An Infertility Story, Part 1: Why NFP?

I spent the month of December writing a huge article on infertility. In the process of contacting and interviewing couples, I realized something: I have never actually addressed infertility on this blog. So I am dedicating this week to a no-holds-barred, lay-it-out-there infertility story. So if this is something you don’t feel like reading about, come back Friday.

But before I describe our journey, I need to give you a little background on our philosophy of life and sexuality, so you can understand why we made the choices we made.

Christian comes from a family that simply took the kids as they came. My mother had a big chart on the back of her bedroom door, with color-coded stickers. But although she kept track of her fertility and taught me some rudimentary fertility awareness (she told me to put a star on my calendar at the beginning of every period), my parents never set out to avoid or achieve pregnancy.

Thus, my husband and I both grew up with an instinct that birth control was not in our future—yes, partly because “The Church says so.” But since we both agreed about it, we didn’t feel a need to dig farther. We just found a class and learned natural family planning.

But over time, that began to change. I’ve come to understand that for all the focus on sex in our culture, people are appallingly ignorant of the process. Having given over understanding our bodies in favor of suppressing a normal, healthy function of the body, modern people instead view fertility as a disease. Ovulation is not some mysterious event that comes out of nowhere, lying in wait to betray a woman from within. It is a result of a complex interplay of hormones that cause daily changes in a woman’s body—far more than “bleeding,” “ovulation” and “PMS,” our cycles follow a pattern that we can read. And that knowledge gives men and women alike a whole new appreciation for each other. Truly, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and practicing NFP really shows it off—monthly, weekly, daily.

Knowing that there are surely skeptics in the house, let me go ahead and address the elephants in the e-room:

  1. NFP doesn’t work. Only it does. The reason most people carry around this humongous piece of bad information is that in most side-by-side comparisons, modern NFP is lumped together with calendar rhythm, which isn’t effective. Like all methods of controlling conception, modern NFP isn’t 100%, but its “perfect use” statistics are the same as hormonal birth control (pill, patch, shots). (Here’s a study from 2007.) Using a condom during the fertile time is what some NFP methods call “achieving-related behavior.” Cheating the rules by a day: ditto. In this day and age, having given over understanding our bodies, we tend to view anything that doesn’t involve direct physical intervention as suspicious, but the fact remains that NFP works. Its user effectiveness is directly proportional to the couple’s motivation to follow the rules. Which leads me to…
  2. NFP takes the spontaneity out sex, and why should we have to abstain anyway? OK, let’s be honest. How often do you have spontaneous sex, anyway? Especially in the post-kid era. Intimacy in family life tends to be planned. And moms who write with kids in the house can vouch that structure increases productivity. What I’m getting at is that the structure of periodic abstinence makes you think about sex in a different way. And because of this, for many couples using NFP leads to more sex, not less.

Okay, so with that out of the way, here’s what I learned in the practice and study of NFP:

Our bodies are the way that we are able to reflect God in the world. It is with our physical beings that we do good or evil, that we build up or tear down the Kingdom. This means that our bodies have an incredible dignity, and that we should use them to reflect God’s love for the world. A good place to start is by respecting the way we were made. In this quickly “green”-ing world, why do we accept that dumping chemicals into our bodies and, by extension, into the waterways, is a good way to plan our families?

And when as I started to see how so many of the world’s problems were interrelated, I realized that the choice to respect the body has far-reaching implications—far more than just the way we space our children and plan family size. But when we hit the topic of infertility, those implications go from high priority to off-the-chart. How many women and men find the infertility process demeaning, disrespectful, and demoralizing? And why do we just accept that this is the way it has to be?

I’m oversimplifying here; this series of insights unfolded over the course of our infertility journey—and there’s much more to it. But I include it here to lay the groundwork for the rest. And since I’m already far too wordy, I leave off until tomorrow, when I’ll actually start talking about what happened when we started trying to get pregnant.

For Part 2, click here.
For Part 3, click here.
For Part 4, click here.