Contraception is the stumbling block for many Catholics. While some know what the Church teaches on the subject, many do not, and rely on the interpretations of others to inform themselves. What the church actually teaches, and to what it is thought to teach can be two very different things! And frequently, to people's surprise, the Church's teaching is more understanding, compassionate, and flexible than was supposed.
Disobedience while remaining 'in the Church', and leaving the Church all together is all too often a couple's bitter response to these misinterpretations of the church's teachings. Far better would be a clear and easy to understand explanation of what the Church's teaching is and a reliable way of implementing the teaching within a marriage.
Wendy Cukierski's book is an admirable effort to address this need. Formerly in advertising, she knows how to make a point clearly and forcefully.
Natural Family Planning
Wendy Cukierski, from 'What Every Catholic Couple Should Know', self published, 1997.
Used with permission Wendy Cukierski
Faced with the church's long-held ban on artificial birth control, many Catholic couples fail to realize that the Church has not abandoned them in dealing with this compelling issue of marital fertility. The Wisdom of the Holy Spirit has guided the teaching Magisterium of the Church to offer a natural, dignified way of spacing or postponing births, when needed, which is called "Natural Family Planning."
Natural Family Planning offer the Catholic couple the 'clear conscience' approach of being able to manage their fertility without violating the natural order intended by God. This chapter is not meant to serve as an instructional manual, but rather is a brief introduction to the method and an overview into the philosophy of Natural Family Planning.
How come I have never heard of Natural Family Planning before?
For many reasons, mostly economic in nature, Natural Family Planning has not gotten the recognition it deserves. NFP is the nemesis of large pharmaceutical companies that have made huge profits by enslaving women with their gadgets and chemicals. They know that once a woman learns the natural methods of family planning, she has no need for their deadly wares.
How long has Natural Family Planning been around?
Natural Family Planning has been around since the early 1970's Pope Paul VI commissioned a Catholic couple, Drs. John and Evelyn Billings to research a natural method of birth spacing that couples could use in conformity with church teaching. They were successful in their efforts, and the first method of NFP was 'born.'
Isn't Natural Family Planning the same as the old rhythm method that my mother used?
No. this is a common myth that has no substance. Even pamphlets you find in doctors' offices are spreading this fallacy. The rhythm method of earlier generations was based simply on odds and predictions inherent in a woman's monthly cycle. This method is still used by some, but, is not as precise as NFP. Natural Family Planning is based on biological facts and has become a highly effective, respected method in pro-life medical communities.
How exactly does Natural Family Planning work?
A couple learns, through on to the various methods, how to determine the woman's fertile time of the month and then they abstain during that time so that no conception occurs during that menstrual cycle. A couple desiring a baby can use the same method to achieve a conception.
Isn't using NFP to avoid a pregnancy just another form of birth control?
NFP is fertility awareness that can be used morally to space or postpone pregnancies. When a couple chooses to use artificial means to stop a conception, they are depending on a device/surgery/chemical to avoid the pregnancy. The act of intercourse occurs in such a way that the marital act is perverted from what God naturally intended. The marital act is reduced to something unnatural and is, therefore, stripped of its dignity. Using NFP is simply choosing to abstain during a certain time of the month; postponing relations for a later times. No perversion of the act takes place. When the marital act is resumed, it is done with respect for the bodies of both spouses.
Can you explain that further?
When a couple uses NFP to avoid a pregnancy, there is nothing artificial used to prevent new life from occurring. The couple leaves this life-giving decision totally sup to God, the Author of all life. When a couple gets married in the Catholic Church, a part of their wedding vows involves being open to children. If the couple uses artificial birth control, they are, in affect, departing from their wedding vows, because they take all creative power away from God and selfishly place it into their own hands. The right handed over is to a sex act open to life. A couple married through the holy sacrament of Matrimony is really a threesome; husband, wife, and God. When the couple uses birth control, they take God out of the equation and choose to rely only upon themselves. When the Bible speaks of 'two in one flesh,' it commands that 'what God has joined, let no man tear asunder.' Artificial Birth Control is, in effect, a forbidden fruit placed between the holy union of husband and wife.
Is Natural Family Planning really effective?
The Johns Hopkins Institute called Natural Family Planning 'the best method of birth control' saying it is 99% effective (as effective as Oral Contraceptives) and 100% safe.
What are the benefits of NFP?
There are many. One is that it is 100% safe and that it has no unpleasant side effects like most, if not all other methods of birth control. Another case for NFP is that it involves the active participation of both spouses rather than having just one partner shouldering the burden of their combined fertility. NFP requires both partners to be actively involved in learning and using the method. Catholics receive the additional benefit from the peace of mind that comes from knowing they are keeping with the Church teaching in regards to family planning. Unlike artificial birth control, NFP is a true method of family planning as it can be used to either achieve or avoid a pregnancy.
How difficult is it to learn NFP?
Missionaries sent to third world countries have been able to teach illiterate, uneducated women this method with great success. For the average couple, NFP can be mastered quite effectively in just a few menstrual cycles. In fact, as the months and years go on, couples find the method becomes second nature and can be done with little or no effort.
What exactly is involved in using NFP?
God created the woman's body to function in a specific way. Each month, a cycle of fertility begins anew and follows a similar pattern. There are certain changes in the cervix, vaginal secretions and basal body temperature which are observed and noted by the woman. Other signs, such as abdominal discomfort, breast tenderness and increased libido occur which all coincide significantly. These occurrences are written down in a monthly menstrual chart which allows the couple to pinpoint, with great accuracy, the days of highest fertility. If pregnancy is not desired that month, the couple will abstain until the woman's 'signs' indicate that her fertility is over for that menstrual cycle.
Is there more than one method of Natural Family Planning?
Yes. There are several methods of NFP that couples use. There is the Billings Method, the Creighton Model, and the Sympto-thermal Method, to name a few. Each method is basically the same, with slight variations. Some couples find they prefer one method over another. There is some debate in NFP circles as to which method is the most effective. Each couple will ultimately determine which method is best for them.
How come most couples who use NFP have large families?
It is true that many couples who use NFP do have large families. This could be for several reasons. First, and most importantly, many generous couples desire large families. Understanding the immeasurable value of a human soul, they take to heart the message of the Creator to 'be fruitful and multiply.' In other cases, couples could already have had several children before they learned the method. Once they develop an awareness of their fertility cycle, they begin to have some 'control' over subsequent pregnancies. It is important to note that couple who practice NFP do so out of love for Christ and His Church. Likewise, they tend to be more courageous, having given themselves over completely to God. This, in no way means that all couples who use NFP will have many children. In fact, there are more than a few NFP couples who are unable, for medical or other reasons, to have as many children as they desire. God has the ultimate power over the creation of life and whether He decides to send many or few children, the loyal Catholic couple accepts His Will.
Don't couples who use NFP have less opportunities for marital relations because of the frequent abstaining required?
No. In fact, studies by NFP organizations have proven that couples who use natural methods have the same frequency of relations, or in may cases, engage in more frequent relations that the 'national average' during the course of a monthly cycle. The one difference being the timing of sexual unions. Couples using NFP have more relations during the first half (pre-ovulatory) or last half (post-ovulatory) of the monthly menstrual cycle, to compensate for the time when they know they cannot be together. It usually works that the thought of an anticipated physical separation adds to the allure of frequent 'safe' relations during non-fertile times of the month.
What about this 'abstaining' time of the month? Isn't this difficult to do?
As a rule, couples whose consciences have led them to practice Natural Family Planning, are more than willing to sacrifice a certain period of time each month in order to preserve purity in their marriage. On occasion, one of the spouses (usually the husband) has a difficult time with abstaining. It is during these times when prayer, combined with some 'creative continence' is required.
What is 'creative continence'?
Simply put, it is a non-sexual way of showing affection to one's spouse during times when conjugal activity is not possible. This is, perhaps, the most challenging aspect of Natural Family Planning which can, with the right disposition, become occasions of joy and great satisfaction.
What are some examples of 'creative continence'?
A prime example of creative continence would be for the couple to add some S.P.I.C.E. to their monthly abstaining. S.P.I.C.E. is an acronym for Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Creative and Emotional means of intimate communication.
Spiritual communication stands for the spiritual commitment you share with each other through the Sacrament of Matrimony. Pray together during those sometimes long periods of abstinence that are difficult. Remember that marriage is not just two people living together. It is a husband, wife and God. Periodic abstinence is a wonderful time to develop a strong spiritual relationship with one's spouse.
Physical communication means employing non-sexual activity during times of abstaining. Use this time to 'get to know each other better', and discover things that you both enjoy together. Some examples would be mastering the technique of giving a good massage or back rub, dancing to some romantic music, preparing a late night gourmet dinner after the little ones are tucked in, enjoying a fun game of Monopoly together, or just falling asleep in each other's arms. Be sure to throw in plenty of good ol' platonic hugging.
Intellectual communication involves sharing the intellectual areas you have in common with each other. This could be reading poetry to each other, working on a joint research project, doing some Bible study together, watching and old movie, sharing some intimate hopes and dreams, or tenderly recalling the first days of your courtship.
Creative communication involves sharing creative aspects with each other during times of required abstinence. Think of fun, interesting things for the whole family to share. For example, try an unplanned day trip to a nearby attraction that you've never visited. Pack the kids in the car and go for a picnic or, organize and have your own family yard sale. Many couples find these times of the month to be favorable for entertaining. You can use the extra energy during this time of month of abstaining to do things you ordinarily would not do.
Emotional communication involves sharing your emotions during times of abstinence. Try to communicate often with your spouse and don't be shy in utilizing more verbal expressions of love. This is also the area that usually gets strengthened through the use of Natural Family Planning.
Where do I find out about NFP?
One of the most active organizations responsible for Natural Family Planning instruction is the Couple to Couple League. As their name implies, they use the 'couple to couple' approach in teaching the method. A couple wishing to learn the method can locate a 'teaching couple' in their area and be instructed, often in their own home, by a certified NFP couple. This organization also distributes literature, organizes classes, counsels over the telephone, makes referrals, and provides educational material.
There are also several instructional books available including:
- 'The Art of Natural Family Planning' published by the Couple to Couple International, Inc., PO Box 11184, Cincinnati, OH, 45211-1184. and the
- 'Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning' by Thomas W. Hilgers, MD, CNFPE, CNFPMC - published by the Pope Paul Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, 1983