As we sat on our living room couch two years ago, my wife, Whitney, said with tears in her eyes, “I’m not ready to die.” She was 33 with an 18-month-old and had just been diagnosed with aggressive ovarian cancer. Thank God we had a preemptive line of defense that many couples aren’t even aware of: natural family planning.
When we got married in 2010, I couldn’t have imagined the impact that using and teaching NFP would have on our lives. Whitney, a convert, and I, a “cradle Catholic,” wholeheartedly accepted the Church’s teaching on birth control. For us, fertility was not something to control but to understand and navigate. We effectively used NFP to avoid pregnancy for the first few years of our marriage.
When we did try for a child, we conceived on our first attempt — but shortly after, we miscarried our little John Paul. It was a very sad time for us, and Whitney’s anxiety from the miscarriage affected our attempts to conceive again. I finally offered to do the NFP charting myself, which helped ease her worries.
In December 2013, Whitney was sick and stressed from her work as a teacher, and I noticed that she ovulated later than usual. Little did she know, when she returned from visiting her mom over Christmas break, that she was just entering the fertile phase of her cycle. Two weeks later, when I came home from work and saw her drinking a beer, I said, “You might want to let me finish that.” Her eyes looked like they might pop out of her head when I explained why. Nine months later, we were holding Elijah in our arms.
Whitney’s fertility returned about a year later, but after two full cycles, things got really weird. Knowing that a radical and unexplained change in charting often signals a medical problem, I suggested she see a doctor. That’s when she received the cancer diagnosis. A large tumor was then removed from her left ovary together with part of the fallopian tube.
After months of recovery, Whitney told me she wanted to try for our second child. Her fertility signs had returned, and knowing how to navigate the fertility cycle, we got pregnant on our first try, again. With one ovary and fallopian tube, we conceived Lucy — our miracle baby.
During marriage preparation, I thought NFP was just a way to know when we could make love without getting pregnant. I’ve come to understand it as something much more. Christ has given all of himself as a gift on the cross and in the Eucharist, and my wife and I give all of ourselves to each other in marriage. In accepting Whitney’s fertility, I am accepting all of her, for her fertility is an essential part of what makes her a woman, my wife and the mother of our children. And thanks in part to an early warning NFP gave us, she is now cancer free.
JAMES CUEVA lives with his wife, Whitney, and their two children in Houston, Texas. He is a member of Houston Council 803.
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