Editor's note: Doctor Joseph Tham has been collecting stories from couples who use natural family planning. He is editing them for a book that narrates couples’ experiences with using the method and the effects it has on their marriages.
One California couple's testimony is excerpted below, as told by the wife. They have been married eight years; he's a dairy farmer, while she's a part-time registered nurse. Names have been changed to preserve the couple's privacy.
When we were engaged, we thought it would be a wise decision to postpone pregnancy when we were married. We did hear of natural family planning from an engaged couple on our Engaged Encounter Weekend. But we knew of no one who actually practiced it.
I had irregular cycles and, being a registered nurse, doubted the effectiveness of the method. So, as a couple, we decided to use one of the leading forms of birth control, the pill. It appeared to be less complicated.
We were seven months married when we decided it was time to start our family. To our surprise, we were unable to conceive. After being on the pill a little over a year and going off it, I had no cycles.
The medical way to get my body to ovu-late was to take low-dose fertility drugs. (With my faith and information I have now, I would have chosen a different route to achieve ovulation.) After taking the fertility drug, we did conceive.
Our first child Mary was born, and she was and is a joy. I had intentions of returning to work part time, but Mary refused to suck from a bottle.
At this point in our lives, we were open to hearing more about natural family planning. We attended one class. We learned about natural family planning and ecological breast-feeding. We decided that I should keep breast-feeding Mary, work minimal hours and leave our fertility to God.
We conceived again at 11 months postpartum. This happy pregnancy was cut short. At 28 weeks, I went into preterm labor; bed rest followed, and a set of twins was delivered at 34 weeks.
Jenny and Martha were a challenge to our faith. They were small and had to learn to nurse. Jenny was born with a severe physical disability to both lower limbs.
With a lot of prayer and support, we made it through some tough times. We were very busy and Jenny needed surgery, so we did not want another child. We dug out The Art of Natural Family Planning (see information box) and read it again. We were sure the Church's teaching against contraception was right, and it was God's will.
My experience with interpreting the signs of fertility was minimal. We conceived our fourth child. We were upset with ourselves, with God and with natural family planning. Comments from family and friends were many and hurtful. My main question was, “How could God let us conceive when we were trying to do his will?”
Well, grace and peace did come. The tears dried up, and the answer to the question came: It was God's will, not ours. All this time, we were praying for our will, assuming it would be God's. We did not realize that God does have total control over all aspects of our lives, including our fertility if we allow him, and that his will may not be the same as ours.
Our third pregnancy was good. Labor was difficult. To our surprise, we had a healthy baby boy born on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He was such a calm and easygoing baby. Jenny learned to walk with her prosthetics that same month. Two great blessings.
Life was even busier. I breast-fed Andrew, but my cycles did eventually return. I also found out I had stage-two cervical dysplasia (abnormal cell growth probable cancer in 5 to 10 years). I now realize that those irregular cycles I had before were due to a nutritional imbalance which was aggravated by the pill, as it depletes the body of certain vitamins. My body needed time to heal physically and mentally.
Tom was doubtful of natural family planning and our ability to abstain. There was a lot of crying and praying. We found it very difficult at this time to allow God's control over our fertility.
Through much prayer, and support from letters from Couple to Couple League members, we decided to try natural family planning again.
This time it was different. We asked the Holy Spirit for wisdom to know the signs God gave my body for the fertile and infertile times, and self-control to abstain as a couple in the fertile time. With God's grace, we succeeded.
We have four beautiful children, and they are blessings from God. At this moment, we are postponing pregnancy, but we know we are doing God's will as we are praying and are open to more children.
We cannot separate making love and making babies. This is God's natural design. We realize that God does have control over our lives, even our fertility, when we allow him ... and that's a good thing.
As a couple, we have grown together physically. We do not take each other for granted, and we have mutual respect for each other. We can talk about anything. We are not bored with each other physically or mentally.
Thus, our lovemaking is not taken for granted either — each time is special, a total giving of each other, and there is spontaneity. This is the time we learn more about each other's thoughts. We have learned that just holding each other and talking is intimacy, and very rewarding.
It is not easy to have self-control sometimes, but this is when we pray to the Holy Spirit for strength. We feel our love for each other is stronger now than on our wedding day.
We have also grown together spiritually. Our faith in God and his Church has grown enormously. We now find time to pray together as a couple and a family.
The greatest blessing we feel is knowing that we continue to glorify God even when we make love to each other, and this brings great peace.
Joseph Tham, is a member of the Legionaries of Christ.------- EXCERPT: One Couple's Experience with Natural Family Planning