One Husband’s Perspective on Natural Family Planning
Today we are pleased to welcome friend and fellow parishioner Kerry McGuire to The Practicing Catholic. Kerry’s wife Renee wrote two posts for us this past July (Part I & Part II) in conjunction with Natural Family Planning Awareness Week. As Respect Life Month comes to a close, we are honored to share Kerry’s perspective to the couple’s pro-life conversion story.
To me, respecting life has a lot to do with respecting the way in which life is created.
After my wife Renee and I had been married for a few years we decided, maybe, just maybe we were ready to have kids. The first month we really tried, Renee was pregnant. We were very excited, but it wouldn’t last. Renee and I were high school sweethearts and actually born on the same day, nearly in the same hospital in northern Iowa. I’m even a few hours older. Renee miscarried a few months into the pregnancy on the day before our birthdays. We were crushed. I can remember sitting on the couch on our birthdays in an empty house, not wanting to have dinner or even cake.
When I mentioned before that we were casually trying to have kids, that also meant that I only sort-of-wanted kids. Yes, that sounds bad. I knew I wanted kids in the big picture, but I just wasn’t sure if I was ready then. I really didn’t think we would achieve pregnancy for a while either, so when Renee told me she was pregnant, I was a little shocked, a little excited, and a lot nervous. Also, I’m the youngest in my family, so I hadn’t really been around a pregnancy yet. Through the first few months it seemed like nothing much happened. Renee still looked the same; her clothes still fit well. It really does seem so easy for people to miss life beginning at conception. Even my knowledge of pregnancy was from movies or TV shows, where the woman goes from finding out she’s pregnant to full term by the next episode. So when Renee miscarried, I don’t think I had really embraced the idea yet. Here I was a few months from being a father, but I don’t think I felt it in my heart. How I could have had so little respect for life, my child, is painful to remember. Thankfully, from great suffering can come reflection and clarity.
One of our problems was that we were not respecting life. We had been contracepting for a few years, and although we will never know for sure, we have always felt that was a major contributing factor to the miscarriage. Somehow through our marriage prep classes, 12 and 18 years of Catholic education respectively, and coming from two sets of happy and devoted parents, we missed the respect life side of our marriage. We were certainly pro-life, we had voted accordingly since we were old enough, we participated in life chains, and led a fairly religious life. But somehow we were missing the most basic premise of our marriage: to love each other as God loves us — completely. Somehow we thought we could love each other fully as long as that fertility stuff didn’t get in the way of a good happy hour.
Thankfully God can open doors at your weakest moments. After the miscarriage we tried to conceive again, but were unable to achieve pregnancy easily. While we were regular Sunday Mass attendees, we didn’t belong to a parish and were not really involved outside of that hour each week. So I’m not exactly sure why Renee grabbed a bulletin after Mass one Sunday. It just happened to have a small announcement of Natural Family Planning (NFP) classes starting at the local Catholic hospital. With little upfront information, Renee and I went to our first class. At that time the course was four classes, and it maybe took me until halfway through class two before I really started to understand what we were talking about. Now we describe those classes and learning and accepting God’s design for our bodies in two ways: one of the single most important decisions in our marriage and the Catholic Church’s best kept secret. We’re not exactly sure why there are only about 4% of Catholics who practice NFP; it has certainly been life changing for us.
It took me years to fully understand my feelings from that miscarriage — really I was just angry, and angry with myself. I was always a great proponent of contracepting. It just seemed easier. How could the Catholic Church have such an outdated teaching like no birth control? Yet, somehow I was never able or willing to look at the reasoning for the teaching. The Catholic Church only says no to actions that are selfish and self-destructive. After our NFP classes, I truly had a better understanding of God’s fullness of the Truth which led me to a profound respect for life and our opportunity to create it with Him. No one ever told us that the Catholic Church may be looking out for our own good with all of these “rules,” but it was probably more that we were unwilling to listen. As the anger and guilt of the miscarriage faded away and the love and truth from God refilled my heart, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I also believe it brought some peace and understanding to Renee as well.
Shortly after our last NFP class we were pregnant again. One of the great NFP secrets is it teaches a couple how to spiritually manage your family size and achieve or postpone a pregnancy. It took a lot of prayer and some difficult times but that pregnancy went very well and our oldest son is now 6. We continued to be blessed and have added two more sons to our family.
So that is how I can say that NFP is one of the most important decisions Renee and I have ever made in our marriage. God was able to take our marriage from a very low point to the highest of highs. We were so truly moved by everything that we are now a teaching couple for NFP. We are still working on eliminating that “best kept secret” part and spreading the word to as many couples as we can.
So as I reflect this October, this is my story of Respecting Life. I had to learn how to respect the gifts that God gave my wife and me. I now truly know in my heart when life begins and how it should be created. I will always be thankful that He showed us the way.