Updated: Jan 26, 2022
What exactly does "open to life" and "discernment about family size" look like? Does God appear (burning bush-style) and declare “it’s time for you to have another baby.”? What if you mess up and miss what God is wanting from you?
When I got married, I was much less interested in what God wanted for my family and instead was very certain about my plan. We will have 1-2 years of “just us” time. Then we will have two children, approximately 2.5 years apart, and one will be a boy and one will be a girl. Or maybe both girls.
In other words, perfectly spaced children with complete certainty about when to have each child (and zero complications with the conceiving and carrying process) who will live in coordinated outfits and freshly detailed SUV (because in this fantasy, you aren't a minivan mom).
So obviously NOTHING went to plan.
Because here’s the reality: Family planning is complex. Because we are complicated individuals. Who then marry complicated individuals. Who then produce complicated individuals. It looks different for every family and can change within the same family throughout different seasons of life.
Here is our journey.
I was on hormonal birth control. I went off it when my husband was deployed and tried to go back on when he was returning. This was when I discovered how it triggered panic attacks and aggravated my anxiety.
I was forced to dust off my NFP materials from our intro session (required for marriage prep) and try to figure out what the heck all of it meant.
After the deployment, we decided to go ahead and try for a baby. It took longer than I expected considering the messaging that you’ll be pregnant YESTERDAY if you aren’t contracepting. 8 months of trying and 9 months of pregnancy later, Caleb was born happy and healthy.
Enter: the NFP nightmare that is the postpartum phase. I had no freaking clue what the heck was going on with my cycles. We wanted another child eventually, but we were leaving the Air Force and moving to Texas with regular civilian jobs (did we even KNOW what kind of insurance we would have?!) Yet, we went out for sushi, had a lot of sake, and threw caution to the wind....and now have Levi.
Levi’s first birthday rolled around, and I found myself wondering why my cycle had been 42+ days. I wasn't ready for another baby, so I thought. Then I got on board with the idea— maybe even had moments of excitement— only to experience a devastatingly still 12 week ultrasound.
Oh, and this was five days before we were due to move our life across the country from Austin to Lincoln.
After a lengthy recovery from a botched d&c and a couple month stint with uterine growths that had to be shrunk via hormone therapy, we were excited and ready to have another. We'd already bought the minivan when we found out about the baby before, so we felt pretty set to welcome another little life. And our sweet, too cute for his own good, tiny dictator, Jude, was born.
Then we felt content. Although the journey was anything but “according to plan,” we’d finally discovered an NFP method to get us through the postpartum transition with confidence. Three healthy, happy boys. Life was good.
"I think I'd feel like someone was missing if we never filled that fourth seat back there."
Pointing to the empty seat in our minivan, my husband spoke words I knew were buried deep down in my heart.
Four kids always seemed like a nice number to me. Probably because I grew up with four kids in my family. But the idea of another pregnancy, newborn sleep schedule (or lack thereof), and adding another child who needed time and attention was overwhelming.
"I want you to be open to another child."
This stirring in my heart started creeping in to my prayer life, shortly after my husband's comment about the car seats. So I did what any normal, faithful, Catholic woman does.
I stopped praying.
I wish I was kidding, but I truly started avoiding prayer because I didn't want to say "no." It was better (in my mind) to just avoid the topic altogether.
"Our 10 year anniversary is May 2020. I want to go on a fun trip. Maybe Italy?! This is focusing on our marriage-- that is a valid reason to postpone a pregnancy." This was my mantra for months.
About six months, to be exact. Two months in, I returned to regular prayer but would just talk the whole time. If there isn't a moment of silence, there can be no mention of babies. I'll just talk AT Jesus. That counts as prayer, right?
Slowly, my heart softened. "If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart." This is what I'd done. I'd hardened my heart. We think of hardness of heart being pharaoh who said he would free the Israelites and then changed his mind. Yet, it is still a reality we all grapple with in different ways. Many times, in the childbearing years, it's a hardness toward God's plan for our families.
How did the softness manifest?
We had a conversation about the 10 year anniversary trip. Maybe international wasn't the best idea right now. Our kids are young, we have TWO important family weddings (my siblings) next year which are both out of state. These will require both vacation time and significant amounts of money.
Soon, we developed a new plan.
We set aside money to have a more indulgent date each month.
In a few weeks, we will see Hamilton in Omaha from some fantastic seats.
We are going to a Nebraska football game later in the season and will not be in the nosebleeds or hesitating about spending $5 on a slice of pizza. Each month in the 10 months leading up to our 10 year, we have planned an extra-special date. And then around our 10 year, we will have a weekend away on a local adventure. Smaller scale but still celebratory and fun. And totally doable with a pregnancy.
As I came to terms with the removal of this obstacle, I grasped for other excuses.
I am too close to my delivery weight with Jude. I can't start a pregnancy at this weight. This could be a legit risk if I had health concerns, but I’m not to that point. No, it’s just the "I don't like wearing this size, and I am still holding out hope to grow a baby only in my stomach and not also in my rear end" phase.
I can't keep my house clean, business growing, kids educated, and dinner on the table every night now. How will I add another person and accomplish that? Ok, perfectionist Bekah. Your ship sailed years ago. Buh-bye.
So I said yes....ish.
I know which days have minimal likelihood of conception. Third day post peak, for example. It probably has somewhere between at 3-4% chance. That was the level of my openness: 3-4%.
Then there’s the second day post peak. Upping the odds a little but still pretty unlikely. I was not all in, but I was also leaving the *tiniest* space.
Then came the big jump: a potential pre-peak day in the fertile window. 5 days before peak.
"If Jesus REALLY wants us to have this baby, He can use that 5-7%. Or I could even ovulate a day or two early, really increasing the odds. I'm willing to leave space for that."
Did I have a cosmic shift from once cycle to the next where we moved from "avoiding" to "trying" with 100% confidence and certainty?
No. It was gradual, uncertain from one moment to the next, and messy. Kind of like real life. There was struggle in my heart, and for all we know, there will be struggle with conceiving. It's happened before, and I can't rule out the possibility that it will happen again.
When you understand children to be an unrepeatable miracle-- genetically unique from one month to the next-- with an eternal soul that you are responsible for forming and educating, it's hella daunting. They are not a commodity. They are not an accessory to a perfect marriage.
The contraceptive culture gives us a false idea that pregnancy happens easily for everyone. Avoid it until you are certain you are ready for parenthood, and then you will conceive your two children (ideally a boy and a girl) at the exact times and intervals you want.
In an attempt to navigate this culture, NFP proponents have focused on how you can use NFP just like contraception. Its efficacy is the same! How many times have we heard this? Albeit, that is a factual statement, but it leaves out the major difference: NFP is a lifestyle. A lifestyle that says "I am in constant conversation with my spouse and with our Lord about what our family is supposed to look like. And that can change over time."
I am willing to admit I don't know what our perfect family size will be. I have hopes, dreams, and goals. I am also willing to keep those fluid and adjust accordingly. I am grateful and content with the family I have now, and I understand that my salvation is not through my uterus. Yet, living my faith and listening to the desire God has for my family may involve having more children. And when that is hard for me to accept, I have trust that Jesus is patient. He loves me even if I tell him "no," which makes my "yes" that much more free and loving in return, even if it starts at just 2-3% and grows from there.