boundaries is nice, but you also need to be willing to say that you need to stop what you’re doing because what might be no problem one day might be a huge lead-in to temptation.
Ben: I agree with Kate here. On top of rock-solid communication, there must be respect for the other. You may not be tempted in a particular moment, but if your spouse says it’s time to stop, it’s time to stop. No ifs, ands, or buts. Without the respect I have for Kate and the respect she has for me, we wouldn’t be able to trust each other. This would only hurt our marriage, which is contrary to what we’re trying to do by practicing NFP.
Kate: As for avoiding frustration, if you have the answer, please share it with me! I think frustration is inevitable, but that is also true for every marriage. Even if you aren’t practicing NFP, there are going to be nights where you want to have sex and your spouse doesn’t. Or maybe you both do, but you’re not in an appropriate location to do so. I think our best coping mechanism has been humor. I cannot count the number of over-dramatic crying or table-flipping gifs we’ve exchanged to lighten up the mood.
Ben: So many gifs! But in all seriousness, I find bring any frustrations I have to our Lord in prayer. The frustrations seem to diminish from there.
What made you decide to keep charting instead of switching to artificial birth control or complete abstinence?
Kate: The obvious answer is that using artificial birth control to prevent conception is immoral. The answer that holds true even when I’m at my wit’s end when it comes to NFP is I don’t want the side effects from hormonal birth control.
When I was a senior in high school, I started taking birth control pills because I didn’t want my period on a backpacking trip I was going on. I kept taking them because I liked being in control, and didn’t know the risks (health-wise or morally). After I got diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I stopped taking the pills. My concerning thyroid levels went back to normal, and my depression got better. I have multiple chronic illnesses and already have one less organ than most people; I don’t need to add in more health risks when there is a just as effective method at avoiding conception and is much better for us spiritually.
Ben: I obviously don’t chart. That would be odd. However, I would never encourage artificial birth control for the same reasons Kate mentioned.
As a man, practicing NFP with Kate allows me to participate with her in our family planning journey. I’m engaged in an aspect of my wife’s life that most men I know wouldn’t even get near. NFP affords me with intimacy with Kate more so than any artificial birth control and probably even complete abstinence.
Do you have any final advice for couples considering or using NFP?
Kate: I want to encourage women to learn to stand up for themselves and roll with the punches. I’ve gotten plenty of judgmental stares and lectures from medical professionals. One of my doctors said, “well, as long as you’re ok with an unplanned pregnancy…” I’ve had family tell me that they think I’ll get pregnant right away after I got married. I’ve had friends who act like I told them I believe the power of positive thinking is enough to stop a pregnancy. I got into an argument with one of my bridesmaids at my bachelorette party because she was making sarcastic comments about my decision to use NFP once I was married. Usually, I try to use these opportunities to teach people about NFP, but I’ve also learned that some people won’t listen to facts. The misinformation about NFP is so deeply ingrained in people’s minds that nothing you say will change your mind. You can either be bitter about it, or you can turn to your spouse for support and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Practicing NFP when TTA is difficult, but it is worth it. There are times I resent it, but most of the time, I am incredibly grateful for it.
Ben: NFP may seem like a “women’s only” thing. But men, if you love and support your wife and actively engage in whatever method she is using, your love and intimacy with her will grow by leaps and bounds. Your faithfulness, as well as much prayer, will strengthen your marriage and make it last for years.
Like I said: NFP power couple. When I started this project, this was exactly the type of story I was hoping to share with you. The frustrations of using NFP, especially when surrounded by disparaging friends and medical professionals, can get to you, but that doesn’t have to be a source of division for a couple. I really admire how Kate and Ben are able to be honest with each other about their struggles and can help each other navigate them.
NFP won’t be easy for anyone, but faith, love, and a little humor can turn the trials into a very valuable part of the “sweet yoke of harmony” that is marriage.
Check out the previous posts in the “NFP in the Trenches” series, and stay tuned for more to come!