21 July 2015

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

When I was 23 or 24 years old and single, I went to a new gynecologist for an annual exam. She asked me the standard questions to get my history, and when she asked about my sexual activity I told her I was abstinent. She said, "Good for you. There is too much out there to catch."

Cleanliness was only the secondary reason for my abstinence.

The hierarchy was:
1) My deeply-held belief in the sacred nature of sexual union, and the fact that I did not yet have a husband;
2) My unwillingness to catch something that might stick around forever and/or compromise my future fertility; and
3) My unwillingness to bring a baby into the world without the proven benefit of a married mother and father.

We went on with the appointment and discussed some issues I had, specifically that my cycles were irregular and extremely painful. She didn't seem to be overly concerned, but she ordered some blood work and sent me to a radiology center to have a pelvic ultrasound. My results, it was reported, were normal.

In the following year or so, I met my now-husband and we got engaged. At my next appointment with the same gynecologist, again for an annual exam, I answered the sexual activity question in the same manner, and then later she noticed my engagement ring. She congratulated me and then said, "When you're married, what do you intend to do about birth control?" I said, "We're not using birth control, but instead we're going to learn NFP. We're practicing Catholics."

And she laughed.

She laughed in my face and said, "With your irregular cycles, that is not going to work for you."

Then she saw my stony face. She shrugged and told me she'd see me six weeks or so after the wedding to confirm my pregnancy. As if it were a threat.

I went home and Googled "pro-life ob/gyn Northern Virginia" and found out that Tepeyac Family Center, one of the largest pro-life practices in the country, was less than five miles from my fiancĂ©'s condo, which we would be sharing after our wedding. Even though I had just had an annual exam, I made an appointment.

The receptionist told me, "We are a pro-life practice and do not prescribe birth control, nor do we perform sterilizations." I said, "That's why I called."

I had lost all confidence in my old gynecologist. When she laughed in the face of my deeply-held religious convictions, I realized she wasn't to be trusted about anything else, either. I had my doubts about the results of my tests the previous year and wanted them to be run again.

Lo and behold, when the blood tests were run again, this time by a doctor who cared about the actual mechanisms by which fertility functions, the results were clear: I had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). As I had suspected, my irregularity and pain were not normal, but were symptoms of an underlying pathology. The original gynecologist, in her astounding ignorance about the actual mechanisms at work in her chosen specialty, had seen the same severely out-of-whack hormone numbers and decided they were irrelevant.

The non-birth-control-pill medication protocol for PCOS turned out to be effective enough at sloooooowly bringing my hormones back in line without flipping the switch on my fertility to OFF; unfortunately I couldn't tolerate the medicine and had to stop taking it.

Soon enough I was married. My new husband and I learned the Creighton Method of NFP with the help of a retired OB/Gyn (the simpler Sympto-Thermal method is less effective when pathology exists). I took waaaaay too many negative pregnancy tests when my charts were unclear -- or more likely: my charts were clear but I didn't want to believe it. I endured all the delightful side-effects from fertility medications, especially as the doses were slowly increased to levels that made the pharmacist do a double-take. Between the Creighton lessons, the wasted pregnancy tests and the fertility medication my insurance refused to cover, it cost us a small fortune, all told.

I cried to my mother about the injustice of growing up in a large, endlessly and effortlessly fertile family and not being able to conceive, when I had been so careful to avoid compromising myself. I cried whenever I so much as thought about abortion -- what a personal insult it was to know women were throwing away something I wanted so badly! I tried to smile and make jokes when everyone I had ever known in high school and college, who knew about my commitment to my virginity, asked me constantly whether I was pregnant yet.

After three years or so, still not pregnant, I insisted on laparoscopic surgery to investigate the possibility that I also had endometriosis. On December 1, 2011, I had the surgery, which did indeed reveal (and remediate) endometriosis. I kept using Clomid. And in February 2012, I discovered I was at long last pregnant.

It never would have happened without NFP.

Without NFP, I would probably have wasted years on the Pill, convinced that I didn't want to be pregnant yet anyway. Without all that meticulous, excruciating charting, I never would have discovered that I was borderline anovulatory. I would not have been able to point to charted proof that the Clomid was working and I was now regularly ovulating but still not conceiving, thus sending me on the search for a further answer. I would not have been able to get pregnant almost immediately once the barrier of endometriosis was removed because my charts told me exactly what to do.

Most people writing about NFP awareness are writing about how it helped them space their pregnancies, or how they don't use it to space pregnancies but like knowing that they could, or how they support it but hate it personally. Everyone writing about NFP awareness mentions how good it was for their marriage.

Those aren't my experiences.

Infertility is a huge burden and it can be extremely hard on a marriage. The senses of inadequacy and helplessness, the depression that accompanies the arrival of every period, the feeling that sex has lost all fun and spontaneity: these things are real and they are heavy. Because our marriage was basically born into the crucible of infertility, we never had the chance to consider the benefit of using natural methods to space pregnancies.

This is the cross that God gave my husband and I to bear. We struggled to remind ourselves that faith in God includes having faith in His timing. We got a baby when He said it was time; we had to learn patience and forbearance and selflessness. I'm still learning to have patience and forbearance and be selfless.

But here's the reality of the situation: whether you feel burdened by your fertility because you have eight kids under the age of 11, or whether you are suffering because you just want a baby, natural family planning is a gift. Doctors who care about how your body is actually working or not working are a gift. My children are a gift. 

And thanks be to God for those gifts.


  1. What a wonderful post! God bless you and your beautiful family!

    1. Thank you! And thanks for stopping by. :)

  2. I, too, have had irregular everything since puberty, with the occasional side-effect of debilitating cramps and random stabby pain. Every doctor I saw was just like "Here, have some pills." Uh ... no. Compounding the problem was that I was in the military so I didn't really have an option as far as which doctor I saw. Finally I gave in and it actually has been super helpful, but the downside is that now I would like to switch to NFP (setting aside the issue of my husband not being open to NFP) but my body is creating bad charting data and will continue to create bad charting data until everything flushes out of my system.

    So the other issue with birth control is that once you are on it, there's really no convenient time or way to stop. Good for you for figuring out NFP instead.

    1. If I'm being totally honest, at the beginning of my journey I was kind of stoked when I thought I would be given birth control pills for a reason of medical necessity, and then get to enjoy being married for a while without "worrying about" getting pregnant. And I *could* have been on the Pill, without needing to confess it, because it is a genuine therapy for the pathology involved.

      But once again, God knew better! He led me to doctors who knew a better way, and the knowledge that getting pregnant probably wouldn't be as easy as I thought led me to realize that I didn't want to put it off as much as I thought.

      Best of luck to you in figuring it out! You have my prayers!

    2. Thanks for your prayers! I can certainly use them!

  3. Thank you so much for this! I had a similar experience with an OB/GYN when I was engaged and she flat out insulted me. Never went back! Lately I have been thinking about my pre marriage days when I went to the OB/GYN for insane cramps (I was starting to black out from the pain) and she 1) didn't believe me at first when I said I wasn't sexually active and 2) put me on pills which I got off of a few months later. Looking back at the signs I probably had mild endometriosis just like my mom did, but regular doctors don't seem to really look into it much. NFP completely saved my 3rd child. I knew I was pregnant at 4 weeks because something was off. My pro-life doctor had me come in immediately and checked my hormones and I was thisclose to miscarrying. Started progesterone shots that day for 12 weeks and gave birth to a giant love bug 8 months later. It was HARD but knowing that she wouldn't have been here had I gone to a regular doctor or ignored my charts is so sad and scary.

    1. Oh my gosh, my gynecologist in college didn't believe me when I said I was a virgin either! Two nurses and the doctor asked me twice each, and one of the nurses even thought she could trick me with, "That's a pretty ring. Did your boyfriend give it to you?" Finally I said, "I'm 20 years old, my parents aren't here, and everyone else in the world is having sex. What POSSIBLE motivation could I have to lie to you?"

      I had to have progesterone with my first pregnancy too -- and I wouldn't have had reason to get tested if not for pro-life doctors who were up-to-date on my charts and foresaw a potential issue.

      We always have to be our own advocates when it comes to medical issues, but never moreso than when dealing with an OB/Gyn who hasn't bothered to learn any of this stuff! It's scary!

    2. Isn't that so insulting? The implication being, "I'm so stupid that I'm going to lie about my sexual activity to someone who actually has a medical reason to know."

      I hated that. I also hated the condescending attitudes when they kept asking me, "Are you on the pill? Do you want to be? Are you sure? Come on now, I know you want to - just think about it for a minute and you'll see that this is really the only way to go." And that was just the intake nurse! When the doctor came in it was a whole 'nother round of the same thing.

    3. I admit I was insulted when the doctor laughed in my face, but I don't usually get insulted about that sort of thing; it's not the only way in which Catholics are counter-cultural and I'm certainly not sorry to be counter-cultural, given the state of the culture.

      It's my understanding -- I forget where I heard this, but it certainly stands to reason -- that none of this stuff is taught in medical school because there's no money in it. NFP is cheap, whereas birth control pills taken daily for 20+ years of a fertile life is not. It explains why my original doctor thought I was talking about the rhythm method, a.k.a. "Vatican Roulette." Sheer ignorance.

  4. Colleen, thanks for sharing your perspective. I too am so immensely thankful for CrMS and NaPro. After many years of treatment I am finally feeling healthy and am healthy. Praise be to God! We are hoping and praying soon we will have a positive home pregnancy test.

    1. I'm so glad you're feeling well! We pray every night with our daughter for all couples facing infertility, and I hope your burden is soon lifted.