For The Register
“NFP? That’s just the Catholic Church’s version of birth control, right?”
“You use NFP? You must want a dozen kids!”
“NFP isn’t a guaranteed method of preventing pregnancy, so you might want to consider an additional method of birth control.”
How many times have you heard, or worse, expressed, any of those statements? I’ve been on the receiving end of such comments (unsurprisingly, I heard the last one from my former OB/GYN) numerous times in the 12 years I’ve been married, and even prior to that as my husband and I were learning the Creighton Model of Natural Family Planning (NFP) during our engagement. It doesn’t get any easier to hear the tone of incredulity or shock in the voices of those with whom I’m discussing NFP or my husband’s and my use of it, but I have become much more confident in explaining why we use it. I’d like to share three of those reasons with you here in the hope that it will either confirm what you know and already practice or, if you are not currently utilizing this tool, entice you to give NFP a closer look.
First, NFP is empowering and personal in a way that no birth control can ever be. When taught and learned properly, NFP gives the couple knowledge about the woman’s body — the signs and cycles that make her and her fertility unique. For my husband and me, knowing how my body is supposed to work, how God intended it to work, is a powerful tool and brings a different level of intimacy to our marriage. It not only aids us when it comes to planning our family, but it helps us gain a clear picture of my overall reproductive health. I have friends who have credited NFP with helping them discover health problems or with helping their doctor figure out how to treat those issues. Knowledge is power!
It further empowers us by teaching that regardless of what our national culture would have us believe, we really can be in control of our sexual desires and delay gratification! (Bet you’ll never hear that from Hollywood!)
Conversely, conventional birth control methods — pills, IUDs, diaphragms, condoms, etc. — are wholly impersonal and are marketed (dare I say, used?) as a fix for something that isn’t broken or to simply make controlling your sexual desires less worrisome. They take meaning away from the act of love that God designed sex to embody and reduce it to merely a physical act that now has a commercial element. Yes, commerce enters into the birth control picture because you have to pay someone else for a product that will help you gain control over your fertility — a bandaid for something that isn’t broken — or let you give in to whatever your body desires whenever the urge strikes.
Additionally, by design, conventional birth control is meant to separate the couple rather than truly bring them together. While I won’t get into the obvious physical or biological aspects of this, I ask you to think about the knowledge aspect of the relationship I mentioned earlier. How many husbands of women who are on the pill or another birth control method actually understand how their wife’s body works? I’m not just referring to the biology class explanation, but rather her personal cycle and signs of fertility. If the birth control method is one-sided and only has to be “worried about” by either the woman or man, both members of the couple lose the opportunity to experience the intimacy of knowing how God truly meant their bodies to work. It is separating the couple in more ways than one.
My second reason for promoting NFP is its versatility. Early in our marriage we had a period of several months when, due to a diagnosis of melanoma, it was in my best interest for me not to conceive. NFP and the knowledge we’d gained through learning the Creighton Model was extremely helpful to us in avoiding a pregnancy during that time, though we remained completely open to life should conception have occurred. Once I received a “no evidence of disease report” from my doctor, we were able to use NFP to try to achieve pregnancy and by God’s grace, our oldest son was born the following year! There is no other so-called family planning method with the versatility that Natural Family Planning offers while keeping with God’s plan for sex within marriage. Why mess with the best?
Finally, unlike other options, Natural Family Planning is NATURAL! In their quest to embrace a more natural lifestyle, an increasing number of people want hormone and antibiotic-free meat and dairy products, many only want to eat organic fruits and vegetables, and a large part of the population wants to reduce the amount of chemicals brought into their homes. Yet how many of those same people are implanting foreign objects in their bodies, having their reproductive organs unnecessarily altered through tubal ligation or vasectomy, or ingesting untold levels of hormones and chemicals in the name of “birth control?” God gives us the opportunity to work with Him to plan our families and to grow in knowledge of our and our spouse’s bodies. Yet so many people cling to the unnatural.
Personally, I take great comfort in knowing that I have a good picture of my overall reproductive health, one not clouded by chemicals or unnatural barriers. I can also tell you first-hand that there is a certain satisfaction that comes with being able to accurately pinpoint the timing of conception of a baby, gently suggesting to your doctor that his estimates are off by a couple of weeks, and then having him tell you, ‘You were right!’ after looking at the sonogram.
For those of you who are curious about NFP, I encourage you to jump in with both feet. Find an NFP model that works for you and embrace it. It is a beautiful way to partner with and more fully trust God in his plan for your family and your health. Know that you have a community of faithful Catholics to support you.
For those of you are already committed to NFP, thank you. Thank you for your example. Thank you for showing the world that something it deems “unconventional” can be done and produce beautiful results. Thank you for embracing what can sometimes be a struggle and showing the world that it is worth it!
Allison lives in Hays with her husband, Louie, and their three children. They are parishioners of St. Joseph.