This is my NFP conversion story. I was asked to write this by someone back in September! I was honored to be asked and very excited to do it but for some reason I could never make myself sit down and do it. I thought about it often. Actually, it is what caused me to first think of starting this blog. I would think about writing my story down and that would lead me to think about how I felt called to share the truth of the church's teaching on contraception and sexuality which led me to think about starting a blog to express my thoughts. I haven't done too great a job since I've gotten pregnant and been so sick but now that I'm feeling a little bit better I am finally motivated to sit down and write this...so here goes!
I grew up Catholic and always felt that I was a very knowledgeable one. We went to Mass every Sunday, I went to Catholic school through 9th grade and my parents were very devout - heck, my dad is a deacon! After attending a retreat at church called the Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat, I came to the realization that I didn't know squat about my faith. I had what amounted to a 9th grade education in my faith...if even that...and let's face it, my dad being a deacon didn't mean anything about my personal understanding of the church. It doesn't pass through by osmosis or anything! And my knowledge on the particular topic of the Church's teaching on birth control was much lower than a 9th grade level.
This realization came to me slowly. The first seed was planted at the retreat when I was looking over an examination of conscience that was provided to the us. It had been probably 10 or more years since I had been to confession and to say I was nervous was the understatement of the decade. Root canals, labor pains and firing squads would have been welcome options for me that night! But, a huge part of me wanted to go and get it over with. I had some things I had wanted to confess for years and years and I knew it would be so wonderful to get them off of my chest. Anyway, as I was reviewing this examination of conscience wondering how I would ever get 10+ years of stuff into one confession, I noticed that one of the questions asked if you had ever used birth control. I remember being surprised that it was there . I knew the church opposed it but didn't know it was a sin! I always just thought it was a very outdated belief of the church. I worked at a Christian foster care agency once with a bunch of good protestant ladies and the subject of birth control came up. I remember laughing and saying, "Oh, I don't follow that one! The Church really needs to get with the times on that subject"! My husband and I had contracepted for the first 3 years of our marriage until I had gotten off the pill to try to get pregnant shortly before attending the CHRP retreat. So, since I wasn't currently using it, and I was trying to make a really good confession after so long, I added it to my long list. That was really the last I thought of it for a while.
Shortly after attending the retreat I became pregnant with our first child! We were so thrilled. When I was about 4 months pregnant, my husband was laid off from his job. It was a very scary time for us. Luckily, I was in formation at the time to present the next CRHP retreat and my team really carried me through this difficult time with prayer and support. They also gave me something to think about that would change my life, although at the time I didn't understand how much. Someone sent a transcript of Janet Smith's Contraception: Why Not? speech via email. I printed it out and started to read it one night. I had a very confusing reaction to the information I read there. On one hand, I was very excited and energized the way you feel when you learn something new but feel as if somehow you already knew it...if that makes any sense! I was also very sick to my stomach because I knew there was no turning back once I knew this truth. How in the world was I even going to begin to explain this to my protestant, "Where in the Bible does it say that exactly" husband? How would I get him on board? I started to pray that the Lord would open his heart. One night I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit telling me to start the conversation. I basically told him that I had been doing some reading on the subject and that my understanding of the Church's position on birth control had grown and developed and that there was no way I could see myself being able to go back to birth control. At this point I had not really researched much on NFP and didn't have a lot of good information to give him on it but I was really just telling him what was in my heart. His reply was that he didn't know how he could object to my new found religious beliefs and he had never liked the effect that the pill had on me (it made me very sick each month). But he was also concerned about using NFP. All we had ever heard of up to that point was the rhythm method and we had heard that it didn't work all that well. So, we basically tabled the conversation for a while and I kept praying about it.
When I was 6 months pregnant, a week before my team put on the CRHP retreat for the next group of ladies to come, even though my husband was still unemployed, I quit my job. There had been some problems with my bosses at work and the situation had deteriorated to a point that I was really on the verge of an emotional breakdown. So, there we were...two people with no jobs and a baby on the way. Whoa - talk about emotional breakdown! That was the darkest time that I can ever remember - although I know leaving that job was the absolute right thing to do. Soon, my husband began working for a wonderful and generous man who actually put him through school to become a home inspector. He got a job inspecting a few months after the birth of our first baby. I worked part time for our church. We barely scraped by...and sometimes didn't...but somehow we survived. I think we survived on the pure infatuation we had with our baby and a LOT of prayer!
I quickly realized we needed to get on the ball with the NFP stuff and figure out what we were doing as we were in NO position to be pregnant again any time soon. So, I called the lady who did the NFP classes for the engaged couples at our church. I remember when we were engaged, I had seen something about going to those classes. I was horrified at the thought of sitting through it and had envisioned some hippy lady talking to a group of other hippies with me and my husband thrown in the mix. I think that at the time that we got married, it was suggested that we go but not required. Now it is required and I wish it had been for us...although I don't know if I would have really gotten the message or not. So, off my husband and I go, with baby in tow, to the introductory NFP class. I remember being a little embarrassed to be there with a baby in my arms amongst all of these young, cute engaged couples but we got through it. It was there that the deal was sealed for me regarding contraception and especially the pill. It was there that I first heard the term abortifacient as I listened in horror to the teacher explaining this term in relation to the pill. I almost didn't even hear the rest of the class and started crying as soon as we got in the car. I couldn't believe that I possibly had babies in heaven that I never even knew about. I've read somewhere since then that statistically for the amount of time that I was on the pill I have something like 2 or 3 souls in heaven that should have been my children. I know I've been forgiven, but this is like a wound the re-opens over and over every time I think of it. I can't wait to be reunited with them one day in heaven.
I think at this point my husband was still on the fence about the whole thing. He still really didn't understand the religious side of it and was mainly concentrating on the fact that we couldn't pay our bills every month, our debt was growing like no body's business, and we were still really tired from having a newborn in the house. I got my hands on the Janet Smith speech on CD and listened to it one day. Hearing her speak the words was even more inspiring than reading it and I knew I had to get my husband to listen to it so he could understand. One day as he was out in the garage working on one of his control line airplanes (his big hobby), I took the CD out to him and asked him to listen to it while he worked. To my surprise, he did! And it worked. He understood and it made sense to him. This is not to say that it was an easy transition. The concept of abstaining during certain times of the month is certainly something that couples have to work on. The concept of having faith that everything would work out is definitely something that couples have to work on...and boy did we get to work on it!
When our first daughter was 14 months old, we discovered that we were pregnant! I had actually disregarded a sign that I was fertile one day and thought that it was early enough in the fertile time that we would be safe. We still couldn't pay our bills each month, our debt was through the roof and we had private insurance. We were sure that having a baby with private insurance would cost a bundle but imagine our horror and surprise when we found out that it did not cover pregnancy AT ALL in Texas. I called my doctor's office to inquire as to how much it would be to pay out of pocket. Since I have to have a c-section we're facing at least a $20,000 bill barring any complications. We started discussing going to apply for Medicaid. Every time the topic came up all I could do is just cry. I was a social worker in my first years out of college. I knew there was no shame in going on government assistance and believed that it was an okay thing to do as long as you worked towards getting off of it and didn't abuse it as a way of life. But I couldn't get over my pride. One day we got my mom to come over and babysit and we went up to the Medicaid office. We stood in line for 10 or 15 minutes and then left because I was crying so hard. We didn't know what we would do but we didn't feel right about that option. I prayed and prayed. I was very candid with the Lord. I said, "Look, we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. We were open to life and here it is, now you're just going to have to fix this"! It always makes my husband nervous that I talk to God that way, but my opinion is that he's a big God and can take it!
My dad's job at the church is invaluable for things like job searches. He puts out the word and someone can usually help out. A man at church, Mark, told my dad to have Doug call him and he would give him an interview. He owned a mortgage company called Catholic Home Loan. Doug had interviewed with him two years previously when he had lost his job and he had been told he didn't have enough experience in the mortgage industry. Plus, it was a sales job and none of us really thought Doug was suited for sales. But he went on the interview. We didn't think much more of it when a few weeks later he was offered a job. I still had personal concerns about this being the right type of work for him but it was a more steady paycheck and, most importantly, there was insurance that would cover the birth of our child even though we were already pregnant!! Our second beautiful daughter was born in November and one week later we moved into a bigger house and used the equity from the sale of our home to pay off all of our debt.
I truly felt that our faith and our obedience had been rewarded. I just knew that everything was going to be perfect after this! Nothing is ever perfect but it sure does keep getting better and better. Not without some more struggle though and not without a lot of faith. I wish the financial part of our story ended with the paying off of our debt...but it didn't. Our debt is back due to the fact that Doug's job provided us enough money to pay most of our bills but not all of our expenses. However, he has continued to make more and more money. We are now pregnant with our third child. A little while before becoming pregnant I read a post over at Et Tu Jen about every child coming with a loaf of bread under it's arms. This is absolutely true in my opinion. Since becoming pregnant with this baby, my husband's pay at work has increased so that we are bringing home enough money each month to cover everything and while we still have the large debt, at least the bleeding has stopped. I have been able to quit my second job and only work one part time job - one that allows me to be around my children during the day!
The Lord is so good. He promises to take care of us and not to give us more than we can handle. I am realizing that this does not mean we will feel like we can handle it and we might not always even feel that He is taking care of us...but He is, always. To me, the Church's teaching on contraception, sexuality, children, and marriage is one of the most beautiful truths I've ever known. I did a book club on the Theology of the Body. I won't even act like I understood half of it but I loved what I did understand. This does not mean it is not a struggle to live out this truth. It is! My ladies monthly prayer meeting was discussing this just today. It is so hard to follow NFP and the teachings of the Church - for husbands and wives. But, nothing good ever comes easy and knowing that it is the right thing in the eyes of God and knowing that He gives us the graces that we need if we just ask, helps us through it.
I pray for all of you who are practicing NFP. I pray for all of you who may be struggling with the teaching of the Church or coming to understand the truth of the Church. It can be a punch in the gut while also being a beautiful eye opening reality. And I pray for the conversion of our society from one of a culture of death to one that celebrates and welcomes life. Please join me in these prayers.