There are many stages in the life of a mother: pregnancy, birth, and development of the child are obvious ones. Less obvious, yet with profound consequences, is the process of adult children getting married. This summer marked the fourth of our seven children entering into the Holy Sacrament of Matrimony. This is what I told my daughter who requested information about Natural Family Planning (NFP) on the eve of her marriage. Recently, I was a board member of Natural Womanhood, a non-profit organization devoted to spreading the latest research in the field of fertility charting to promote holistic health. My advice is a compilation of what I have learned from 35 years of practice.
My husband and I had the immense blessing of using NFP through the course of marriage. During this time, we encountered many different forms of its implementation. Though there are some differences, the similarities are much more numerous. The differences allow for adaptation within the uniqueness of the couple while still receiving the health and relationship benefits NFP offers to those properly disposed.
I use the words properly disposed intentionally. It is not only a means to achieve or avoid pregnancy. If approached with proper formation as envisaged by John Paul II, it can lead to a profound respect for the human body, the understanding of the nature of man and woman, and what it means to see the child as a gift. Natural Family Planning is one means that the couple has to enter into the mystery of creation. This entry into so profound a mystery must be done within a faith community. It is near nye impossible within our current culture to delve into this profound mystery alone. One of the biggest problems I have seen of couples that use NFP is that it is approached as one choice among many for family planning. This consumer mentality will eventually fail when faced with the expected trials and hardships all marriages encounter.
Rather than to practice NFP, it is essential for it to be seen as a life long process of learning and growing. What works at one stage of the married life, might not in another. This openness to learn will spill over into other areas of life. Does not the couple need to acquire new knowledge in other important areas such as finances or work as they mature? So too, in this most personal of areas, it should be expected that ongoing education is also needed.
Practically, this knowledge can be found in many places today thanks to technology. For some couples, a personal one-on-one mentor is preferred. Most dioceses have trained Natural Family educators on staff. Ted and I after the birth of each child would enroll in a ‘refresher class’. This small act over the course of 20 years exposed us to a wide variety of excellent and different methods and instructors.
However, not all couples have this opportunity or are comfortable doing this. The Internet also has excellent resources. I recently needed the expertise of Marquette Method Other excellent NFP systems are Napro Technologyand the Creighton Model. Relying on the knowledge of three decades, I needed detailed guidance that this certified nurse could give. Such is the value of NFP, a deeper understanding of my health than if I had not practiced it.
Another stumbling block I have observed through the years is the data management required. Technology, with a variety of apps and fertility monitoring devices, helps with this problem. Some apps, and this is by no means an exhaustive list, that are currently helpful (2018) are Daysy, Kindara-Wink, and Clue are some places to look. Each app or device has pros and cons allowing for individual tailoring to the couple. As with any important decision, discernment is required. There is no right fit for all.
These apps and devices, though incredibly helpful in recording the data, cannot be considered a stand-alone solution. Websites such as Natural Womanhood and Fertility Facts are also helpful in the learning process. Learning current factual information is part of the superiority of Natural Family Planning and it cannot be dispensed with.
My dear daughter, I again remind you that though accurate biological and medical information, it is important. It is by no means sufficient. It is too easy to lose sight of the dignity of the human person and value of the cross. An ongoing catechesis is required which is situated within a life of prayer both as individuals and as a family. How else will the husband and wife discern God’s will and not become discouraged?
Louise and Zelie Martin, a recently canonized couple, shows us an authentic married life. Prior to their wedding, they prayed to God for their future spouse. After their marriage, the sacraments were at the heart of their vocation. So whether they experienced joy or trial, it was done with peace. May the Martin’s intercede for you and those called to the married life.