Marriage enrichment: Advice on natural family planning

NFP Awareness Week occurs in July to raise awareness, help couples be pro-woman, pro-man, pro-child

Each year I dedicate my July column to Natural Family Planning Awareness Week. NFP Awareness Week is sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and this year the educational campaign that goes along with it runs July 21-27. The USCCB designates this particular week each year to raising awareness of NFP since it coincides with the anniversary of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, written by Pope Paul VI and released July 25, 1968.

The encyclical articulates the Catholic Church’s teachings about human sexuality, conjugal love and responsible parenthood. The theme for national NFP Awareness week changes each year. This year’s theme is “Pro-woman, Pro-man, Pro-child.”

To help me articulate this year’s theme I asked diocesan NFP promoters Chris and Lori Cunningham to share their NFP experience. I appreciate their willingness to help the diocesan Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment get the word out about the benefits of natural family planning for marriages and how NFP helps couples be “Pro-woman, Pro-man, Pro-child.”

“My husband and I are strong supporters of natural family planning. We have been married for almost seven years and began practicing the Creighton Model of NFP (charting cervical mucus observations) four years ago after experiencing some negative side effects of oral contraceptives, not the least of which was the moral contradiction to our Catholic faith,” Mrs. Cunningham said.

“NFP was easy to learn and our diocese is very fortunate to have a supportive and very knowledgeable teacher. In a nutshell, the Creighton Model teaches the woman to observe cervical mucus over the course of her cycle and chart her findings daily. This takes less than five minutes per day and becomes part of her normal daily routine. Based on the woman’s observations, the couple decides whether it is a fertile or infertile day, and they can have intimate relations according to whether they would like to achieve or avoid pregnancy,” she said.

“The method teaches couples other means to express their love for one another should they want to avoid pregnancy on a “fertile day.” NFP is completely flexible because each day is taken one at a time. There is no calendar counting; it is not the old “rhythm method.” The Church does not promote NFP as a way for couples to “have as many children as possible.” NFP is scientifically proven to be more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy if the couple is not trying to have a baby. Personally, we have been blessed to have one child while practicing NFP and we are expecting our second child at the end of July.

“NFP has strengthened our marriage because we have more open communication and a shared responsibility for family planning. I feel healthier not taking oral contraceptives that have dangerous side effects. NFP has zero side effects and NFP also is virtually cost free.

“Charting is not just for married couples. We believe so strongly in NFP that we recommend NFP be taught in Catholic high schools as part of the regular health curricula. Young men and women would learn about their bodies and sexuality in a morally acceptable way. Young women would have in-depth knowledge of their cycles and therefore an invaluable health tool that can be used to diagnose any underlying health issues, ranging from hormonal imbalances to premenstrual syndrome. When the young people are ready for marriage they already would be trained in a means of family planning that is in harmony with their faith.

“We have recommended NFP to many other couples, all at various seasons of their marriage and desire for children. In our experience, those who have stopped artificial means of birth control and are practicing natural family planning report stronger marriages, healthier bodies, and even improved self-awareness of underlying health conditions that may have been unknown. We encourage all couples to seek education regarding natural family planning. Here are some resources to get started”:

Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.