NFP Week: Meet Rhonda Ortiz, Captive Panda

Don’t forget the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt!

Not only is this week the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show and Catholic Writers Conference Live, but it’s also National Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.  I’ll be away at the show/conference, but I’m hosting postings from a few fellow members of the Captive Panda Club: those of us follow Church teaching on fertility but who nevertheless bust that super-fertile Catholic stereotype and get and stay pregnant as often as your average captive panda. The Captive Panda Club: Subfertile Catholics talk Natural Family Planning During NFP Week

Today’s guest blogger is Rhonda Ortiz.


Let’s hear from her about her journey as a Catholic living with subfertility.

Hey there! I’m Rhonda Ortiz. I’m a 34-year-old Catholic convert, wife, and mother of three. Other than chasing after kids, I spend my days writing and working as a freelance graphic designer. I’m also the founding editor of Real Housekeeping, an online magazine with over twenty contributors (and counting!).

Life in the Captive Panda Club…

When Jared and I were first married, we assumed we’d be Good Catholics and beget enough kids to field a football team. I had just graduated college and had no firm career plans—I was just waiting for the blessed arrival of a bundle of joy to keep me busy and happy.

That didn’t happen. At first, we assumed it was just a matter of time. After a year, Jared suggested that I see a doctor. That was a last thing I wanted to do. Like the proverbial ostrich, I stuck my head in the sand. If I didn’t learn what was wrong, nothing would be wrong. Right?

I spent five frustrated years wondering, if I wasn’t destined to be a mom, what the heck was I going to do with my life. My thoughts ran wild through the rat nest that was my head, making this and that set of plans, seeking…something. Anything!

Compounding my quest for daily purpose was the fact that my job at the time—teaching math at a Catholic school—wasn’t the best fit for me. And yet I couldn’t see myself doing anything except teach.

I finally agreed to see a doctor and learned that I had endometriosis. I had my first laparoscopic surgery to remove endometrium in June 2007.

We assumed I would be pregnant right away, but that also didn’t happen.

Fast forward to December 2009. My husband was studying for his doctoral comprehensive exams. I was in the middle of (a yet-undiagnosed) major bipolar mood swing which not only impeded my work but made me unbearable to live with. Yet somewhere in there was time and impetus for intimacy.

And then the miracle happened. On Christmas Eve, I discovered I was pregnant.

We learned after the fact that four different people, in four different states and with no communication between them, had felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to pray for us at Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Those of you who are good with NFP can do the math yourselves: this was my peak day.

Our first son, Benedict, was born the following September. Our second, Miriam, was conceived a few months after my second surgery and was born in October 2013. And in May we welcomed our third, Joseph, who is our first “Surprise!” baby. Given our previous subfertility, we were shocked, to say the least.

Regarding how the experience of subfertility is different from infertility…

They are both difficult to deal with and accept. I suppose one difference I see between the two is that, with subfertility, we have to discern how much medical intervention we’re going to allow in order to conceive again. We know now that I can have children; the question of,  “Am I going to have yet another surgery?” is compounded with our prudential discernment about having more kids.

On NFP and health, marriage, and life…

NFP has taught me the truth of the phrase, “Knowledge is Power.” Facing my fears and going to the doctor has taught me that it’s better to know, because in knowing I can do something about it. Now I have options. Now I can make decisions.

This lesson has impacted all areas of my health. After a major cross-country move I started experiencing more crippling mood swings and anxiety attacks. Thanks to the knowledge of a family member’s recent bipolar diagnosis, I was able to put a word on what I was experiencing and seek professional help.

Having proper medical care has made a world of difference to my daily life and especially my marriage. Knowledge really is power.

I haven’t experienced the “tough” side of NFP yet, but given that we now know we can have “unplanned” children, I think we’re about to experience it!

On being subfertile and Catholic…

Before Benedict was born, I felt like I had to explain our childless state to everyone. It wasn’t as if others were prying into our intimate concerns, but living in a vibrant Catholic community as we did at the time, we were surrounded by large families. I was afraid of being seen by others as unfaithful.

Those fears were unfounded. No one thought ill of us. In fact, those who knew had sympathy. They prayed for us.  They befriended us and welcomed us into their families.  We happily conversed about their kids, of course, but they also understood that we didn’t have kids to talk about and therefore talked about other things as well.

This is the best thing others can do for subfertile Catholics. We needed friends who could meet us where we were. Thank the Lord, we were blessed to have them.

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Rhonda.  Reader, do you have an experience with subfertility to share with your fellow Captive Pandas?  Did you go from infertile to subfertile, experience secondary infertility, or experience a different path all together? What’s the hardest part of being a Captive Panda Club member?  What keeps you going in faith?  How has God sustained you through it all?  What have been some unexpected blessings you’ve found as a result of trusting in Church teaching on fertility?  Talk to us in the comments below!

PS: Don’t forget the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show Selfie Scavenger Hunt!


  1. I knew parts of your story but not all, so it was great to hear it, especially the 4 intercessions part. Wow! Powerful stuff. And I also like that I found out I was pregnant with Ben the day we met up at the place in Salem for the playdate, and I remember praying that day for you and Jared to have another…and you must have conceived Mimi shortly thereafter! God is cool like that 🙂

  2. I loved this post! Especially something you said right at the end about your friends with kids who welcomed you into their families and would talk about kids but also knew you didn’t have any so would talk about other things too. That was one of the hardest things for me. I loved hearing about other people’s children, but then had nothing to add to the conversation and, at least in my experience, people never asked me about anything going on in my life or if they did it was always short and they would appear uninterested by anything I had to say. So I stopped sharing. 😦 It was especially hard around family, because you want to be happy for others but you feel a little like the “other” at the same time. I’m so glad you had wonderful friends who took an interest in you and the things going on in your life. What a blessing!! (my story: 3 pregnancy losses during first 3 years of our marriage, a short period of secondary infertility between loss #2 and #3; then had twins in 2011 and a singleton in 2013)

  3. Rhonda, thanks for sharing. I don’t want to sound weird but we used to be neighbors, right around the time you had your first! Anyway, I’m part of the Panda Club. I miscarried during our first ear of marriage. It was devastating. I had been terrified of the idea of being the young Catholic mom popping out babies every year. My miscarriage made me top and think, maybe it wasn’t a guarantee. Three years passed, with much heartache and longing, when I found myself pregnant with my now seven year old daughter. We started NFPing in earnest, but began noticing my cycles were truly bizarre, and my PMS over the top. We lost another baby when our child was eighteen months. A diagnosis of PCOS helped explain, but finances and insurance problems severely limited what we could do about it. Fast forward five years and we were suddenly VERY unexpectedly pregnant again! thanks, JP2 and OL Czeztochowa! Our second daughter was born two and a half years ago. Fast forward to now, and I am again unexpectedly pregnant with what seems to be a sticky baby. My cycles are still weird.
    I became so used to not being able to get pregnant easily that NFP has been more theoretical. Charts help me keep track so I know when my moods are likely to swing , but all else is TTW. Subfertility has been a cross I never really thought I’d be given, but it’s mine and nowadays I try to make the best of it. I tryto let the big families in my life see that family size doesn’t mean we’re using ABC, and I’ve manaes to change some minds about it. I’ve learned compassion, and a modicum of patience.
    Sorry for the vast time! Thank you for this series! It’s nice to hear from other club members.

  4. I literally can’t stop commenting on these posts…I love the power of prayer! We conceived the cycle that two friends who didn’t know each other took us as their intention for a pentecost novena. 🙂

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