As soon as I heard Meggie’s discernment story, I knew I had to share it with all of you, and thankfully she agreed! Discerning another baby—or any other major decision, for that matter—will look differently for each couple. But one thing is the same: it takes prayer, communication, and a whole lot of trust in God’s will and plan for your marriage and family. Meggie’s story shows that discernment doesn’t always end up the way we expect, but proof that God always knows best. -Jen
Discernment is a difficult topic to cover; each person’s journey is so different and so personal. Growing your family (or choosing to not grow your family) is entirely between your husband, you, and God, yet so many people come out of the woodwork when your journey doesn’t line up with what they perceive from the outside.
I’m going to be completely upfront about this: I do not feel qualified to write about discernment. It is something I constantly wrestle with, but maybe hearing about it from more women in the trenches is what the NFP community needs. I struggle. I struggle with selfishness, and I struggle with fear. I do not particularly like being pregnant.
Our plans from the beginning
When my husband and I first got married, we had agreed we would wait two years before trying to conceive. Our time spent dating and engaged was almost entirely long distance due to our different timelines with school and work. Our reasoning was that we needed time to adjust and settle into our married life, which included my transition from college to the workforce, a new city (for me), and honestly, just being in the same room together for more than a few hours.
I don’t love the phrase “we make plans, and God laughs.” I like to think God sighs a little at our pigheadedness and slowly pokes and prods us until we’re heading in the right direction. This is what happened…
Discerning pregnancy together
After a few months of marriage, I started to feel a longing for a child. I slowly began to examine our reasons for avoiding, and I no longer felt they held up anymore. I was doing well at work and could get to most places I needed without a GPS (which was a huge success, as I am very directionally challenged). Geoff and I had transitioned very naturally and joyfully into married life.
So one evening, I gathered my courage and broached the subject with him. I was longing for a child and was not at peace with trying to avoid any longer, but would of course respect his feelings as well. Geoff was hesitant as this was much sooner than we had agreed upon, but he encouraged me to continue to pray about it and promised we could continue to discuss. I would go to Mass on my lunch hour to pray for clarity, and to pray that Geoff would be open to the idea of switching to TTC (trying to conceive). I felt that the longing God put on my heart was truly of God, and from God.
The next stage was terribly painful. I watched as three weeks in a row, three women in our couples’ group announced that they were pregnant. Geoff walked into our bedroom after one of those evenings to find me crying. We discussed further and ultimately agreed that it was time to try.
We got pregnant immediately…and immediately miscarried. I was distraught, but several months later finally got another positive test. I was overjoyed but struggled intensely with anxiety, as we had lost our first. Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, but everything went smoothly. In November of 2017, we welcomed our son, Becket.
His first few months were a challenge. Becket was colicky and screamed nearly non-stop for five months. He slept only three hours at a time, and our sleep training attempts repeatedly failed to stick. On top of this, he became a very proficient climber early on and learned to walk the same week he had surgery at 11 months old. That first year was a blur, and the times for marital intimacy were few and far between as we navigated the postpartum period. At 16 months, Becket finally slept through the night, and slowly our lives regained some normalcy.
Discernment is a process
I have struggled with scrupulosity all my life, and at 18 months again felt that maybe our reasons for avoiding were not as strong as they once were. Surely we weren’t being good Catholics if we continued to avoid without a life-threatening reason? Sure, my anxiety was bad, but my head was at least above the water now. Geoff reminded me that God calls us to be responsible parents, and that I was in no state to have more children yet. God does not call us to drown ourselves, but to wait with patience for his love and his peace.
My anxiety continued to worsen around Becket’s second birthday, and Geoff and I finally decided it was time for me to seek help. That worked for some time, and in February of 2020, I mentioned to Geoff the guilt I felt for continuing to avoid. He again reminded me that just as we can’t make the decision to avoid out of fear, we can’t make the decision to conceive out of fear either. That decision must come from a place of peace.
Sure enough, COVID hit the US, and during the first lockdown, Geoff looked at me across the table and said, “Aren’t you glad you aren’t pregnant right now?” The anxiety of being pregnant with so many unknowns in the early days of the pandemic would have probably sent me over the edge mentally.
With COVID, my anxiety crept right back up and reached such a fever pitch that I ultimately ended up in the emergency room with a sudden and severe pain at the base of my skull following weeks of daily tension headaches. My head was fine, but the doctor had noticed a nodule on my thyroid. I was assured it was no big deal. Many people have them, and 98% of the time they’re benign. In fact, the doctor nearly forgot to tell us about it!
I did some minor research when we got home, but was not particularly alarmed. I was more concerned about finding a solution to the crippling anxiety, so I promptly scheduled an appointment with my primary care physician. He put me on anxiety medication after years of me trying to avoid it, and he also ordered an ultrasound of my thyroid, which wouldn’t happen for some time.
Leaving survival mode behind
The medication was a complete life-saver. Not only was my head above the water, but I was able to swim. I left survivor-mode behind me and felt myself becoming a better wife and mother almost overnight. I felt that I really wouldn’t mind starting to think about having another child again. So I began diving deeper into discernment. My prayer went from, “Please don’t ask me to get pregnant again, because I just can’t do it!” to “If it is your will, God, please place that desire for a child in both of our hearts, and let us be at peace.”
It was an incredibly freeing thing to put that in God’s hands—to ask Him to prepare my heart for another child if that was what He wanted of me. I was confident that He would do so, that I would soon feel that peace as confirmation that it was time for us to try to conceive again. I finally felt ready to put that decision in God’s hands.
The peace did come…but in an unexpected form. I suddenly found myself very at peace with avoiding a pregnancy, which was perplexing—it was the exact opposite of what I assumed would be our next step. So, we continued to avoid a pregnancy.
I had my thyroid ultrasound, and the technician was cheerful and friendly. I expected to wait for two weeks but received my results the next business day. The report recommended a biopsy, accompanied by very technical terms describing the nodule. I took to Google to learn about the classification method of thyroid nodules, and my stomach dropped. There was an 80% chance or greater that it was cancer. Two days later, I was biopsied, and a week after that, had all suspicions confirmed: papillary carcinoma with the BRAF v600e mutation (AKA cancer).
The importance of NFP during treatment
Ten days after my diagnosis, I had a total thyroidectomy. Our need to avoid a pregnancy became extremely serious, as I faced the possibility of radioactive iodine treatment. If I didn’t need the additional treatment, we would only need to avoid for a few months until my medication was properly adjusted. If I did need it, we faced a year of very strict TTA (trying to avoid) for the safety of the baby.
The surgery was a success, but my doctor ultimately decided I needed further treatment to kill any remaining thyroid cells, so I began preparing for something called radioactive iodine (RAI). As thyroid cells are essentially the only cells in your body that absorb iodine, by ingesting a radioactive iodine pill, any remaining thyroid cells absorb the radioactivity and are slowly destroyed. It is a very targeted therapy, and requires going on a low-iodine diet to starve your body of iodine so it absorbs better. It also requires total isolation for anywhere from three days to three weeks.
Knowing the seriousness of this treatment, I contacted a new NFP instructor to help guide us through the coming year of avoiding, who has helped me several times already as we navigate progesterone tests for confirming ovulation.
The gift of NFP and its fruits
I am now on the other side of my treatment, and recently received the news that there is no evidence of spread. There is always a chance of recurrence, but for now, we are doing well and looking forward to the future that will hopefully include more children somewhere along the way!
Discernment is a difficult topic. It involves taking a deep look at ourselves, our intentions, and our motivations, which can sometimes be painful. I am deeply grateful for the gift of NFP and the way it has helped me to learn to trust better and slowly taught me to pray: not my will, but Thine.
Meggie is a born-and-bred Midwesterner living in the deep south with her husband, Geoff, and their busy 3-year-old, Becket. She works part-time in residential architecture, and full time in domestic engineering. When not chasing her son or sketching floor plans, she can be found reading a good book and drinking a Moscow mule.
One thought on “In the seas of discernment: one couple’s unexpected journey”
What an inspiring story! Yes, I relate to the scrupulosity, although my mental and physical health is fine. Sometimes we don’t know why the time isn’t right but daily Mass like you were doing is the ticket to finding the quiet Voice telling us the answer. I hope you are feeling better and your health improves–sounds like pretty intense treatment to recover from.
Small world–my husband Kevin Enright was good friends with Geoff at ND.