by Liz Escoffery
When I was in college, I attended an annual dorm retreat for women. During the retreat, a dorm chaplain and her husband introduced something called Natural Family Planning (NFP). They would prayerfully discern each cycle whether or not God was calling them to welcome a new child into their family. Then, with the scientific knowledge of the woman’s daily discharge observations, they would select days of fertility or infertility to come together. It seemed like this would be hard, involve lots of education on how our bodies work, and necessitate self-mastery and sacrificing on the part of the husband and the wife. Yet, I remember feeling a sense of awe and wonder about the vocation of Christian marriage. I thought to myself, “That sounds worth it.”
Around the same time, I had the opportunity to read Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. I was drawn to the simple, yet compelling language. Humanae Vitae says,
“(Married) love is destined to continue, raising up new lives…Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents.”
It explains the nature of marriage, the goodness of sexual intimacy, and speaks pastorally to many couples’ need to space or limit pregnancies during the course of one’s marriage and says that this need is legitimate. The knowledge of one’s fertility can allow each couple to achieve or postpone pregnancies throughout the childbearing years.
When I became engaged to Bill, signing up for a NFP course was a no-brainer. We began meeting with our practitioner for one-on-one instruction and began charting. At first, I found that I was marking almost every day as fertile. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, thinking I must be the most fertile woman on the face of the earth which made me skeptical that it would even work for us. We needed patience and quite a bit of further instruction to understand that it was not possible to be as fertile as much as I thought. Now as a practitioner myself, I smile when I think back to those days of early learning and hope it allows me to relate better to my clients with difficult or confusing charts.
Several months into charting, my practitioner indicated that I might have a hormonal imbalance which puts me at a higher risk for miscarriage and subfertility. No one wants to hear that something is off with their body, and I was no exception. By working with a NaPro Technology physician and taking bioidentical hormone medication, my imbalance began to improve noticeably.
Six months into marriage, we had received the blessing of our physician to try to conceive now that my hormones were at a stable, normal level confirmed by a blood test. We moved forward with hope, and became pregnant the very first cycle we used a day of fertility (Yes, NFP works!). Two days after getting a positive pregnancy test, I began to bleed, signaling that my body was miscarrying our beloved and very much wanted child. My husband and I were devastated over the loss of this little one, naming her Perfecta Marie and entrusting her back to God.
I hit a low; I felt like my body had failed to do what it was created to do. This certainly was not what we signed up for when we got married, was it? I was learning a hard but valuable lesson that openness to life and parenthood also means an openness to loss and the possibility that a child could be called home to heaven early. My practitioner’s advice of “clinging to the Cross of Jesus” and the rituals of our family and parish community helped us through that time and we grew closer to one another and God. Several months later, we tried to conceive again and we became pregnant. Our baby continued to grow with NaPro Technology medical support and 9 months later, I delivered our firstborn son, Teddy, our “supreme gift” according to Humanae Vitae.
As someone who has a little less than 3 years of marriage under my belt, I realize we are very much still learning and growing into our vocation. We have one living child, one in heaven, and pray that we might have more in the future. Charting my cycles and practicing NFP has had its blessings in our marriage, but also its challenges. Abstaining on days of fertility during the first six months as newlyweds was frustrating, but God gave us opportunities to express our love to each other in constructive, fruitful ways while we waited for my health to improve. Trying to analyze challenging postpartum charts while I was breastfeeding my son was difficult, but we grew in gratefulness for the times we were able to come together and the little milestones of Teddy’s infancy. On days in which one of us is exhausted but the other is yearning for physical intimacy, we have the opportunity to strive for virtue by saying yes to coming together and renewing our marriage vows physically. God gave us free will; and through our knowledge of fertility and NFP, we have the chance to practice chastity, balancing generosity of welcoming new family members with prudence in taking care of those family members and commitments that have already been entrusted to us. I can say with no reservations that this practice continues to be worth it in our marriage.
Liz Escoffery is married to Bill and they have a 1-year old son, Teddy. They attend St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis. Liz is a FertilityCare Practitioner and is a Master of Arts candidate in Theology at St. Meinrad. In her free time, she enjoys long walks and experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen. Liz will be holding an Introductory Session for women and couples wanting to learn the Creighton Model on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 1:30 pm at St. Monica Catholic Church. Contact Liz for more information or to register.