I met Gillian through an NFP Facebook group. When she engaged in the group, she was always knowledgeable, honest, and incredibly kind. I wanted her story in particular when I discovered her husband wasn’t Catholic. Since many couples fall into this category where one spouse is Catholic and the other one is not, I felt her story was a crucial addition to this series. I certainly didn’t expect the beauty of what she had to share.
TW: Let’s start with a brief into. Tell us a little about yourselves.
Hi I’m Gillian, I’m a 31 year old highschool math and physics teacher, living in the Great White North (aka Canada!) My husband Tim and I have actually experienced the majority of our engaged/married/family life teaching overseas, and are just now settling in Toronto, Ontario. We recently celebrated our 5 year anniversary, and have two sweet kids, ages 4 and 2.
TW: How long have you and your spouse been practicing NFP? How did you learn it? What resources were helpful?
My husband and I have practiced NFP throughout our entire marriage, and I had learned, and been charting for about 6 months before our wedding. I primarily learned about it because I knew I should not use artificial birth control, as a practicing Catholic. My husband expressed how important it was to him to practice stewardship in our marriage and our family, and so we decided to learn and use NFP to allow us to make responsible decisions with our fertility.
Throughout my university years I very slowly discovered what the Catholic Church teaches about birth control and NFP. It was a time when I was re-discovering my faith, and deciding how I was going to make it my own. Things began to fall into place in how I instinctually saw things like marriage, children, sexuality, and self-giving, as I saw how NFP so perfectly fit into those things.
During our marriage prep course, we met with a teaching couple who guided us through the Sympto-thermal method (STM). At some point I also skimmed through the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. Much later on I discovered a Facebook community of thousands of women who also practice NFP, and I have been overwhelmed by the encouragement and fellowship I have experienced there.
TW: What methods do you/have you practiced (Creighton, STM, Marquette, Billings, etc.)? Briefly describe the costs, financial, mental, emotional, etc.
I charted using STM leading up to our wedding, and we used it for a few months afterward. It cost about $100 several years ago, and although we were happy with the method as a whole, I was not prepared for how much stress and travel would affect my cycle, which I later learned is very common. After the birth of our first child, I was no longer confident using a method that required mucus observations, so I made the switch to the Marquette method, and have been very pleased with the objectivity of it. The financial costs were moderate, around $200 upfront (monitor, test sticks, and instructor), $25 a month for test sticks when I’m postpartum, and $7 a month for test sticks in regular cycles.
TW: What is your favorite thing about NFP? Your least favorite?
My favourite thing about NFP is that I am educated about how my own body works and that as a consequence, I am empowered to make good decisions about my fertility without taking a medication or using a device to block my (or my husband’s) fertility. I find it fascinating how complex and perfectly in sync all the hormones and fertile signs are throughout my cycle, and I’m more impressed the longer I practice NFP.
I feel like I *should* say that my least favourite thing about NFP is abstinence, but to be completely honest, I have a kind of holy respect for the part abstinence plays in the choices we make for the good of our family, marriage and health. Especially in my life as a Christian, I acknowledge that sometimes the better choice requires sacrifice. When I stop to consider what stage my kids are in, and what they need, how my husband is doing, and how he feels about adding to our family, what my physical and mental health look like, I have the opportunity to choose to love and care for my entire family by putting my own desire for sexual intimacy on hold for part of the cycle.
I am also blessed beyond words because my husband, who is not Catholic and so would be open to other family planning options, has never once complained, or made a single sound or face about abstinence, even though I know its a big sacrifice for him!
My actual least favourite thing about NFP is sharing super specific details about hormones, eggs, cervical mucus, etc, etc with my husband. Its my shy, private self that just struggles with this for some reason, but I will say that this is beginning to fade as I teach toddlers about how the human body works and answer their detailed questions about bodily functions!
TW: NFP can help cultivate the understanding that fertility is shared, however, the burden of charting typically falls on the woman since NFP utilizes her bodily symptoms to determine the fertile window. How do you share your fertility as a married couple?
We are very fortunate in this regard. I gather the data to determine what our fertile window each cycle, and then we make a mutual decision each cycle whether we want to try to conceive or avoid a pregnancy. For both of us the charting itself is very black and white, and that helps a lot in sharing the burden of choosing this sacrifice! Tangentially, I think it’s also relevant that we share every part of parenting as much as is possible. When having another baby has many equal implications for both parents, it makes everything easier to be on the same page, or at least see and respect the others view on whether to conceive.
TW: Describe a time when NFP was exceptionally hard. How did you work through it?
There have been a couple of truly difficult times throughout the years, and most of them involve the anxiety of a potential unplanned pregnancy. When the stakes are high, for example when I’m newly postpartum, I find the fear of making a mistake, misinterpreting a fertile sign or miscounting the number of days, paralyzing. I work to find a balance between letting go of some of that fear in prayer (because I know that this fear is not from God), and also trusting that NFP methods work, especially after finding one that is a good fit for us, and working with a knowledgeable instructor to fine tune the method to fit our specific needs.
TW: How would you respond to someone who says that NFP has a high failure rate?
I would say that the high quality studies done on actual formal NFP methods allow the numbers to speak for themselves. Formal NFP methods take a good amount of time, effort, and in some cases, money, to learn to use properly, and if they aren’t learned properly or used properly, then one should experience higher failure rates. I also think that as fertility apps become more popular, they can sometimes give a false sense of security, leading to the belief that learning about or tracking one’s cycle is the same as using an NFP method, which is not the case.
TW: How do you think the Church can better spread and teach NFP?
I would love to say that each diocese and parish/priest should be promoting NFP and offering guidance to couples, especially in marriage prep courses. This is true, but I think what also needs to happen is that each of us who make up the body of the Church, needs to offer ourselves in some real and practical way (our time, our organizational skills, our contact lists, our finances, our prayers) to our diocese or parish. Imagine what could happen if each member of the Catholic church asked themselves: “How can I support couples in learning or living out our Church’s teachings about marriage, family and sexuality?”, and listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit! This is one area in which I need to do better!
TW: If you had one minute to share NFP with someone, what would you say?
I would say that NFP has been successful in my marriage, and that I am glad to have it as a tool to help my husband and I be responsible parents. I have to be honest that my experience has had great and successful parts, and also fearful and stressful one – because NFP use is real and not always a walk in the park!
That being said, I think NFP is more than just a religious thing. I think that women deserve more than what we’re told, currently, about birth control, that its the only effective option, that its the only responsible thing to use, that without it we won’t have a good life, and that it does not have serious side effects. Every woman deserves to be knowledgeable about her fertility, and to have the option to plan her family without hormones or barriers. If you want to learn more about NFP or need support in learning it or living it, I am happy to help in any way I can.