I grew up with two parents who practiced Natural Family Planning (NFP). I knew what it was, and I knew the Church taught it was the morally acceptable way to plan one’s family. However, what I did not understand was why. On top of that, I was convinced NFP was outdated and unreliable.
For several years I was so caught up in the misconceptions that I almost missed the truth, beauty, and gift God holds out to us through this science. NFP is often defined as an umbrella term describing various fertility awareness-based methods used for achieving or avoiding pregnancy considered to be morally acceptable. But there is so much more to NFP.
God created the marital act to have purpose and meaning. He intended married love to reflect His love. The love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, along with God’s love for each one of us, is freely offered without reservation, total and unconditional, and always faithful and life-giving. NFP allows for the couple, in and through each marital act, to express their free, total, faithful, and fruitful love for one another in a beautiful gift of mutual self-donation. In this way, God gives married couples the means to not only experience His powerful love but to also renew their wedding vows time and again.
I used to think this was a beautiful sentiment, but I was terrified of what I believed to be an ineffective method for family planning. The truth is that God has given us the gift of science to be able to understand a couple’s combined fertility. In and through this science, God has gifted married couples with an incredible ability to consciously and willingly, through discernment, co-create with Him to bring new eternal souls into existence. In fact, studies have shown that NFP can be used both to achieve or avoid pregnancy with the highest amount of accuracy on the market today.
Clinically Proven USE Effectiveness of Various Methods in Avoiding Pregnancy
CREIGHTON METHOD (NFP method): 96.8%
*BIRTH CONTROL PILL: 91.7% (PDR)
*BARRIER METHODS: 84-85%
Contraceptive Efficacy, James Trussel, Robert Hatcher et al. Contraceptive Technology 19th revised ed. 2007.
*Birth Control, Barrier Methods, and Sterilization are contrary to Catholic Church teaching.
The effectiveness ratings were all well and good, but I assumed, wrongly, that the Church wanted married couples to have as many babies as physically possible unless the women’s life was in danger. When I was able to really delve into the beautiful papal letter Humanae Vitae, written by Pope Paul VI, I started to realize this could not be farther from the truth. The reality is that the Church calls married couples, through ongoing and frequent prayer and discernment, to have responsible stewardship over their fertility.
In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI reiterated the call of married couples to be open to the gift of life and the beauty of large families. However, Pope Paul VI also outlined four selfless reasons – financial, physical, psychological, and societal – married couples may choose to avoid pregnancy temporarily or permanently. Of course, a good financial reason for avoiding a pregnancy does not refer to a couple saving for a yacht in the Cayman Islands. Rather, it’s a question of whether a couple can afford to feed, cloth, house, and care for another child. Maybe there are physical reasons why a pregnancy may jeopardize the health and wellbeing of the mother or child, and this should be considered. Do the spouses or other children in the home have emotional or psychological needs that would make having another child very difficult right now? Societally, is the current environment safe for a child, such as the case with war-torn zones or famine-stricken areas of the world?
As I learned more about NFP and Church teaching, I had one more serious reservation. I had doctors telling me I needed to be on the Birth Control Pill for medical reasons. It was only by the grace of God that I learned the good news that many NFP methods can address and often resolve the many reasons women are told they need to be on the pill. Science has made such great advances, that many NFP methods now offer real solutions to the real problems women face today, including menstrual cramps, PMS, ovarian cysts, irregular or abnormal bleeding, PCOS, hormonal abnormalities, infertility, repetitive miscarriages and miscarriage prevention, prematurity prevention, and other health issues.
All this aside, one of the most powerful gifts God holds out to us through the practice of NFP, is that it fosters the development of the virtues needed for a healthy marriage. Couples who use NFP time again site increased communication, self-mastery, trust, and mutual respect, just to name a few. It’s no wonder then that while the national divorce rates have been hovering at around 50% for years, users of NFP have an almost non-existent divorce rate (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33487745/).
After learning all this as a newly married young person, I found myself at a crossroads. Logically, the Church’s teaching and the NFP statistics made sense, but I was scared. I was scared to fully surrender and truly trust God’s plans for my life, marriage, and family. After experiencing a lot of heartache from turning my back on the gift God was offering, I prayed, and His grace provided me with the courage I needed to finally take a leap of faith. While it has not always been easy, God has continued to shower my marriage and family with blessings in ways I could have never imagined possible.
God is so incredibility trustworthy, and He wants all good things for our lives. Following God’s plans for us may be difficult and require sacrifice, but His ways hold the promise of great joy and blessings. Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
You are invited to learn more about NFP by visiting:
By Kristin Osenbach, Director of Evangelization and Formation for the Diocese of Allentown