I always thought I’d have a big family.
I come from a family of seven, and most of my cousins come from families of five to eight. My mom and dad had seven and nine siblings respectively. I loved having a big family, especially being so close to my sister, only seventeen months younger than me.
Now, at the age of 28, with one child who was a long time coming and now battling secondary infertility, I’m wrestling to come to terms with the fact that I will not likely have a lot of kids.
And I keep coming back to this: I just wish I had known about natural family planning (NFP) earlier.
* * *
Growing up between the crossroads of Mennonite and Evangelical culture, of course I learned the One Rule of Sex: Don’t Do it Until You’re Married.
That was basically the extent of my sex education from a faith perspective. Beyond that, there was little guidance offered. Once you’re married, enjoy! Sex is God’s wedding gift to you, et cetera.
Then there was my sex education from the secular perspective: have sex responsibly – use contraception. And my faith community shrugged and said, “Yup – good idea. If you don’t want too many babies (and you definitely don’t want them within the first year!), use contraception. Within marriage, of course.”
In fact, at my church’s marriage preparation retreat, when one girl asked about contraception, the pastor’s wife told her, “Well, the Pill works well. Condoms too. We’ve used both.” The End.
There was no mention of a safe, natural, and effective alternative. No one ever suggested that contraception might be problematic in regards to one’s physical, marital, or spiritual health.
When it came to my menstrual cycle, I was taught that once a month you bled and felt like crap. My mom taught me how to use disposable pads and which medications were best for treating cramps.Menstruation was a 5-7 day event involving bleeding, bloating, and misery. It was our curse. It sucked, but there was no way around it.
With this knowledge, once I got engaged I did what any self-respecting Western woman would do: I went on the Pill. I was still in school; I didn’t want to have babies. Not yet. I had some medical coverage through the university, which covered most of the cost, so that wasn’t an issue. Besides, I’d always struggled with acne. A lot of women found that their acne improved when they went on the Pill. Win-win. In fact, there were even more perks to it: on the Pill, my menstrual cramps got less severe and my double-A-sized boobs got bigger. So, win-win-win-win.
Finally, five years later, I was ready to start having babies. I was 25 years old. I was ready to becoming a mother, and I wanted it with all that was in me.
I did what any normal Western woman would do: I stopped taking the Pill. And I waited.
A year went by. A tumultuous, frightening, heartbreaking year. No babies. I took pregnancy test after pregnancy test. Nothing. I had no idea what was wrong, or what was wrong with my body.
Meanwhile, my skin erupted in acne worse than anything I’d seen since puberty. It covered my face, neck, back, and chest. I wore turtlenecks throughout the summer and avoided swimming. My cramps came back with a vengeance – they were so debilitating, I had to take a day or two off work each month to just lay on the couch and moan.
My friends started having babies. For them, it happened the minute they even began considering having babies – for many, much sooner.
I sank into intense depression. I felt helpless and alone, and I hated my body.
Then, by the grace of God, I got to know a few Catholic bloggers online. And they were going on about this great thing called natural family planning (NFP). They said it was so awesome because it strengthened their marriage; was natural and healthy; it affirmed and celebrated female fertility; and it could be used to avoid OR achieve pregnancy.
I was captivated. I had to learn about this.
I learned and I learned and I learned.
I found out that the menstruation is not an event; rather, it’s part of a month-long cycle. I learned that a woman was typically only fertile for a couple of days a month, and you could pinpoint those days and time sex accordingly if you wanted to avoid or achieve pregnancy. Huh.
I learned the disturbing history of the Pill, and that it wasn’t simply an innocuous tool that enabled you to control your destiny. It was, in fact, a Group-I carcinogen that wreaked havoc on your hormones (and thus your overall health). It didn’t cure acne or cramps — it acted as a band-aid to cover up symptoms so you could forget about the underlying causes.
I learned about my own body. I started charting, and I learned how to read the signs and determined that I was low in progesterone – a common consequence of taking oral contraceptives. My body had probably been leached of B-vitamins from all those years on the Pill, crippling my body’s ability to regulate hormone levels on its own.
More months went by. I learned about NaPro Technology – a scientific but Catholic-based approach to addressing fertility problems – one that worked with the information that NFP charting provided.
Aided by all this information, almost two years after I first decided I wanted to become a mother, I finally got pregnant.
* * *
My miracle baby is now well over two years old. I’m getting closer to thirty. We’ve been trying for a second baby for over a year without luck. Thanks to my charts, I can see that I’m dealing with the same problems I was dealing with the first time around. If I ever do get pregnant again, it won’t be happening any time soon.
I always said I wanted at least four kids, and I wanted them to be close in age. I now know that I will be very lucky if I manage to have two, and they definitely won’t be close in age.
I wish I could have known all these things about my body from the start.
I wish I’d never gone on the Pill. There’s a good chance the Pill was at least partly responsible for my two years of infertility. If not that, it certainly prevented me from being aware of the problems so that I could address them much sooner.
I wish I could have started having babies as soon as I’d graduated from university. Then I wouldn’t be so anxious about the fact that it’s taking a little longer than expected for the second one. I’d have plenty of time.
Life as a stay-at-home mom is blowing my mind every day. I’ve finally found my calling. I discovered myself in motherhood. I wish I had started this life sooner.
If I would have known about NFP from the start, by the time I was emotionally ready to have kids I would already have known whether my body needed treatment. I wouldn’t have lost those precious years to turmoil and confusion.
I regret those years of needless ignorance, bewilderment, and grief.
Of course, regretting the past is useless. I love my life — even with only one delightful child — and I’ve been blessed with an amazing little family. The only way to move is forward.
I want to use my experience to improve other women’s lives. I want girls to know from the beginning how their beautiful bodies work. I want them to get the whole picture – not just one tiny segment of it.
I want girls and women to be able to appreciate and honour their bodies, and not feel like their bodies are diseased, that their fertility must be suppressed and managed with drugs. I want women to be aware of all the options available to them when they get involved in sexual relationships.
I want to start with my own daughter. As she gets older, I intend to explain how her body works, and give her the whole story: how her body will acquire a cyclical rhythm, like the cycle of the moon. Every month her body will prepare to create new life, full of abundance; and if the time for new life hasn’t arrived, then her body will release old energy and make space for what is to come. Every phase is important and beautiful and good.
Her body is beautifully and wonderfully made.
I wish I had known this from the start.
Photos by Doug8888 via Flickr.