4.29.2014

The Will of the Spouses

*Disclaimer: While it isn't necessarily a TMI post, I do speak honestly about how infertility has impacted our physical intimacy. I prayed long and hard before making this public and what ultimately led me to do so is that as much as I blog for myself, I also hope that someone will read here and feel less alone and find support. I'm sharing in hopes that if you find yourself in this same situation, you will know you are not alone. This is shared with The Man's permission. (Also, I'm avoiding using the word s*x to try to keep spam to a minimum, for the purposes of this post, intimate refers specifically to s*x, though I very much realize there are other ways to be intimate.)

In NFP-lingo TTA means "trying to avoid pregnancy", and is the opposite of TTC, which means "trying to conceive." Logic, common sense, and every day thinking would tell you that a couple who is trying to have a baby would be TTC. (Both The Man and I prefer "postpone pregnancy" to "avoid pregnancy", but these are the common abbreviations, so we'll go with them to avoid confusion.)

For this cycle, at least, The Man and I will be actively using NFP to TTA. Yes, we are still TTC. Huh? Let me explain...

On Palm Sunday, The Man and I had a 3 hour drive home from a friend's house and we did what we do best on long car rides: had a long, intense conversation that helped us work out a lot of "stuff". During that conversation The Man said to me: I feel like you do not desire me. I feel like all you want is a baby. As my heart broke into pieces, the tears streamed from my eyes, and, while I knew his words were wrong, I also knew that from the past 6 - 8 months or so, he had every reason to feel that way. We talked through it and agreed things needed to change, but both of us agreed we weren't sure how.

He's tired of being rejected. He's tired of feeling used. He's tired of his wife crying after being intimate. He's tired of bearing the load of so much more than just our physical relationship and not having the connection of the physical relationship that he so desires and needs. (All rightfully so.)

I'm tired of crying after being intimate. I'm tired of feeling extreme pressure every time I see a hint of mucus and being so emotionally exhausted when my temp is finally up that I can't handle anymore. I'm tired of the line of dancing babies mocking me and of the tears that flow every time I write an "I" on my chart - which I'm awful at recording because it's just one more reminder of how my body fails month after month.

We are both tired of so many failed cycles.

So how did we get to this conversation?

We've had a rough road with this part of our marriage. I've written about it before, with our conversion from contraception to NFP. Contraception caused immense damage in our marriage because it separated the unitive and procreative aspects of intimacy. When we learned NFP, we found a new experience in our intimacy. Things were easy. Things were right. When we were TTA, we didn't experience the struggle with the fertile window that many couples experience, we just looked forward to the post-ovulation infertile phase and things were good. Then we started TTC. Suddenly we had no required abstinence. There was so much hope. So much anticipation. So many dreams. And things were good; really good.

After about 6 months of TTC, all that started to change. It didn't show up in my charts right away because I was good at hiding it. And until about 8 months ago or so, anytime I noticed that the "I"s were all in the fertile window (or would be if I charted them, I've never been good about charting "I"s since those early months TTC, those tears started early and have stayed with me), I would make a point to be intimate outside of that window. A couple of times The Man expressed some concern about this and we'd make a point to have a more balanced chart.

But, what was happening in my heart and head was anything but balanced. It escalated to the point where even intimacy during "reliably-infertile" days (aren't they all?) was followed up with tears. Add in grad school, marathon training, crap-hormones, and work, and let's just say the fact that there was any need for an "I" at all is a testament to how baby-focused I'd become, as they were all always during the "fertile" time. My charting of "I"s got worse, and in fact my charting at all became pretty bad. I'd take my temperature every few days only to be sure I did in fact peak and to avoid crazy roller coasters like last May. My mucus observations were bare minimum and only recorded so I could send my charts to Dr. D or my FCP. Things were far from good.

And so we found ourselves having the above conversation, both crying, both trying to figure out a solution. Both scared to death we'd never get back to those days of things being good, but willing to try, wanting more than anything to go back to those days of good.

Then, on Monday (of Holy Week), I met with Fr. D for our regular session and confession. I had most of my 40 Lenten letters to The Man ready to go and asked him to bless them, explaining why I had written them, seeing that they were all part of this long before I realized it. Then, I took a deep breath and through sobs and tears explained the conversation The Man and I had had the day before. I literally begged him to tell me what we could do. I shared some thoughts I'd had (hang the prayer of Tobias and Sarah in our bedroom and pray it daily; read Heaven's Song, by Christopher West together; and another couple of thoughts) but none of them were going to be "it," I just had that feeling. I was at a loss, my heart was (and is) broken for how I'd hurt The Man, and I didn't know how to do this. How would I take this pressure, this feeling of brokenness and failure and be able to fix our intimacy? Fr. D. looked at me and said "you have somehow managed to separate the unitive and procreative ends of intimacy, it's nearly impossible using NFP, but you have managed to do it." (Yes, we both chuckled a little bit and shrugged our shoulders because if it was going to be possible at all, it would be me that figured it out. I'm difficult like that.) And then he said, "I think you and The Man need to practice using NFP to avoid pregnancy for this next cycle. At least." My first thought was of my surgery and my now-open tubes and the timeline associated with that, but it wasn't a long lived thought. In my heart, I knew he was right, and I knew as soon as I told The Man, he would also agree. I could almost feel The Man's relief, and I was sitting in an office 75 miles away from him.

My penance from my confession was to pray for the grace to put the unitive and procreative ends of intimacy back together. Fr. D. readily admitting that it was going to take grace and grace alone to do it. I was to pray about that and see where it took me for the first 15 minutes of the hour drive home. About 10 minutes in, the clarity came. This, TTA, wouldn't have worked 3 months ago. In my heart, I knew my tubes were blocked. While I had miracle type of hope, I had no practical hope. It was too much to bear. It led to me making our intimacy all about procreation and that wasn't happening, because I am broken, and that led to me losing sight of what intimacy is really about. Yes, it is about babies, but it is about the life that it gives to our marriage equally. One is not more important than the other, they must always be connected. When they are separated, damage is caused. And so, now, when there is practical hope for both the procreative and unitive ends of our intimacy to be realized, The Man and I will remain open to life, we will use NFP and no contraceptive means, but we will TTA pregnancy for at least one cycle.

In the order of goods for decision making regarding family size, God's will is always first and the will of the spouses is next. It is clear that for the good of both of us, we must focus on replacing the unitive end of our intimacy as the priority it deserves, equal to the procreative end. Our intimacy has not been physically life-giving and it has not been unitive, in fact it has been a source of division. There are no words to describe how devastating that is.

Infertility has taken so much from me that learning NFP gave back to me. My body image. My desire for intimacy. A sense of empowerment and awe in my creation as a woman. A healthy, joyful intimate relationship with The Man. It's time to get all of those back.

I've often written about how I am trying to live the life before me while planning for the life I want. In this case, the life before me is a man I love more than anything and who I miss having this connection with. Whether or not we ever become parents, this is true and will remain true. I can no longer place the life I want as priority over the life before me.

We still very much desire parenthood. We will continue with cycle reviews and trying to stabilize my hormones and make sure things are as good as they can be physically so that we do not take steps backward in that regard. But for now, for this cycle at least, TTC will include TTA.

Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for us. (It is clear to me that she is interceding on our behalf. This is a knot that has only been getting tighter and tighter and for the first time in a long time, we feel it being loosed.)

24 comments:

  1. It seems that searching for a child you are loosing each other. I don't think using NFP for TTA instead of TTC will help a lot because the focus will be still mostly on your temperature changes and on your mucus. Why not to give up NFP for the next six months? It's hard to totally give up the control on your fertility but if in God's Will there is a baby for your family in the near future, He will find the way to send him/her despite all your efforts or lack of efforts.

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    1. We talked about not charting at all, as you suggest, but the problem with that is that once you've learned NFP, it's hard to unlearn it. No matter how much I would try to ignore my symptoms, I would still know when my potentially fertile days are (with or without taking my temperature). Even with a medical break last summer, it didn't ease the challenges we were having, and that was with bare-minimum charting.

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    2. I've been there where you are right now and for us stop charting completely was a blessing. I noticed three things:
      Usually I was taking the temperature first thing in the morning, it was the first thing in my mind and the thought followed me through the day; after I stopped it I started the day just focusing on my husband and on morning prayer.
      Yes, you will still be able to notice the mucus change but just resist the temptation to tell him about being potentially fertile or not. For my husband knowing that I expected intimacy just because I was in "those days" killed the desire. Let him be the one looking for intimacy when he feels like it and not to fulfill a duty.
      I started caring less about baby making and more on our couple special time; we started "dating again" and intimacy came much more natural in infertile as well as in fertile days.

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    3. I really appreciate your input here. Because we are sure we aren't ready to stop medical treatment just yet, I do need to keep charting to make sure we don't "lose" any ground. Taking my temperature has always been helpful to me, and The Man and I both read the chart, and he's said it would be helpful to him. There is a lot of hurt between us here, and he needs to know and be confident that if I initiate intimacy, it is a reliably infertile day, that there is no possibility of me trying to "use" him for a baby.
      I'm grateful to you for sharing your experiences here because it may help others, and that's the only reason I'm responding back, is because no one solution is perfect for everyone.
      Even though Fr. D. made the suggestion, when he said it, I knew it my heart it was the right thing to do. I am in the early days of my potentially fertile time right now, and I can already feel the difference. I plan to do a follow-up post after as well, so stay tuned.
      Again, not trying to argue with you, I respect your different approach and I'm hopeful that this dialogue will help someone else as well.

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  2. This is so awesome! I'm so proud of you! Please do not feel weird and alone. My cross right now is miscarriage, rather than infertility, but I have so many of the same symptoms. Tears after intimacy and a lot of panic about the vulnerability of carrying that cross again. God is so good. He's so trustworthy. I think it's good to have humility. Even in a Catholic marriage with NFP, I still struggle with the same issues as the rest of the world. I'm not "immune" because I'm God's daughter. That gives me hope that by trying to piece together my heart, and become more respectful of the heart of my husband, in this totally vulnerable and embarrassing situation--is going to bring greater peace to the whole world.

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  3. Thanks so much for this post. It helps to be reminded that life probably isn't better on the other side of the fence, but sometimes I think I might prefer infertility to chronic miscarriage. I calculate that my husband and I have been forced to be celibate for half our marriage, whether it be doctor-ordered pelvic rest, recovery time from two D&Cs and a cesarean, or just being TTA all the time. Our romantic life has dried up to a shadow of what it once was, because I can't help asking myself each time whether an enjoyable evening is worth the possibility of several months of depression, pain, nausea, invasive ultrasounds, visits to the ER, surgery, and perhaps a funeral. More and more the answer is no. All I really want at this point is some freedom to simply be intimate with my husband, without all the baggage. I second what Anonymous said; don't chart, don't bother, just enjoy being with the man you love. The worst that could happen is that you may be pleasantly surprised. :)

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  4. I think you have a very wise priest that you work with! TTA for the month will take out that little voice in the back of you mind saying "maybe this is the month" and you will have the opportunity of "enjoying" The Man without any other agendas. I have to disagree with Anon. After learning to chart and keep track of all your monthly signs, it's darn near impossible to ignore them and not think about the possibilities. Perhaps in the future, and you'll know when, it will be time to forget the charts and such.

    As always, you're in my prayers!

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  5. Thank you so much for this post. I had tears streaming down my face while reading it. It was like you could read my mind and could see my relationship with my husband. I too get emotional after acts of TTC. It is so discouraging to try month after month when nothing happens. It will be 5 years in July for me and I truly feel I am to the end of my ropes. I'm not sure how much more I can take. I want to be intimate with my husband when we want too not because we have to because my time is running out since my last surgery. I too have issues with my tubes and I feel they may already be blocked since my surgery in Sept. I told myself this is my last surgery and we would give it a year but I truly don't know if I can last until then. I am so glad I am not alone in feeling this way. Sometimes I wish I could forget everything about CM and be oblivious. How can you not notice something that is so ingrained in us after charting and knowing our bodies. You and your husband will be in my prayers. Please share how TTA for a month did for your marriage if it didn't too personal. Anything other advice, prayers, etc. you have with this matter are greatly appreciated. God bless!!

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    1. I'm so glad this helped you feel not alone! I do plan to share how it went, so stay tuned.

      Blocked tubes - :(. As if my own biological clock and other issues didn't present enough of a "time crunch", blocked tubes have to be the worst of it all. This is definitely an exercise it truly surrendering and giving it to God. As I said to the other anonymous commentor above, I'm at the start of my potentially fertile window now, and so far, it's very clear this is the right decision for us.

      The only advice I have is that which Fr. D. gave me: pray for the grace to keep the unitive and procreative aspects of your intimacy connected. It is grace alone that will do it.

      I will keep you in my prayers. While I respect your desire to stay anonymous, please feel free to email me if you'd like (RebeccaWVU02@Gmail.com).

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    2. I am only anonymous because I don't have a blog myself. I do read other IF blogs though and find great comfort in them. I do not like to write so I don't think blogging would be a good choice for me or else I would probably have one. :) thank you for your email address. -Amber

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  6. Sorry for the typing errors. My phone wouldn't let me delete or correct anything. Ugh, technology!

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  7. I really connect with everything you're saying here. While we haven't gotten quite to this point, it is all too easy to let the unitive and procreative parts of intimacy separate without us even really being aware, especially when we want to be moms more than anything. I'll be sure to be more mindful of keeping the unitive and procreative together as we continue on our IF journey. Thank you for this important reminder. Prayers for the two of you!

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  8. I'm going to argue a little bit (vicariously) with Fr. D, regarding this statement "you have somehow managed to separate the unitive and procreative ends of intimacy, it's nearly impossible using NFP, but you have managed to do it." I am not remotely saying that it is desirable to separate the unitive and procreative ends of intimacy, but that it happens to some degree as a result of the diseases/physical ailments that cause infertility.

    God's plan or desire is that s*x makes babies; it isn't that countless medicines and surgeries and other interventions are needed for children to come into the world. Obviously he permits the disease and brokenness in our fallen world, but that doesn't mean it was what He desired.To some degree, I think the separation begins to happen as TTC wears on and doctors and medical interventions become a key point of your intimate life. Certainly we shouldn't let it and should fight the good fight to keep those two purposes united. But when you know that one of those purposes is broken due to the brokenness of your body, it can be hard to see how they can and should go together, or to think that it works that way for others but not for you. I think we also need to be forgiving of ourselves in the sense that it's hard when you are pushing and pulling your body every which way, it will not necessarily respond the way it once did, in terms of desiring your husband.

    Recently Husbandido has admitted to me that part of the reason he so desperately wants us to succeed is because he was afraid that if we didn't, we wouldn't ever have s*x again. (Yes, he went there.) It took some discussion for him to realize that intimacy would probably get easier for me when I am no longer popping countless pills and feeling lousy much of time, as well as not feeling pressured to do it.

    I salute you and The Man for being open with one another and facing this problem together. I hope that this cycle of TTA helps bring back a sense of connection and intimacy between you.(Sorry for the ridiculously long comment!)

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    1. I love your long comment Stephanie! :)
      I agree with everything you said regarding how it is hard to keep the two ends connected when TTC wears on, I guess this is where I failed. I let the pressure consume me and take over. Honestly the stress and tears that surrounded our intimacy was only second to how detached I had become from it. I've struggled with this for a while, but it recently got really bad, which is why I'm sharing now, because I think it exceeded the normal stressors of TTC.
      "It [s*x] is pointless." is what I do believe left my lips just before the statement quoted from Fr. D. above. To defend myself a little (not that you're asking me to, but that just seems so awful out of context, it was awful in context, but out of it it's really awful), those words were said through whole-body-shaking sobs and with more sorrow than I can express in typing. Hence the need to pray for grace.
      I'll end my long comment back on a positive note by saying that while this was all humiliating and miserable to go through, I'm hopeful that things will get better.

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  9. DH and I have *SO* been there ... and like Stephanie Z's DH commented "he was afraid if we didn't, we wouldn't ever have s*x again." That's what DH told me too. It is hard. I'm ashamed to admit that things haven't really improved for us in that department, as we aren't intimate as much as we used to be. But I need to ... for our marriage.
    One of my very favorite parts: "Infertility has taken so much from me that learning NFP gave back to me. My body image. My desire for intimacy. A sense of empowerment and awe in my creation as a woman. A healthy, joyful intimate relationship with The Man. It's time to get all of those back." I need to get that back too.
    Thank you for writing and sharing - so many of us can truly identify.

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  10. Your post brings up such an important aspect of sub/infertility. Thank you for sharing this difficult subject, so that the rest of us do not feel alone. I think that separating the unitive from the procreative is a real danger for many who struggle with the IF cross; I know it was for me at times.

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  11. Really really good. This is convicting me in lots of ways to be a better lover to my hubby. Wow, tta for the sake of your marriage is a big beautiful step!!!!

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  12. Again, such a beautiful post.

    Prayers for you both!

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  13. Aww, Rebecca this must be such a sensitive and painful topic to bring up! I am so sorry you have to suffer at precisely the point where a couple should be the closest. This must cut the deepest in your psyche and body as a couple. My deepest sympathies and please know that you are not alone. Many, many couples experience this during their lifetimes although perhaps without the pain of infertility. So what is my advice? Well there is a lot I could say. A lot of it would be TMI so I think I will email it to you sometime with some more private advice. But let me just say that I think the key revelation in your post was not using NFP to TTA, although that may be helpful in the short term. But this use of NFP is only a stop gap measure as you want to have great s*x at any time, whether you have mucus, don't have mucus, are fertile, infertile, subfertile, or whatever-fertile. You desire great s8x and intimacy at all times. How is this possible? Well I think the key revelation was when you said the following: "The life before me is a man I love more than anything and who I miss having this connection with. Whether or not we ever become parents, this is true and will remain true. I can no longer place the life I want as priority over the life before me." Amen, I would dwell upon that more deeply as it seems that if those tears after s8x could talk they would probably be something like this if I understand you correctly: "Man, I really desperately want to love my husband through physical intimacy, but I just can't stop thinking about how this sex act is infertile and that on so many occasions it hasn't led to a child. This suffering is poisoning my thoughts and love towards the man I love! Yikes, this is out of control! Is there no where to hide? Not even in the arms of husband?! Oh I'm so sad and depressed." These thoughts are very different than the one you just shared about loving what is before you. So it seems to me you have the answer right before you to those tears after s8x. When you think these completely normal thoughts about your suffering the next time you have intimacy, don't suppress them. Instead, just offer them up and think to yourself the beautiful revelation you just stumbled upon: "The life before me is a man I love more than anything and who I miss having this connection with. Whether or not we ever become parents, this is true and will remain true. I can no longer place the life I want as priority over the life before me." Or perhaps translate this into a shorter phrase: "Come what may from this act of love, I'm going to love my husband and be loved! And that is a very good thing." I know this is easier said than done but I believe you have discovered one of the keys for great and holy s8x at anytime and it seems to me to be the key revelation in your post. I pray that this truth may sink in more deeply and become a part of your physical intimacy. Thank you for being so vulnerable and for sharing. It was very helpful to be reminded of all of these things. What infertile couple cannot relate to those thoughts so deeply interwoven in your tears after s8x? Not a single one. We have all thought these thoughts I assure you. It's just what we do with them that matters. Know that we are praying for you both and that if you ever need to talk further let us know! And even more importantly we are here for you as friends - whatever you need just email. Our home is also always open to be your getaway sanctuary as you know!

    Blessings! And I will email you some other thoughts later this week!

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  14. Amazing post. I can certainly relate, though I wish I couldn't. Thanks for your bravery and eloquence...you have shed light on a very difficult topic, and I know we are all very grateful. Prayers for your family!

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  15. Rebecca, we don't share the same cross, but I found this post to be so beautiful. I just wanted to tell you that, and to say I'm offering a prayer for you and your husband right now.

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  16. So many of us have been down this road with you. Thank you for showing courage in posting this. My only comment is that I bet some fertile couples who use NFP fall into this same "trap". Knowing about our fertility can give us a lot of power...sometimes too much power. This is a good reminder for all of us to cherish our spouses and to never use them as a means to an end.

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  17. Although you posted this more than two weeks ago, I am just reading it today. And the sentence "I can no longer place the life I want as a priority over the life before me." is exactly what I needed to hear, even though I have tears streaming down my face. I have been so focused on our fertility and TTC that everything else has been pushed aside. Thank you for being so brave to share intimate parts of your life and marriage with the rest of us.

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