As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In honour of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

It's Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week, and that has me reflecting on my own family life, and the conversion process that continues to take place after eight pregnancies, six babies, and ten years of marriage.

I've often said that when I exchanged vows with my husband on our wedding day and promised to be "open to life", I didn't really know what that meant.  I always have identified myself as pro-life, but NFP really is a conversion process.  Like many couples, our circumstances were less than ideal to have a baby when we first got married (or so we thought).  My new husband had two more years of school, and so we had prudently decided to postpone a pregnancy until he was finished, so that I could work and we would not be left with maternity leave benefits as our sole source of income.  And so we set about not conceiving - the church-approved way.

Of course we did conceive.  I think possibly on our honeymoon.  And while it had not been our initial plan, we were both thrilled.  Being newlyweds and having a new baby is so very exciting, and we were too caught up in the whirlwind of it all to be any less than happy.  Next time though, we'd do it better.  We'd pay more attention, be more cautious, and watch those charts.  We wouldn't make another mistake.

But NFP is more than just a series of charts that is the Church's alternative to contraception.  It involves the whole person, the whole relationship, self-discipline, and choosing to love each other and potential new life above all.  But the temptation is there to think that because we have all this knowledge of our biology and how it works, now we can control perfectly our family size.  And so when our second child was conceived nine months after the birth of our first, we felt like we had made a mistake.  How could this have happened so soon?  How could we have been so careless?  As time went on we accepted the new pregnancy and became happy about it, but still felt slightly embarassed about telling our friends (especially non-Catholic ones) that we were pregnant again.

And then that pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 12 weeks.  It was such a perplexing feeling of losing something you initially felt sad about, and had not really had a chance to know.  At so young although I had known the life was there, I didn't feel it within me.  I am so grateful for the gift of my oldest son, who really got us through that experience, and for the gift of that little baby, who we named John Paul, that paved the way for us to intentionally conceive our third child.

I should mention that I was working outside the home until my fifth son was born, and that added a whole new dimension of openess (or lack thereof) to my discernment of babies.  I always had a number in mind of how long I needed to be back to work, not just for EI hours (which to be truthful, I didn't want to consider, because I never intended to be that woman who was only working to build up maternity leave hours) but for my own image on the job.  I always dedicated myself as much as I could, and wanted to work with such integrity that my employers and coworkers could not ever be tempted to think I was using the job to pay for my babies.  But I experienced a whole new level of relief when my sixth child was conceived after I was home for good, because there wasn't that same kind of pressure to delay pregnancy for anyone else.

I've had people tease me about NFP, and say things like, "why would you ask them about it, they can't do it."  And I've heard people say things like, "we're doing NFP but it didn't work, because we conceived when we didn't intend to."  But as I look back on my life, on the four of my six children coceived when we were trying to postpone pregnancy, I realize that NFP was working exactly the way it was meant.  Because NFP is not a means of preventing pregnancy.  It is a means of making a decision as a couple, discerning, praying, and coming before the Lord saying, "okay God, here's what we think, and what we're working towards, but we're open to being lead in a different direction if we're wrong."  It is evidence that God does indeed step into our lives if we allow Him to, and correct us if our will differs from His.  And oh, what a joyful correction it is!  If only all of our mistaken ideas could be so generously corrected.  Because when I look back, there is not one of those babies conceived at a time when I was certain I "couldn't have a baby" that I really couldn't have had.  Not even my first, born while my husband still had one year of school to finish when we lived off of our maternity leave benefits and his student line of credit.  God sees the bigger picture, and if we allow Him to have dominion in our lives, He will reward us many times over.

So to anyone who has ever felt that NFP didn't work for you, or felt bad or embarassed that you "made a mistake", I say - kudos to you, for laying down your life and allowing God to do what many couples are so afraid of allowing Him to do.  You have your reward, and God will bring you many blessings.  You are a sign to the whole world that NFP does indeed work exactly as it should.

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