The following testimony was submitted by LTS member Heather. Heather has been a member of Living The Sacrament since February of this year. She and her husband Nathaniel are in the final stages of teacher training with the Couple to Couple League and are sharing their witness talk with us for NFP Awareness week. Thank you Heather and Nathaniel!
Heather: I was raised to think that birth control was the responsible thing to do before, between, and after your two kids. I was pro-life, but I was terrified of the idea of having a baby at the “wrong time.” In college, I was introduced to the Catholic Church and her teaching on contraception. It made me really angry at the time. It sounded like an irresponsible, stifling, sexless idea. But I kept exploring and found that it could be effective, and possibly even beneficial to a marriage. But I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, so my study into NFP fell by the wayside.
Nathaniel: I had a pretty different experience. Contraception and marital relations were not something we talked about in my family, so the idea never really came up when I was younger. But after a couple years at college, before I met Heather and gained even the faintest clue about the teachings of the Catholic Church, I decided that contraception was unjustifiable even in the context of marriage. I came to this conclusion through my own studies of Scripture and Christian ideas of marriage. At the time, I didn’t have all of the why’s and I certainly didn’t know any of the how’s, but I knew that I wouldn’t use contraceptives in my marriage. (What made matters more difficult is that I was getting misinformation from the people around me – basically, that women were only infertile during their period, that determining fertility accurately was infeasible, or that abstaining for any amount of time while married was both ridiculous and impossible.) But in all my conversations about it, no one ever offered a Scriptural or theological reason to use contraceptives; all they said was that it was inconvenient or irresponsible not to use them. But that didn’t convince me.
Heather: When I met Nathaniel, I knew that we would have challenges in a mixed-faith relationship, but I also knew that using NFP was non-negotiable. It would come down to persuading him or moving on – unless, and this one seemed really unlikely, he agreed with me right out.
Nathaniel: So when we agreed to start dating, that was our first conversation. She brought it up, explaining that if our relationship was oriented toward pursuing marriage, this would be one of the key features of our marriage. And I agreed.
Heather: I was completely surprised.
Nathaniel: A few months down the road, she gave me Pope John Paul II’s book, “Love and Responsibility,” to read. It discussed in detail what would come to be called his Theology of the Body. It was a pretty hefty tome, so between work and classes, it took me some time, but I did manage to get through it. When I finished it, though, I had gained an appreciation for all of the reasons and explanations that I couldn’t come up with on my own. So when Heather and I started looking forward to getting married, learning NFP beforehand was a foregone conclusion.
Heather: At first, I was reading on my own about charting and various methods, and I went ahead and bought a basal thermometer. I was trying to become self-taught, but I was quickly confusing myself. We realized we couldn’t do it on our own, so we signed up for CCL classes about six months before our wedding date. I gained a lot of confidence through that. I started improving my diet and my water intake; before I read Marilyn Shannon’s book, “Fertility, Cycles & Nutrition,” I had really bad habits in those areas. While learning in class and since that time, I’ve discovered a lot of benefits that are invaluable to me in my own life. I was able to see drastic changes in my fertility caused by a particular medication, so I was able to avoid those problems again in the future. I learned that NFP helps me stay away from the chemicals and drugs involved in contraceptives, as well as the increased cancer risk that many hormonal contraceptives cause. Since my maternal grandmother died of breast cancer, that was a really big concern for me. I also learned how effective NFP can be, which was great for my confidence during some financial rough patches we’ve had over the years. It has also helped our communication with each other and with God.
Nathaniel: Exactly. I don’t know what our marriage would have looked like without NFP, but I think it’s safe to say that it has greatly helped our communication, and strengthened our relationship in general. We don’t talk past each other very often, and we can be open and honest about our situation. It helps us pray together and discern what God wants in our lives. It’s always important to remember – and I have to keep reminding myself often – that we can show intimacy in more ways than just sex. Relational and spiritual intimacy will ultimately bring us closer together and keep our marriage founded on more than just mutual physical use for personal gratification.
We have also learned how important it is for me to be involved in this whole process. I often help in practical ways, such as taking her temperatures in the morning when I wake up first, and charting both temperatures and observations. This way, we keep lines of communication open, and we both know what’s going on in her cycle on any given day.
Heather: For the most part, though, Nathaniel has helped me in other ways. Before we got married, he would calm me down when I started fretting about how effective (or ineffective) I thought NFP might be. I was also immensely worried about the timing of the honeymoon, and trying to predict where my cycle would be at that time, and he would keep me from freaking out about that, too.
Nathaniel: And as it turned out, God planned that perfectly for us. The day after our wedding was the first day of the infertile time.
Heather: Once we were married, he also reminded me that something on my chart is not my fault. He encouraged me to improve my charting, which occasionally got a little lax. And most importantly, he has always reminded us to pray and discern the Lord’s will for our lives, to trust Him and to carry on each day.
Nathaniel: NFP has been a part of our marriage from the beginning, and we’ve never deviated from it. We’ve been using it for two years now while trying to postpone pregnancy, and not only is it effective, but it has made our relationship very strong.