This is the first of two introductory articles about Natural Family Planning:
Christian marriage, first and foremost, is focused on Christ.
It frees husbands and wives to serve God by caring sacrificially for one another and the children He gives them.
Couples who practice Natural Family Planning (NFP) bolster their relationship with God and one another by remaining open to children and respecting the gift of the human body.
NFP refers to any of several natural methods of spacing the birth of children without the use of chemical contraceptives, which are harmful to a woman’s body and contrary to God’s design as revealed in the natural law and the teachings of His Church.
Sanctioned NFP methods are backed by scientific research and are effective for spacing births as well as overcoming obstacles to conceiving a child.
They are rooted in understanding and recognizing the natural signs a woman’s body gives her at the most and least fertile periods in her reproductive cycle.
The Church approves of these methods because in using them, the couple remains open to the gift of life.
To be effective, NFP requires the husband and wife to be open to communication and shared sacrifice and to making mutual decisions about when to have or not to have marital relations.
It’s not always easy, but as a deliberate, mutual act of love, it helps couples reach new levels of intimacy, respect and reliance on God.
These are things the Creator has in mind for each man and woman from the moment He calls them to the sacrament of holy matrimony.
The Jefferson City diocese is committed to helping couples pursue NFP as a resource for growing in their marriage.
“The Church wants what God wants, and God only wants what’s good for us,” stated Enrique Castro, diocesan director of marriage and intercultural ministries.
“NFP is an important ingredient in maintaining a marriage in which Christ is at the center and the husband and wife are willing partners with God in the act of creation,” Mr. Castro added.
In addition to the spiritual benefits, NFP promotes overall reproductive health, allowing a woman to recognize and deal with any irregularities without using chemical contraceptives to suppress her natural processes.
In short, NFP is good for couples, good for marriages, good for society and good for the Church.
Three national organizations — Creighton Model FertilityCare, the Couple to Couple League, and Familia de las Américas — have representatives in diocese who teach couples how to use NFP, and offer support and encouragement.
Each method has its own set of benefits and a strong national network of support, especially among Catholics.
Phyllis A. White of FertilityCare Services of Columbia said couples have gotten angry the first time they learn about the specifics of NFP.
“Why was I never taught these things?” she often hears. “I could have been using this for the last 15 years of my married life!”
She shares information that she believes every woman deserves to know in order to take care of her health and regulate pregnancy in her marriage.
She said many couples don’t realize how scientific the method is.
Others don’t anticipate how holy the process of using NFP to become pregnant can be.
“We know that every child is a gift and not a right,” one couple told Ms. White. “Having marital relations when we know we are fertile is like opening the front door of our house and greeting the Lord who is coming to bring a gift.”
Another client told her that agreeing to be open to children gives her and her husband a chance to show their affection for each other in a variety of ways — spiritual, physical, intellectual, creative or communicative.
“So, when it is time to come together physically, we might text the other to invite the other to renew our wedding vows,” she said. “This is what marital relations are meant to be, a total self-giving one to the other, holding nothing back. Only with NFP can we do this.”
What they don’t know
NFP offers a host of health benefits, especially for women.
Lynn Carter, a Creighton Model NFP practitioner, said many women have gotten used to unpleasant or debilitating symptoms of problems with their reproductive systems, because they were never told otherwise.
They don’t realize that medical treatment is available.
“Health class and sex-ed in high school really just glosses over a woman’s cycle,” said Ms. Carter, a member of Mary Immaculate parish in Kirksville. “I’ve heard all sorts of interesting things from women about what they had long considered normal, because they didn’t know any better.”
Learning how to keep track of their menstrual cycle with a chart can help women recognize problems and seek treatment.
“Not everything is treatable, but many cycle issues are,” Ms. Carter noted.
Not always easy
Ms. Carter pointed out that NFP is not a magic potion for creating a healthy, successful marriage.
“I would say that using NFP will intensify whatever is already there in the marriage relationship,” she said.
“If they are a team, this is another thing to talk about, be mindful of and connect over. They can share the struggle of abstinence.”
She noted that it can be difficult for a couple that has used artificial contraception to make the transition to any method that involves periodic abstinence.
Often, society’s prevailing attitudes doesn’t cooperate with openness to NFP and the ideals that come with it.
“It’s really hard to live in a culture where it’s a difficult thing to be open to a large family,” she said.
Trust in God
Sandra Almazan, an instructor for the Familia de las Américas method of NFP, said it has become an important part of her marriage.
It has helped her and her husband communicate better and be more involved in each other’s lives.
“The fact that you have to chart everyday makes it something part of your routine, something interactive, you constantly have to be discussing what you see and feel,” she said. “This brings you closer in intimacy, you look forward to it. Appreciating what you have, when you can have it.”
She noted that NFP’s health benefits are extraordinary.
“First of all, just knowing that you are not putting toxic chemicals into your body makes you somewhat more peaceful,” she said. “You’re not damaging anything in you, because you’re just using abstinence as part of your family planning.”
She added that there are no side effects, no headaches, no mode changes, no weight gain.
“I have the power to take care of my body in an easy and safe way,” she said. “I feel younger and more active.”
She and her husband are commitment to use NFP in a holy and God-centered way.
“We believe and trust in God and do not use this method to not have kids,” she said. “We use it as a method to space them out to where we can have the time to provide for each of them.”
That trust makes Familia de las Américas more than just a method to her.
“It’s knowing that we will have the kids God wants us to have and knowing that He gave us this tool as a ‘spacer,’ for lack of a better word,” she stated.
“It’s all about how you have Christ in your life,” she said.
Visit the NFP page on the Jefferson City diocese’s website — https://diojeffcity.org/our-church/life-and-marriage/pro-life/natural-family-planning — for more information.