The following story appeared in the January 27 Idaho Catholic Register.
I recently saw a tote bag with the saying, “The struggle is real, but so are the graces.”
I immediately thought of NFP. What is NFP? Natural Family Planning uses the signs of fertility of a woman’s body to identify the fertile days of her cycle so couples who feel called to plan or postpone pregnancy can do so accordingly. These signs include temperature, cervical mucus, and/or testing for the presence of the “luteinizing hormone,” which controls the menstrual cycle.
So, in the spirit of popular “Top 10” lists, here are my top 10 reasons, in ascending order, to use Natural Family Planning
10) Money in the bank!
A penny saved is a penny earned. Using NFP costs close to nothing. St. Mother Teresa taught NFP to the women in India because it is low-cost and easy to learn. The only real expense is the initial cost of the classes. (I don’t recommend teaching yourself with a book). If you decide to track your ovulation cycle using an app, there may be a small fee with that. (The exception is the “Marquette Method” which involves buying a Clear Blue Easy Fertility Monitor and strips to track your luteinizing hormone.
9) Living Green
I don’t think anyone feels good about ingesting chemicals. It seems ridiculous that a bag of baby carrots even has an ingredients list, but it is affirming to read INGREDIENTS: CARROTS, nothing added. That’s not quite the same experience when reading other labels! Hormonal birth control methods, such as “the pill” use high levels of estrogen to override the natural hormonal cycle and mimic the only time a fertile woman’s body naturally doesn’t ovulate – during pregnancy. It makes sense, then, that some of the common side-effects and risks of the pill are similar to those seen in pregnancy: moodiness, weight gain, breast tenderness, blood clots etc. From the Food and Drug Administration’s website you can read, “It is rare, but some women will have blood clots, heart attacks, or strokes.” What the FDA site doesn’t say is those side-effects can result in death. Just ask the families of Ashley Lewis, Stephanie Rosfeld, or Zakiya Kennedy all healthy young women who died due to blood clots from using the birth control patch.
8) Clear Conscience
Consult any embryology textbook and you will see that the moment a sperm and egg join a new organism is formed with its own unique DNA and ability to grow and mature given time and the right environment. Life begins at conception. The use of hormonal birth control tries to prevent ovulation, but breakthroughs can occur that allow fertilization. But implantation does not occur until seven to nine days later, resulting in the death of a child in the embryonic stage of development. Embryo, fetus, toddler and adolescent are all terms used to define a stage of human being’s development. When you kill a caterpillar you also end the life of a butterfly. As Catholics, we don’t see an embryo as a potential human, but a human with potential.
7) Making a Miracle
Knowing when you ovulate can increase your chances of conceiving when you want! NFP teachers can also look at your charts and identify fertility problems. The Creighton Method specifically is used by doctors who specialize in NaPro Technology to naturally identify and treat infertility.
You don’t have to be an NFP teacher to not get pregnant using NFP. You do have to exercise some willpower for about five days each month if you are trying avoid pregnancy. Those women St. Teresa of Calcutta taught NFP in India? In a study of 19,843 poor women the pregnancy rate was near zero. There have been studies done in Germany (800 couples) and China (10,000 couples) and, like many other methods, NFP with “proper use” is found to be 99 percent effective. We all know people who have had unanticipated pregnancies. I know people who have been surprised, whether using NFP, the pill, condoms, IUDs, implantation, and even 12 years post-vasectomy. But with NFP couples tend to see these circumstances as miracles, not failures.
The struggle is real, but so are the graces. NFP, if being used to prevent pregnancy, does require, at times, a heroic amount of restraint. However, this exercise in the virtue of chastity carries with it a spiritual good. Similar to fasting or voluntary poverty, it is the willful sacrifice of a good for a cause. I would recommend offering it up for the intention of your marriage and in reparation for past sins.
4) Personal Invitation to Christ
Christopher West, known for his insights of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, has a helpful analogy on why NFP is not the same as contraception. He reminds that the marital act is a renewal of our wedding vows. Imagine you are sending out wedding invitations, but there is someone you don’t want to come. You don’t send them an UN-invitation saying we’re getting married, but you’re NOT invited. When a couple uses the wom-an’s window of infertility the couple invites Jesus to the renewal of their wed-ding vows, which He appreciates, but He may not be able to bring a gift. If the renewal of the wedding vow is during the woman’s fertile window, Jesus may or may not bring a “gift.” Contraception, however, disinvites Jesus. It says, “We don’t want your gifts. We have our own designs.”
3) Strengthens Marriage
NFP users have among the lowest divorce rates at about 1 to 2 percent of marriages. Why is this? Commitment, communication, self-control, and being mindful of the other person are all essential elements of a strong marriage and are all similarly necessary and honed using NFP.
2) Cherished, Not Used
According to ChastityProject.com, women often complain that contraception lowers their sense of worth. That makes sense. Women are not made to be like convenience stores open for business 24/7. St. Pope John Paul II, said, “The opposite of love is not hate, but use.” Marriage is about mutual self-giving; not using each other selfishly. Sex is made to be more than the casual, shallow, pleasure-driven past-time that contraception can foster.
1) Faithfulness to God’s Design
God designed sex to be a powerful procreative and unitive bond between two
lovers. Our children are literally an incarnation of our love as spouses. That is why our children are so beautiful! NFP never separates the power from the plea-sure; the power to co-author with the Author of Life, to cooperate in His grace that leads along the path to salvation. Integral to NFP-done-right is a constant conversation with God. Take your desires and concerns to the Lord in prayer and discover what His plan is for your family.
For more information on the reasons to use NFP read Humanae Vitae, the surprisingly short and easy-to-read encyclical explaining why contraception is against God’s natural law and thus not morally licit.
When you put things in God’s hands you will see His fingerprints. Do not be afraid to put your fertility in His hands!
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