Every July, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsors NFP Awareness Week, an opportunity for dioceses around the nation to highlight and celebrate the blessing that is natural family planning.
1. NFP isn’t just one method.
“Natural family planning” is an umbrella term used to refer to methods of fertility monitoring that allow a couple to determine their daily fertility status. There are a variety of different methods, each utilizing different physiological indicators, but the goal is the same for all: to determine the couple’s “fertile window” based on the time during a woman’s cycle when conception can take place. A Catholic couple can then use that information to prayerfully decide if they are being called to achieve or avoid pregnancy during a particular cycle.
2. Milwaukee is “home” to one of the major methods of NFP.
Dr. Richard Fehring and his colleagues began providing natural family planning services through Marquette’s College of Nursing in 1985, and the university’s Institute for Natural Family Planning was established in 1997. The “Marquette Method” of NFP was developed in 1999 and incorporates technology using the ClearBlue Fertility Monitor, which measures estrogen, luteinizing hormone and progesterone to detect the opening and closing of the “fertile window.” The Institute for Natural Family Planning has taught the Marquette Method to thousands of couples around the world and even provides training services for health professionals.
3. NFP isn’t “Catholic birth control.”
NFP is not a loophole in Catholic doctrine; couples practicing it take no action to suppress natural biological processes. It is, rather, better described as a state of awareness, or a lifestyle that respects the naturally fertile and infertile stages in a couple’s sexual relationship, calling them to perpetual discernment about God’s plans for their marriage and their family. It can be used either to achieve conception or to avoid it, and NFP methods are often employed by single women simply to observe their own vital signs of health.
4. NFP is pro-woman.
The practice of NFP promotes a greater understanding of women’s health in general by allowing for potential health issues to be identified instead of concealed and by removing taboos and stigmas surrounding healthy, natural biological processes.
“The women I know who used NFP, including myself, get a better understanding of their biological processes,” said Dr. Cindy Jones-Nosacek, a retired family practice physician who has also taught NFP to women while on mission in undeveloped countries. “Hormonal contraception separates a woman from her body and teaches her and society that something that is functioning normally can be treated as a disease.”
Suppressing fertility through hormonal contraception or so-called “barrier methods” severs the bond between the unitive and procreative ends of the sexual relationship. When this happens, fertility inevitably becomes a woman’s burden to bear alone.
“Contraceptives make the woman always available to satisfy the man’s desires — no need to accommodate her if he doesn’t feel like it,” said Dr. Jones-Nosacek. “When using (NFP) appropriately, the man learns to respect the woman in her totality. Yes, it can be frustrating at times, but couples learn that there are other ways to show how they care for each other.”
It was with this concern in mind that Pope Paul VI wrote in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, that “the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of (man’s) own desires,” completely divesting himself of the responsibility to consider her “as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” (https://www.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae.html)
5. NFP is more effective than you think.
It’s important to remember that there are many methods of NFP. Not only do their effectiveness rates differ, but they differ based on a variety of factors — for instance, is the woman postpartum or breastfeeding? Does she have normal-length cycles? Is the couple working with an instructor and carefully observing the protocol of their method?
An article included in the September 2018 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the official publication of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, reviewed 21 studies tracking women who utilized fertility-awareness-based methods to avoid pregnancy and found that typical use pregnancy rates per 100 women were just 2 to 6.8 percent for the Marquette Method (when utilizing the Clearblue Monitor). (https://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Abstract/2018/09000/Effectiveness_of_Fertility_Awareness_Based_Methods.8.aspx)
“Efficacy seems to be enhanced for methods that have simplified instructions, those that use simple means to estimate the fertile phase, those that use more than two indicators to estimate the fertile window, and those that use a more accurate and objective measure such as electronic hormonal monitoring,” wrote Dr. Fehring in the December 2019 issue of Ethics and Medics, the journal of the National Catholic Bioethics Center. (https://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1702&context=nursing_fac)
“It is promising that the use of the Internet to teach and support NFP has been very effective and efficient.”
6. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has its own NFP coordinator.
Tori Franke works with couples throughout southeastern Wisconsin to connect them with resources and instructors. For more information, visit https://www.archmil.org/naturalfertilitycare or email firstname.lastname@example.org.