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.
Today’s guest blogger is Carolyn Astfalk.
Let’s hear from Carolyn about her journey as a Catholic living with subfertility.
My name is Carolyn Astfalk, and I’m a wife, mother, and writer. My husband and I have used natural family planning (NFP) for more than eighteen years. Since January, I’ve been blogging at My Scribbler’s Heart, and my debut novel, Stay With Me, will be published by Full Quiver Publishing on October 1, 2015.
Most pregnant women look forward to their first sonogram with eager anticipation. I was giddy with excitement, a full heart, (and a full bladder) at my first sonogram, eager to leave with an image of my unborn baby that I could share with family and friends.
But on the sixth week of my sixth pregnancy, as I drove to the technician’s office, I felt as if I were headed to my execution. Already suffering through near-constant nausea, the dread had worked me into an anxiety attack by the time I arrived at my midday appointment.
Between my first and sixth pregnancies, they joy and excitement of a sonogram had been replaced by gloom and dread. After that first awe-inspiring sonogram, three of my four subsequent pregnancies were marked by black and white monitors with tiny, motionless babies—if you could see the baby at all. Each of those pregnancies ended with my husband and I sobbing in each other’s arms at the outpatient surgical center.
While I clung to an irrational fear of infertility before we’d even tried to conceive, it turned out we had no trouble conceiving. Sustaining pregnancies, however, was fraught with numerous difficulties.
When I had one or two children in tow, sometimes even well-meaning people unintentionally diminished pregnancy loss by saying, “Well, at least you already have one (or two) children.” Yes, we were blessed by those children. But each child is unique, and whether his or her life lasted five weeks, eight weeks, or longer, that child had already claimed (and still claims) an irreplaceable spot in my heart.
The dreaded sonogram of my sixth pregnancy revealed a healthy baby. Sixth months after that little girl was born, we conceived her little brother. I attribute those full-term pregnancies, in part, to our use of NFP, both as a method of avoiding and achieving pregnancy and as a diagnostic tool.
We practiced the symptom-thermal method of NFP from the beginning of our marriage, before and after our first son was born. After the first miscarriage, my doctor recommended learning the Creighton Method. Initially, its use was helpful in determining abnormal hormonal fluctuations during my cycle and a subclinical level of under-active thyroid. Later, we used NFP to delay pregnancies when further medical testing was needed to find additional causes for my miscarriages.
We’ve chosen to use NFP because we want to be obedient to the Church and agree with Her teaching regarding human sexuality. That NFP has vastly increased my knowledge and understanding of my health and fertility was a bonus. Between that knowledge and the outstanding care of NFP-only doctors, midwives, and health practitioners, our family has grown beyond the doubt and fears that came in the wake of those still and silent sonograms.
Like anything else, NFP has its joys and its crosses. My husband and I have discovered many ways to be at odds with each other, so I’m grateful that NFP has given us one less reason to butt heads. We’re united in our commitment to its use and share the responsibility for its effectiveness. Yes, I do all the observing and charting, but both trusting God with our fertility and practicing abstinence when necessary require mutual assent. We can’t put off those conversations and decisions indefinitely, nor can we resent each other as we might were one of us the gatekeeper of pleasure or fertility.
Charting has been a minor inconvenience at worst. The most difficult part of NFP’s use has been the necessary abstinence when trying to avoid a pregnancy. There’s no way around the fact that it’s frustrating that the time my husband and I are most inclined to be intimate is when we cannot be. As we’ve grown weaker (or more needy) over the years, our resolve has weakened, forcing us to be more generous with God and each other—and that’s not a bad thing.
As in so many other aspects of our lives, we’re often quick to jump to conclusions based on only what we see. In the case of sub-fertile Catholic families, you may see what passes for a large family these days. What you don’t see is who is missing—the children longed for and the babies lost.
My paternal grandmother died very young, leaving my grandfather with two boys. They only family photo of them is one of my grandfather, father, and uncle with a picture of my grandmother awkwardly superimposed above them. I’ve heard it was common practice at one time to add the deceased love one into the photo, but to the modern eye, it borders on creepy. Yet having the entire family pictured together, those here and those who have moved on, points to a larger reality—our eternal kinship. That’s what I wish people could see: our whole family, together forever.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Carolyn. 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!