*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.)