Sunday, July 31, 2016

NFP as a Mama of Three

It's the end of NFP Awareness Week, so I'm going to throw in a few cents as a mama with three kids under three.

Natural Family Planning is getting to know the woman's fertility through various means (mucus, hormone monitor, basal thermometer, etc.) and then, making a decision about when to have sex in order to avoid, conceive or whatever. This is called TTA (trying to avoid), TTC (trying to conceive) and TTW (trying to whatever).

We have a child from each of these. Grace was a TTW - we were open to having a baby, and based on where I was in my cycle, we had a 5 percent chance of conceiving. Laura was TTC - we wanted to have another baby close to Grace. Stephen was TTA - the postpartum method we were using was not successful, and his conception was considered a method failure. This does not mean that NFP = children even when you are avoiding. Plenty of people successfully avoid using the same method. To me, this means that God wanted Stephen in our lives. I cannot imagine life without this chunky monkey. Practically, I also changed how I track my fertility postpartum!

This time around, I started charting with my teacher before my 56 days were up. After a lady has a baby, she is definitely infertile for the first 56 days. After that, even if you are breastfeeding, your fertility can come back (as we learned) before the usual six months. It is unusual, but it does happen.

We are currently using the Marquette method and working closely with a wonderful teacher as we navigate the postpartum period. Since I do not have any health problems we have to work around, this is the easiest method for us. Every morning, I pee on a stick (we buy with Amazon's subscribe and save - a steal! Especially with five or more items, you get a 15 percent discount) and my ClearBlue monitor (Also on sale with Prime currently) tells me if my fertility is low, high, or peak.

From the Marquette website:
The Marquette Model (MM) system of NFP brings 21st century technology to NFP by using the ClearBlue Easy Fertility Monitor, a device used at home which measures hormone levels in urine to estimate the beginning and end of the time of fertility in a women's menstrual cycle. The information from the monitor can be used in conjunction with observations of cervical mucus, basal body temperature, or other biological indicators of fertility. The MM was developed by professional nurses and physicians at Marquette University in the late 1990s. A recent (2007) study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing demonstrated a 97-98% efficacy of the MM in avoiding pregnancy when taught by a qualified teacher and correctly applied.
There is more protocol in terms of how many days one should avoid post-peak, and postpartum pre-peak vs. postpartum post-peak, but that is not what this post is about. This post is about why Will and I choose NFP over other methods.

The easiest place to start is our faith. We're Roman Catholic, and as part of our Christian faith, we practice total fidelity. We do not use artificial contraception. The Church does not require us to use NFP, but it does advocate responsible parenthood. "Be fruitful and multiple" does not mean have more children than your sanity, bank account and body can handle. The Church's teaching must be seen through the eyes of total love; it is for communion of body and soul, not a separation.

That being said, NFP is not a Catholic-only method. I know many non-Catholics who use it. Leah Libresco, a Catholic convert from atheism, recently wrote on learning NFP while engaged. She recommends Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which teaches FAM - Fertility Awareness Method, or NFP + barrier methods during avoiding times. TCOYF is the definitive text for learning about one's fertility, reproductive health and charting. This is not only for married folk - charting is the best way to understand how your body is working, and learning to recognize  and interpret changes.

Next, is science. Unlike the popular myth that all NFP methods are the same (or the rhythm method), a woman's fertility is unique and scientists like those at Marquette University, or Dr. Hilgers with his Creighton method, are actively studying women's fertility and have proven, peer-reviewed methods of helping women avoid and achieve pregnancy when practiced correctly. I say "correctly" because this is the danger of NFP - a woman can get pregnant. But this happens to people using birth control methods as well, so I'm nonplussed about this part. I truly think that NFP is as valid a method to avoid and achieve, with the bonus of *knowing* one's fertility (no more guesswork!) and creating an incredible bond with your spouse.

We use the Kindara app to chart - so well organized and a beautiful design. I love that I can add-in more information than what is provided already too.

Finally: love. There is nothing more trust-building than two spouses on board with fertility planning. The husband is equally as involved as his wife; he carries responsibility as she does. This is not always easy. Will and I did not pick NFP because we enjoy this challenge; but is it worth it? Absolutely. We practice fidelity to one another; open communication; incredible vulnerability; respect and acceptance of the total person; value and honor for God's design; true self-sacrifice. The benefits, for us, outweigh the fear.

True love must know sacrifice. This is why our wedding vows speak of leaving our mother and father and joining to our spouse. The current statistics on divorce is about 50 percent**, which is terrifying. NFP users have a lower rate - hovering around 9.5 percent. Having sex is not just for creating a child. It's also for bonding! But the accountability and responsibility is still there, and we take that seriously.

It's hard to be pregnant. It might not seem that way, especially coming from someone who has had three successful pregnancies in three years. We were open to that. We were open to that challenge. I would not recommend this path to most people, but we feel very blessed to have our three children and be in a position to care for them. It should not, however, and is not to be taken for granted. People love asking if we're done now that we've had our boy. Hopefully not! Will and I are still discerning, as is part of our marriage.

"Which Method of NFP Is Right For Me?" quiz


I love strolling down memory lane. I love thinking about all the walks we went on while dating and engaged; hiking and talking about Big, Philosophical questions and telling stories and discussing what we wanted in life. Will and I decided that we wanted to spend our lives together - eating and grocery shopping; chores and cleaning up after little people; in good times and in bad; in morning sickness and in health. I thought I loved Will when we got engaged, and even more when we got married. And I did. I love him even more now. Be assured that marriage is hard for us too, and NFP is harder. There is a lot of dying to self. NFP strips away the pretension and the pride, and leaves us to face our own reality. Each NFP experience is unique, and I like knowing that it is part of our love story. It's anecdotal evidence, but in the search for fullness of the human experience, what else is there?

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** EDIT: A friend sent me this article, which says that divorce rate is well below 50 now and that this statistic is incorrect. Happy to hear!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Yes You Can, Fellow Human

At the end of May, we passed the two year anniversary of Grace's diagnosis. Last Tuesday, Grace had eye surgery. Today, I made two more appointments with specialists after two therapies. I'm going to be the first to admit that keeping up with Grace needs a lot of planning and coffee. She's doing awesome overall, and of course, needs some tweaking too with all the growing up. (That's where the specialists come in, for the fine tuning.)

A few hours post-op
Grace is constantly changing. Every week in therapy, I have something new to discuss with her six therapists. Her language is exploding - this is especially exciting since her stroke was in a language center, and we didn't know how she'd be affected or what the symptoms would be. Speech therapy is an amazing resource. On Wednesday, we have a transition meeting where she'll be evaluated for what her state-provided therapies will be once she turns 3 years old. It's exciting and nerve-wracking.

I was talking to my best friend about Grace, and we talked about Grace's diagnosis. It's part of her, but it's a complicated relationship. Most days I'm fine; other days, I feel overwhelmed. I try to avoid talking about future Grace - there's too many unknowns. I remember being in an appointment with the neurologist, and she told me Grace would never use her right hand normally. I was really taken aback - for me, as long as we did the therapies, Grace would get better, right? Well, the hand is a complex blah blah blah. One of her occupational therapists provided a more optimistic viewpoint, with the consideration that we just don't know. I find a lot of comfort in not knowing. It's the reason I try harder every day. Every day, you see, is a glimpse of the ultimate triumph. God has given me this little girl to cherish, love and teach.

Motherhood is a very emotional journey. When I write, I only write of my own experiences. I cannot testify to anything else. There are a few very distinct memories from Grace's first year which I carry with me: when they first handed her to me; when they first woke me up to feed her and I was still deliriously tired from labor; looking at her MRI scan. No one can love Grace more than me, and I take that responsibility very seriously. It helps me keep my patience; it helps me apologize when I don't; and it lets me indulge her a little more than others would. The same goes for Laura and Stephen. Sometimes just holding them feels like our moment in eternity.

Grace isn't neuro-typical, like her two siblings. And that's okay. Everyone has trials in life. Grace's trials will be many, and she has an amazing support system on both sides of the family, as well as friends, therapists and doctors who love her. That alone can sustain a person.

So can possibility...

{chills, right?!}

I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —

Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of Eye —
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky —

Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation — This —
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise —

by Emily Dickinson 

Grace has limits physically. We're working on those. A good attitude and perseverance is the best asset in life. A life centered on Christ; a live given to others and served in love. These are the things the world needs. 

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