Some Honesty About NFP

Okay, I am just going to  be honest here, sometimes having to use NFP sucks.  I don’t mean because I want to use contraception.  Quite the opposite.  I know how contraception has hurt marriages, our culture, women, pretty much everybody.  Our culture just cannot see it, but the Church has predicted the disastrous results we see before us, for decades.  My husband and I do not want any part in the contraceptive culture.  So don’t misunderstanding my venting.

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This year we have had to use Creighton Method of Natural Family Planning (NFP) because I have had 3 miscarriages, and some pretty serious periods of post-partum depression and anxiety.  Using Creighton helped my NaPro doctor (Natural Procreative Technologies see Pope Paul VI Institute for more info) figure out that I have serious estrogen and progesterone deficiencies, which has led to me giving myself 4 shots of HCG each month.  NFP was essential, and has been a God send for us, as has my doctor, a fellow (soon-to-be for me) Lay Dominican.
We have had to use NFP for 7 months.  I know, there are some couples who have to do it for years, but this is my experience.  There are times when NFP is just plain hard.  My husband and I went through the NFP classes with the videos of the smiling couples telling us how great their marriages were thanks to NFP.  I know intellectually how NFP works within God’s plan for human sexuality.  It keeps us from using our partner as an object (which is what contraception does), and it forces couples to communicate about the possibility of children, struggles they are having, especially medical or financial, and to be open to God’s plan in their marriage.  It keeps the marital act free from barriers, but also follows the natural cycle of a woman’s body to decide if a married couple has discerned trying to have a child on a month-to-month basis.  Non-Catholics you must keep in mind that marriage vows in a Catholic wedding (the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony) promise to be open to children.
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My husband and I always planned to just be open to however many children God gave us.  Well, that was before I lost 3 babies and discovered some serious hormone issues.  NFP came into our marriage because of those medical issues and it has been a blessing to be sure.  To be honest, though, it gets tiresome to be denied the unitive act with one’s spouse, except for a week out of the month.  Some women’s cycles allow for more time, but mine don’t.  The gift of human sexuality is both unitive and procreative.  They cannot be separated, hence the Church’s position on contraception.   NFP does not deny either, but it is sacrifice.
Having to abstain while married is a sacrifice and that is a part of the spiritual dimension of NFP.  We sacrifice for the greater good of our family or spouse’s health.  It’s kind of like fasting.  Given what we have been through in the last 3 years, I just wanted to say that NFP is a gift, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that it is always great.  I know that the Church is fighting a battle against a culture that has swallowed, quite literally, the contraception lie, but can we at least be honest with people.  NFP strengthens marriage because of the selfless sacrifices that are required, but it is a struggle and sometimes you will say the heck with it and decide to be open to whatever happens.  No one is required to ever use NFP anyway.  So there really are no mistakes.  And if people say that NFP does not work, or that you are bad at NFP, tell them that you are good at it, but you decided to trust in God’s will this month and be with your spouse.  Perhaps you need that unitive act to bring you closer together during difficult times, or you just want to be with your spouse.  Come on!  Sex is holy.  It is a gift.  It is meant to be enjoyed with our spouse.  So, we are not bad at NFP, we just got tired of using NFP this month…lol.
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I saw a great article by a man describing his experiences with NFP.  For half the month the wife is telling her husband to keep away, and then all of a sudden she is open, and then she isn’t.  Now to our culture this sounds absurd, but the Christian life is full of sacrifice.  It is in that sacrifice that we are made selfless, as Christ was selfless.  We are to love our spouse as Christ loves us.  A very tall order that we will all fail at daily.
How about the woman’s perspective?  Well, I can only give you mine.  I have to battle my own hormones and love of my husband for half of the month, repeatedly tell him “no”, and then finally after I am completely sure based on my Creighton chart, I can say “yes”, after my body has gotten done saying “yes” for two weeks and is now in its default apathy because ovulation has occurred.  So I get to be open when my body couldn’t care less because there is no risk of pregnancy.
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Non-Catholics may be reading this wondering what I am talking about, but Catholics who have been through this will get it.  I think it is time that we are honest.  NFP is great because it allows us to naturally space children, it also helps couples conceive, and it helps women learn about their bodies.  And I would tell every single woman to throw out her pills, IUD (especially since these can cause abortions), shot, or whatever else you are doing to yourself and embrace Natural Family Planning.  Really learn about the gift that is your body and femininity.  Let’s just keep in mind that couples who love one another in marriage do not want to have to schedule out the times they come together every month.  It is okay to admit that it is hard.  That is a part of the Christian journey.  We are not breaking some rule by admitting to people that NFP is great, but hard.
I know Simcha Fisher wrote a new book on NFP that I want to read.  You can find it here.  Jennifer Fulwiler has also written about NFP.  And here is the article from a man’s perspective on NFP.
*Say a prayer for me.  I have had to add estrogen to my hormone treatments because while the HCG has fixed my progesterone deficiency, it has not fixed the estrogen deficiency.

Dealing with Miscarriage Part V: Answers

Do not abandon yourselves to despair.  We are a Resurrection people and hallelujah is our song.

Blessed John Paul II

One of the hardest parts about miscarriage is that for most OB/GYNs you have to have three before they start looking into underlying medical issues.  I have had issues my entire reproductive life, but none that would have been really obvious.  I had just accepted that periods of severe PMS were just a part of me and I knew that most doctors would just throw the Pill at me, which I was not interested in.  So after my miscarriage in February, the doctor finally started testing me for autoimmune, clotting, and a whole host of other disorders, which, not surprisingly, came back normal.  He then said he could do a month long hormone panel and then give me fertility drugs if needed.  I just did not see how that helped and we were moving anyway, so I was going to have to switch OB/GYNs.  Then came Dr. Karen Poehailos.

 
After this most recent loss, I really was starting to doubt that I would have anymore children.  First, because I had lost three and second, boughts of debilitating post-partum depression and anxiety were a major strain on my family.  I am really sensitive to hormone shifts.  I was an emotional mess while I nursed my daughter.  I lasted 14 months and then said, I have got to stop for my own sanity’s sake.  Quite honestly, I had almost given up hope that I would have another child and that I would spend my life on Prozac, even though I knew that there had to be something hormonally wrong with me.  My husband can see it throughout the month.
 
Karen came up to me at my first Lay Dominican meeting.  She is a Family Practice doctor who is certified in Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro) and Creighton Method Fertility Care.  There are tons of resources on the Pope Paul VI Institute website, including where certified doctors are located by state.  She told me that she could help me and she offered to let me pray in front of her second degree relic of St. Gianna Molla.
 
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Meeting Karen was my first ray of hope.  I had no idea that there were options out there, let alone options that were in line with Catholic Church teaching.  I figured it was birth control, which is not really an option, or artificial treatments, some of which are morally acceptable and others that are not.  I felt boxed in and I felt like my OB/GYN was never going to be able to tell me what was wrong.  He was more interested in a band-aid.  Don’t get me wrong, he did great work with Michaela.  I had to have an unplanned c-section when she turned transverse and he is considered the best c-section doctor in the area.  He just was not giving me any hope.
 
Karen got me in touch with the Charlottesville Fertility Care Center Creighton Method Natural Family Planning instructors.  In order to decipher what is going on with my body, I had to learn how to chart using the Creighton Method. This method of NFP focuses solely on mucus observations.  It is not the Rhythm Method.  I cannot stress this enough.  It is based on sound science and is more effective than any hormonal or barrier method of contraception out there when wanting to avoid pregnancy.  By monitoring my cycle through cervical mucus observations, we were able to see the areas where my cycle is not entirely normal. My instructor, who is awesome, taught me how to chart over Skype.  This is a great option when instructors are not in the area.  We discovered that my cycle has shifted by 2 full days since my last miscarriage.
 
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After 2 months of charting, I then had my initial appointment with Karen at her office.  She checked my chart and told me she suspected a progesterone deficiency at the very least.  I then had to do my month of blood draws.  She drew estrogen levels, progesterone levels, and tested my thyroid function (more thorough than what your normal doctor will order).  After completing the blood work, we would have a clearer picture of what is going on.
 
Earlier this week my husband, daughter, and I went back to her office, which is 2.25 hours from us.  (It is worth the drive!)  She showed me my results.  I expected there to be issues, but I was rather amazed by what she told me and showed me.  I have significant estrogen AND progesterone deficiencies.  My body is always running on low.  She then showed me that my thyroid is slightly sluggish.  The thyroid function is not slow enough to put me on a thyroid protocol at this point in my life.  The hormone deficiencies, however, clearly showed why I have lost so many babies and why I have such severe mood shifts throughout the month.  In some ways it is a wonder that I have been able to get pregnant so easily, considering my estrogen levels.
 
So, now we had the answers.  What were my options?  Karen said that she wanted to start me on an HCG injection regimen the second half of my cycle to see if it will lift my levels. If not, we will have to look at other options, like fertility drugs.  Once a pregnancy is achieved, I would need HCG and progesterone injections.  She also told me that natural progesterone is used to treat post-partum depression, so we have options, given my history.  She also feels that the HCG will help improve my anxiety and depression that seems to worsen in the second half of my cycle.  I have struggled with some of these things for 20 years and never realized that I had hormone deficiencies.  This is not something that psychiatrists or OB/GYNs are really looking for in treating women with my symptoms.  The standard is to throw the Pill at me and say it will even out my issues and when I want kids to just take fertility drugs.  Ha!
 
I left her office feeling hopeful.  I actually rejoiced and was relieved to find this out.  Why?  Because I finally had answers.  Sure, no one wants to have medical issues, but this was way better news than her telling me, “We still don’t know what is wrong.”  I called one of my closest friends who was an OB/GYN  nurse for years, and she was as excited as I was.  She was relieved that we had found the answer.  She said my ovaries are lazy and my thyroid is sluggish.  I thought it was pretty funny.  She had said to me before my last blood draw that I had better have a progesterone deficiency after all of this.  I have multiple deficiencies!
 
My husband and I turned and looked at our daughter.  We both realized even more what a gift and wonder she truly is for us.  After all, she is the only one who has made it and she is a miracle in our minds.  What a gift she is!!!
 
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Doctors like Karen are springing up all over the country.  While this technology is sponsored and researched by a Catholic institute, it is not reserved only for Catholics.  The point of this method is to help couples find natural solutions to medical issues and infertility.  They use different techniques to treat: infertility, PCOS, post-partum depression, PMS, etc.  The aim is to treat the whole human person.  If you have been struggling with miscarriage, infertility, or other Gynecological problems, then check out the Pope Paul VI Institute’s website.  There is hope and there are options.  If you live in Virginia, we have two physicians in the Richmond Diocese: Dr. Karen Poehailos in Charlottesville and Dr. Hemphill in Richmond (she is an OB/GYN).
 
Miscarriage is deeply painful.  The grief and pain come in waves.  There are periods of despair and loneliness.  Mine are not over, but I have found hope.  Even if we do not have any more children for whatever reason God deigns, at least I was able to figure out what is going on with my body.  I can hug and kiss my daughter in deep gratitude and I can continue to pray for people like you who know what it is to suffer such terrible anguish.  I hope this series has helped you.  I am sure I will write about miscarriage again.  It is a process that I am in the middle of right now. I will continue to write about my experiences with NaPro as I begin my hormone treatments.  May God bless you always.