If you were married in the Catholic Church, you were likely introduced to the practice of Natural Family Planning (NFP) at some point before your wedding. It was probably presented as a wondrous and highly effective gift that enriches marriages and grows the domestic church. Of course, NFP is all of those things, but many couples who are actually using NFP in their marriage will tell you that it doesn’t always feel that way. The real-life experience of many couples, is that they inevitably find themselves facing challenges as they navigate the use of NFP, in particular as they transition into different stages of life and marriage.
One of the most common trials encountered is the use of NFP after the birth of a child. Interpreting the signs of fertility in the postpartum phase can be difficult for new parents. Other situations that give rise to challenges are underlying health conditions that make understanding observations difficult, like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or Endometriosis. Sometimes women or couples don’t have a name for what’s challenging them; they may be seeing irregular signs of fertility, have difficulty reading the signs as they chart them, or feel overwhelmed by other sources of stress that make charting and interpreting results difficult in an already difficult situation.
The feelings of fear, uncertainty and doubt, while not unwarranted, are rarely heard of in the promotional materials for NFP. Sometimes couples are struggling with financial strain while raising young children, operating on little sleep and the idea of another pregnancy feels insurmountable. Some couples doubt their ability to use NFP due to changes in their circumstances or an unexpected pregnancy. The COVID-19 pandemic has left many couples feeling anxious about using NFP effectively when everything about this unprecedented time is uncertain. If you’re living in one of these transitional life stages, feeling unsure or fearful about using NFP or you’re living with a sense of disenchantment about the fabulous “NFP Lifestyle” because that’s just not how your experience has been going, this message is for you.
First, a practical note: Don’t hesitate to reach out to a skilled NFP teacher if you’re finding the use of your current method challenging. NFP instructors are trained to answer questions, troubleshoot problems and accompany you as you navigate challenges. Different methods work better for different needs, and as we all know, our needs change over time. If the method you’ve used since you got engaged isn’t working for you, or you’ve lost confidence for whatever reason, there may be another method out there that works better for you, even if only during this particular season of life. It’s daunting to think of learning a new method when you’re already feeling less confident, but it’s important to find the method that will best serve your changing situation.
Our Natural Family Planning office can help match you with a method and a teacher that will help build your confidence in NFP and hopefully ease your worries. Even in pandemic, our instructors are ready to help, offering live, online and phone consultations. There are also scholarships available if the cost of instruction is concern for you. Don’t let any of these practicalities keep you from using NFP with confidence. For more information, send an email to NFP@aod.org or call (313) 237-4679.
Practicalities aside, know that your choice to embrace the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is of great value to the life of the Church — and to the world. Living out your marriage in a way that is open to God’s will for your family is no easy task. In a time when everything that seems worth having is available for instant download, curbside pick-up or same-day shipping, Natural Family Planning is a countercultural choice to respect the dignity of human life and marriage. St. John Paul II acknowledges that couples who choose this path do so in faith, generosity, and in respect for the moral law in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae:
“The work of educating in the service of life involves the training of married couples in responsible procreation. In its true meaning, responsible procreation requires couples to be obedient to the Lord’s call and to act as faithful interpreters of his plan. This happens when the family is generously open to new lives, and when couples maintain an attitude of openness and service to life, even if, for serious reasons and in respect for the moral law, they choose to avoid a new birth for the time being indefinitely. The moral law obliges them in every case to control the impulse of instinct and passion, and to respect the biological laws inscribed in their person.” (97)
Your decision to commit time, energy and effort into Natural Family Planning is a commitment to living out the message of Evangelium Vitae. Embracing the Church’s teaching, despite its real-world challenges, is a bold proclamation of your faith in Christ as Lord of your life and the dignity of the human person. If no one has told you this before, let that sink in. Husbands and wives, moms and dads: You are a living witness to the free, self-giving and sacrificial love of Christ. Your willingness to place the needs of your spouse and family before your own tells the world that life as a missionary disciple—a life of sacrifice and self-gift, is one worth living. It is to share in the creative work of God, to be open to his will in our lives, and to raise saints for the kingdom. Don’t be afraid to take practical steps to make NFP more practical, but don’t back away from the challenge, either. The world needs your witness.