When I was engaged at 21 years old, I had no idea what NFP was. In our diocese we were required to take an NFP class as part of our marriage prep, and I decided to order a home study course because I was too embarrassed at the idea of talking about it with strangers. I started charting and reading everything I could about it.
We were married in the middle of July and by the end of August, I was expecting our first child. He was completely unplanned... during our two weeks of travel for our honeymoon, I had misplaced my chart and miscalculated peek day. I had just started my last year of college, but had to drop out because of the severe nausea I experienced.
To my dismay, my cycle came back 5 weeks postpartum. I had some complications with the pregnancy and delivery, and despite pumping for 7 weeks, my milk never came in. I was only pumping an ounce a day. I was committed to using NFP to avoid pregnancy because a) I had a c-section, b) my husband was in the Army and there was a chance we'd be moving within the next few months, c) I developed postpartum depression.
No one had ever talked to me about postpartum depression before. I didn't know that it was even a thing. Between a husband who always worked and a baby who never slept or stopped crying, I turned into a complete mess. Not knowing what it was, I just assumed I was just beyond exhausted and I'd get over it. I never talked to anyone about it except my husband, who responded by hanging out with his friends more to avoid my screaming and crying. I can't totally blame him.... I would spend the day laying in bed with our son, just crying, begging God to make him sleep because I was just so tired. I started having dark thoughts that scared me, but I had no one to talk to. I didn't know there was medication I could take, or supplements that would help.
Because my husband worked so much (frequently in the field for weeks at a time, or in other states training for a couple of months), our son and I spent quite a bit of time at my parents' house. I would pack a few bags and spend a few weeks a time at their house, only seeing my husband one week a month, if that. When he finally got on a schedule where he worked on post close to our house, he mostly worked nights - roughly 4 pm til 7 am. We barely saw each other.
I remember one night that we were finally home together after several weeks apart. Our son was 11 months old. I felt some cramping that usually indicated ovulation, but I wasn't due to ovulate for a week. I had been on a very specific schedule for as long as I had remembered. Three and a half weeks, almost to the day. That's how long my cycles were. I decided to ignore the cramping, because we only had a couple of days together before we'd be apart again for a few weeks.
Our middle daughter was born 9 months later.
By that time, we had moved 1000 miles across the country (read: away from my family), my husband had gotten out of the Army (officially: the day before we left the hospital with our new daughter, which meant insurance didn't cover that last day. We had to pay $5000 for that ONE day), his mother/my mother-in-law had passed away from brain tumors just three weeks prior.
Things were really rough, and we started fighting a lot. NFP was always a huge problem in our marriage because he didn't believe it worked. To him, it kept failing us because I kept getting pregnant. To me, I KNEW it worked BECAUSE I kept getting pregnant and knew exactly when it happened, even though both times were an accident. He would rather abstain for the rest of our marriage than trust NFP to work. He started withholding any signs of affection, even saying "I love you." He'd purposely get up earlier than me and leave the room so that he wouldn't have to talk to me in the morning.... leaving me in bed, recovering from a c-section, with my newborn and 20 month old son.
After a crying fight one night, things got a bit better for awhile. My cycle returned at 5 weeks postpartum again, but this time the depression didn't. We were happy for the first time in awhile, or so I thought.
Several months later, things got rough again, and my husband asked for a separation. I was four days into a novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots to save our marriage. He had no idea I was praying it... he just knew that he was no longer happy and wanted a break. Ultimately I agreed to take the kids and move back in with my family, but in the meantime I had hopes that he would change his mind. We spent the month before I left enjoying each other's company, if you know what I mean. I thought maybe it would save our marriage. However, despite warning a week before ovulation was due that we should be careful, we weren't that one day.... and I ended up pregnant.
I denied it at first.... I thought my cycle was late due to the stress I was undergoing. With my first two pregnancies, I tested positive almost a week early. I just KNEW I was pregnant both times. This time, I KNEW I couldn't be... because why would God do that to me?
Two days before my family picked up the kids and I and drove 1000 miles back across the country in a completely full minivan with our belongings crammed into every possible corner, I tested positive. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I could.... I was just in denial. Our son had just turned two a few months prior, and our middle child was only six months old. I was about to become a single mother of three kids under three.
Fast forward an incredibly difficult three years, and here I am, writing a blog post about NFP.
I can't really say that I wish I had known more about NFP to begin with, because then I might not have the kids that I have, and I love them to death. As difficult as life has been these last six years (but especially the last three years), I can't imagine life without them.
Since I've been single for three years, I've been studying more about NFP, tracking my cycle (not doing anything fancy, just marking certain days and for sure my period on my iPhone and MAC calendars), and just preparing myself for the future in case I ever remarry. I don't know if it's in God's plan to ever have more children, but it is incredibly heartbreaking to hear my son ask why I don't have a baby in my belly, and tell me that he really wants a brother.
We've had our fair share of difficulties.... my car died six weeks after my first child was born, and I wasn't able to get a new one until three years later, after I had been living with my family for 7 months. We had to wean our son from formula almost a month early because we couldn't afford to buy even one more generic can (ps: don't join the military strictly for the money... they don't actually pay that well.) Everything we wear is a hand-me-down, from Goodwill, or from the clearance rack at Walmart. Some weeks we have lived on generic mac n cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or bowls of cereal with watered-down milk. I have had to ask for help from complete strangers on multiple occasions, and I got a credit card for groceries and toiletries for when things are particularly tough (thank God for Amazon prime and grocery delivery).
But we have also been blessed in more ways than I can count. Between a friend's fundraiser and a gofundme page, my van was entirely paid off. My uncles gave me a tv and dvd player for Christmas a few years ago. Friends from church have given us furniture, clothing, toys for the kids, delivered meals. We've had people come clean the house a few times, visit me at the hospital during various stays for myself or my kids. My business has grown beyond my dreams, and my customers and followers have been so incredibly generous and understanding during periods of difficulty.
My kids are happy, healthy, and thriving.
That's all that matters.