Natural Family Planning as a ‘way of life’

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By: MARIA LUISA TORRES

When Pablo and Véronique Gaeta met and fell in love, they both knew it was a love connection that was meant to last a lifetime. And, from the start, this couple shared far more than just a loving bond; as devout Catholics, they also embraced the same outlook on faith and family, and before their “I do’s” they made the joint decision to make Natural Family Planning part of their marital and spiritual lives.

Today, more than 18 years after exchanging wedding vows at their home parish, Our Lady of Grace Church in Encino, the happy couple now has three children — Céline, 15, Emilie, 11, and six-year-old Gabriel — and they regularly discuss the “blessing” of Natural Family Planning (NFP) with engaged and married couples through their teaching ministry at Our Lady of Grace and across the archdiocese.

“Natural Family Planning has been such a blessing for our marriage that we wanted to share this gift with others,” Véronique told The Tidings. In 2002, the Gaetas became certified to teach the sympto-thermal method (one of several NFP methods endorsed by the Catholic Church), and since then, they have presented NFP information and resources with parish priests at various diocesan deanery meetings; via parish health fairs; to high school students; as part of marriage preparation classes; and with parishioners at the end of Mass at several parishes.

“We are always humbled by couples that come to our classes reluctantly, and after hearing what NFP can offer them, become advocates of the methods,” said Pablo.

“On several occasions, NFP has also served as an ecumenical tool — several couples have come to our class from different faith denominations, because their own church did not offer NFP. These couples were grateful that the Catholic Church had classes where they could learn about NFP, and they were also surprised to learn the beauty of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.”

According to the Gaetas, the Church has always taught that artificial contraception “undermines God’s original plan for marriage between a man and a woman,” because marriage “needs to be free, total, faithful and fruitful.” Any method of family planning should respect these four traits, they explained.

“Every time a married couple has relations, the act itself must be open to the transmission of life, whether or not the act results in pregnancy,” said Pablo. “Artificial forms of contraception act as a barrier to the transmission of life. … Some forms suppress or alter a normal functioning part of the woman’s body.”

By contrast, he added, Natural Family Planning is 100 percent safe and free of any side effects, because it “works with a woman’s fertility, and not against it.”

Because the Church understands that couples may have just reasons to postpone a pregnancy, NFP offers “a morally acceptable way of family planning,” by utilizing methods that “respect the dignity of marriage as a sacrament.”

“In making any decision about family planning, however, a couple should prayerfully discern whether or not God is asking them to cooperate with him in bringing another child into the world,” explained Pablo.

The three primary NFP methods endorsed by the Church — all of which can be used either to help achieve or avoid pregnancy — are sympto-thermal (which relies on a combination of physical fertility signs, including body temperature, cervical mucus and cervical position), the Billings Ovulation and Creighton Fertility Care Model methods (both of which rely solely on mucus signs).

“They’re all equally effective,” said Véronique, adding that selecting a particular method comes down to preference, though she noted that the Creighton method is “especially useful for couples who may be having medical issues” that can impact fertility, such as PMS, endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

According to Pablo, questions and misunderstandings are plentiful during classes among couples who are learning about NFP for the very first time.

“It is important to understand that NFP is not the ‘Calendar Rhythm Method’ of the 1930’s,” he said. “Modern methods of Natural Family Planning are more accurate and precise. … And all women, regardless of whether or not they have regular menstrual cycles, can use NFP successfully.”

However, said Véronique, the real root of the problem is not in such misunderstandings, but, rather the fact that, based on their experiences over the last 13 years, a significant “percentage of married couples do not even know NFP exists.”

“We strongly believe that a lot more couples would choose to embrace NFP in their marriages if they were better informed,” she said. “Married couples need multiple exposures at both the diocesan and parish levels … and engaged couples would benefit greatly from mentor couples that are open and honest about practicing NFP in their marriages.”

Which is exactly what the Gaetas try to do, with each class they teach: act as mentors and teach by example by sharing the beauty of NFP in their own family.

“Practicing NFP in our marriage has enabled us to come to a deeper understanding of God’s plan for us,” said Pablo. “Over the years, we have grown in our love for each other because NFP is not just a method of family planning; it is a way of life. Through NFP, we have learned to respect each other’s dignity.”

Thanks to NFP, the Gaetas have also experienced improved communication as a couple, because “Natural Family Planning is a shared responsibility that requires us to communicate candidly with each other on a regular basis,” said Véronique.

And, she continued, although practicing NFP “can be challenging at times — and it may even seem restrictive to some — we have found that it affords us a certain freedom that can only be properly understood by those who experience it.”

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