Those who know, know. Often misunderstood and mistaken, natural family planning is a positive, refreshing gem of the Catholic Church.
Natural family planning is the general term used for the moral, ethical and scientific methods that can help a married couple either achieve or postpone a pregnancy. Working with, rather than against, a woman’s natural cycle, it understands fertility to be a gift, rather than a problem to be mitigated.
NFP holistically treats each menstrual cycle as unique, supporting natural reproductive health. In accordance with the teachings of the Church, as explained most recently in Pope St. Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” no drugs, devices or surgeries are used in NFP, so there are no harmful side effects. The methods support both the unitive and procreative nature of the conjugal embrace, deepening the couple’s relationship thus reaffirming God’s design for marital love.
Any married couple can use NFP. The husband and wife commit to NFP together, growing in clear communication and charitable cooperation. NFP helps the couple to interpret their combined fertility so they may discern when to attempt or postpone a pregnancy. In NFP, both the husband and wife have a shared responsibility to educate, observe and be attentive to their fertility on a daily basis.
There are three main methods of NFP, organized by the focus of each. The cervical mucus methods focus on the ovulation cycle of the wife. The well-known Creighton and Billings methods both use this style of observation. The symptom-thermal method observes various signs of fertility and cross-checking them, such as the basal temperature, cervical mucus and changes in the cervix. Couple to couple league teaches this charting methodology. Lastly the symptom-hormonal method uses several observations along with an ovulation predictor kit or fertility monitor to identify reproductive hormones. The Marquette model is best known for this type of NFP.
Each method though has innumerable benefits, even for a couple who are having trouble conceiving, as the information gathering from NFP can help pinpoint underlying medical conditions.
Emotionally and spiritually, NFP can strengthen a marriage. Supporting a couple’s communication and behavior changes, a husband and wife can learn to intimately lean in on one another, beyond the physical, and cooperate, even during times of periodic sexual abstinence. Honest and frank conversations about their sexual desires, hopes for children, size of their family and prayerful discernment with God about God’s will for their family is encouraged. NFP is also environmentally friendly and often inexpensive, when compared to contraception.
Lisa Everett, director of Marriage and Family Ministry for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, describes NFP as “one of the best kept secrets in the Catholic Church … which doesn’t mean it is a cakewalk, but rather like the G.K. Chesterton quote about Christianity: ’it has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and has not been tried.’ Like many things in life, it is precisely because NFP is a challenge that it is impactful. The virtues you develop from practicing NFP benefit your marriage far beyond the bedroom.”
In response to requests, the Marriage and Family Ministry will begin offering an online, monthly support group for couples on July 28, from 8-9:30 p.m. Couples can together attend the Zoom gathering and engage in discussions in a safe environment, support each other as they live out NFP, ask for clarity of what the Church teaches and enjoy fellowship with other Catholic couples. Each month will offer a topic to focus the discussion around, and Everett and Associate Director Caty Burke will moderate and facilitate the meeting. They will discuss the various NFP methods, abstinence, discerning family size, NFP apps and practical life information through the Catholic emotional and spiritual lens.
“It will be a discussion with a safe space for talking through emotional, spiritual and practical issues, for support, clarity and fellowship… to help each other, understand what the Church teaches and live it out,” Everett explained. Couples can register by emailing Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The office of Marriage and Family Ministry also runs a curated website of NFP resources within the diocese at diocesefwsb.org/nfp.
The NFP on-line support group is intentionally starting during national NFP week, sponsored by the USCCB, July 25-31. This week occurs over the anniversary of “Humane Vitae,” the lifegiving encyclical, as well as during the feast days of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Jesus’ maternal grandparents. To culminate NFP week, the office of Marriage and Family Ministry is cosponsoring with St. Thérèse, Little Flower Parish, South Bend, a talk by acclaimed author of “A Sinner’s Guide to NFP,” Simcha Fisher.
Fisher, in the introduction to her book, lays out a typical scenario that she will address during her talk: “You love each other, but your sex life is kind of a mess. You refuse contraception out of obedience to the churches teaching and you truly believe that NFP is better than those awful chemicals everybody uses anyhow, but…you’re having no fun at all. Your husband is angry and confused. Your wife is bitter and perplexed; and the whole thing has become and aching knot of misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and alienation. When you hear the glowing report of the marriage-building effects of natural family planning, they only make you laugh. Or cry.”
All are welcome to the presentation, but reservations are requested. Dinner and child care will be provided. Cost is $20 at the door. To register, visit littleflowerchurch.org/year-of-the-family.
NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING WEEK
St. Thérèse, Little Flower Parish, South Bend
Monday: An introduction to natural family planning with FEMM instructors Ryenn Andreassi and Lauren Cox, certified nurse midwife.
Wednesday: Families of Two: Catholics + Infertility. A night of encouragement and healing for couples struggling to conceive or maintain a pregnancy.
Thursday: Adoption and foster care panel
Friday: Date night: “The Sinner’s Guide to NFP” with author Simcha Fisher. Dinner and child care provided. $20 admission at the door. RSVP required: https://littleflowerchurch.org/year-of-the-family
All events begin at 7 p.m.
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