Living the natural family planning lifestyle can sometimes feel like a solo hike up a steep mountain. We start off excited, convicted (by the science and Church teaching), and as prepared as we can be for this beautiful endeavor. A few miles in, we are facing an unexpected obstacle, nursing an old bum knee, and worst of all- feeling alone. What we all need in life’s challenges is a support network we can reach out to in trust.
#1. Unexpected obstacles, small or large, emerge.
Your mucus sign is confusing due to scant or constant mucus. Taking a consistent morning temperature feels nearly impossible with a nursing baby. Fertility signs aren’t correlating now like they did in the previous decade. Serious health issues are affecting hormone levels and signs … and make postponing pregnancy imperative- which is raising stress and further affecting fertility signs. Just remembering to chart feels like one more thing that cannot be added to the day…. Believe it or not, there are potential solutions to all these obstacles.
(Re)Connect with your NFP method instructor. Instructors do what they do because they believe in the many benefits of fertility awareness and want to support others in learning it. They know that improved hydration and targeted nutrition and supplementation can significantly improve hormone and cycle health for women. A healthy cycle is a more chartable and predictable cycle. Postpartum challenges? Maybe another method or incorporating technology would work better for you during this season life.
Reach back out to your method instructor(s) to ask your questions or get needed resources, especially if your instruction was local. Most likely, they will be thrilled to hear from you. Lost contact with your method instructor or never had one? FSI Coaches now offers free introductory consultations to anyone in need, regardless of method practiced. This can be especially helpful for those in transition times, such as the postpartum or perimenopause seasons. The FSI Coaching team includes a sympto-thermal/Marquette cross-trained coach for when a sympto-hormonal method might be a better fit. All of the FSI Coaches are sympto-thermal instructors with expertise in both the mucus and temperature signs and with familiarity with many of the cycle apps and other fem-tech now in use.
#2. Personal situations may complicate an already challenging call.
Have you conceived unexpectedly while using NFP or do you “feel like an NFP failure” for some other reason? Do you want another set of eyes on your chart to confirm that you are in the infertile time because you’ve discerned it’s really not a good time to get pregnant? Are you struggling with postpartum blues or true depression? Are boundaries generally hard for you, especially those with your spouse? Does trauma or abuse in your past contribute to an unhealthy intimacy dynamic in your relationship? What does an unhealthy intimacy dynamic look like anyway?
These are all real challenges facing married couples practicing NFP. Without sound resources or an informed community to ask questions of, it can be hard to know when to seek professional mental health help for a problem.
Be a joiner; seek professional help when necessary.
Join a Catholic NFP Facebook group or follow a similar Instagram account; get inspiration and ask initial questions there. Couple to Couple League has a Facebook group (NFP: CCL’s STM) and an Instagram account (coupletocouple).
Better still, engage in an online community that was intentionally created to share scientifically based fertility awareness resources and to build supportive community. Recently, CCL launched the innovative Fertility Science Institute or FSI (https://fertilityscienceinstitute.org). FSI consists of learning areas with original multi-media content, instruction and coaching options, additional vetted partner resources, and community support for each stage of the fertility journey. FSI’s postpartum learning area has a “Postpartum Place” with digital resources for the postpartum time, including links to postpartum blues/depression guidance, as well as videos, podcasts, and .pdfs for self-care, breastfeeding support, nutrition, and marital intimacy. There is also a blog-based community for asking questions and discussing experiences around specific topics. FSI is designed to be a one-stop shop for those looking for support for a lifetime of fertility.
#3. We are created by God to live in loving community!
Even without exceptional obstacles, embracing NFP in marriage remains counter-cultural and challenging. No couple can or should make this journey alone but in-person community can be hard to find. The Church and Catholic family members and friends are likely the only voices of challenge to self-gift and self-discipline in married sexual life that you hear. At the same time, there are plenty of “Catholic” voices who may ignore or directly challenge the Church’s teachings on openness to life, maybe in our own families, which can result in confusion or despair.
Sometimes, we just have to dive in and be the change. Do you want a monthly couples’ group, to have dinner together and to talk about married life? Start by inviting one couple over. Ask them to bring a salad and to invite another couple they know. Advertise in your parish bulletin or diocesan paper if necessary. You will become the contact for like-minded couples and you can all support each other. Over time, you may find you’ve started a marriage and NFP ministry.
What we all need in life’s challenges is a support network we can reach out to in trust. Even if local or family relationships with like-minded Catholics are hard to come by, the good news is that technology now makes it possible for each of us to have an NFP tribe of our own. Connect, join, and commit. You don’t have to go this alone.
Melissa Gorley is a FSI staff coach and certified sympto-thermal method teaching couple (together with her husband, psychiatrist Jesse Gorley, MD) for Couple to Couple League International. She writes for Family Foundations Magazine. She and Jesse have five children, ages three to nineteen. Melissa may be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.