We are pleased, once again, to welcome Josh and Stacey Noem as guests at Together for Life Online. Building on their brief introduction to Natural Family Planning, the Noems dive a little deeper, sharing the realities and the gifts that come with practicing NFP.
When we were preparing to get married, we told our parents we would be practicing Natural Family Planning (NFP). Doubting the effectiveness of the method, Stacey’s mother made a good-natured, but serious bet with us that we would be pregnant within the first year—and the money that was on the line was not insignificant.
Collecting on the bet was the icing on a very happy first year of marriage. We used the money for a mini-vacation on the beach in Florida and celebrated our anniversary in style.
We began practicing NFP about six months before our marriage when we took classes and began to chart Stacey’s cycles. Josh’s role was to record the data and Stacey’s role was to, well, be Stacey.
Stacey learned to pay attention to the different signs of her fertility cycle. We were still seniors in college and felt more than a little awkward learning to communicate about such intimate details.
Josh was very invested in his responsibility and diligently asked each night what Stacey’s signs of fertility had been that day. For Josh, it was an eye-opening experience to learn the workings of the wonderful mystery that is Stacey’s body. He had basic health classes in high school, but really didn’t have a comprehensive, day-to-day understanding of exactly how a woman’s body works.
Stacey was not exactly exuberant to share the very personal information she needed to. But even in that discomfort, it was obvious that the process of learning to practice NFP was teaching us how to communicate about the most intimate and personal aspects of ourselves. It was a process of growing in unity and intimacy, even before marriage, and it is a pattern that NFP reinforces for us today.
An Extraordinary Event
During our second year of marriage, we served together as Jesuit Volunteers in Sitka, Alaska. We lived in an intentional community with three others and felt so called to this type of life and work that by the end of the year we were preparing for an additional two-year stint in South Africa.
It was at this time that we learned we were pregnant with our first child. We were shocked—we had followed all of the rules carefully. In fact, when we shared our data with our instructor, she noted that we had done everything correctly, and that the pregnancy fell within the one-to-three percent margin of error. Basically, the pregnancy was an extraordinary event.
So there we were—pregnant, and living in Alaska as volunteers with just a toe over the poverty line. We immediately excused ourselves from our acceptance to join the international service program—it was clear that our lives had taken a different turn.
But that left the question: what next? Our current service term was due to expire in three months, and our calendars after the exit date were squeaky clean.
Preparing for Parenthood
We came to the conclusion that Josh would seek a job near one set of parents, and that we would spend two years getting our feet under us financially and adjusting to our new family of three. Stacey would remain open to whatever part-time work she could find (and she did) but would primarily care for the new baby during that period of time.
That was the idea, but we had no idea how it all would work out. All we had to keep us from anxiety was the conviction that God was a part of this new life, and that God would see us through this time of growth for our family.
We had chosen NFP in order to responsibly participate with God’s creative power, not medicate it or control it. And that decision led us to the conviction that God would be faithful when our marriage welcomed a new life and our family began to grow—that we would not be alone in this transition, and somehow, everything would be okay.
Now, this is not to say that we threw ourselves solely upon the mercy of God and spent all of our time in church, praying for help, without doing our part. As much as we relied on God, we knew we were also called to be good stewards of our talents and resources. Josh cast a wide net, researching job opportunities anywhere near family, and things ended up working out. He got a job, we moved near family, settled in, and began a new phase of our family’s life.
In the end, we felt supported by God in the direction our lives were taking. Because we used NFP, we knew that this new child fit in to God’s plan for our lives, even though we had no idea how that would take shape. We felt like we were cooperating with God, not scrambling to make ends meet on our own, and that was a source of great comfort.
Postponing the Growth of Our Family
Towards the end of our two-year plan, we felt the call to further our professional lives and we both applied to graduate school to get masters degrees. During our time in school, we knew it would be far too challenging to grow the family, so we successfully used NFP to postpone having another child for three years.
At the end of our masters program, we discerned that we were again able to welcome new children and had two more, spaced sixteen months apart. Six years later, our family has not grown any further.
Through it all, NFP has invited us to repeatedly return to the question about family size. We repeatedly ask ourselves:
- Are we in a position to welcome another child?
- Why do we feel that way?
- Are these legitimate reasons?
- As we pay attention to the movements of our hearts, what might God be calling us to do?
These questions lead to fruitful conversation. They encourage us to integrate our lives with what we understand as God’s plan for our family, ensuring that we are communicating on a deep level with one another. They invite us to consider our resources—material as well as emotional—as gifts to be managed wisely. They move us away from fear and urge us to plan our lives around love, faithfulness, generosity, and wisdom.
We know couples for whom NFP has been a difficult choice to maintain. We cannot deny that it is a discipline that asks something of us, and that it is not always easy, yet we are convinced that it is a discipline worthy of the sacred gift of married love.