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The Ask: Struggling with NFP

TheAskWelcome to the first installment of The Ask – a series devoted to taking your questions rooted in Catholic living and providing solid, orthodox advice you can use in your everyday. How does it work? We take questions from you, our readers, and Krista marries the spiritual and practical to give you ways to apply the advice given to help you walk with Christ. Have a question? Email Krista to submit your question.


I’m a cradle Catholic and I truly love the Faith, although I definitely need to work on my commitment in my daily life. My husband and I welcomed our first child last January and she is very loved. However, I have had a very difficult, at times heartbreaking journey with postpartum anxiety and OCD. It’s been one of the hardest times in my life.

I know the Church’s teachings on birth control and vasectomies and I think they’re beautiful teachings. My husband and I practice NFP, and because I am currently terrified of having another child, we are only intimate a few days each month. It’s definitely put a strain on our relationship. Although we follow the rules of NFP, I am plagued with worry that God will give me another child while I’m still very much struggling. I don’t know if I would be a healthy mother to more than one child. The temptation to ask my husband to have a vasectomy (as the health risks of birth control scare me) is a strong one. Do you have any words of wisdom for me?

Thank you and God bless,
Struggling with NFP

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Dearest “Struggling With NFP”,

The week before I got married, my dad picked me up and took me out for sushi, something we’ve done hundreds of times since I was a kid tasting a California Roll for the first time. On the way back to my house, he asked me if I was nervous. I told him I wasn’t and I meant it. After a few minutes, though, I told him how afraid I was that I might get pregnant on our honeymoon. At the time, my husband had 6 months left of undergrad and I had two months left of my masters. We had no money and our time together was already limited. Throwing a baby into the mix seemed like a recipe for disaster. Also, I was excited to establish myself in the career I’d worked so hard toward and the thought of throwing maternity leave in the mix less than a year after I started just wasn’t in my plans.

“You talk about trusting God” my dad said, “Here’s a chance to practice what you preach.”  

Sometimes I wish my dad wasn’t so good at his job. He was right, of course. It’s easy to talk about trusting God, trusting that He has a plan for your life and that it’s good.  It’s something entirely different to put that into practice when it comes to the big things like family planning.

For you, now is not an ideal time to have a baby. Postpartum mood disorders are very real and they’re not something you can just pray away or suffer in silence to work themselves out. One of the lies anxiety tells us is that things will never get better. It is that lie that makes a permanent solution, like a vasectomy, to a temporary problem, postpartum anxiety,  seem like the best, perhaps only, option.

I can feel the weight that this burden has placed on your family. In the words of Coldplay “nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard.” None of us imagine this kind of suffering when we’re playing house in our daydreams, and yet we all suffer and we’re left wide eyed and confused and a little offended because this isn’t what we signed up for. Except it is. This kind of suffering is exactly what we signed up for.

There is no easy answer that will make your anxiety go away overnight. A good therapist will help immensely, also a date night with your husband where the phones are away in a restaurant with a cocktail menu and candles on the tables. If that seems out of reach, an afternoon with a close friend and a date night in with the tv off and a bottle of wine maybe.  That’s a start, and that’s all we’re looking for. Mama needs some self-care!

I cannot recommend highly enough the value of a good therapist who respects the teachings of the Church, even if they aren’t Catholic. The best part about therapists is that there are a lot of us, which means you never have to settle for someone you don’t click with. Going to therapy might seem like the last thing on your list of priorities right now when life already feels like more than you can handle, but it’s a valuable tool. Therapy gives you the space to see the big picture when most of your mind and heart space is overwhelmed by the details. If the idea of finding a therapist is overwhelming, try asking trusted friends and family for recommendations. You can also do a google search in your area based on specialties like “postpartum mood disorders”, “faith-based” and “life transitions”. While there’s so much in your life postpartum that you can’t control, you can gain control over your thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Your doctor may or may not recommend medication as part of your toolbox for a while and that is another valuable tool.

If you’re not already working with an instructor who specializes in your NFP method of choice, now would be a good time to find one. If there isn’t one in your area, there are practitioners who work remotely. This can be incredibly helpful for gaining confidence in your ability to use NFP effectively! Ask around your church or search your location here to find a professional. In the meantime, using an ovulation monitor like this one, or one of the other awesome options out there may bring you some peace of mind. Is it foolproof? No, but it’s nice back up if you’re not feeling confident in your own tracking ability.

Spiritually, there’s another woman I know who found herself pregnant in some seriously less than ideal circumstances. Mary, Mother of the Living, Queen of Heaven. Perhaps this is a good time to walk more closely with Mary by reading the gospel accounts of the Annunciation through to the Nativity. This is something I did this Advent using the study “Rejoice!” From Ascension Press. Mary was anxious and afraid. The stakes were impossibly high. Her very life was at risk. When it comes to deepening our trust and surrendering our plans, Mary is our girl.

If you’re looking for some good reading as you walk through this season, I recommend “Life Of The Beloved”, “Be Healed”, and “It’s Ok To Start With You”.  

Anxiety doesn’t go away overnight. It just doesn’t. With prayer, therapy, and honest communication with your husband and closest friends, though, it will start to fade a little bit at a time. Perhaps one day you’ll notice that sex is no longer panic inducing, but something you want again. Perhaps you’ll look at your growing girl and think “I kind of want to do that again.” Maybe it will be something entirely different, I don’t know. What I do know is that you won’t feel this way forever and I don’t want the lie that says you will lead you to make a decision you might regret later.

My advice is this. Think carefully before making a permanent decision out of fear only to wish you could take it back in a few months, a year, even several years. The fact that you’re taking your mental and emotional health seriously is a sign of a healthy mother. Your daughter and any future children the Lord has in store for you are blessed to call you “mom.”

Jesus loves you and He is with you, pursuing your heart every day, every moment. More than working on your commitment to your Catholic faith in your daily life, now is the time for you to understand and rest in your belovedness as a daughter of the King of the World, fearfully and wonderfully made. He is for you and for your healing, and He is with you every step of the way. He has beautiful things in store for you now and in the future.

 

All love in Christ,

Krista


RESOURCES

DBSA {Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance}

NAMI {National Alliance of Mental Illness}

NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE

MTHFR {genetic mutation associated with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia}

A FRIEND ASKS – FREE APP (Jason Foundation) – helps provide information, tools, and resources to help a friend (or yourself) who may be in danger of committing suicide

ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA

AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION

NATIONAL EATING DISORDERS ASSOCIATION

MENTAL HEALTH AMERICA

The Catholic Guide to Depression by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty


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About Krista Steele

Krista is a licensed social worker living in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, Jeff and their dog, Hank. She believes the best moments in life happen around the table, there's always room for one more book in your Amazon cart/suitcase/purse, and that every load of laundry folded is an hour out of purgatory. You can find her on the trails with her boys, on the couch with a novel, or on her knees in front of the blessed sacrament.

  • Stephanie Reisinger - I second the recommendation to reach out to an NFP instructor. They should be able to help.March 12, 2019 – 9:24 amReplyCancel

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