I think it's human nature to plan what we think we want for our future. How many times has a person said, "I hope to have three children" or perhaps, "I would love to have twins" or people share that "We really would like to have five kids" or ... you get the point.
I don't think there is anything wrong with this on its own merit. It is a way of expressing our heart's desires, of communicating and connecting with others, of finding some way to have a plan in place...something we can wrap our heads around and prepare. Often, as Catholics, we are able to turn this into a prayer. We might pray that our desires align with God's will somewhere down the line (how far probably depends how old we are ;) ). In this way, we hope that regardless of how it all turns out, our trust in God proves fruitful even if our personal desires remain unfulfilled.
Lately, I have contemplated what this means for someone who is blessed to a point which would mean that perhaps, as a couple, they might think it was time use NFP in an attempt to avoid pregnancy for an extended, indefinite amount of time.
When I was a 28-year-old woman with a six-month old daughter learning NFP for the first time, I didn't think about what it might be like to use NFP for 12-15 years to get through my forties. To be honest, I think I might have made my Mother-in-Law's eyes bug out of her head when I mentioned that six children might be the plan for us. Truth be told, at the time of that conversation, I simply figured out that if I had kids every two years or so - as seemed to be typical based on the families we knew at the time, I'd be 40 when I had a sixth child.
Surely, I wouldn't even be able to get pregnant after age 40, right? I wasn't even contemplating the possiblity at the time. But as I barrel down my thirties right into my forties at lightening speed, it seems, the thoughts start crossing my mind...is it even within our desires to avoid indefinitely? Do we want to do that which is required? Is God calling us to that path? How do we ensure we are open to that which He asks?
I have breezed in and out of the awareness that if we are done having children (with the five we have), that I most likely have another 12-15 years of NFP ahead of me. My mother begain peri-menopause somewhere around age 45 or 46 and was through menopause sometime around age 53 or 54. I'm currently 37 years old (38 in November!).
Recently, it has occurred to me that it will not be easy to abstain during the fertile time each cycle for the next 12-15 years. It has been a pattern for me that I grow weary of charting and keeping track of things around the time when "the baby" is 18 months old
One of the wonderous aspects of NFP is the fact that a couple can discern, pray, communicate and perhaps decide that being open to another baby is not really too bad and they can change course - on a whim - and make love during those days that they desire each other the most. In the end, if God wills a child at that time, it will be accepted as the others have been accepted. If God does not will a child at that time, so be it, focus energy on what's in front of us.
Life goes on - status quo.
Another wonderous aspect of NFP is the fact that a couple can discern, pray, communicate and perhaps decide that being open to another baby is what they need to avoid this cycle and they wait for the fertile days to pass and offer up any suffering from unfulfilled human desire until the day(s) they can be together with a tiny-to-non-existent chance that a baby will result. In the end, if God wills a child at that time, it will be accepted as the others have been accepted. If God does not will a child at that time, so be it, focus energy on what's in front of us.
Life goes on - status quo.
Amazing. Either way - use NFP or don't - life goes on.
In my amazement, I discover the realization, that in the end the number of children I am blessed with is not up to me entirely. That's a choice we made. To keep God a part of the relationship. We invited Him into our bedroom. It keeps us grounded as we continuously respect His part in the growth of our family.
And as long as a serious reason to avoid intimacy with my husband during the fertile days does not rear its head, we have agreed - vowed, even - to accept the result of that action. And I realize that I choose to accept a baby...and I choose to accept no baby. Over and over each cycle, every year until the womb closes.
It's an overwhelming thought - that maybe God might send another baby. Overwhelming in the thought of the work, the money, the space for another child.... Those are some of the sacrifices required when God sends a baby.
And, it is also an overwhelming thought - that maybe God will not send another baby. Overwhelming in the thought of the sadness that childbearing is over, that my womb is empty, that soon my arms will be empty as my youngest toddles off into the sunset... Those may be the sacrifices required when God chooses not to send another baby.
And recently, I've determined that it is overwhelming - maybe even daunting - to think of using NFP for 12-15 years with no "break" that includes pregnancy (and the excitement and anticipation) and joy of the birth of a new baby to break up the monotony a little bit.
It just dawned on me that perhaps that is a bit of the sacrifice we are called to if, indeed, God does not will another child for our family.
So, to wrap up this rambling post...Everything we do involves a bit of sacrifice. We have to figure out which sacrifices we are willing to take on for how long. In the end, we revisit our choices to see if the sacrifices we make today are the same sacrifices we will choose to make tomorrow.