Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I'm Not Afraid of My Fertility (Anymore)

I used to have it all planned out - I'd get married right out of college and have kids right away, reaching the magic number of 4 kids (considered a "big" family these days) by the time I was 30 so that my future husband and I could have time to travel and enjoy our retirement once they had all moved out.

So young. So materialistic.
Then I got married to a man starting his 2nd year of law school, and we decided that kids right off the bat just didn't make sense because we'd be so poor - 2 years seemed an appropriate time to wait to have kids, give ourselves time to "enjoy being newlyweds" (ohhh how many times do I hear that phrase and chuckle inwardly now?), and find some stability.  A job, a house with a yard, and then babies.  It's what we're taught is the logical progression of things, right?

Our timing. Our convenience.
Being a good Catholic couple, we learned NFP, started charting months before the wedding, and figured out which days we needed to be abstinent to postpone pregnancy for now.  Being an excited newlywed couple, we played with fire and got closer and closer to the "danger zone" that is the fertile window in a woman's cycle, and, not surprisingly, wound up pregnant 4 months into our marriage.

NFP didn't fail us - we broke the rules.  That much was clear!  We managed, had an awesome baby, and ended up having #2 when the first was about 18 months old.  Cool.  Our timing - we knew exactly what we were doing and were actually trying for a baby this time.  And maybe now we'd aim for more like 6 kids?  We'll see.

We wanted to aim for a little more spacing between #2 and #3, so I was definitely anxious about when exactly my cycles would return...  Exclusively breastfeeding and co-sleeping work well for us though, and I wasn't fertile again until she was over a year old.  A month later, we decided to go for it and try for #3.  Goodness, but it was easy enough for us to use our knowledge of NFP to achieve pregnancy!  High five to us!  And #3 would be a breeze - we already had a boy and a girl, this wasn't exactly new territory.

Oh, how cocky I was.

If you've been reading here for a while, you've probably read the story of how we found out we were expecting twins.

2 weeks before we went from a family of 4 to a family of 6.
And you can probably imagine that at this point I was rather terrified of just how many kids we were probably going to end up having.  We had #1 when I was 23.  #2 when I was 24.  #3 when I was 26, and 11 minutes later #4 was born (clearly we had to work a little on that spacing!).  You can imagine all the Duggar jokes were flowing!

So at this rate, by the time I was 43, we'd have at least 20 kids.

I was done.  I told my middle school students when they asked, "We are DONE!" (not my finest moment)

Andrew reminded me that that's not our decision to make, AND that it's not exactly a decision that should be made say, the day you find out at 30 weeks pregnant that you're actually having twins...

And lucky for my sanity, the whole co-sleeping and breastfeeding thing worked out again because my cycles didn't return until the twins were 14 months old.  But that fear was there still - if we got pregnant now, would we end up with twins again?  HOW in the world would I manage another set of twins when the first was so hard?  Would we EVER have a low-maintenance child?  I was scared, miserable, and terrified of getting pregnant again.  I told Andrew, sobbing, that I just didn't think we could do it right now.  I was so, so, SO scared.

And then, I don't even know what happened (well, prayer and a whole lot of grace, that's for sure).  Within the next month the anxiety was gone (although the fear of another set of twins stayed until that 20-week ultrasound...), and I felt like God was really calling us to pursue another pregnancy.

Well on our way to becoming a family of 7 - 11 weeks pregnant? 

And that's the beauty of NFP, see?  One month in the past 5 years we have made the decision to abstain in order not to conceive.  Because even though I wasn't charting, I knew my fertile signs (which have gotten clearer and clearer throughout the years, HELLO ovulation pain!) and was educated enough about my body that I didn't have to live in fear of a pregnancy that wasn't in our timing.  But even if it HADN'T been in our timing, God knows better.  

Somehow my heart has been softened - I'm no longer counting down my fertile years, fearfully anticipating just how large of a van we're going to need by the time I'm 40...  At this point?  I think it's likely we'll have somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 kids.  And it really helps to see real life moms who have done it (my grandmother and my aunt among those), and real life moms who would give anything for a house full of children but have been blessed with none, or one, or any number fewer than what their heart longs for.  Children are not a commodity, nor are they a burden, and our culture of convenience seems to have convinced us that they are both.

Because NFP isn't about a set number of children, or having the most babies ever, or having each baby exactly two years apart, or comparing your grave reasons for abstaining to your neighbor's grave reasons, or getting cranky at EVERYONE who has ever scribbled temperatures on a chart because they're interfering with God's plan.  It's about being open to the children God chooses to bless you with, and not putting any artificial barriers between your marriage and Him.

And in the process, you just might find you're not quite as terrified as being "that huge family" as you used to be.

I know that there are many, MANY families for whom NFP is a true cross, due to cycles that are difficult to interpret, postpartum craziness, etc.  I hope you'll join me in praying for all those families who are faithful to church teaching even when it would be "easier" just to resort to artificial means.

If you, like me, have been terrified of just how "fast and furious" these blessings have been piling up, please know that it gets easier, and it gets better, and that sometimes all we can really do is trust and pray!
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