July 25-31 is NFP Awareness Week. This post from contributor Sarah offers a personal perspective on using NFP while experiencing infertility.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a complicated discussion. My experience of it is complicated too. Given that I have a natural, holistic view of medicine, my perspective on NFP sometimes comes as a surprise to others. I do appreciate the way it empowers us as women to truly understand our bodies. But I also have, at times, struggled with balancing the practice of NFP with the necessity of leaving the outcome in God’s control. I know I’m not alone in this.
NFP is a great tool to better understand the health of my body. Without getting too science-y here, learning to read the signs my body sends every month is hugely important in understanding and assessing my overall health. In fact, a woman’s menstrual cycle has been called the fifth vital sign (the other four being blood temperature, blood pressure, pulse or heart rate, and breathing or respiratory rate). Charting and taking notes on the presence of headaches, the color of menstrual blood, and PMS symptoms such as irritability or abdominal bloating (to name a few things) throughout a menstrual cycle provide key insights about my overall health. For example, a shorter luteal phase often indicates that the body is not producing enough progesterone, which makes it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant as the uterine lining does not fully or properly develop. This type of condition can be identified by charting with NFP, and then a plan to boost progesterone production could be discussed with a doctor. These aspects of NFP are a great help to many women and couples.
In all honesty, though, I have a harder time using NFP for scheduling intimacy in my marriage with my husband. Especially given the duration of our experience with infertility (going on five years), I worry that having to time sex month after month could cause some conflict in our marriage. I am concerned that the joy, beauty, and our unity as spouses, which are all key factors of the marital embrace, could be diminished if we adopted a “gotta’ go now!” mindset in this way. If scheduling intimacy is part of how you use NFP right now, please know I am not condemning or judging you for that. God gave us the cycles and rhythms of our bodies, and the Church invites us to cooperate with His design by observing and acting within these cycles. I recognize that this aspect of NFP is a great blessing to many couples. For now, this is not something we choose to utilize in our marriage, but that may change in the future as we continue to allow God to lead us on this journey through NFP and infertility.
I think the essential point we all must consider, especially when using NFP, is: where is my heart? Am I allowing God to be in control, or am I trying to force my way? Truthfully, these questions can be quite difficult to pray and work through – they are for me! I believe the fruit of the Holy Spirit I most need to ask for in response to the difficulties of NFP is peace. Is my peace secure – not the feeling of calm, but the genuine virtue of stillness and complete trust in God? If all my efforts are in vain, will I still be confident in my understanding of God as a loving Father? I think it’s important to take these kinds of questions to prayer as I work through the challenges of NFP.
For all of us who are experiencing infertility, let’s ask God to help us find peace in the state of life we are in now. This is akin to a physical trainer cautioning a client to learn contentment with their body prior to losing weight, otherwise there will never be acceptance even after the ideal weight is reached. In the same manner, let’s devote time right now to truly thanking God for this season of waiting. Let’s lean into His peace. This is what a healthy understanding and living out of NFP should impart: peace and even joy in His plans, even when they contradict our own.