‘Have you heard of Natural Family Planning?'

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"I just don’t feel right,” the post-partum mom told me as we waited together outside the classroom to pick up our preschoolers. She’d just had her third C-section three weeks earlier and her incision wasn’t healing well. She also shared with me that she’d had an IUD placed during the C-section. “I don’t do hormones, so this was our only option,” she said. She had three children spaced closely and her body needed a break. But she was worried and uncomfortable about what the IUD might be doing to her body, in addition to her other post-partum complications. “Have you heard of natural family planning?” I asked her. “NFP is completely healthy, with no side effects. It’s highly effective, and it’s good for your relationship as well.” She was interested and asked me to bring her more information next time we met outside the preschool door. 

With the U.S. bishops’ National NFP Awareness Week this July 21–27, it’s a great time to highlight the many health benefits of NFP. Since pharmaceutical companies and medical providers don’t gain financially from promoting NFP, it takes grassroots efforts to raise awareness about it — woman to woman, in your social circles, and within the church community. The Archdiocese of Seattle, for example, has posted a brief introduction to NFP and listed local teachers on its new Marriage and Family Life website.

All methods of NFP work by helping a couple identify and chart the woman’s signs of fertility so they can time intercourse according to their intention to achieve or avoid pregnancy. Since a woman is only able to conceive around the time of ovulation accompanied by fertile mucus, this normally translates to abstaining about five or so days out of her cycle if a couple wishes to avoid pregnancy. That’s all you do! No chemicals, hormones, barriers, devices or surgical alterations necessary!

Mystified by NFP? Here are the main categories of the most effective NFP methods and their benefits.

Sympto-thermal methods: These measure the basal body temperature shift that occurs at ovulation, as well as the presence of fertile cervical mucus. They’re taught by the Couple to Couple League and Northwest Family Services’ online SymptoPro classes, and are behind many popular apps. These are great for women who can take their temperature at around the same time every morning after a solid night’s sleep. (If you are that woman, please don’t brag to the rest of us about all that sleep.) These are also good if you want to use an app for charting instead of old-fashioned paper charts, and they’re easy to learn. These can be tricky to manage for post-partum and breastfeeding moms and night-shift workers.

Mucus-only methods: The Billings Method and Creighton Model are the two main methods here. These are good for women who can’t (or prefer not to) check temperature, or are post-partum or breastfeeding, and those who desire the medical management that Creighton can offer when paired with NaProTechnology. “NaPro” allows an NFP-literate medical provider to help diagnose and treat the underlying causes of reproductive and hormonal irregularities. These methods require more extensive training from an NFP teacher to learn.

Sympto-hormonal method: Want to use an ovulation monitor and indicator strips, skip charting, learn on your own, and pay a bit more per year for your method? Check out the Marquette Method.

While it is clearly healthier, the theological and moral reasons for using NFP and avoiding contraception rest on a view of sex that respects God’s design for life-giving, unitive love between a married couple. Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg gave an insightful presentation about how this vision has always clashed with the values of the culture, even in ancient times. Find his free talk from the 2019 “Joy of Life” conference at cwbn.us/news/bishop-Mueggenborg.

Do you already use NFP? Don’t be afraid to tell someone about it. Chances are, like the mom I met at my daughter’s preschool, no one else has.

Northwest Catholic - July/August 2019

Sarah Bartel

Sarah Bartel, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Sumner, holds a doctorate in moral theology and ethics from The Catholic University of America, where she specialized in marriage, family, sexual ethics and bioethics. Her website is www.drsarahbartel.com.

Website: www.drsarahbartel.com