Who Really Does This Anyway? Let's Meet Them Shall We?

Friday, July 24, 2015

We're wrapping up NFP Awareness week. As promised: here is the interview of a real life, honest to goodness, NFP using couple. Erin and Alex have been using Couple to Couple League's Sympto-Thermal Method to avoid conception for about two years now. Here is their story.

 1. Tell us a little about each of you. 


 I'm currently in my final six months of graduate school, earning my Ph.D. in nuclear and radiochemistry.  Alex and I met when we were both in college at Carnegie Mellon University.  That time was very formative for me, as I became comfortable with who I was created to be, discovered what my strengths and interests were, and converted to Catholicism through RCIA!    It was with Alex that I developed a love of cooking and baking, which are my main hobbies right now while I am busy finishing my Ph.D.  I also enjoy sewing projects, singing, emergency preparedness, throwing theme parties, and mini Coopers.


 We met at Carnegie Mellon University. Erin is a PhD student at UC Berkeley and I am an engineer working with robots in Oakland. We moved to the SF Bay Area in 2011 and got married in 2013 (in Maryland).

2. How did you hear about NFP?


I remember being aware as far back in high school that birth control was not okay with the Catholic Church, but I definitely didn't know why. I wasn't Catholic so I really didn't care.  I'm fairly certain I learned what it actually was during RCIA, although it was still a rudimentary, "we don't contracept" understanding.  I didn't fully investigate it until Alex proposed a year or so after I joined the Church.  That was really when we started actually learning what it was and how it worked.


Before getting married, the priests here in Berkeley doing our marriage prep recommended that we take a marriage prep retreat weekend and an NFP course run by the Couple-to-Couple League (CCL) at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland.

3. How did you pick a method?


The class encouraged us to use the Sympto-Thermal Method but touched on others as well. The Sympto-Thermal Method seemed pretty straightforward to us and the use of multiple sources of data (sensations, mucus characteristics, cervical position, and temperature) seems to provide a 
lot of insurance. The rigor is very important to us because we are at a stage of our careers where a "surprise" might complicate our plans.


Honestly, I think our parish gave us a flyer on the resources available in the diocese and I picked the first thing off the list, there's a lot to do to prepare for a wedding and at that point we were just checking items off a list!  We ended up becoming trained in the Couple to Couple League Sympto-thermal Method, which has worked very well for us.

4. What has been your greatest challenge?


I think that one of our greatest challenges is in common with couples using any NFP methods - abstaining during Phase II. Human instincts are strong and some days it seems like we are surrounded with newborns, toddlers, or pregnant friends. We love them all and are anxiously awaiting our time to start our own family.


I think the greatest challenge for me has been continually evaluating whether we have a sufficiently grave reason to postpone pregnancy.  I absolutely adore babies and children and I am very excited about having one of our own!  However, as a radiochemistry graduate student with a lot of work to do in very little time, I'm routinely exposed to  small amounts of radiation.  It's nowhere near a level that's remotely hazardous to my health and I always feel safe at work, but radiation is most damaging to rapidly dividing cells (such as those in an embryo, particularly during the first few weeks of life) and I don't want to take that risk.  

I take comfort in the fact that, with NFP, I'm going to immediately know if I could be pregnant and could take action to protect that little person!  However, a complication with my current course of study and my particular circumstances is that I must finish within a certain amount of time.  Therefore I can't alter my work schedule to avoid or lessen the amount of radioactivity that I'm working with and still be able to complete my degree.  I will have much more flexibility later in my career, which will allow me to eliminate most of the hazards of my work and attempt to conceive without any reservations!  I try to approach this issue prayerfully, but on days when graduate school is difficult and unrewarding it makes it seem like we'll be avoiding pregnancy forever!  

5. What has been your favorite benefit?


I personally enjoy the confidence and understanding that Erin has been able to create by dutifully recording all of those different kinds of data and charting. being able to predict the end of her cycle has been handy more than once! 


I love graphs, charts, spreadsheets, and data.  I think it occurred to both of us during the first class that, not only could we learn this, we could be really, really good at this because of abilities we had cultivated for very different reasons! Alex developed a flow-chart style cheat sheet that allowed us to quickly look at the chart and analyze whether Phase III had occurred yet.   I figured out how to get the "prettiest" temperatures and what variables in my life affected the charting the most.  Initially, this was just really convenient because we were confident in the data and the method and did not have to waste time or energy worrying about potential pregnancy.  However, this evolved into detailed discussions of how we could use these talents to help others. 
Thus far, we've really only used this enthusiasm to convince friends that they should at least take an NFP class.  However, once we have some more experience through some fertility transitions, I think we would be open to becoming instructors.  It's so crazy to say that because initially when I hypothetically posed this question to both myself and Alex the answer was a flat out "No WAY, I can't get in front of people and talk about...periods!".  NFP has made it really easy for Alex and I to converse about these aspects of life in a normal way, just like talking about what we want to make for dinner.  I suppose, to condense this answer, my favorite benefit is that I love sharing being really good at something with my husband (who is my best friend) and that, with our powers combined, we have the ability to help others too.

Well that's all folks! If you liked reading this type of interview, Couple to Couple League publishes a magazine "Family Foundations" that has interviews like this one, encouraging articles, chart help, and more. You can connect with them here.

Haley, over at Carrots for Michaelmas, has a long running NFP series that interviews many women who use many different NFP methods with different reasons and circumstances. 
You can find those, and more, on her NFP Post Extravaganza


It has been a year since this - the very first of the NFP stories on this blog - went live. Here's an update on Erin and Alex, one year later.

Our lives have changed quite a bit in the last year! Erin finished her Ph.D. and we moved to Southeastern Idaho for Erin to start her post-doc. This shift in employment for her meant that we could officially change our status from "trying to avoid" to "trying to whatever" (although Erin continues to chart because she loves data)!  We hope to finally start a family soon but are patiently waiting on God's timing. 

In the meantime,we're also listening for any word on how to use our spiritual gifts (or develop new ones!) during our time here in Idaho. There are not many Catholics in this part of Idaho and there's just one parish in our town. There also seems to be a shortage of NFP instructors according to our cursory research, which has definitely caused us to reflect on whether we can help with that. Whatever the next year holds for us, we plan to keep telling others about the many benefits of NFP!

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