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I attended another baby shower this weekend. That’s the second one in as many weeks, and I have at least four more in the next few months. So many new babies. So many newborn cuddles.
So many months of waiting.
So many pregnancies. So many moms to honor.
So many months of infertility to mourn.
So many new lives to celebrate. So many adorable, little outfits to buy.
So many negative pregnancy tests to ignore.
So many laughs to share.
So many tears to hide.
So much to feel, it’s overwhelming.
My dear pregnant friends, I am so happy for you, but I’m jealous too. I am so excited to celebrate you and the wonderful gift of life, but at these times more than any other, I wish I could be you. I wish I could celebrate my own pregnancy. I wish I could experience the great joy of carrying life within me again. But these days are not about me. They are about you, and I am so happy for you. I am so blessed to be able to celebrate you as we await the arrival of your beautiful new babies.
There have been so many pregnancy announcements recently. So many gender reveals. So many baby showers. So many birth announcements. So much to celebrate. So many growing bellies. So many glowing faces. So many expanding families, filled homes, full hearts. So many new babies. Some of you are carrying your first child. Or it’s your third. Or your fifth. No matter how many children you’ve already brought into the world, I am so happy for you.
But I’m also jealous. I wish I was pregnant right now. I wish I was expecting another baby, my third child. I wish my son could say he’s going to be a big brother again. I wish my daughter could wear a sweet, little shirt announcing that she’s become a big sister. I wish my husband and I could spend our evenings debating baby names. I wish I could experience all the joys and struggles of pregnancy again—the bulging belly, the swollen ankles, the crazy cravings, the aches and pains, all of it. So many wishes. So many prayers. So much hope. And so much disappointment.
But I am so happy your wishes are coming true. I know how many of you have struggled—struggled to get pregnant, struggled to stay pregnant, struggled to decide if now was the right time to welcome another child. You have struggled and suffered, but now you have so much to celebrate, and I am so excited to celebrate with you. New life is always something to celebrate, and I am so happy to be able to share in your joy.
So if there are cracks in my facade, I’m sorry. If my smile sometimes looks a little fake or forced, I’m sorry. If my hugs are occasionally a little weak, I’m sorry.
I really am so happy for you and consider myself blessed to be able to celebrate with you, but from time to time, my jealousy peaks out. It whispers of those dreams I have, those wishes I have made that have not come true for me. But my joy for you is real. I am so happy for you, and the dream of my children one day playing with your children gives me hope. I have so many dreams for us.
When I see your pregnant belly and your healthy glow, I choose to celebrate you. I choose to focus on you, and when temptation strikes, I choose to focus on the joys of my own past pregnancies. When I attend your baby showers and gender reveals, I choose to celebrate you and to remember my own showers with joy. When I hold your newborn babies in my arms, I choose to celebrate your baby and to relish that newborn baby smell. I choose to be joyful. I choose to be happy. I choose to focus on the two beautiful children I’ve already been given rather than the ones I hope to have in the future. So to my dear pregnant friends, I am so happy for you.
The NFP portion of my husband and my Pre-Cana retreat was a bit of a circus. It began with a couple explaining how they came by their six children- two failed attempts at NFP that led to two sets of twins, followed by two separate surprises when the couple assumed children were no longer a possibility. The second couple to mention NFP had eight children, all about two years apart. The day concluded with a very scattered nurse who promised that NFP would make our marriages borderline magical. Let’s just say that by the time she mentioned the fact that couples using NFP are less likely to divorce, one young man leaned over to his fiancé and whispered, “We can take our chances with divorce.” Obviously, no one was able to take the nurse seriously.
The leaders of our Pre-Cana retreat made a lot of promises during that weekend. They promised that we’d be happier because we used NFP, that we’d communicate more, that we’d be less likely to get divorced. They promised that it would be easy, that it wouldn’t require significantly less sex, that it would be nearly perfectly effective. NFP sounded like a dream come true, the recipe for a picture-perfect marriage. But my experience with NFP was nothing like they’d promised. I felt betrayed and completely disillusioned.
NFP means saying “no” several times a month, even when you really wanted to say “yes.” Oh, it’s your birthday, your anniversary? Well, unless you want to chance becoming pregnant this month, it’s a no-go for tonight. Practicing NFP can be challenging at times. It demands that we be virtuous, and sometimes virtue is just plain hard.
NFP only involves communication if you want it to. NFP talk can completely revolve around whether or not you can have sex at any given time, if you let it. I once saw a NFP speaker tell a classroom full of Pre-Cana participants that her husband wakes up every morning when she takes her temperature so that he can write it in the little notebook he keeps on his bedside table. I think she expected everyone to sigh because of the cuteness, but all I could think was, Why would you make your husband wake up when he doesn’t have to? But maybe he wants to do it. Maybe my husband just needs to grow in virtue, and I need to give him the opportunity to engage in a daily act of self-sacrificial love. But probably not.
You’re not less likely to get divorced because you practice NFP. That’s a correlation, not a causation. It’s not like NFP is some magical remedy for marital dissatisfaction. It’s more likely the case that the type of couple likely to use NFP (and stick with it) is also the type of couple that’s less likely to divorce. And that probably derives from the fact that many couples who don’t believe in using contraception also don’t believe in getting a divorce.
NFP is not easy. Yes, it requires virtue, but it also can require some trial and error. My husband and I tried a few forms of NFP before finding a method that worked for us. It’s wonderful that there are so many different types of NFP out there, but that also means it might take a while before you find the type that works best for you and your family.
NFP often does mean less sex, especially if you’re really adamant that you not become pregnant. Many of the cheaper forms of NFP require several days (around a week for many women) where abstinence will be required if you’re trying to prevent pregnancy. The window of possible fertility can be quite long depending on what form of NFP you choose, which might be tough for some couples to accept.
Some forms of NFP are very effective, and some methods are less so, but most of them need some room for user error. NFP relies on human virtue, and some of us struggle with chastity. NFP can only be really effective at preventing pregnancy if couples have the virtue necessary to say “no” when they need to. Many methods can also malfunction. Thermometers might break. Predictions of fertility might be off by a day or two. Most methods of NFP are very effective, but they have to be used correctly.
I think there’s a feeling among Pre-Cana coordinators that if we’re up front and honest about NFP, no one will give it a try. But if we’re not up front and honest, most couples won’t stick with it. They’ll feel disillusioned and betrayed like I did, and they might not have the moral conviction that my husband and I had to stick with it even when it is difficult. And I don’t think we give couples enough credit. They can handle the truth. And they can detect a lie. So don’t tell them NFP will always be easy. Tell them why it’s worth it even when it’s hard. Don’t tell them that it’ll improve communication. Tell them that communication and prayer are always necessary for a healthy marriage. Don’t tell them that NFP will be 99% effective. Tell them that it’s effective when it’s used correctly, but NFP will require virtue and chastity.
We need to be honest because we’re not doing couples any favors by sugar-coating the reality of NFP. If we want couples to stick with NFP, we need to give them a reason why it’s worth it. We can’t make false promises. We can’t romanticize what many couples find very difficult. We need to help couples see the beauty in God’s plan. We need to help them recognize the great good that is the gift of children. We have to change their hearts with the truth because we’re not going to change their minds with our sugar-coated lies.