Why my life is better since becoming open to life

February 23, 2009 | 103 comments

“You guys aren’t going to have any more after this one, right?” a few people have asked me privately since finding out that I’m pregnant again.

“We thought about having another, but the sleepless nights, the diapers, the pregnancy and birth — ugh! Aren’t you just so ready to be done with all that?” a neighbor asked at the playground last week.

“I do not envy you, ” a lady at the grocery store said solemnly as I passed by with a cart full of three kids under five and a hugely pregnant belly.

Whenever people say things like this, I have this odd reaction of simultaneously having no idea what they’re talking about and knowing exactly what they’re talking about. My life seems so completely normal to me that I can’t imagine it any other way; yet just a few years ago I would have been horrified by the idea of having so many kids so close together and would have thought it unthinkable not to use at least five different forms of contraception to make sure that no others came along any time soon.

Up until my mid-20’s I was firm in my belief that I never wanted to have kids. A combination of events made me reconsider the issue, and by the time we got married I was open to the idea of having some pre-set, small number of kids and had begun thinking about the precise timetables on which I would have them.

Even after my husband and I came to an intellectual agreement with Catholic thought on contraception and agreed to do Natural Family Planning, I viewed my future with trepidation. I’d see women at Mass or on blogs who were pregnant and had lots of kids, or I’d hear about a Catholic couple mis-estimating their fertile period and ending up with a surprise pregnancy, and I’d think, “Ugh. That is not the life I want!”

It is surprising, then, to find that even though our combination of high fertility and high ineptitude at NFP makes me well on the way to being “one of those women, ” my life is actually much better than it was before. It would have been inconceivable to me to imagine that constantly having my plans derailed by pregnancies and not even having any idea when I’d be done changing diapers would be an improvement over my fully controlled, well-ordered life, but it has been.

Lately I’ve been imagining what I would say to 2003 Jen if I could go back in time and give her a crystal ball to show her what her future would be like. I’ve been trying to imagine how I would talk her down from the balcony ledge after the crystal ball got to the “four kids in five years — and doing NFP!” part, how I could possibly convince her that this life is not only not a recipe for misery, but the true fulfillment of everything she thought she wanted.

I would love to tell you that I’d simply be able to explain that each child is such a joy and a blessing, but that would not have resonated with Old Jen; I might have agreed, but ultimately I would have said that those joys and blessing are just too much hard work. “I just don’t see how that kind of life could be anything but miserable for someone like me, ” I would have said.

Here is what I would say in response, based on five key things I didn’t understand then that I understand now through the wisdom of Christian teaching:

1. Each of us is called to a vocation, and we’ll never find peace until we find it and throw ourselves into it.

I’ve talked before about how understanding the concept of vocation revolutionized the way I saw my life. Until I understood this concept, that God has called me to the married life and that therefore my primary purpose on this earth is to be a wife and a mother, I kept thinking that there was something “out there” in the world that was going to bring be fulfillment and joy. I was stuck in the mindset that I needed to hurry up and get these challenging diaper and temper-tantrum years out of the way so that I could get back to living my “real” life, i.e. immersing myself in worldly pursuits in search of fulfillment.

What I could not have imagined is that when I surrendered to the idea that I am a wife and a mother first, that all my other hobbies and interests are important but secondary to that primary calling, it opened the floodgates for a waves of peace and grace to wash over me.

2. The world has nothing to offer us.

At the same time I began to understand my true vocation and attempt to fully embrace it, I also began to really get the Christian concept of, to paraphrase the great theologian Yaya, “WHAT YOU THINK IS OUT THERE AIN’T OUT THERE!” I realized that all of these excellent and important things I was going to do with my life after I was out of that difficult diaper phase were nothing more than all the things I’d been doing with my life before that had just left me restless and endlessly searching for the next big thing.

Slowly I began to realize that the only thing that was ever going to bring me lasting happiness was to discern what God’s will was for my life, and to abandon myself to it.

3. “It’s not what you do, it’s whom you serve.”

A product of secular society, I’d fallen into the common notion that the way to find true happiness is to focus on yourself more and other people less. It makes perfect sense, after all: doing pleasurable things for me is fun, sacrifice and hard work are not fun; ergo, the secret to happiness must be to live for myself as much as possible. Right?

How shocked I was to discover that I was wrong — dead wrong. Part of fully understanding the concept of vocation was understanding that a vocation is not to be thought of as “what you do” as much as it is “whom you serve.” It was nothing short of revolutionary to hear the concept that God has called every one of us to serve others, that living for yourself is not a valid option; that the key to deep fulfillment, to finding your very purpose in life, is as simple as finding out the specific way in which you’re called to serve. Do that, and you will find peace.

It sounded not only too simple to be true, but too difficult. As a spoiled only child the idea of living to serve sounded terrible. But once I actually took a leap of faith and tried it, I had no doubt that this was truth.

4. When you see something as temporary, you don’t optimize.

On a practical level, I realized something that should have been more obvious to me given my business background: when you see a situation as temporary, you don’t optimize.

Back when I saw pregnancy and birth and babies and diapers and the terrible two’s as just a brief phase of life, my mentality was to simply grit my teeth and get through it. I had the luxury of belaboring every inconvenience because I knew in the back of my mind that it would all soon pass.

But once I changed my view to see new life as an inherent part of marriage and made no more long-term plans about exactly when we’d be done having kids, I was forced to confront the difficulties of the baby/toddler years in a new way. Now I was motivated to really get creative and brainstorm with my husband about how we could overcome some of the difficulties of these years and make things run more smoothly. And, due to some combination of natural psychological mechanisms and the grace of God, all those things about having little ones that had seemed like such a big deal just weren’t that much of a big deal anymore once I saw it all as a lifestyle instead of a brief phase of life.

5. Life is better when you don’t try to control everything.

One of the most frightening things about this lifestyle change — taking the decision about whether or not to have more kids month by month, seeing openness to life as the default, not using contraception even though we’re bad at NFP — was the lack of control.

“But what about my plans?!” I’d think. “What about those lists of things I want to accomplish in the next five, ten, twenty years? How can I make progress on that if I don’t even know how many kids I’ll have and when I’ll have them?!”

As I’ve said before, after a few years of living this way I’ve come to the shocking conclusion that my plans weren’t actually that great. I’ve seen over and over again that just taking it day by day, discerning what God wants me to do here and now and not worrying about the long-term, is a far more fulfilling way to live.

What I was ultimately searching for with all those grand plans was a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of making a difference, a life of excitement, joy, peace and happiness. Little did I know that children would never get in the way of any of that, because those things are not the result of well-crafted goals spreadsheets and to-do lists; they are only found in God.

And then, of course, there’s this:

…the “result” of my first surprise pregnancy, snuggling with her grandfather. Children are only burdens when they’re theoretical. Once they’re here, you don’t need any further analysis to know that they are priceless gifts from God, that whatever you had to sacrifice for them to exist was a small price to pay.


  1. Betty Beguiles

    I know I’ve already told you this but I had to go on record as saying that this is probably my favorite thing you’ve ever written! 😉

  2. Janet in Toronto

    You have beautifully articulated what I have been feeling for the past few years, when life changed dramatically (stopped working outside the home) and I became Catholic (2 years later, in 2004).

    I wish I’d figured this all out in my 20s and not my 40s.

    Thank you for this wonderful post.

  3. Beth@Not a Bow in Sight

    Oh, the need to be in control…or at least feel like you’re in control.

    I was deeply convicted by your thought about not just “gritting my teeth and bearing” this season of life. My life with three children 5 and under is not something to “get through.” It’s a privilege that I “get” to do!

  4. Sarah L.

    Thanks, Jen. I’m about to give birth to my fourth (in six years), too, and this just…..helps.

    Good luck with the birth!

  5. Marla Taviano


  6. Anonymous

    This was an amazing post… I have just spent the last hour or so reading the posts you linked from your previous Lenten reading post, and it just amazes me so much, it reassures me so much, that you are a real person with hardwired secular humanist roots who is daily struggling with the same kinds of issues that I am, issues that I can’t readily discuss with people around me because no one can relate. And right now the big one for me is birth control. The other day I was praying the rosary a little louder than usual because I was alone, and for some reason all the words relating to femininity and fertility really stood out to me… “Blessed are you among women,” “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” “mother of God”… and I started getting really upset, that I had been lied to my whole life, by older women and Cosmo and the health care industry and MTV and everything else, that contraception was an ultimate good, that the best contraception was the one that prevented life the best and minimized the disruption to your life the most. My major stumbling block to grace is birth control. I have to unload it every time in the confessional.

    I used to think of it in practical terms- “Well, everyone uses birth control. It’s just a reality of life. I know plenty of good Catholics that use birth control.” I understood the underlying theological reasons for not using it, but from a practical standpoint it didn’t make sense. (We have 4 kids! I have to work so we can afford our house! I like being thin and not changing diapers!) But gradually, over the past few months, my practical reasons for not having more children have fallen away or become less important… not to the point that I necessarily think we should have more kids, but where I wouldn’t be afraid to follow the church’s teaching in this regard. And more and more, I am upset about the Big Lie that society has sold all of us- divorcing sex from its purpose, of giving life, and all the distortions and evils that have ensued (plenty of which have occured in my own life…)

    My husband is a content atheist- he doesn’t think I’m nuts for thinking about these things, but he’s not willing to take the leap and rely on NFP or anything like that. (Which, I can hardly blame him- a year ago I wouldn’t have thought it was a good idea either.) So I feel kind of stuck. You are lucky to have a husband who is on the same page with you with this kind of stuff… I don’t know what else to do, besides pray for him. In the meantime, I can’t help but feel sad about the ways that this attitude has affected my life and the lives of others… I definitely feel like I “wished away” the babyhood of my children to some extent, waiting for the day when I’d have more freedom to do “exciting things.”

  7. Marcie

    What a beautiful post! I’m currently 2 months pregnant with #5. Part of me just can’t wait to meet this new blessing from God, but there’s still a lingering part of me that wonders why I’m doing the whole “thoroughly exhausted and nauseated” thing again. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. Double D

    Oh my. I just discovered your blog, and it feels like you’re speaking directly to me. This post in particular is terribly moving and appropriate for me.

    Thank you, thank you. You are truly gifted and blessed.

  9. Anonymous

    As a, well maybe I won’t say how old, woman who will never have any more children I have to say this post made me cry. I’m at that stage where I’m – jealous – of your babies and of the chance to hold and snuggle with that wonderful new life. I love my children. I’m so glad you love yours.

    Jane M

  10. Heather of the EO

    I think my life just changed. No pressure or responsibility of yours, I promise. I just really needed to read this right at this moment.

    Something God has been speaking to me just became very clear.

    Thank you for speaking your heart on this issue.

    God is good. Amazing. Wow…

  11. Colleen

    What a beautiful post. God bless.

  12. Kate Wicker


    You made me cry.

    Of course, so did tonight’s episode of 24. (This pregnancy has made me more emotional than my past ones.)

    Seriously. This is something I need to come back and read every time NFP-related fear creeps into my life.


  13. matthew archbold

    great. absolutely great.

  14. Elizabeth

    The moment I let go, God blessed me with twins. Well, maybe not THE moment; but shortly thereafter! My life has never been happier or more fulfilled than with my 5 wonderful children. Yes, it’s challenging, yes it’s crazy AT TIMES, but I fully and totally believe God has given me the life He wanted for me all along. I’ve truly never been happier.

    Elizabeth Esther

  15. Jenny

    I agree with Mrs. Beguiles – it’s wonderful! And made me feel so “normal” 🙂

  16. Jenny

    Oh, and it reminds me of two of my favorite quotes from Mother Theresa:

    “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers!”

    “I know God won’t give me more than I can handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”

  17. SuburbanCorrespondent

    Sigh. I wish you were older than me, so you can tell me what to do now that I am 45, no more babies, and completely at sea! I, too, used to be totally selfish; I, too, learned the joy of total surrender to the needs of my growing family. I know, in theory, my job is still to love and serve my family; but there is no longer that sense of focus and direction that caring for a baby brings to everything. Things are, quite frankly, sort of boring (with 6 kids!) and I find myself wanting to do something in addition to just caring for my family. It is no longer enough. These feelings are shocking to me – I had considered my old selfish self to be long dead and buried. Yet here she is again.

  18. April

    Oh my, I needed this. Though we are not Catholic, we don’t practice birth control. I’m giving birth to our third child next week and right now she is breech. This means a C-section, unless she turns. (Turn, baby, turn!)

    I have high-risk pregnancies, too, but I’ve been fine with having babies on God’s time, especially since God has seen fit to space them out every two years so far! 🙂 However, I’ve been really struggling with the loss of control that a C-section seems to present. What freaks me out is that I am going to have to take some responsibility in not-conceiving. My body will need some time to heal, after all. So how do we not use BC and remain healthy and trust God in the midst of all of it? NFP seems to be the answer. But my instinct is to be all-or-nothing about so many things and pregnancy/ family planning is one of them. Thanks for reminding me that this life is truly a calling and I need to be faithful in the most real of ways, even if inconvenient to me. I appreciate the reality check and the reminder.

    I’ll be praying for you on Monday! God go with you, Jen!

  19. Tries Everything

    Great blog! As for the lady in the grocery store saying she felt sorry for you. I think she means the teenage years. I have five, opps sorry counted my husband. I mean four children. And one is a teen. I am dreading the next one in line to becoming a teen. But Like is full and couldnt imagine life without my kids either.

  20. chickadee@afamiliarpath

    after just giving birth to my fourth and slowly coming to the realization that kids are a blessing and many of the other things you articulated here so well, i, too, know there is nothing i could say to my younger self to convince me i was wrong then to think of children as a burden and an inconvenience.

    i’ve often sought to persuade so many other young women i know who are putting off starting a family or thinking they’ll not have children at all, that they are missing out on so much. but it’s an impossible task. it’s something you have to experience to believe.

  21. Stephanie D.

    Well, I’m neither Catholic, nor young enough to have more children, but I found this post beautiful enough to venture out of lurkdom and say how fortunate your children are. How different their childhood will be from those whose moms are waiting for their “real lives” to begin.

  22. Ouiz

    This whole post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from CS Lewis:

    “The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is, of course, that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

  23. Kristen

    So beautiful!! And that last photograph brought me to tears.

  24. Holly

    That photo is just too cute! 😀

  25. Rebekka

    You are so lucky!

  26. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer, this is beautiful, a wonderful, poignant tribute to what you are about to experience, and what has come before this. And just as you’ve said here, any of the worrying that may have happened even on occasion in this pregnancy will melt away the moment you hold that new little being in your arms. And the whole world will rejoice with you! Take good care; we all await news of another soul in our world.

  27. Kelley

    Amen,sister! I may not have practive NFP, but I agree that it’s okay to be content being a wife and mother. We really don’t have to “prove” ourselves worthy to the world. I know my worth when I hear my kids call me by name, Mom.

    (I just really hope that they don’t call me during the night….I do like my sleep….:)

  28. Elizabeth

    Thank you. Simply thank you.

  29. Charlotte

    are you saying that this is something you've personally been called to & have seen the beauty/goodness in being open to that call or are you saying this is something that all married women are called to?

  30. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    Co-creating with God is unspeakable grace…

    Life-giving words, Jen…

    Every blessing,

  31. Kylie w Warszawie

    True that Jennifer.

    My biggest problem is where I live. I have 3 children under 6 (I would have 4 but I miscarried) and a teenager. Poles (a 98% Catholic country!) shudder when they see us coming. They make tons of rude comments and will tell me to my face that I am not a good mother.

    And this is a Catholic country. But it’s not a tolerant country.

    I like it here. It’s better than many other places I’ve lived in many ways. But I sometimes miss Ghana and when I was told by anyone on the street that my children were a blessing.

  32. the Egyptian

    God Bless You, I am the father of 5 children, our youngest, Tony 3, was killed in a tragic accident (I backed over him with my pickup) it’s been over 5 years now and how I wish we could have had more, we married at 25 and found that it required fertility meds for my Wife and I to have children, we were both 45 when he died, It ruined our lives. For a year we tried but it seemed that it was not meant to be,the only reason I bring this up is to tell everyone reading this list, have um, hug um, love um, and hold on tight, just remember that God has a plan, I tell my children don’t wait, time is too short. My eldest Daughter is expecting in July, I know when I hold the little rascal, I’ll cry my eyes out.
    Keep up the faith

    One sad Father, (I must be the only male reading this blog)referred by Creative Minority Report

  33. Can I Change A Life?

    I don’t even know where to start with how much you moved me today. You are a blessing to all of us. I thank God for calling you, and you for hearing Him.

  34. Amanda

    Just thought I would add my praise to this chorus. It is a truly excellent post that hits directly at so many of our modern fallacies. Thank you for being such an articulate voice for biblical Christian thought. May God continue to bless your family in every way.

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  35. graceunbound

    Absolutely beautiful. I just dropped my oldest off at school this morning and as he hugged me and smiled up into my eyes I knew that this is my vocation, my calling. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

  36. meta

    Anon – you and your hubby are in my prayers!

    Jennifer – I don’t remember if I’ve written this before, but maybe you and your husband should consider learning the Creighton model of NFP. While I haven’t had to use it for this purpse yet, I’ve heard it’s much easier to read your signs of returning fertility than sympto-thermal method. Takes a little effort to learn, but is much more comprehensive.

  37. Anonymous

    Wonderful post. I have always wanted children, but have not been so blessed, mainly through my own faults: clouded thinking due to pre-marital sex, no pre-marital counseling to make sure we were on the same page, contracepting until we were “ready,” and sadly, finally realizing my spouse would never be ready.

    Please, please, all of you that can be open to life, do so, if it is God’s Will. It helps take away some of the heartache to see you Blessed parents with your children.

    Children are never the burden. The burden, which I offer daily as my cross to bear, is a marriage without children, due to one’s own foolish choices. The Church knows what it is Teaching.


  38. Renee

    Recently met a mother of five, with two sets of twins. She was so happy to meet another mother who had more then two. Her comments are a bit more severe, since she had her fist at 18 and is only 24. She’s with her husband since she 15. I told her when people comment, assume it is out of curiosity and nothing more. People realize what they are saying, I think they want to make conversation but it’s just comes out all wrong based on how we view family planning in our society.

    When I had only two, a girl and a boy, people would comment I had ‘the perfect family’. Once in an elevator, with only three a man commented if ‘they were all mine’, I responded yes and I had another in schools. His response was ‘To stop’ in front of my six year old.

    I never cared for those internet items that spoke of a mother’s or father’s position as a job calculating what we do as parents. While parenting creates skills that may be utilized out of the home, I do cringe when people think of it as a job, whether it be hard or easy.

    You can’t quit being a parent, but also you can’t get fired either. It’s nothing like employment.

  39. Jeni

    I need to hear this today. Thank you.

  40. Liz

    I just finished reading a book on feminism, Catholicism, and La Leche League that placed a lot more emphasis on the feminist part than anything else. The author criticized the founding mothers of LLL for taking the very positions you have embraced. I feel really sorry for the author because she has missed the best of both what the Church and LLL had to offer her and she’s now missing the chance to help other people see those things as well. Meanwhile you, with three (soon to be four) little people are helping others embrace a life that will ultimately bring them joy rather than dollars and status. I think you’ve chosen the better part.

  41. all that i am

    I am 50,now, mother of 4 children in 5 years, our eldest turned 5 in february and number 4 was born in march
    22 months between 1 & 2 and 2 & 3, and baby three was 8 months old when we concieved baby number 4.

    I felt I was taking away baby number 3's babyhood…and that I'd have nothing for the new baby, let alone the older two…
    I moped around and fretted when we first found out…complained and agonized so much I'm sure, that my husband finally asked me, "Well, what would you like to do?"
    There's nothing I would do…would ever consider or want to do…

    and so with his wise words what I did was embrace this gift of God, definitely no planning on our part!!

    BUT I WAS NOT ABOUT TO BE CAUGHT OFF GUARD AGAIN…I had my tubes tied the day after i gave birth

    and our lives were sweet, until a few years ago…at this very time…just before Lent…when our priest said to me after a high school youth group meeting that my husband and I had been leading for years now…since all our kids were 'teenagers', by this time?!?

    Our priest complimented us on our ability to relate to the kids and then went on to praise our own kids…and our parenting skills…

    He said with all the problems kids have these days and parents have…that he wished we had had at least a dozen………….

    and I began to cry

    maybe we should have

    maybe that was God's plan

    maybe in my fear, of not being able to be 'enough' to my kids, and my fear of what everyone else was saying about us.. all those years ago…I thwarted God's perfect plan?!??

    and for the first time in my life
    I realized the sin we had committed
    and I began that Lenten season confessing something I never even understood/or believed about the teachings of the Church

    Oh we practiced NFP, religiously, I have years worth of charts of basal body temperatures and mucus viscosities…
    but I felt like a failure…It didn't work for us…

    Maybe it worked just right

    and we should be the parents of many more wonderful grown and still growing children

    My husband shared something with his men's group too that I was touched by
    they are in the middle of lessons on marriage and were discussing the church's teaching on birth control…most of the other guys said…oh their wives take care of that…they just so casually don't even consider why the church holds that hard teaching in this day and age…

    my husband said, he never felt closer than during those years when he knew exactly where we were in my cycle…what could be done…what could be some options!?!?

    I know this is far too much information, but GO FOR IT GIRL
    have all the babies God has for you…and I know with your powerful, public faith…(which I'm sure is even a more powerful and intimate faith…)
    I know your children will grow confidently in faith in this world and walk into eternity with you to meet their God

    May God bless and keep you
    May God's face shine on you
    May God be kind to you and give you peace

    I absolutely love reading what you write…how did the radio broadcast go?!?

  42. runningatlarge

    How beautiful. Thank you so much for this post. My husband and I just found out we’re expecting baby #4, and are afraid to tell anyone because of the reaction we expect! Thanks for reminding me we aren’t alone with being bad at NFP, and loving our children.

  43. mom v many

    Yes, being open to life is much better! Expecting our 4th folks were raising their eyebrows. Expecting our 6th they were exceptionally unkind and quite vocal. Expecting our 10th made us celebrities…..That was 8yrs ago….I wonder what they are going to do when I tell them I’m now expecting our 11th at 47yrs old?

  44. Melissa

    Okay, I’ve never commented before, but I need to say that that was just lovely.

  45. Luke

    Great points!

    I can relate to the lifestyle point of #4. College is the same way. High schoolers ask me, “Is college hard, since you have so much more to do?”

    No. It’s not. Because you live there. College is your life. High school is just something you attend for an inordinate amount of time each day [smile].

    As for being bad at NFP… well, my wife and I can’t seem to get it to work to help us get pregnant. But, so far so good; now we’re on the road of adoption and seeing the huge blessing there.


  46. Jeannette

    I just tell them they’re being intolerant of my alternative lifestyle.
    Or ask if they’re counting on these guys for their Social Security.
    Or ask which one they think you should have done without? (Not recommended when there’s a good chance they have a particular one in mind)
    Or tell them (reserved for only the snottiest glares) that Dave and I have a moral obligation to the gene pool.
    Or that there are two kinds of contraceptives: the stuff that doesn’t work, and the stuff that’s really, really bad for you. (It’s weird; ob-gyn’s get really sheepish when I say that. huh.)
    Or you could have a few more. The comments have stopped now that we’re up to eight; I guess they’re speechless or they figure it’s hopeless.
    Or I admit that our plan was to stop at three; we had the yard sale, gave everything else away. And when our fourth one arrived, she was so sweet, so beautiful inside and out, that we immediately realized that since our plan hadn’t involved our Annie, it was a very stupid plan. Then we had our fifth, and heard our first sermon against contraceptives-in 11 years of marriage. And we said, “How dumb is that? It’s still a sin, and it’s not even working! Like robbing a bank and not getting enough to cover gas money!” And we’re not very good at NFP either, but we don’t consider them mistakes; they’re more like bonus gifts, just for playing!

  47. Anonymous

    Beautiful post, Jennifer. I too have four children. My husband and I were so happy to have them, but then something changed. We began to feel as if our family was complete. This is what I have such a hard time with, being a practicing Catholic and trying to be faithful to the Church’s teachings. What if, you think you stink as a mom of little babies/toddlers/preschoolers and really have a hard time with those years? I mean, we all have different talents and abilities, and not every woman can handle huge families. What if, through prayer and discernment you come to the conclusion that your family is complete. Is that wrong? I don’t long for the baby days at all. What is God telling me? Everyone stops having children at some point. Should that be our decision or are we all supposed to keep having children, regardless?

  48. Fruitful Harvest

    Great Post!
    I’m a married Catholic quiverfull momma of 6 blessings so far!


  49. Anonymous

    Thank you for this post. Doubtless so many will gain from it.

    To the last Anonymous: I, too, have “only” four children, and have struggled (with my husband) with whether to have more. I think there are some important points to remember.

    First, I’m assuming you’re a practicing Catholic, so you would only be using NFP. Good news for you. You ARE following the Church’s teachings on marriage and family. Nowhere does the Church teach that everyone has to have as many children as physically possible. That is why we have NFP. Remember that the observable fertility cycle is part of God’s creation as is our intellect and ability to discern. If you practice NFP to avoid pregnancy for the time being you are still open to life. Only artificial contraception closes you off. Otherwise NFP would not be legit in the Church. You are OPEN to life. No one should feel guilty if they do not feel capable of handling 12 children. You precious and strong mothers of large-to-very-large families need to remember this. I stand in awe of you. But we are not all that strong. I know many who do not understand the phenomenon of the serious Catholic family who only has 3 or 4 or 5. You may not have the same limitations as some of us. To me it’s very humbling that I could not excel at such a task.

    That said I recommend that you pray continually about this. I myself am not quite ready to say “we are done” because I don’t want to limit God. I feel that we might be done. But I am not sure. My reasoning is regarding what (emotionally, not materially) I am able to give to my children and give it to them well. I have a lot of baggage from before I got married (bad life) and I am not a hugely patient person. I struggle not to lose my patience and yell at my children. I struggle to give them a good life and the faith. I don’t think having another baby right now would help that. You have to know yourself and what you can handle.

    Finally, read the article by Janet Smith called The Moral Use of NFP. Google and you’ll find it. I think you will find it helpful. She has some interesting points to make on NFP, generosity, and family size.

    God bless.

  50. steedj

    Gems like this are the reasons I look forward to reading your blog so much.

    Thanks for a great argument for your vocation!

  51. Koala Bear Writer

    Thanks for sharing this. A while ago, I posted on my blog after getting frustrated with people making similar comments, not about me, but about my friend with seven kids. It’s wonderful to hear from you, not only the joys but also the struggles. I’m looking forward to it… and trying to learn what you’ve learned, about vocation and service and real meaning in life. 🙂

  52. Anonymous

    Thank you Anonymous, from anonymous above. I will look for the Janet Smith article. We have been practicing NFP for 14 years now. Our youngest child is 6. I love having older children. Maybe I appreciate them more now because those early days were one big blur.

  53. NancyinAbq

    Thank you, Jen, for sharing your heart. I am a grandmother now after having been blessed with 5 children. I know you are swimming upstream in this hedonistic culture that tells you that you need to take care of yourself first. Praise God that you are following His direction for your life and have found the truth, the real fulfillment in our short earthly life. God bless you and your family.

  54. Anonymous

    To Anonymous above again: What you say resonates very much with my experience. My youngest is 4 now. What I feel is relief that I know I am capable of meeting most of their needs now without falling apart. They are all pretty close together, so I understand the blur factor of the early years. To others who may not understand: This is not a control-freak issue. It is not a need to be in control (or have everything perfect). I know that is God’s job not mine. It is a peace that you are able to properly care for the precious ones God has entrusted to you.

  55. Charlotte

    I would love for some of you to read The Myth of the Perfect Mother by Carla Barnhill and/or look at the web site, themommyrevolution.wordpress.com & tell me your thoughts. I posted about some of this on my blog at http://gladdentheheart.blogspot.com/2009/02/revolution.html

    It would be great for me to hear some of your opinions about all of this.

    Jennifer–if you don't want to post this comment, i understand. I respect you & your readers & would love to hear what some of you have to say about these issues. But I see how you might not want to put this on your comments…

  56. Kaycee

    This is a beautiful post.

  57. Anonymous

    Your blog was just recommended to me by a friend. I found this entry puzzling. First off, I don’t know what you mean about “not being good at NFP.” Did you try to learn from a book and aren’t sure what your signs are, is your husband disconnected from the process or what? I had assumed that my own experience with NFP was normal. My cycles are highly irregular, but taking my temperature and glancing at the toilet tissue is pretty easy, and my husband keeps the chart, so I don’t have to do everything. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had difficulty with NFP. Did you know that Couple to Couple League offers free consultations to members? You can call them up and ask questions, or even send them your chart, and they’re happy to help you sort out your data.

    My second concern is that you seem to disparage women who do successfully use NFP to space their children. It almost as if you pride yourself on your ineptitude with NFP because it means you have four children very close in age, which seems to imply that women who use NFP successfully are somehow more selfish or controlling or have less trust in God. I hope that’s not what you meant to imply. You don’t seem like the judgmental type, so perhaps you could elaborate your thoughts on control versus surrender to God’s will.

    Despite these two questions, I’m very, very grateful to have found your blog. I recently decided to drop out of my PhD program after the master’s degree because I realized that I could only fulfill my vocation if I devoted myself to it wholeheartedly. It’s the best decision I ever made (with the exception of marrying my husband). Deciding to devote myself to my husband, our son and any children God blesses us with in the future has given me tremendous peace of mind. I’m still torn a little right now as I finish my last class, but I eagerly await graduation and the chance to get on with living the life God set out for me.

  58. Marianne Thomas

    This post — like so much of what you write – really challenges me to look at my own life and my faith and where I really stand.

    It’s good – thank you for sharing so openly and eloquently.

    I’ve given you The Lemonade Award; you can click here for the image and the rules.

    Thank you for all that you do!

  59. Anonymous


    Every time I read one of your posts, it brings me a little closer to God. Thank you for this. I’m going to send it to everyone who is giving me flak about being pregnant again.

    Sending love and prayers,

  60. Anonymous

    Thank you.

  61. Anonymous

    Wish I had come to the same conclusion before talking my husband into permanent birth control.

  62. Anonymous

    Could you do a survey to see how many other women regret using artificial birth control?

  63. Alicia


  64. Sarah

    I am not kidding when I say that I just fell upon your blog on this very day that I am feeling a bit pregnant with what will be my 4th child. If this pregnant feeling is correct, he or she will be my 4th baby in 5 years even though I had grand plans to use NFP. HAH!!

    I too am a convert and have struggled greatly with being open to life but have found that in being open to life I become more open to life.

    God bless you in your vocation. Certainly this blog is an important part of it. I’m going to print out this article and pass it out; maybe I’ll wallpaper my house with it!

    You will be in my prayers in the next month, dear woman. God bless you.

  65. Garden Gal

    I think this is one of my all-time favorite "mommy" posts ever. Thanks for taking the time to process, articulate & share – it's beautiful.

  66. Lana

    There have been quite a number of comments about what it means to be “bad” at NFP and all of the implications. It took me two surprise pregnancies (out of three) to realize that charting errors, or conception at unlikely times while using NFP is BUILT INTO the method. I am embarrassed to say that I spent quite a bit of time beating myself up for my “interpretation errors,” while completely missing the point.
    For those who use it “successfully” in the sense of not conceiving unexpectedly, I imagine this would be hard to understand. It can be tempting to feel that you have some “control,” but that is not quite right. Yes, NFP can be used to space babies or even decide not to have any more. However, if you and spouse are intimate, there is always the chance of conception, and to think otherwise is simply mistaken.
    Now, why God would choose to have some conceive and others not while using NFP is not something any of us can answer. Jen, I think you wrote this post with great humility, as you chronicle grappling with the question of “what now” (a few times over!).

  67. Denise

    Thank you. Absolutely beautiful.

  68. Kelly @ Love Well

    This post moved me deeply, Jennifer. I’m not sure I can put it all into words. But I love your focus on vocation.

    Looking forward to the news about the new little one.

  69. Andrea

    Jen, I love this post. I love the way you bring together the concepts of vocation and openness to life–it is so refreshing to read your thoughts, because as a new mom of one young baby I have been discouraged to hear many, many negative comments about motherhood from other Christian mothers. I know they love their babies, and sometimes I almost think the complaining is merely superficial and a bad habit, rather than reflecting how they really feel toward their children–but at other times I do think it reflects a contraceptive mentality and losing sight of the importance of this vocation of bringing new life into the world.

    To the most recent anonymous commenter who left a long comment–I don’t know whether Jen usually comments on threads or not, but I thought I would say something about the criticisms you brought up because I think I see the misunderstanding here. I don’t think Jen is implying that women who are “bad at NFP” are less selfish or less controlling than women who successfully use NFP to avoid pregnancy. The dichotomy is instead between, on the one hand, accepting and embracing the fact that children are a normal part of marriage, and on the other hand, giving up on NFP and just using whatever kind of birth control it takes in order to “regain control” of your life.

    Anyone who has had several surprise pregnancies even while doing NFP has probably had a lot of people tell her “you should just get on the pill,” and I think Jen is reaffirming her commitment to remain open to life no matter how the NFP goes–not judging women who have a high level of success in using NFP to avoid/postpone pregnancy. And also sharing how she is finding joy in this stage of life, rather than falling prey to the social pressure to see children as a burden, especially children that weren’t part of the carefully drawn up and spreadsheeted “life plan.”

  70. Jessica

    Wow I needed this today. I am journaling about every point you made here this morning. Really profound, Thanks.

  71. Sharon

    Great post. I love your perspective. We must learn to treasure each and every day.

    Just a quick note to suburban correspondent: Just wait until you have grandchildren. You haven’t lived until then!

    May God’s richest blessing be showered upon you as you encourage others to follow wholeheartedly after Him.

    Sharon Reece

  72. Anonymous

    To Lana,

    I feel the need to comment because you may mislead some people. It is not correct to say that charting errors and conception at unlikely times are “built into the method.” I have heard this viewpoint before. The reason that NFP is a morally acceptable way to space children is NOT because it doesn’t work!

    The different methods of NFP are very scientific. You must correctly learn to observe your fertility signs that all women have. It is simply impossible to get pregnant without the presence of fertile mucus. And when that mucus is there you certainly may get pregnant. I’m not even talking about temperature here (some methods use it, others don’t).

    One must distinguish between method error and user error. There are statistics out there that have the various methods of NFP way up there with (and even higher than some) artificial methods! If you are getting pregnant using NFP we are most likely talking about user error. I have heard many people say they have NO IDEA how they got pregnant this time. There is no mystery!

    And there is nothing wrong with planning your family according to your means (I’m not just talking material means here). That is what NFP stands for natural FAMILY PLANNING. Planning is not necessarily controlling.

    What makes NFP different than artificial means? You are still giving your whole self to your spouse and not “blocking” your fertility from him or her. There are no physical barriers. You are merely limiting your full giving of yourselves to the infertile times. And you are likely gaining grace from the ascetic value of abstaining when you really would rather not. See the difference? With artificial contraception you get your cake and eat it too. You can make love whenever you want without worry of getting pregnant because you’ve fixed mother nature. You’ve played God. You put something in there or monkeyed with your cycle using hormones. That’s the difference.

    In my own experience of 13 years only once have we gotten pregnant when we meant to wait. And the only reason that happened is that we just couldn’t wait and threw the charts and the caution to the wind (and now we have a lovely 4-year-old for it!).

    I have met many people who have had trouble practicing it because they waited to learn it until they were older and already had several kids. I believe it is so much harder to learn it this way. First of all, in order to learn to observe you’re going to have to abstain for a certain amount of time. Also the husband isn’t used to this and that can cause a strain. Nevertheless it is possible. But good observation is key!

    I love hearing about couples who don’t feel that they need to use NFP. They can just accept them as they come. That is very beautiful. It is also beautiful to sometimes throw caution to the wind and say let’s be open to a child right now. And it is also beautiful to look at the gifts that you have and realize that to properly fulfill your duty as a parent you may have to wait a while or indefinitely for the next one. After all parenting is forever. It’s not just about bringing them into the world.

    Sorry about the long post. I just think it’s so important to get this information out about NFP. It does really work! I like to think that can help us bring people to accept it and put away their contraception for good. How can we help them do that if we say the only other thing out there is this method that doesn’ t really work???

  73. Pies

    Why is NFP “legal” for Catholics, while other forms of contraception aren’t? Is it because NFP has a vastly higher failure rate?

    Consider that the premise of NFP is the same as with other forms of contraception, i.e. allows you to have sex for fun, avoiding pregnancy. The only actual difference I can see is the failure rate.


  74. 'Becca

    Could you please refrain from cheap shots at only children? Describing yourself as spoiled is adequate to say what you mean. It is not because you were an only child that you were spoiled; it is because of the choices your parents made about how to raise you. While those choices are easier to maintain with a small family than with a large one, they are not exclusive to families with one child, nor do all families with one child raise that child to be a selfish individualist.

    Suburban Correspondent wrote:
    I know, in theory, my job is still to love and serve my family; but there is no longer that sense of focus and direction that caring for a baby brings to everything. Things are, quite frankly, sort of boring (with 6 kids!) and I find myself wanting to do something in addition to just caring for my family. It is no longer enough. These feelings are shocking to me – I had considered my old selfish self to be long dead and buried. Yet here she is again.

    Hey, that is not selfish! or not necessarily–it depends on what the “something” you want to do is. If it in any way improves the lives of anyone outside your family, and if you could do it without harming your family, then you could be doing MORE to serve others in addition to raising your kids; what’s selfish about that??

    An Anonymous wrote:
    What if, through prayer and discernment you come to the conclusion that your family is complete. Is that wrong?

    As an Episcopalian, I believe that is an example of hearing God’s call regarding God’s plan for your life.

    Another Anonymous replied:
    Remember that the observable fertility cycle is part of God’s creation as is our intellect and ability to discern. If you practice NFP to avoid pregnancy for the time being you are still open to life. Only artificial contraception closes you off.

    I agree with your first sentence. The rest makes about as much sense to me as a Shabbos Elevator. (Orthodox Jews believe it is wrong to press an elevator button on the Sabbath, but if an elevator is set to stop on every floor you can use it to get where you’re going!) NFP is a method of consciously trying to control when you become pregnant. It can fail; every form of chemical, barrier, and surgical contraception can fail, too, and some are more fallible than NFP. If it’s wrong to use your intellect and discernment to prevent pregnancy by keeping the sperm away from the egg with a piece of plastic, it’s wrong to do so by abstaining whenever you think you’re fertile, IN MY OPINION. I use NFP myself and have used several forms of contraception, and the only distinction I see is between hormonal contraceptives (which are mind-altering drugs and which I instinctively felt were a warped, unhealthy thing to do to my body) and everything else.

    Anybody hoping to improve the effectiveness of NFP, either to avoid or to encourage pregnancy, read up on saliva ferning. The handy gadget sold at ovulens.com really helped me when I was getting started with NFP.

    Jennifer, although I don’t agree with all of your beliefs, I am glad you’re at peace with your vocation, and I wish you a smooth and safe birth!

  75. Daiquiri

    This was a timely post for me – just had a conversation with a friend who has 6 kids and hoping to be pregnant again soon (and is praying for twins). To think of it…it just makes me want to weep! I can’t imagine it. It’s definitely a calling for her (but not for me).

    I had 4 kids in just under 6 years. I feel absolutely at the end of having kids. My husband does too. It feels so good to just “be here” now – not looking to a future filled with more change. That’s what I’ve been telling myself lately. (as if not having more kids means no more change). It’s that control thing you talk about, I know.

    What you said about trying to just get through the current stage really hit home with me. Why did I not feel like I could just “be here” then? Even with change happening? I don’t know.

    My main reason for wanting to be done growing our family was simply that I want to be a certain “kind” of mom. I want to be really involved in activities, I want to be the “fun house” with the kids’ friends over, I want to do fun stuff as a family. With four kids, I already feel like I can’t be as involved as I’d like to be sometimes.

    All of that being said, I’m really sad that my pregnancy and new baby days are over. What an amazing blessing!

    Thanks for your great blog – really enjoy it 🙂

  76. Anonymous

    Dear Pies,

    Read my post directly above yours. If you were right then the only time we could enjoy sex with our spouse would be when we knew we would conceive. That is obviously bonkers. This is a great mistake that many make. Why is having sex for fun bad??? Why does everyone think the Church thinks sex is bad and shouldn’t ever be fun? Unless a baby is conceived. No, no, no.

    It doesn’t have anything to do with what you say is the premise. It’s the act itself of artificially blocking the possibility of conception by some external means (barriers, hormones) in this act here and now. NFP never ever does that. Every time a man and woman who are practicing NFP come together in the infertile phase they are giving their whole selves to one another. He is not saying you can have everything except my fertility because I’m wearing a condom. She is not saying you can have every part of me but my fertility because I blocked it by taking the Pill. They come completely together in every way.

    In the fertile phase they avoid conception by simply not coming together. So there is no act of love in which the partner hold a part of themselves back from one another. Does that make sense to you? That is why NFP is never called contraception. There is nothing happening in any one particular act of sex that prevents conception.

    Another side issue is that NFP might possibly be used for selfish reasons. Like I only want two kids so I can have a big fancy house and nice vacations. But even then the problem (sin) is not contraception. It never can be with NFP. The problem is a lack of generosity. And that’s a different problem. But it’s not a sexual one.

    I truly hope I have made this clear.

    Peace to you.

  77. Anonymous


    The difference is actually more like night and day. The common analogy used is how do you earn money to provide for yourself. You either get a job or you can rob a bank. Both outcomes are the same; however, the moral and practical considerations are large.

    With “artificial” means, you are supposedly forcing a certain outcome. You actually frustrate the fertility process with a clear intent. With NFP, you simply accept the fertility process and use that knowledge for planning your family.

    Love is a gift, and to truly love, you give of yourself totally, with a free choice, and only to your spouse, with the idea that your love grows, whether in virtue or family size. These are your wedding vows in a Christian marriage. It should be obvious that artificial options disrupt all of those vows. By taking something to frustrate your (or as a couple really) fertility you are with-holding a part of yourself, not being faithful in that you have selfish intentions or desires with your spouse, obviously not fruitful, and usually not a free choice in that for many couples, they end up not being able to chose, especially with permanent options (even mentioned in the comments here).

    And then finally, you suggested the only difference is effectiveness. That is not true. Modern forms of NFP are greater than 99% effective in perfect use, same as many other options. If you read differently, check the sources. You’ll see that “NFP” numbers include a wide variety of miscellaneous options such as nothing at all.

    Another point to keep in mind are the health and environmental benefits of NFP. Think of all those chemicals and energy and other resources used in process drugs, and then the chemicals in the actual drugs. People are concerned about hormones in meat in passive consumption, and yet apparently do not have concerns for directly ingesting orders of magnitude more artificial hormones. These have serious consequences that are often ignored or overlooked.

    Finally, in a positive sense, a couple using NFP, can understand their own fertility and for a young couple can understand their fertility health. They would then be able to improve their health so that when they have no reason to postpone pregnancy, it is not a difficult experience.

  78. Anonymous


    Just another quick point which I touched on in the long post above yours. Anyone who’s ever practiced NFP knows it isn’t easy like you make it sound (“allows you to have sex for fun”). While that’s true during the infertile times, the hard part comes during the fertile phase. This is another big difference from contraception. There is real sacrifice included. I will not lie about that. It is more or less for certain couples. It depends on many things. But many women find the fertile phase is when they most feel their drive. So it is not easy to abstain. But absolutely possible.

  79. Laura Hernandez

    Thanks for a beautiful and inspiring post. It helps to read these words – I find them so helpful as I take care of my 3 kids, including a toddler. Thanks for all that you do and how you share your life on this blog. God bless you and your baby next Monday!

  80. Jordan Henderson

    I read this on Tuesday and was struck by the coincidence of the daily reading (here’s the part):

    Mark 9:34-39 –
    For they had been discussing among themselves on the way
    who was the greatest.
    Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
    “If anyone wishes to be first,
    he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
    Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
    and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
    “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
    and whoever receives me,
    receives not me but the One who sent me.”

  81. Anonymous

    I have never posted here before but your article was just so wonderful. It gave me (a late middle-aged mother of a 3 year old) great comfort. Thank you.

  82. 'Becca

    Anonymous poster promoting NFP, why are you telling this lie?
    With artificial contraception you get your cake and eat it too. You can make love whenever you want without worry of getting pregnant because you’ve fixed mother nature.

    This is something many people believe, but it’s just not true. If 100 typical couples use condoms as their only contraception and pay no heed to fertility cycles for one year, about 15 of them get pregnant. Those are big enough odds that people relying on condoms ought, in fact, to worry about (“be prepared for” is a more positive phrase) the possibility of pregnancy. Even surgical sterilization can fail.

    Understanding fertility signs is vital even for people using contraceptives. How are you going to recognize when the pill isn’t working if you don’t know fertile mucus when you see it? Etc.

    Every time a man and woman who are practicing NFP come together in the infertile phase they are giving their whole selves to one another. He is not saying you can have everything except my fertility because I’m wearing a condom. She is not saying you can have every part of me but my fertility because I blocked it by taking the Pill. They come completely together in every way.
    In the fertile phase they avoid conception by simply not coming together. So there is no act of love in which the partner hold a part of themselves back from one another.

    Yeah, instead of an act of love with nothing held back, there’s no act of love at all. That’s an improvement??

    (Not being Catholic, I believe it is acceptable to enjoy acts of love that can’t cause conception. That’s how NFP works for me.)

    Another point to keep in mind are the health and environmental benefits of NFP. Think of all those chemicals and energy and other resources used in process drugs, and then the chemicals in the actual drugs. People are concerned about hormones in meat in passive consumption, and yet apparently do not have concerns for directly ingesting orders of magnitude more artificial hormones.

    This is an important point. Artificial hormones in our water from the urine of women taking birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy are thought to be a source of malformations in animals and possibly of declining sperm counts and libido in men or of premature puberty in girls. It’s scary!

  83. nearstar

    I especially like the advertisement with Ellen DeGeneres on the right-hand side!

  84. Holly

    I love this post, Jen. You have beautifully articulated many of the things that believe I have learned through being open to life, as well.

    Thanks so much. I am praying that this next birth will be good – and that this next little one will bring much love and joy to your home.

    I’m a mommy of 8 children (16 – 1) and just today I was holding my littlest one before her nap. I was praising God for knowing so much better than I, and for sending this precious child to our home. She, like several of ours, came at “inconvenient” times – but oh, what a blessing she and the others are. I held her, and kissed her sweet cheeks while she patted my shoulder…”Thank you, baby, for loving me, too. You are such a gift!”

    (And I have never actually been a “kid person.” Ha! How God works through these little ones!)

  85. Anonymous


    I did not intend to get into and argument about how ineffective artificial contraception is. If you want to argue that then absolutely be my guest!

    My only point was that artificial contraception, although not 100% effective is usually thought of that way, at least in practice. It’s thought of as a free ride. Your point of view seems rather rare to me, and totally against common experience. How often really does the Pill fail? And why would you take condoms as an example as they are obviously the least effective of any form of birth control at all? I have never heard of someone using contraception talking about the need to know fertility cycles. I have also never heard of doctors teaching women this as they hand out birth control. YOu also never hear advocates of birth control talking about this. Do nurses at school clinics teach NFP to students they hand out birth control to? So, I don’t know what to say. That is totally out of my experience. I just have to counter that the statement “understanding fertility signs is vital when using contraception” is just wrong as a blanket statement. I thought that was the whole point of contraception. No worries. Of course it’s not 100% effective. But how many people just hope that they’re not in the 3 or so % that have it fail and how many really know how to chart? Come on. Anyone else???

    Look, if you are not a Catholic I understand it will be hard for you to get how a couple might gain something from abstaining for a short amount of time. But it can give a couple the opportunity to show love in other ways and appreciate other aspects of each other and the relationship. Sex is not the only vital part of a vibrant marriage. And we believe that denying ourselves good things can help us grow spiritually. That is a faith issue, but even non-religious philosopher types (Stoics) can understand that denying pleasure once in a while can yield benefits in life. We can wait a week if we are putting off having another child and grow in different ways. I know this is hard for many to see.

    Guess what, if you read some of my earlier posts you would know that I, too, believe sex can be enjoyed without making a baby. (That’s how NFP works for me, too!) People are so brainwashed as to what the church teaches. It teaches that sex is good and beautiful when shared between a man and a woman who are married and who are open to accepting children as gifts from God, but not necessarily every time they make love. I don’t want to start repeating myself. But you should read Love and Responsibility by John Paul II. YOu would probably be amazed at what he had to say about sex. GOOD not BAD. But it’s much more fun and socially and politically correct to carry on themyth of how the Catholic Church teaches that sex is BAD.


  86. maramsey

    Thank you, thank you for this post. Our NFP story is so similar to yours-you have put so eloquently the things we have felt…it is all so true! I think the acceptance of NFP is one of the most beautiful a couple goes through. Know that you are also called to serve others through your words-I love your blog. And, I am praying for you, your baby, & the delivery…

  87. Lana

    Anonymous, you are right. What I wrote could have come across as exactly what it did: a statement about the ineffectiveness of NFP as a method. I should have been more clear. I very firmly believe in the effectiveness of NFP, although I certainly had my doubts for awhile after getting pregnant with NO mucus present (thoroughly checked because we were very motivated to avoid conception). We were well within the “rules” of the method at that time. I have since heard (elsewhere) that there is a 3 to 6% chance of that happening (in Phase I) so no, it is not impossible, however much it seems so to you and me. But about its overall effectiveness, and “being bad at NFP”, what I should have said is that any method of delaying conception is only as good as its user failure rates. We are not machines, and as experienced as some people are, mistakes happen. Period. Lack of motivation to avoid conception is an entirely different issue.
    This is very hard to understand if you have only gotten pregnant on NFP when you KNEW you might conceive and decided to throw caution to the wind (and yes, I had one of those, too, but I spent no time at all questionning myself or the method or looking for errors).
    So for the sake of those who were genuinely surprised and later were either able to pinpoint an “error” or if not and are still mystified since the odds are very much against it, I think it can be freeing to realize that you were still within the bounds of moral practice AND the “scientific” bounds of the method, however statistically unlikely it was to conceive at that point in time.
    Finally, this has also changed the way I viewed my planned (and successful) conception. It has given me a greater humility about my role in bringing that life into the world, and the actual amount of control I have over the whole process. It is at once very natural, and very mysterious.

  88. Andrea, in Waterloo, ON

    Wow! Your writing is so real and personal! I plan to use some of your points in my upcoming RCIA talk on marriage and the Church’s teaching on contraception because they really speak to the heart. Thank you!

  89. Anonymous


    That is a great post. I’m am THAT anonymous.

    I get your point. It certainly is crucial to never forget who is really in control. Not us, that’s for sure. But there can be a wonderful balance between trusting in God’s will for us and living “deliberately.”

    I guess that sometimes I get frustrated because there are some that seem to think they are holier because they can just keep having babies with no planning. In some circles I find myself apologizing that I only have four and I feel like a lesser Catholic. But I don’t really. I mean, I am at peace about it. The point that just because you use NFP doesn’t mean you don’t have trust in the Lord is very important. I am not saying you think this way, Lana. Just making that point because it’s the source of a lot of my thought about all of this.

    Recognizing the beauty and the mystery of bringing a new life into this world is a wonderful thing! And if a surprise pregnancy increased that awareness for you I think that’s wonderful.

    That said, I have to add another bit about mucus. First, let me say I really recommend people learn Creighton. Someone else said the same above. Creighton doesn’t use temperature at all. So some people think it might be inferior because observing more signs should be better, right? Well, temperature is very easily altered by too many external things, so it’s not such a great indicator. But Creighton teaches superior, highly detailed mucus observation skills. I mean no disrespect, when I say this, but it really is impossible to get pregnant without fertile mucus. The sperm needs that medium to survive and to get where it needs to go. (So what must be happening is that for some reason the mucus is there — maybe way up in the cervix — and very difficult to detect.) I am not saying this because I lack the experience of a surprise pregnancy. I am saying it because I think it’s scientifically true. That mucus has to be there. So perhaps it is true that some women have to be extra careful in phase 1. I wonder what a Creighton instructor would say about this. There has to be a solution. Anyone?

    Anyway, thanks for your post, Lana.

  90. 'Becca

    The link behind my name is a chart by Planned Parenthood showing that breastfeeding prevents conception about as well as hormonal contraceptives, and Fertility Awareness methods about as well as barrier methods and better than spermicide alone. (Note: That page contains some very small drawings of male organs.) This information is available to those who make any effort to seek it. The trouble is that many people assume anything marketed as a contraceptive must be about 99% effective and don’t bother doing any research.

    Anonymous, responding to me, wrote:
    Your point of view seems rather rare to me, and totally against common experience. How often really does the Pill fail?

    Well, anecdotally, I’ve talked with at least half a dozen women who got pregnant while taking it. Its function is easily disrupted by vomiting, diarrhea, or taking antibiotics.

    And why would you take condoms as an example as they are obviously the least effective of any form of birth control at all?

    You know that. I know that. A lot of people, even very intelligent and otherwise well-informed people, do not know that. I can’t even estimate how many people have moaned, “But we were using condoms!!” when telling me about their pregnancy, and then I say gently, “Well, they’re only 85% effective.” and they say, “WHAT?!?” It’s printed on the packaging, but some people think they don’t need to read fine print. (This exact attitude was shown in the TV show “Friends”, played for laughs but I hope it got the point across to some people!)

    I used condoms as an example because they are the method most commonly relied upon by people who really want to avoid pregnancy because they’re young and/or not in a serious relationship. That’s why the low effectiveness and ignorance thereof is such a problem.

    I have never heard of someone using contraception talking about the need to know fertility cycles.

    Well, now you have. We’re more rare than I would like but not as rare as you think. I was taught in a Girl Scout sex ed class (my school was not allowed to teach how human conception occurs, much less how to prevent it) that counting days on the calendar and watching for fertile mucus would help you figure out both when to expect your period and when to be especially careful about avoiding pregnancy by whatever means you were avoiding, and that if you saw fertile mucus when taking the pill you should tell your doctor and abstain until the next cycle. This was presented as a basic principle of caring for yourself as a woman. I know other women who learned this from their mothers or in classes.

    I also know men who were aware of the timing of ovulation and its implications while still in their teens. The first guy who asked me to “go all the way” prefaced it by asking the date of my last period.

    I have also never heard of doctors teaching women this as they hand out birth control. YOu also never hear advocates of birth control talking about this.

    See Planned Parenthood’s site. I agree that most doctors do not advocate NFP, and in my experience many doctors discourage barrier methods too; that probably has a lot to do with their bombardment with pharmaceutical ads and their hope that patients will choose a method that will require their services.

    I just have to counter that the statement “understanding fertility signs is vital when using contraception” is just wrong as a blanket statement.

    The fact that the masses buy into a lie and believe that they don’t need to know how their own bodies work, does not mean that knowledge is not vital to their avoidance of pregnancy. HALF of American pregnancies are unplanned despite widespread use of contraception. Any contraceptive is way more effective if you abstain when you think you’re fertile and use the contraceptive the rest of the time.

    Look, if you are not a Catholic I understand it will be hard for you to get how a couple might gain something from abstaining for a short amount of time.

    No, it’s not at all hard to see that people MIGHT gain something from abstaining. I’ve had many experiences of gaining something from an unpleasant experience. What I see as wrong is the argument that EVERYONE will gain from periodic total abstinence but NO ONE will gain from using contraception, or that God wants us to use our free will to avoid pregnancy in this one way and no other.

    Guess what, if you read some of my earlier posts you would know that I, too, believe sex can be enjoyed without making a baby. (That’s how NFP works for me, too!) People are so brainwashed as to what the church teaches.

    I did read all of your posts, and I know that the Catholic Church teaches that enjoying sexual intercourse is good. However, I’ve been told that the Catholic teaching is that orgasm without intercourse is a mortal sin, and that’s what I meant by “acts of love that can’t cause conception”–not just “probably won’t because I think it’s not a fertile time” but “couldn’t possibly bring the sperm and egg together.” I didn’t mean to be vague, but I think you misunderstood–unless I’m wrong about Catholic teaching, in which case please correct me.

  91. samann1121

    Thank you for this. I’m only 7 months pregnant with my first child, but I already get feelings of being put-upon on occasion. And then I think that I could be changing diapers and breastfeeding 10 or 15 years from now and I freak out a little.

    But I know everything you’ve said here is true — I just need to be reminded sometimes!

  92. Anonymous


    I see your big point, and I would certainly agree with you that it is better in all cases to have fertility awareness. I admire your desire to get that knowledge out there. It would be good for people to know that not only are there undesirable side effects to some/most of these methods but they are not nearly as effective as purported to be. Then perhaps more people would try to work with nature more rather than work against it.

    I clicked on the link and I have to tell you, it comes as no surprise to me that the organization that makes large sums of money by killing unborn children in the thousands daily has a problem with the truth, or at least the full truth. Okay that was probably gratuitous, but I have a huge problem with Planned Parenthood. What I am referring to is their lack of information on the distinction between method effectiveness and user effectiveness. Those are low numbers and they must reflect some user error. I know that some studies, (one was a 3-year study in Los Angeles at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center beginning in 1979) have shown method-effectiveness rates of approximately 98% for both the Sympto-thermal method and mucus-only methods.

    By way of anecdote, I myself have been practicing NFP with my husband for nearly 13 years, and I can tell you that we have never had any surprises. There were some difficult times, for sure. Most notably during breastfeeding. But I have a tremendous amount of trust in the effectiveness of NFP.

    Bottom line: I think it’s very important to make the distinction between method error and user error.

    Peace to you. And thank you for carrying on this very interesting discussion.

  93. Benedicamus

    I have JUST been struggling with the “grin and bear it” attitude towards teething and sleep issues with my 6 month old. Thank you for reminding me that these, too, are blessings!

  94. Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller

    Beautiful post! I had a very similar experience, and found our marriage really blossomed when we gave up birth control. We are able to give completely to eachother, body and soul, and are giving God control over our lives. I couldn’t imagine life without any of our 4 beautiful children.

  95. Grateful for Grace

    Just beautiful! And well said.

  96. pafau

    Amazing thing. I’m not a devout Christian, and the wonderful thing is, your text still holds validity, even if you cross out the word ‘God’ (no offence meant). I would probably argue a bit on the piece about focusing more on yourself, but then, everyone has their own point of view. All in all, a superb piece.

  97. Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller

    Jennifer, I read your piece in the current issue of Our Sunday Visitor. It was excellent!

  98. Young Mom

    This post was HUGE in me discovering what Vocation was. I wrote a post on vocation in November and I don't think it really explained how big of a breakthrough it was for me.

  99. Anonymous

    Hope it's okay for a man to right here ? My wife and I are not Catholic but I do feel very strongly that it is wrong for women to use contraception and hated my (now wife) using the pill before we got married and was delighted she agreed not to following the wedding.

    We have been married for 10 years and have 3 lovely children. We both agree that that decision was the best of our lives. I am happy to put up with the abstinance needed to practise nfp to know that my wife is not doing something which I think is so wrong and un-feminine.

    When for medical reasons we did have to be absolutely safe for a while we agree to use condoms but found that we both wanted to avoid the 'fertile time' not so much for added 'safety' but because we wanted to feel that we were not really relient on contraception which we both feel is wrong.

    I can't fully explain it but there it is, it's not just Catholics and not just women who feel this !

  100. Carolyn21Fletcher

    Do you know that it is high time to receive the home loans, which can make you dreams real.

  101. agnes

    Thank you for sharing your story. I always find it amazingly inspirational, surprising and a bit envious that converts to the Catholic Church have so much more insight and well, faith, then someone like me; a cradle Catholic. As a mother of two boys, a year apart, I absolutely appreciate and relate to your motherly concerns. You have reminded me of how great our faith is, I take it for granted so often. Reading your story, aside from the conversion part, I felt like I was reading about my own fears, aspirations and difficulties. It just hasn’t dawned on me what to do with all of those feelings, thank you.

  102. HomemadeMother

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Sometimes I feel alone in my desire for a big family – it seems like the rest of the world wants families to be small and “manageable”. But, I love my babies and I know the best gift I can give them is another sibling.

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