Natural family planning is a skill that, once learned, quickly becomes a daily habit. But what happens when you take an extended break? Pregnancy is a classic example, but you may take time off for personal or relational reasons as well. So what happens when your skills get rusty?
I am now a few months postpartum myself so I am experiencing this very thing. Even though I'm an NFP teacher and I'm very familiar with the theory, I'm out of practice with the application aspect. Here are five tips that helped me to get back into the groove of using NFP on a daily basis.
1. Get your spouse involved
Having a second person around to help remind you to check and chart your fertility signs is extremely helpful. But equally important is having good discussions about your family planning intentions. Are you avoiding pregnancy? Actively trying to get pregnant? Just waiting to see what happens? If you just had a child, are you hoping for a certain spacing before the next one? Or do you feel done having children all together? It's vital to have open communication about your family planning intentions with your spouse. Not only is partner involvement essential for effective use of NFP, but it's also important for a healthy relationship. You may not necessarily be exactly on the same page, but at least be aware of how the other feels.
2. Employ visible reminders
I normally keep my chart on my bedside table, so I can easily write down the day's observations at the end of the night. But I'm not going to lie; the first day I tried to get back to charting, I walked into my bedroom just before bed, spotted my chart, and said, "Oops." I had completely forgotten to observe my fertility signs (after all, I hadn't done it in over ten months!)
So try keeping your chart somewhere more visible. Or if you are worried about privacy, use other reminders; a sticker on the bathroom mirror, a special bracelet, a note on the fridge, etc. Do whatever you have to do to remind yourself to pay attention to your body. You probably won't have to do this long; pretty soon, you'll naturally be in the habit of checking your fertility signs again.
3. Review your class materials
This is especially important if you feel rusty about the guidelines for avoiding pregnancy. Pull out your book, read through your old class activities or review past charts. You'll probably find things come back to you pretty easily! Doing this with your spouse can prompt discussion, and you can help jog each other's memories
4. Contact your instructor
If you have questions or are still confused after reviewing your materials, contact your fertility educator/natural family planning instructor. This can be especially helpful if you are postpartum and you want to know what to expect from your body while you are breastfeeding. Even if you are not breastfeeding and your fertility returns quickly, your cycles may seem different after baby and you might appreciate extra guidance.
(If you are self-taught or learned through another method, I would be more than happy to meet with you and review the guidelines for avoiding pregnancy with you. Look here for more information)
5. Find support
Using natural family planning postpartum can sometimes be confusing, so it can be quite helpful to surround yourself with a like-minded community that can offer personal experience, empathy, and support. If you don't have close friends who use NFP, try finding a digital tribe. There are online forums and Facebook groups full of NFP users, beginners and veterans alike. These can be great places to share information, and to be reminded you are not alone. If you are looking for something more personal, there may be an in-person group near you. Start by contacting your local Catholic diocese or NFP instructor. In the Fox Cities area, Elizabeth Ministry International hosts a monthly group for this very purpose.
And remember, any time you return to charting (but especially after having a baby), realize that your body and your cycles may have changed. Give yourself a little time to get to know your body again. Relax, give yourself grace, and enjoy the process.
images courtesy of freedigitalphotos - ambro, nenetus, singkam