Charting is an integral part of Natural Family Planning (NFP) and one of my greatest challenges. I think that it is related to my struggles with producing daily lesson plans. After years of studying to be a teacher, and plenty of reading and workshops on producing good lesson plans, it was always my greatest downfall. I could visualize the lesson in my mind and execute it, but to write it down in those little boxes of my plan book was downright painful and counter productive.
Nevertheless, when we began our NFP journey, we had picture perfect, textbook charts. As a young engaged couple, we were determined to do this and do it well. We wanted to prove that it was just as wonderful as all the literature touted, and be able to refute all the backlash we received from family and friends from our decision not to use birth control. We both lost our jobs weeks before our wedding, and some medical issues had led my doctor to suggest further testing for multiple sclerosis (MS) just days before our wedding. With such uncertainty, we decided we definitely wanted to avoid for about a year until life was a little more stable. Besides, we were on a mission to become the poster children of NFP and it's greatest ambassadors. We could only do that if we could prove that it worked.
After about six months, we were both working and my medical inquiries had all come back negative. Everything still seemed so new, and we didn't feel ready for another roller coaster ride after just getting our feet back on the floor--still our desire to start a family was growing. We weren't ready to jump full force into the "trying to conceive" camp, however we were willing to take some risks and see where it led us. Well, I immediately became pregnant, but sadly miscarried only a couple of weeks into my pregnancy. We pressed on, a month and a half later, I was pregnant, again! However, I once again miscarried at five and a half weeks. My world started to spin, I feared I would never have children (A concern that I had carried for as long as I could remember, even as a young child. Perhaps, God was preparing me for the road I was to walk.) My mainstream OB/GYN refused to acknowledge my pregnancies because they were both so short. She chalked it up to PMS. But there it was, in black and white, on my charts!
Enter the Crieghton method and NaPro Technologies. If you like color coded, graphs and charts, methodical and scientific--Creighton is for you. It wasn't for me. We had been schooled in the Billings Sympto-Thermal method. Our textbook was called The Art of Natural Family Planning. Billings is an art, Creighton is a science. We are artists, after all we met in the theatre for Pete's sake! However, we wanted to know what was going on and our NaPro doctor confirmed both pregnancies through my meticulous charts. I was reassured that I wasn't crazy and had hope to settle whatever the problem was.
So, we wanted a baby and the first thing the doctor told us was (drumroll, please) do not get pregnant until I tell you to! Ahh--I wasn't expecting that. We had to relearn how to chart and use all the little stickers instead of our trusty graph paper. If I could ask Dr Hilgers one question, it would be why he insisted on putting pictures of babies on the green fertile day stickers. The babies taunted me month after month. It is a big pet peeve of mine to be honest, I mean most people charting with Creightons are either trying to avoid pregnancy for some grave reason or trying to get pregnant but having difficulty so they turned to NaPro Technologies. The baby stickers were just another thorn in the new charting side.
With the help of these new, orderly, colorful charts, my doctor was able to diagnose a progesterone problem that was confirmed through blood tests that were timed according to--you guessed it--my charts. I was in hyper charting mode. Six months later, we were once again pregnant!! I was able to call my doctor within days of conceiving because of those charts. It is a good thing, too. My progesterone was so low, despite supplements, that the chances of this pregnancy lasting were slim to none. I required injections of progesterone at regular intervals in increasing doses that made me so ill and weepy. Despite the constant monitoring and treatment, my numbers never came up. Every day was a gift and we just held our breath and hoped for the best. My Obstetrician set a goal for 30 weeks, hoping for 32. I was petrified, that was so early. I prayed like I had never prayed in my life--St Paul, I learned the whole unceasing thing!
By an absolute miracle, my healthy baby girl was born ON HER DUE DATE! Oh, praise God! We had decided to follow Sheila Kippley's plan and let ecological breastfeeding space our children. When our daughter was about six months old, we started talking about returning to the doctor for more testing to begin the process of balancing hormones so we could have another child. We knew that our breastfeeding hiatus from charting was coming to an end and honestly I wanted to chart as little as possible. After a grueling pregnancy, and the real possibility of a repeat with each subsequent pregnancy, I waited until our daughter was eight months to schedule an appointment. Thinking we could have this licked in six months flat, the timing seemed perfect. After all, doesn't everyone want children about two years apart in age?
However, my hormonal issues had worsened. Instead of just progesterone being low, my entire system was out of alignment. Nothing was as it should have been. After more charts and what seemed like endless, nail biting blood tests, the doctor thought she knew how to correct it all. We had already been in this process for a year and a half. It had been longer than we expected, but I was feeling well and ready for a new pregnancy once we began our treatment, but the treatment that should have fixed everything, only made it worse. I stopped ovulating all together. Charting was more of a chore because nothing made sense and all I wanted was a baby. I began to despair.
It was at this point that I started to slack off in charting, putting only the information that the doctor needed to know to help me. I left off notes of anything that could be affecting my mucus pattern and refused to log our marital occasions of intimacy--which is used to help effectively date a pregnancy. When my doctor saw those boxes blank, she asked if everything was okay or if we needed some marriage help. I told her we were fine, we were happy, and healthy as far as our relationship, I just needed to take something back from the charts. My whole life was on there--or so it felt--and everything was so planned and timed and interfered with. My dreams or us looking at each other and saying, "Hey. let's go make a baby." were replaced with me praying the doctor would call and say this blood test approved us to get pregnant, and do it on exactly this day. I so appreciated the doctor's help, but I needed some privacy. Besides, see the first paragraph as to my aptitude in charting. The fact that I made it years was a real stretch for me.
One day, the day that I thought would never come, the day that the doctor had told me may never come, she called and said we were cleared to try to get pregnant. We were given the green light (or green sticker if you prefer) to try on the top peak days for the next six months. If nothing happened, we had to return for more tests--oh, and make sure to chart really well. I relayed the message to my husband and he asked me what I wanted to do now. I said, "Hey, let's go make a baby!" (Not, my exact words--but a nice literary effect.) Five days later, I called up my doctor and said, "I think, I'm pregnant."
She nearly fell over. It had only been five days. I was a week from my next estimated menstrual cycle beginning. The chart, my great nemesis, had come through and confirmed a pregnancy a week or more before even the best home pregnancy tests would. It redeemed itself a bit, but I reminded that green, red, and yellow checked poster board folder that it still didn't mean we were friends.
Through our years, many stories came back to our chart--or lack thereof. I'm still not a good charter. In fact, my youngest was born two years ago and I have yet to dig out or purchase a chart to record on. I've been winging it. So far, so good. I know, it's playing with fire but we laugh in the face of danger. hahaha. Seriously though, charting is most definitely a love-hate relationship for me. I much prefer the charting in my head by the seat of my pants method, but that isn't what gave me my three precious loves asleep in their beds. For us, NFP was not the great journey of planning our pregnancies and proving it was so effective because we just decided to get pregnant whenever we wanted, but only when we wanted. It did work, for those times that I was under care and could not get pregnant for the health of the baby and myself--through the strictest rules and a meticulous chart-- I didn't. Until recently, every time we deviated and took a risk, we added another apple to our family tree. What NFP did was not allow us to schedule every birth, as we had been conditioned we should be able to do by the birth control minded society, it allowed us to give birth to half of the children God blessed us with. I will never love charting--I will never even like it--but I will always be thankful that someone figured out how to read this hidden story that the LORD placed in every woman's womb.