I wrote most of this a week ago, saved it in order to add more, but can't seem to get around to it. So it's either post now or never. Just some of my thoughts on natural family planning:
I'm 36 weeks pregnant--it's crazy! I just had my first meeting tonight (I was meeting with a lovely woman who teaches NFP on a regular basis until pregnancy put things on hold. Having her support and advice has been crucial in learning how to listen to my body, and I am quite grateful that she is willing to spend the time teaching people) about stuff post-baby, namely getting back into the swing of the regular natural family planning routine once the baby is born and the breast-feeding hormones are making everything a bit complex.
So far our success with NFP has been 100%, meaning pregnancy when we wanted it and no pregnancy before that. It wasn't until it worked both ways that I could be certain it was the method and not just a problem with fertility.
NFP is a subject I mostly enjoy discussing with fellow Catholic friends, as they tend to have a similar outlook about it. It's not just about not using birth control and ending up with ten children because God keeps letting you get pregnant, and it's also not about using pseudo or antiquated methods (like the rhythm method) based on generalizations about fertility. In my experience it's about being in tune with what your body is telling you. I wouldn't say it's always easy, because it involves patience, organisation, and being open to change (your body can change its fertility pattern without you planning for it to change..and that bit of uncertainty that comes with each month means you can't just establish a pattern and then follow it forever). But I find it incredibly empowering to be in tune with my body and to feel a little more in control of the situation than just putting faith in manufactured contraceptives. I love knowing that I'm making decisions that are working with what my body is telling me, rather than trying to work against it.
People put so much faith in contraceptives that they tend to think anything natural is automatically going to fail. Sure, it can fail, especially depending on the accuracy of the method used and the accuracy of the person using the method... but condoms break and people conceive while using hormone-changing types of contraception. It's like they taught us in Junior High -- if you want to 100% avoid getting pregnant, don't have sex.
Having a large family doesn't mean that NFP doesn't work, just as having a small family doesn't mean that the people are using contraceptives. As one of my friends pointed out, people just assume that the only reason Catholics have more than two kids is because they don't use birth control, rather than assuming that some people might actually want more than two kids! As a Catholic I take the promise I made to be open to life very seriously. It doesn't mean turning myself into a baby factory, but it does mean recognizing that all life is a precious gift and that the ability to create that life is not something to be taken for granted, squandered, or messed around with.
Having support is crucial, and I wouldn't like to give the impression that because it's natural it's the easiest thing in the world. Personally, I haven't found it to be a great difficulty thus far, but I am also very organised and for the first 28 years of my life have been blessed with a cycle that has little variation. So I'm not exactly working against the odds. But it's precisely for people with irregular cycles that it gives it's greater gift, because it's often turned to by couples who are struggling to conceive so that they can figure out when, and for how long, ovulation is occurring. Being able to meet with someone on a fairly regular (every three months or so, I think) basis as I was getting the hang of things helped answer a lot of my questions and helped keep me on track so that I didn't start making assumptions about my body instead of looking at the evidence. It also meant that when we made the decision to start trying for a child we had someone ready to support us if we faced any difficulties. Teaching myself the method on my own would have been really stressful and it would have been difficult to tell if I were applying the 'rules' correctly. It's nice to have someone to weigh in with their opinion.
I don't know how it's going to work going forward, when my body throws me a new loop of regaining it's cycle after pregnancy and during breastfeeding. We may end up with a surprise, or things may just continue as planned. But I'm kind of excited to get to know my body through a new phase of life. Learning about fertility and cycles and things like that just make me marvel at the wonder of the human body, this creation made in the image of God... we really are fearfully and wonderfully made!