COLLEEN JURKIEWICZ

CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF

If you’re a Catholic woman, you probably fall into one of three groups when it comes to NFP.

Group one: you don’t know what those letters stand for. Maybe you’re not married, maybe you’ve never thought about family size, maybe you’re just not interested in any of it.

Group two: You might know what the letters stand for, or if you’re married you caught the presentation at Marriage Preparation day — but it’s not something you’ve thought much about, and frankly, it seems a little overwhelming.

Then there’s group three — the battle-hardened, chart-wielding gals who text their friends where to find the best deal on Wondfo sticks and who can tell you the exact date last month that their luteinizing hormone began to spike.

The thing is, NFP is for everybody — all three of these groups. It’s not just a Catholic thing, it’s not just a married-people thing, and it’s not just a spacing-babies thing. It’s all of that, yes — but so much more.

NFP is about knowing yourself and the body God created for you, says Tori Pohl, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s NFP coordinator.

“From a science-meets-theology perspective, we can know God better by knowing ourselves,” she said.

Every July, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sponsors NFP Awareness Week, an opportunity for dioceses around the nation to highlight and celebrate the blessing that is natural family planning. This year’s theme is “Love, Naturally!” — a nod to the fact that all methods of NFP help men and women cooperate with their own divinely crafted biology to manage the size of their families.

Here are some things you may not know about natural family planning.

NFP is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of methods that rely on different biological indicators to determine the day of ovulation in a woman’s cycle. That information can then be used for ethical and natural family planning purposes.

That being, said, NFP is not just about sex and babies. It’s about relationships. It’s about communication. It’s about sacrifice and challenging yourself. But perhaps most intriguingly, it’s about the overall health of the woman. “More and more, we’re hearing about health professionals incorporating fertility charts as a fifth vital sign,” said Pohl. “What’s really cool is that it’s a vital sign that a woman can be personally responsible for checking and monitoring. She can see a lot in her own chart about her health, and about what’s functioning well and what’s not functioning well.”

NFP is not the “rhythm method.” The rhythm method is one of the oldest forms of fertility tracking and predates a time when couples could interpret biological indicators of fertility. It’s based simply on the calendar, which isn’t always helpful because days of ovulation can vary from month to month. NFP, in contrast, utilizes actual physical evidence from the individual woman’s body to anticipate ovulation, and many methods (like Milwaukee’s own Marquette Model) are evidence-based and heavily peer-reviewed.

NFP is not “Catholic birth control.” It is simply learning and utilizing the biological realities that God has written into every woman’s fertility. “God has wisely disposed natural laws and rhythms of fecundity which, of themselves, cause a separation in the succession of births. In reality, there are essential differences between (natural family planning and contraception); in the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they impede the development of natural processes,” wrote Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae” in 1968.

NFP isn’t always easy. It’s true that many couples are lucky to have regular, easily predictable cycles and minimal abstinence when it is necessary to avoid pregnancy. But it is also true that many couples will struggle to understand or comply with the protocols of their method, and can become frustrated or discouraged. This is okay — and completely normal. “This is loving sacrifice in action. It will stretch you, and it will give you the chance to choose to grow,” said Pohl. For couples struggling with NFP, Pohl recommends the book “The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning” by Catholic writer Simcha Fischer — “honest and hilarious” essays about what NFP looks like in a real Catholic marriage.

NFP works. The blog Natural Womanhood has a great post that dismantles the flawed perception often held by healthcare professionals regarding NFP’s rates of effectiveness. Visit naturalwomanhood.org/category/are-fabms-effective and learn how most NFP methods have rates of effectiveness that are comparable to hormonal contraception.

Want to learn more? Visit the John Paul II Center for Marriage and Family Life (johnpaul2center.org), where you can find Pohl’s contact information and listings for upcoming NFP Workshops around the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.