Natural Family Planning
By Patty Schneier
Discovering the Truth about contraception can be one of the most defining moments in a couple’s marriage. But quite often, the joy of this discovery is accompanied by fears, doubts, and many questions. My husband Larry and I experienced all of the above in January, 2002 when, after 13 years of marriage, we finally decided to live our lives according to God’s plan for love and life. We literally threw out the contraception. This was the best decision we ever made, and we have never looked back. It was THE defining moment in our marriage.
Today, we continue to joyfully celebrate our conversion. We celebrate the beginning of a whole new way of life together and a whole new way of loving each other. But we also vividly remember how difficult it was to be in the middle of this conversion process. Our transformation wasn’t so “joyful” when we were actually going through it. To be honest, we were a mess. We stayed up night after night until the wee hours of the morning trying to figure out, “HOW ARE WE GOING TO LIVE THIS???” Discovering the Truth about love wasn’t enough. What to do with this Truth proved to be a far greater challenge.
Perhaps you have struggled with the issue of contraception. Perhaps you have ignored the Church’s teachings in your marriage for many years. Perhaps you or your spouse has been sterilized. But now, for whatever reasons, you find yourself wanting to change, wanting something better, wanting authentic love and unity in your marriage. This longing is the first step on the road to holiness and healing. Do not ignore this longing! The road ahead may be filled with obstacles; it may be frightening and uncertain. But take comfort in Sacred Scripture, set your foot to the path, and take one tiny step forward. I hope the following suggestions will encourage you on your journey and help you take the next step. Be not afraid! Joy awaits you! Authentic love and real freedom await you! Just say “yes” and take one tiny step.
#1 Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation
No matter how often Larry and I may have rationalized it, using contraception was a sin in our marriage. In order to start anew, we needed the grace of this sacrament. This was the first and most important step for both of us. It was through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we resolved to “never go back.”
Find a priest who understands the Church’s teaching. Make an appointment if necessary, and do not delay in confessing this sin. Resolve to amend your life. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, where you’ve gone, or how long you’ve been away—NO sin is too great. Remember, you can just throw out the contraception—or you can throw out the contraception AND experience redemption, mercy, peace, and healing through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The choice is yours.
#2 Gain Knowledge of the Truth—Read, Read, Read!
Larry and I literally had to re-learn how to love each other. We didn’t know that every sexual union was meant to be a renewal of our marriage vows; we had never heard that real love is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. We didn’t understand why the Church says what it says, and we were still unsure about many issues regarding sex. But when we discovered the Theology of the Body, it was like finding “the pearl of great price” for our marriage. The Theology of the Body is a collection of talks given by Pope John Paul II on the meaning of human sexuality. The truths revealed in the Theology of the Body reflected the deepest desires of our hearts. We immersed ourselves into this teaching in order to understand the language of our bodies and how we communicate. It was only then that we saw the beauty of God’s original plan for our sexuality. This is what we had been searching for! Our hearts were transformed, and to this day, we are still in awe of the Theology of the Body.
You may have many questions that are still unanswered. Perhaps your spouse considers the Church’s teachings to be a burden and is therefore reluctant to change. Pray for faith and reason; search for answers! Gain knowledge and understanding of authentic love—the only love that satisfies. Read books or listen to CDs together. Re-learn the meaning of your marriage, and immerse yourselves in Truth. Go to onemoresoul.com for a wealth of resources. I recommend the following to get you started: Good News About Sex and Marriage by Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West, Contraception: Why Not by Professor Janet E Smith, “Prove It, God!”. . . And He Did by Patty Schneier
#3 Take a Class on Natural Family Planning
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is fertility awareness that is simple, scientific, and reliable. It is basic knowledge that can be used either to achieve a pregnancy or to avoid a pregnancy when there are serious reasons for doing so. Many people don’t realize, however, that there are different methods of NFP—all of which are in harmony with Church teaching. The most widely used methods include the Sympto-Thermal Method, Creighton Model, Ovulation Method, and Marquette Model. Each has different levels of instruction and different physical observations. Find out which method is right for you and sign up for a class. Both spouses should attend together. A National directory of NFP Teachers and NFP Centers is available at onemoresoul.com (800-307-7685). Call your Diocesan Family Life Office or local Catholic hospital for information about classes in your area.
#4 Switch to an NFP-Only Physician
This may sound drastic but, if it is at all possible, find an NFP-only physician. For me, this was a very important step—one that I didn’t want to take, because I “loved” my former Ob-Gyn who had delivered all our children. Soon after our conversion, however, I realized that his practice of prescribing contraception no longer fit with our values. I couldn’t follow his advice, and I didn’t agree with his assumptions. When I found my new physician, I felt as if I had truly come home to an entire practice that understood me and valued my fertility as a gift and a blessing—not a disease or an inconvenience that needed to be “controlled.” Despite a much longer commute to this new practice, it has been well worth it!
An NFP-only physician will affirm your decision, help you make the switch, and lend great support with medical truths and NFP experience. If you have been given hormonal contraceptives for “medical reasons,” an NFP-only physician can evaluate the underlying problem and utilize natural hormones or surgeries to restore proper function of your body. An NFP-only physician may also be able to assist couples who seek sterilization reversal. Because physicians have such a powerful influence on their patients and have a relationship built on trust, it is crucial that you find an NFP-only physician. Go to http://onemoresoul.com/nfp-directory to find your nearest NFP-only physician. If none is available in your area, ask an NFP teacher to recommend an NFP-friendly physician. If switching physicians is not possible, you may need to educate your current physician. Get materials, take them to your physician, and encourage him/her to learn the scientific facts and moral reasoning behind modern methods of NFP. Unfortunately, many physicians remain unaware and uneducated in this area. You can help change that!
#5 Connect with Others
When Larry and I converted to the Church’s teachings, we knew five other couples who did not use contraception. That’s it—five other couples out of our entire parish, list of acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors, and relatives. But these five couples were more than enough. These were the families we had always admired and respected. They soon became our confidants and closest friends. It felt so good to be able to talk with them! We swapped books and CDs; we swapped stories and experiences; we shared laughter and tears. Through it all, we witnessed their joy and learned how beautiful marriage can be. They encouraged us, taught us, and loved us throughout our entire journey. We are forever grateful.
Chances are, you know of at least one other family that practices NFP. You may not know them well, but you probably know who they are. Perhaps their marriage and family life have been an inspiration to you. Seek them out and share your story. The best place to look is within your own parish. These families can be a tremendous support for you. I strongly recommend that men seek out other men who have gone through this journey. Despite the initial awkwardness of discussing these personal issues, it can be most encouraging. You are not alone!
#6 Remain Grounded in Sacred Scripture
There were so many Scripture passages that strengthened me when I was afraid or confused. Two verses in particular were crucial at these times: Mark 1:17 “They dropped their nets and followed him.” I knew that contraception was my “net,” and I needed to drop it in order to follow Jesus. Luke 5:37 spoke to my heart as well: “No one pours new wine into old wineskins.” I wanted “new wine” in my marriage. But in order to get that, I had to get rid of the old wineskins. There was no other way. . . . The truths of these scriptures helped me to stay focused on God. His Word sustained me throughout this journey.
Pray for wisdom, strength, perseverance, and purity. Read the Bible. I recommend reading the following verses over and over again: Romans 12:1-2, Philippians 1:9-11, Ephesians 1:3-4, and Ephesians 3:14-21. Let them sink into your heart and speak to you personally. Know that you can be pure and blameless; know that you can be rooted and grounded in real love; trust that through grace you will be strengthened with power and Truth!
Finally, I share with you the life-changing question that Larry asked me after reading Good News About Sex and Marriage. I was extremely confused, frightened, and in turmoil after discovering the truth about contraception, and I didn’t know what to do. He simply asked, “What do you want for our marriage?” I replied, “I don’t know. . . but I want what’s in that book.” That was it. That’s how we began our journey together—reading, learning, praying, and talking. Then we took one step at a time to build the marriage we had always wanted. With time, our communication, our physical relationship, and our entire lifestyle changed for the better. May you be abundantly blessed as you discover God’s plan for your marriage, and may you be steadfast in your search for Truth. Make the switch. It could be THE defining moment in YOUR marriage.
NFP Contact Information
Couple to Couple League www.ccli.org 513-471-2000
Northwest Family Services www.nwfs.org 503-215-6377
Family of the Americas Foundation www.familyplanning.net 301-627-3346
Billings Ovulation Method Association www.boma-usa.org 651-699-8139
Pope Paul VI Institute www.popepaulvi.com 402-390-6600
Marquette U. School of Nursing www.marquette.edu/nursing/NFP 414-288-3854
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and postpone pregnancies. NFP can also be used as a tool to evaluate women’s gynecological/reproductive health. These methods are based on the observation of naturally occurring signs of the fertile phase of a woman’s fertility cycle. Couples using NFP to achieve pregnancy engage in intercourse during the woman’s fertile phase. Couples wishing to postpone pregnancy simply abstain from genital contact during the time of fertility. No drugs, devices or surgical procedures are used in the practice of NFP.
NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of every child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving nature of marriage, NFP enriches the bond between husband and wife.
Is NFP the Rhythm Method?
NFP is not the “Rhythm Method.”
The Rhythm or Calendar Method was in use more than 80 years ago. It was based on the assumption that ovulation occurred about the same time in every cycle. This method often proved unreliable because of the unique nature of each woman’s fertility cycles. Some women have very irregular cycles and almost all women have a cycle of unusual length once in a while.
Modern NFP treats each cycle as unique and is based on over 60 years of scientific research on human fertility. These methods are based on the day-to-day observations of naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of the current cycle. NFP methods take advantage of the changes associated with ovulation, recognizing that every cycle is unique.
Who can use NFP?
Any married couple can use NFP! A woman need not have “regular cycles.” NFP education helps couples to fully understand their combined fertility, thereby helping them either to achieve or postpone pregnancy. The keys to successful use of NFP are accurate observation, cooperation, shared commitment, and communication between husband and wife.
Is NFP morally acceptable?
All major religions including the Catholic Church accept the use of NFP to avoid pregnancy when couples have a sufficiently serious reason for spacing babies or limiting family size.
Also, the Catholic Church, some Orthodox churches, some parts of Judaism and an increasing number of Protestants are opposed to sterilization and the use of contraceptive or abortifacient drugs and devices. It should be noted that intrauterine devices (IUD), birth control pills, hormonal implants, patches, morning after pills, and injections can cause abortions as they change the uterine lining reducing the likelihood that the embryo can implant.
NFP is unique among the methods of family planning because it enables its users to work with the body rather than against it. Fertility is viewed as a blessing, a reality of life that is accepted, instead of a problem to be solved or a disease to be treated.
NFP is also an excellent tool for helping diagnose problems of couples suffering infertility. Treatment of infertility using NFP to monitor the fertility cycle has achieved pregnancy success rates of 70-80%. This holistic approach honors the integrity of the marriage act, respects the dignity of parents and children, and is consistent with Catholic Church teaching.
What are the signs of fertility?
A woman’s body provides basic signs for identifying the fertile and infertile phases of her cycle. Recognizing the pattern of these physical signs forms the basis for all methods of NFP.
The primary sign of fertility is the cervical mucus. She learns to observe this normal, healthy, cervical mucus which indicates the days when intercourse is most likely to result in a pregnancy. This external observation may be by sensation, observation, or touch (or in combination).
A second sign is her basal body temperature. Due to hormonal activity, a woman’s resting temperature changes during her cycle. Lower temperatures indicate that ovulation has not yet occurred. Sustained higher temperatures indicate a rise in progesterone which signals that an ovulatory event has taken place.
Other signs of fertility are a change in the position and texture of the cervix, breast tenderness and pain around the ovary. An ovulation predictor kit can also be used to detect reproductive hormones in the urine of a woman.
How does NFP work?
NFP instruction helps a couple identify the most fertile and least fertile days of the woman’s cycle. Understanding that intercourse on fertile days can result in pregnancy, couples using the natural methods must clearly determine their family planning intention—do they wish to achieve or postpone pregnancy?
If a couple wishes to achieve a pregnancy, they have intercourse during the fertile time of the cycle. If a couple wishes to postpone or avoid a pregnancy, they abstain from intercourse and any genital contact during the fertile time.
What are the benefits of using NFP?
With NFP both spouses are taught to understand the nature of fertility and work with it, whether it’s to plan a pregnancy, space children, avoid pregnancy for serious reasons, or to monitor a woman’s health. A couple who use NFP soon learn that they have a shared responsibility for family planning. The husband is encouraged to “tune into” his wife’s cycles, and both spouses are encouraged to speak openly and frankly about their sexual desires and their thoughts concerning family size.
How effective are the methods of natural family planning?
When couples are taught by a competent teacher and follow the rules of the method carefully, NFP is highly successful in achieving their intended family plan. Numerous studies, including one by the U.S. government and another by the World Health Organization, have shown that the most common NFP methods are 97-99% effective for avoiding pregnancy.
That’s as effective as the birth control pill and far more effective than barrier methods. For couples who have made a clear decision to postpone pregnancy, and who understand and follow the rules, no more than 0.4-5% of these couples will experience pregnancy in a one year period.1 Couples who use NFP to achieve pregnancy have a 90% success rate within a year.2
1. Hatcher, R. (Ed.). (2011). Contraceptive technology (Twentieth Revised Edition ed.). New York: Ardent Media.
2. Mu, Q., & Fehring, R. J. (2014). Efficacy of achieving pregnancy with fertility-focused intercourse. MCN.the American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, 39(1), 35-40.
As a family planning method, NFP:
- calls for shared husband and wife responsibility
- requires the couple to communicate
- is based on scientific research
- treats each fertility cycle as unique
- teaches a couple to observe their signs of fertility on a daily basis
- has no harmful side effects
- is low cost
- builds strong marriages
- is morally acceptable
- protects the environment
Other benefits include:
- marriage enrichment and mutual understanding
- appreciation for the blessings of every child
- greater respect for, and acceptance of, the total person
- assistance in achieving pregnancy
- early identification of sub-fertility
- effectiveness for spacing or limiting pregnancy
- can be used throughout life, including postpartum, breast-feeding, and perimenopause
What health risks are avoided in choosing NFP?
When undergoing medical or surgical treatment, people will always be faced with potential side effects. Most people are willing to take the risks in order to be cured of their illness. Fertility, however, is not a disease. It is a normal and healthy part of human nature. Learning to live with fertility rather than waging war against it appeals to many people. The following problems are avoided by couples practicing NFP.
Potential problems associated with:
Abortion: Infertility, pelvic infection, laceration of cervix and bowel, perforated uterus, severe bleeding, shock, death due to hemorrhage or infection, increased risk of breast cancer (especially if the first pregnancy is terminated), depression, suicide.
Condoms: Least reliable method of family planning (high failure rate for postponing pregnancy), latex allergy, increased risk of pre-eclampsia.
*Depo-Provera: Prolonged infertility or unpredictable return of fertility, irregular menses, osteoporosis, decreased libido, weight gain, depression, acne, back pain, increased risk of HIV/AIDS infection.
Diaphragm: Urinary tract infections, toxic shock syndrome, allergy to latex, vaginal irritation.
*IUD/IUS: (Both) Severe menstrual cramps, heavy periods, pelvic infections, ectopic pregnancy, ovarian cysts, perforated uterus, irregular bleeding, infertility, (IUS) includes all the problems associated with hormonal birth control.
*Nuva Ring: Irregular bleeding, heart attack, stroke, fluid retention, sinus infection, headache, death.
*MORNING AFTER PILL: Nausea, vomiting, headache, breast soreness, fatigue, abdominal pain, ectopic pregnancy and dizziness.
*Implant: Acne; leaking or painful breasts; depression; prolonged, heavy and irregular menses or absence of periods; ovarian cysts; infections where rods are inserted; weight gain and hypertension.
*Hormonal Birth Control (the Pill, Patch, Shot, etc.): Headaches, depression, weight gain, breast tenderness, reduced libido, gall bladder disease; increased blood pressure, increased blood sugar; vitamin and mineral deficiencies; risk of strokes and blood clots including retinal clots; cataracts, heart attacks, ectopic pregnancy, infertility; increased risk of HPV and HIV infections; liver tumors, cancer of the brain, breast and reproductive organs; memory loss, death.
*ELLA/RU486: Bleeding, cramping, nausea, vomiting; may cause an incomplete abortion which requires surgery.
Spermicide: Increases incidence of congenital disorders in children conceived during use, vaginal irritations and infections, allergic reactions in men and women.
Female sterilization: Increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, painful menses, very heavy periods, regrets (40%), surgical risk of infection and injury to other organs, future hysterectomy.
Male sterilization: Increased risk of prostate cancer, autoimmune diseases, regret, dementia, pain.
*May also cause an early abortion.
Where can I learn how to use NFP?
The best way to learn NFP is from a qualified instructor—one who is certified by an NFP teacher training program. For more information about NFP instruction available in your community, contact any of the following organizations:
Billings Ovulation Method Assn (USA)
(651) 699-8139 www.Boma-usa.org
The Couple to Couple League
(800) 745-8252 www.ccli.org
Family of the Americas Foundation
(800) 443-3395 www.familyplanning.net
FertilityCare Centers of America
(402) 390-6600, ext. 117 www.fertilitycare.org
Institute for Natural Family Planning
(414) 288-3854 www.mu.edu/nursing/NFP
Natural Family Planning International
(740) 457-9663 www.nfpandmore.org
Northwest Family Services
(503) 215-6377 www.nwfs.org/couples-a-singles/natural-family-planning.html
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
(202) 541-3070 www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/natural-family-planning/
One More Soul
(800) 307-7685 www.onemoresoul.com
For a directory of NFP-Only physicians and NFP teachers, as well as a great variety of resources on NFP, the blessings of children, and the harms of contraception, please visit One More Soul at www.onemoresoul.com.
Natural Family Planning accepts our fertility.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a comprehensive acceptance of the divine gift of fertility within marriage, wherein the couple monitors their fertility to determine fertile and non-fertile phases for the purpose of either achieving or postponing pregnancy. It is not to be confused with the older and significantly less effective “calendar rhythm method” which estimates and projects the couples fertile and non-fertile phases by observing when these phases occurred in previous cycles.
- The Billings Ovulation Method Home Page
- The Billings Ovulation Method Online Class
- Family of the Americas Home Page
- FertilityCare Centers of America
- The Couple to Couple League Home Page
- The Fertility Home Page UK
- Marquette Model Natural Family Planning
- Twin Cities Natural Family Planning
- NFP Outreach Missions
- NFP International