NFP is an acronym well-known in many Catholic circles, but not recognized by all Catholics and certainly not understood in the secular society. NFP stands for Natural Family Planning and it is NOT your mother’s rhythm method. Last night I asked my husband if he was aware that this was NFP Awareness week. He quipped, “I am well aware!” I can only laugh because with my poor health, practicing NFP has been both a blessing and a cross. Isn’t that true of love? It brings us great pleasure and abundant blessings, but can be unbearably painful as well. Christ is love and he calls us to love completely too. This is why the Catholic Church puts forth NFP for married couples and denounces all forms of contraception, because she calls us to utter and complete love knowing the true cost is a laying down of our lives.
I didn’t understand this in my youth. Oh, I argued against the Church’s teaching on pre-marital sex and contraception. I mean, if you love somebody . . . Ah, the ignorance of youth. Early in my marriage I was called to a deeper understanding. After experiencing depression and the reality of my new marriage: mainly being the second wife and realizing that my husband had had relations with another woman, had a child with another woman, that another woman had lived in the home in which I was residing and that she would continue to be a part of our lives for the duration of their daughter’s life. I wondered who I was and what I brought to this marriage. I wondered if I could ever have a greater bond with my husband than he had with his first wife. This was my first taste of the truth that sex bonds and that the Church’s teaching on marriage and divorce had great significance. Accepting this truth opened my heart to the teaching on contraception. As I sat crying, I asked Mary to guide me. I asked God what I was supposed to do. The answer came almost instantaneously: I was to be the best step mother I could be and I needed to obey the Church in all things. My heart was forever changed. Patrick supported me without question and I delved into learning NFP from a book that I had checked out at the library. I had never heard NFP mentioned at church. I had no knowledge of the teachers and support groups that existed in our diocese. We gave my body three months to clear the carcinogens and then it took three more months to conceive Lauren Elizabeth. Every child born since that time was not necessarily expected, as we can never be so presumptuous of God’s gifts, but each child was known to be a possibility. We were open to that possibility, we were aware of that possibility, but we did not necessarily always count on that possibility becoming a reality. In other words, there were times that bringing a new life into our family didn’t seem to be optimal from our point of view; but, we still engaged in activities that made new life possible. This is what makes NFP so radically different from contraception. God gives total control of that decision to us in the very moment that life can be created. It is still dependent on His will, but we choose how we live out our wills in that moment.
This is not something that is easily explained in line at the grocery store when, after finding out how many children we have, we are asked, “Are you going to have any more?” There is not time for a theological discussion and I could never answer “no” even when my body is screaming at me from being overwhelmed and overburdened. I have finally come up with a charitable reply and have exercised it once with good results. To the receptionist at a doctor’s office I calmly sighed and said, “I’m not sure what you are asking. Are you asking if my husband and I will continue to have marital relations? Because if you are, the answer is a definite, Yes!” At this point, the conversation will get awkwardly quiet. This is because the statement makes the person realize that they have just asked a deeply private and intimate question. The intention is not to make the person feel embarrassed or awkward, but to make them think more deeply about their question. We should be thinking more deeply about life and stop taking the creation and extermination of human life so glibly. I broke the silence with explaining that we are open to life and use NFP to plan and space our births, but ultimately it is up to God to decide if we will be blessed with another child. Sometimes the conversation can go much deeper if the person is open to learning more about NFP. These are great opportunities to evangelize.
Even greater than the opportunity to participate in the planning of life, NFP has extraordinary health benefits. The doctors, through encouragement of Pope Paul VI and his encyclical letter, Humane Vitae (a must read!) have researched and discovered so many new and amazing things about the female reproductive system. Now, they are able to treat infertility with a 50-80% success rate (vs 10-60% for IVF), as well as treat heavy bleeding, PMS, endometriosis, ovarian cysts and a host of other hormone related ailments. In other words, NFP is allowing for natural healing at the underlying causes of these issues vs. prescribing chemical contraception, performing invasive surgeries, or performing unethical procedures like IVF (In Vitro Fertilizaion).
Through the use of NFP I have come to know my body intimately and have been empowered to trust myself and my intuitions. My husband and I have an amazing marriage. His sacrifice and mine in practicing NFP continually call us to communicate about intimate matters that we humans tend to avoid. It is a way for us to lay down our lives for one another and lift each other up during the difficulties. It is not always easy, but it is always rewarding. The best gift married couples can give one another is the gift of themselves and NFP allows that to happen without our selfish wills obscuring our view.
For more information on NFP, visit the Creighton University site for NaPro Technology. For couples, engaged or married, I highly recommend Simcha Fisher’s book, A Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning. This is the most down to earth, realistic discussion on NFP ever penned. Also, this site has great articles that delve into the various subjects surrounding the use of contraception and NFP.
Happy NFP Awareness Week! Now you know 😉