This week is NFP Awareness Week and since a) I am supposed to be posting something everyday because Jen said so and b) Jerry and I are NFP Instructors so maybe we should...you know...promote what we teach...I have decided to actually write a post about our NFP story.
The following entry is very raw and unedited. I have chosen to share opening and honestly. Please keep that in mind when you read these words. Know that I am just a sinner who is trying to become the woman God has called me to be, and sometimes I fail...miserably. Know that even though I have not always been obedient to them, believe in the Catholic Church and her teachings on sexuality and marriage.
Trust me my friends when I say, this is an ugly tale filled with many sins and moments of lost faith and hope. I hold up our story simply saying "sometimes your life is an example of what NOT to do". I am about to be extremely open and honest here. You are going to know more about me and my guy than you ever wanted to, but this is our story and what we share every time we teach. It is hard to write but I pray that whomever reads this knows that there is no unforgivable sin.
Trust me...this I know quite intimately.
If I ramble...I'm sorry. I am simply typing what is one my heart tonight.
|Young and naive in 1987|
I met my husband on a blind date. It was the only blind date I have ever been on. I guess God knew what he was doing because that was all she wrote for me. I had been on the pill since I was 14-15 for really irregular periods. My mother was a faithful Catholic and she felt that since I was not sexually active, this was something needed for medical reason and not contraceptive.
In the beginning she was quite correct, but after Jerry and I were dating for about a year and a half, we made a decision that would affect us profoundly. We decided to cross that line and we slept together. Not only was I on the pill but we used other protection as well. I was terrified that I would get pregnant and my father would kill us both.
Forgetting the fact that the experience was less than umm...romantic...and the fact that it turns out I am allergic to certain prophylactics (imagine burning, swelling horribleness)...four weeks later on a rainy Monday morning, the stick turned pink.
Oh yea baby...I was Catholic, unmarried and pregnant...and soon to be dead if my father found out.
I remember calling my beloved long distance while hiding in the downstairs bathroom so neither my parents or any of siblings would hear my phone call. I was terrified and I though for sure that Jerry would be angry. Maybe even angry enough to say "You deal with this...I am out of here."
I am so thankful that he wasn't. He immediately took charge informing me he would be on the first flight that Saturday, we would tell my parents together, then we would fly back to Pensacola together and get married immediately. He told me he loved me and he would love this baby. There was never a mention of abortion by either one of us, praise God, and I admit there may or may not have been another discussion involving the term "Arnold Schwarzenegger sperm..." but we can discuss that another time.
I felt a huge weight of relief that even if my parents were upset, I had someone by my side to face this new and uncertain future. It was all going to be OK...or so I thought.
That Thursday I was in Biology Lab at the local Junior College, dissecting a lambs brain and I started having really bad cramps. Since I was trying to pass this particular class, I knew I couldn't leave without it impacting my grade. So I toughed it out thinking that I had eaten something wrong and now that I was pregnant I would have to change my Coke and Snickers for breakfast college diet. I bent down at one pint to look at a slide in the microscope and felt something warm, wet and sticky rolling down my leg.
I was bleeding...badly. I thought that possibly I was dying. Yea no melodrama here at all. My instructor sat me down and asked if he needed to call an ambulance. I was beyond mortified. I simply shook my head and told him my "visitor" had arrived unexpectedly. I would call my Mom and head home.
I headed to the bathroom and cleaned myself up as best I could. I was still bleeding but had a pad and change of underwear in my purse so, because I am always prepared so I took care of things and began to sweat. I walked very slowly to the pay phone (it was 1987 for gracious sakes) and called my mother. I told her what was happening and started to cry.
There was silence n the other side of the phone.
"Mom I need you to come pick me up. Something is really wrong."
"Mary Beth is there any way you could be pregnant?"
"Oh Mary Beth..."
I will never forget the sound of my mother's voice or the disappointment that was folded into those three simple words. It was the worst moment of my entire life.
joking aside...truly the worst!
Mom asked me some questions and told me where to meet her on campus. She would call our GYN and take me straight there unless he told her to go to the ER.
She arrived and we headed to the Docs office. There was silence the whole way there.
I hate silence. HATE it!
Three hours later, it was pronounced that I had a "clean" miscarriage and the ultrasound indicated that I would not need a DNC. He told me to rest and stay off my feet for the next three days and not lift anything heavy for five. He also asked if I was taking the pill or had used any contraception. I told him the truth and he laughed. "You are very fertile like your mother. I would suggest that you and your boyfriend abstain if you don't want to get pregnant again."
No problem there buddy. This girl was not ever having sex again...like not for the rest of my life. No more chances. No way, no how.
My mother was not silent on the way home. She had had time to process what was happening and proceeded to say what any mother should in this case. She informed me that I needed to go to confession as soon as possible. Big surprise there...NOT! There was also the "How could you" lecture..." and the "I am so disappointed in you" lecture..." She told me that in no uncertain terms would we be telling my father. It was done now and we would just move forward.
I almost wish my Dad had killed me at that point. I was so not in the mood for any of it. I think back to that day and all I can do now is shake my head in shame over my ingratitude and arrogance. My Mom was just doing the best she could and I didn't care.
All I cared about was Jerry. I called as soon as I arrived home. Needless to say he was quite relieved. I told him to stay put that weekend and that we would figure things out as needed. I loved him, he loved me that's all that mattered.
Time marched on and we became engaged that December. It was so romantic...not...but it was funny. Our pre-canna training existed of two hours spent with the priest that married us one weekend while Jerry was home from flight school. There was no mention of NFP just an admonition not to use birth control.
That admonition landed on pretty deaf ears. We married the following August and began our new life together. I kept telling myself that Jerry wasn't Catholic (He was raised Lutheran) so I really couldn't make him believe what I was supposed to believe now could I??
Yes, you really can talk yourself into anything when you refuse to face the truth. I stayed the pill until we had been married for about five months. My conscience had started in on my about month three and by month five I just could not do it anymore. So I told Jerry to get ready because "we" were going off the pill.
It was a very tough first pregnancy. I puked my way across the US from Cali to Florida. I gained weight just by looking at french fries and in my seventh month I was told that the horrid rash that was spreading across my face was due to the fact that my son was creating too much testosterone. Not only that but I had gained so much weight and was retaining so much fluid that I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and was put on bed rest for the last six weeks of the pregnancy.
After growing up with six brothers, I found out I was allergic to boys.
Parenthood arrived after and excruciatingly long 37 hour labor in the form of a seven pound, six ounce screaming, pooping and colicky little boy whom we named Jonathan. I tried nursing but did not have a lot of support so we soon went to formula and the bottle.
Jerry went on deployment so we did not have to talk about birth control until he came home six months later. Jonathan was a year old and Jerry was not interested in having another baby so soon. So on the pill I went until he left on his second work-up (shorter than deployment) and then I went off it while he was away. This whole time I still had not heard of NFP. We attended mass with sporadic regularity and had Jonathan baptized. There are no excuses for that time, we just wandered aimlessly.
I got pregnant again and this time we were excited. Unfortunately this pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 12 weeks and I required a DNC. We were both sad and a little heartbroken because we really did want two children.
You notice I said two.
We soon were pregnant again and this pregnancy had it's own challenges. I produced too much adrenaline which lead to my erratic heart beat from time to time. I also had issue with bladder infections. Miss Courtney arrived that summer at eight pounds, seven ounces of screaming, pooping, colicky and refluxing wonderfulness. I tried to nurse once more and this time it took.
At my four week check-up my doctor asked me what I was going to do about birth control. I didn't want to take the pill again since I was nursing and Jerry was not going to take any other precautions. I had four pregnancies, two ending in miscarriage and two which were very difficult for me. In a calm conversation, Jerry and I decided that I would get my tubes tied. We had two perfectly healthy kids and neither one of us were interested in having any more. It seemed so clean and so rational.
I all seemed so very easy, but then sin if often appealing or else why would be so attracted to it?
So three days later at the age of twenty-five I ended any chance I would ever have of having another child. I got my tubes tied.
I had no respect for my fertility and no trust in God's plan for our family. It is a decision I will morn the rest of my life.
One week later were in the ER at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Courtney was having a grand-mal seizure that they were having difficulty stopping. They thought she had a brain tumor or a horrific auto-immune disorder.
All I kept thinking was, if my daughter dies, I can't have any more children. This is God's punishment for going against His will...
|miraculously still together - Fall of 2012|
Over the course of the next few weeks, we moved from Maine to DC due to Jerry's change of duty station. My Dad battled cancer and my brother began to marry and start their own families. I started to eat my emotions and Jerry just tapped everything down. I have written about these years before here and here. Needless to say it was a very difficult time in my marriage but by the grace of God we got through it.
Over the course of the next ten years we experienced a tremendous conversion and came to fully understand what God intended for us as a couple and for our fertility and our family. Jerry converted to the faith in 1999 and is now in the application process to become a permanent Deacon in our diocese. Yes, that is God laughing. You can read the entire story here.
We were unable to reverse my tubal ligation due to a calcified fibroid tumor that had pushed through my uterine wall thereby requiring a partial hysterectomy at the tender age of 35. But God had a plan for us to redeem these choices and make them work for His good.
Four years ago we were asked by our pastor to be marriage mentors in our parish. We would work one on one with couples preparing to be married. We would meet with them, share a meal, go over their Focus tests and help with any questions they might have. They would also meet with the priest that would marry them. This way they had an example of a couple who had reminded married and faithful as well as pre-cana from the church.
It was while attending Christoper West's Theology of the Body seminar that we shared a major break through in our marriage. We realized that we had used each other for sex. We had not trusted God with the plan for our family. We sought counsel that weekend and we were asked about NFP. We shared with the priest that we could not have children anymore and he smiled and dug a little deeper. He suggested that in reparation for our choices that we abstain during a certain part of the month as if we were still fertile thereby "practicing" NFP.
That choice changed our lives, changed our marriage for the better. It began the healing of our marriage bed. When we returned home our pastor asked if we would be trained as NFP instructors and begin teaching the couples in our parish during their pre-cana time. No coincidence there for sure. Talk about God's plan. Sheesh. He could be a little more subtle...not so much. By what I can only describe as a miracle, we said yes, and now teach once or twice a year at our parish.
Yes, you read that right. We never practiced NFP during our fertile years but we now practice and teach NFP. How's that for God's little turn around??
We share our struggles and the beauty of God's plan for marriage and family planning. We share the grace that He has bestowed upon us with the two children He gave us and the many godchildren He has blessed us with as well. We want desperately for young couples today to know the truth and to understand that they are never alone in this walk as difficult as it may be at times.
We talk openly and honestly about something called "secondary chastity" and the blessing of the Sacrament of Confession. We share how when you remove God from the marriage bed, then it give the great deceiver an open opportunity to lure you both into sin through pornography and masturbation.
But know this as well...He redeems ALL things...God makes ALL things new. I am proof of this. My husband is proof of this. My marriage is proof of this. In two weeks my husband and I will celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We will stand before our beloved pastor and renew our wedding vows during a special mass. I am more excited about this evening than I was about my original wedding.
Because I understand now deep in my heart what "To love, honor and cherish" means. I make a choice every single day to live those vows out with joy.
If you are married, I pray that my story gives you hope. Hope than you can overcome anything you and your husband may be facing. If you are single, I pray my story gives you the strength to stand for what is right and pure. YOU are worth the wait. Know it and live it.
May God bless you and keep you close...
Labels: catholic family life, health and well being, married life, NFP