"Big Four" Highlights


 

Your Body, Your Self

An NFP lesson, in sickness and in health

By Jason Godin

July is Natural Family Planning (NFP) month, the same time of the year that my wife, Meg, and I celebrate our wedding anniversary. Eleven years ago, we first learned together about NFP during our mandatory premarriage workshop. We sat silently with other couples for a little less than 45 minutes, listening attentively to the presenter. I recall vividly how my future bride and I agreed afterwards that practicing NFP would reinforce what we believed already: full understanding about your spouse comes from constant, committed communication. When it came to our future, we had decided very early in our relationship – after chatting many late nights – that we wanted children (two for sure, maybe more depending on our income) and when we wanted them (after I finished graduate school and Meg established herself professionally). As engaged couples in their early twenties tend to do today, we had a firm family plan before we said “I do”.

Well, you know what happens to the best laid plans. More than three years into our marriage, when Meg called with the joyous news that she was pregnant with our daughter, I was sitting in a university library studying for my comprehensive exams. Our son arrived as a “surprise” about a year and a half later.

Then this year, I sat beside Meg as she learned that she had breast cancer.

We practiced NFP the entire time. True to what we’d been told during the premarriage workshop, it helped us to better understand and communicate. Although not practiced perfectly at all times, NFP challenged us very early in our marriage to listen more to each other about the needs, and to act less on the wants, of our bodies. We had to place listening to one another over lust for each other.

NFP also encouraged us to trust more in God. We found that it was important to listen in prayer before making any big decision and after experiencing any big moment that affected our family. One would think that cancer made NFP an entirely moot point for us because chemotherapy greatly affected Meg’s menstrual cycle, yet it was a key factor in discovering her cancer in the first place. A mammogram didn’t find the tumor at first. Meg found it because she paid enough attention to her body when we were trying to have children to know that something didn’t feel right and she needed to see a doctor. Suspecting the outcome, she told me to be beside her for the biopsy results. To be honest, it was an attitude of attentive openness forged over years, found at the Annunciation in the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary – “may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) – that made her chemotherapy and mastectomy bearable.

Periodically, I hear people argue that NFP abandons trust in God’s timetable for your family, or that it produces outcomes either ineffective or too effective. Our family isn’t in an ideal situation, to be sure. As spouses and parents, our methods have also produced a variety of outcomes that we never would’ve imagined as newlyweds. But the NFP lesson to understand one another by communicating has helped us through two pregnancies and the pains of cancer treatments. It is an invaluable lesson first learned what seems like a lifetime ago, and one that will instruct and inspire us until death do us part.

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good