NFP: Nearly Freakin' Perfect*
I woke up one morning and thought “Wow! Wouldn’t it be awesome to teach couples about a woman’s window of fertility, and the life span of a sperm?” Yeah… no, that didn’t happen. I never wanted to teach NFP (Natural Family Planning), but I’m blessed to be teaching it almost 20 years. How did I come to believe that it is so worth practicing and passing on? By grace.
Neal and I were late and slow learners. We were dating and sexually active together for three and a half to four years before our hearts were turned toward Mary, Most Chaste. It was Our Lady who led us back to the sacrament of confession and into the unexpected journey of chastity. That story, however, I’ll save for a different day, with the exception of a few details. Over a year before we married we made two decisions: 1) to keep our clothes on, and 2) not to do anything with each other that we wouldn’t do with our Grandma (and no, our relationship with our Grandma was not sick or twisted). After this time of grace we entered very intentionally, and without reservation, into marriage. Just before the wedding, and while still largely ignorant of church teaching (especially regarding chastity within marriage), we started talking about babies. I was a full time non-traditional college student due to graduate seven months after our wedding. We decided we would marry, wait two years, and then begin our family. Why two years? We had no idea. Sounded good… yeah…because it sounded good to us. We knew nothing of NFP, but we did know something about contraception because I’d been on oral contraceptives throughout most of high school and college. The other thing we’d heard about contraception was that the church really, and I mean really, frowned on contraception. I didn’t feel comforted by or comfortable with this teaching, but it began to cross my mind more and more as we prepared to marry. And each time it did, I got this tug at my heart that gently asked the question: “What if she’s right?” (the “she” being the Church). You see, this question was connected to that challenging, extraordinary, unexpected journey of chastity. When Neal and I started following the Church’s teaching on chastity before marriage, we became better together. I can’t explain it, but some of our closest friends noticed it as well. Something between us was different… better. “She” had gotten that right after all. So here we are about to enter into marriage, and a still small voice continued to tug at my heart regarding contraception, asking me: “What if she’s right?”
Well, with no knowledge of my fertility to speak of, and even less regarding Neal’s, we decided to avoid each other around the fourteenth of each month, thus avoiding pregnancy. That was our plan. That was our plan. Oh, and our other plan was two years remember? That was our time frame, two years. We got married in October and pregnant in November… you do the math. Obviously we couldn’t. And we promise you with every fiber of our being, that was the single greatest failure of our plans that we have ever been privileged to be part of! Her name is Abby. She is amazing. You should be as blessed and privileged as we are to know her and love her. Okay, so Neal and I have helped create the failure rate for calendar rhythm method, and are so glad to have done so! However, six weeks later I’m in confession with postpartum blues, and the promise of a green light from my OBGYN in relation to my husband, and I am having a not so mini break-down over the prospect of having irish twins. My compassionate, and somewhat amused confessor inquired:
“Do you know NFP?”
“Yeah, that’s how I got pregnant,” was my reply.
He persisted in his inquiry: “Who taught you? Who’s guiding you? Who do you turn your charts into?”
“There’s charts? Guidance? A teacher?” was my befuddled reply.
After some much needed clarification regarding the difference between Calendar Rhythm Method and Natural Family Planning, I went to Clarks Summit, met with Kate Fry (God rest her beautiful and blessed soul), and learned NFP, a fertility based awareness method for planning your family.
And it’s been a walk in the park on a sunny day in the springtime ever since. Yeah...no, that’s not true. But it is Nearly Freakin’ Perfect! And here’s why…
Neal and I grew up when the sexual revolution was well under way, amping up its influence over our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. We came to erroneously understand sex as primarily pleasure junkie sport, fueled by our contraception use. Before we were married, we got off contraception because we didn’t need it while practicing chastity, and because we learned how dangerously unhealthy it is. Our previous choices, attitudes, and behaviours, however, came with consequences. In Neal’s own words, “At the beginning of our marriage, I had to reckon with my adolescent expectation that Meg would always be free and available for sex, now that we were married.” It wasn’t to be. Because of serious health issues, Neal had been to the National Institutes of Health, where several doctors strongly urged our use of contraception to avoid conception because of medications he would be on . By grace, we chose to continue to use NFP only. The combination of stressful circumstances and the required abstinence exploded into an argument (and one of the greatest blessings of our marriage):
Neal: “What do ya say to staying up late and hanging out together?”
Meg: “You may be signing up for a baby Murphy.”
“You’re fertile?” he snaps disappointedly, then walks away angrily.
I follow him and pepper him with “are you angry at me because I’m fertile?! Because I’m healthy?! Really?! Seriously?!”
Ok folks, immature for sure, but I know we aren’t the only couple to have been there. These challenges have the power to make us bitter or better, depending upon our openness to grace. Through grace and the cross, Neal and I came to understand and be grateful for the gift of fertility, an indication of good reproductive health. Any sign, on our part, of resigned bitterness over fertility or abstinence required by NFP didn’t indicate that fertility was the burden, or NFP the problem. It could be that that one or both of us is aching for the other, which is an ordered desire that is beautiful, and given to us by God that we might come to understand how He aches for us. When this is the case, we need to invite Him into the ache. He will use it to strengthen us in virtue and character. It could also mean that one or both of us might be a slave to sexual pleasure, or struggling with lust. This is a disordered desire which God wants to relieve us from. This weakness should never be a thing that discourages us. In fact, it is critical for any couple who find themselves struggling with lust, to remain in the knowledge that they are loved limitlessly by God who wants in on their weakness precisely because He desires to heal and strengthen them.
Thanks be to the Trinity, to Mary most pure, to NFP, to the sacrament of confession, and to my husband’s heroic nature, we able to overcome “the selfish sting of lust” which seeks to destroy all marriages. This is one reason why NFP is nearly freakin’ perfect. We came to understand that NFP, and the abstinence inherent in its practice are a gift, because it can increase a couple’s longing for each other and can be offered as a beautiful sacrifice of love which endows their ache with purpose. It can also shed light if a couple is struggling under the weight of an undisciplined sexual appetite, and can strengthen their desire for God’s gift of purity. Neal and I know personally that NFP makes purity possible where it might otherwise be impossible, because it brought us to our knees literally and metaphorically. Once humbled, we each sought the grace of confession where the Lord would bless us with the grace of purity and peace that we desired. Remember His promise, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). Yes, NFP has made Neal more Godly, which is one more reason NFP is nearly freakin’ perfect.
Another is its connection to Psalm 104:15, “He may bring forth . . . wine to gladden the heart of man”. Hold that thought about the wine for a minute, and roll with me on this one. It begins with a couple who seeks NFP training from me and states their intention from the outset, to abstain during the wife’s fertile window in order to postpone pregnancy. “Babies? Maybe in a couple of years.” I have a conversation with them regarding the Church’s teaching on abstaining for serious/grave reasons. They don’t appear to have “serious or grave reasons” not to have a child, but appear to be driven by irrational fear. Their disordered fear of having a child is often a consequence of contracepted pre-marital sex, but then God’s grace comes into play. When they possess a good will, in spite of their past and or bad habits, God’s often moves their hearts into a place of grace by means of NFP. For instance, the couple goes out on a date, out to dinner, has a couple of drinks, and suddenly their resolve about abstaining while she is fertile weakens under the influence of that second glass of wine. The consequence of which may be a beautiful evening together, afterwhich panic sets in. Next day, I receive the freak out phone call:
“I think I’m pregnant.”
She texts or emails her chart to me, and asks frantically, “Do you think I’m pregnant?”
After assuring her that I’m not God, and I don’t know the answer to her question, I talk her off the ledge. She is certain she is pregnant and positive of all the negative consequences this will have on “their plans.” After a corrective and assuring conversation reminding her of God’s goodness, His limitless love for them, His magnificent plans for their lives, and the certainty that they can’t be happy without this baby if he/she is God’s plan for them, we hang up. A few days later, and after much perseverating about the truth of what I’ve said to her, she calls crying,
‘“I’m not pregnant ...I was certain I was pregnant. Actually because I was certain I was pregnant, I started to get over being scared of it, got to a place of acceptance with it, and then sort of even began looking forward to it. Now I don’t know how I feel. I think I’m a little sad or even disappointed.”
Next thing you know, that same couple is blowing off charting and abstaining, and actively using their knowledge of NFP to bring about a cosmic change in their own lives and an extra place at the dinner table. Yes, God uses “wine to gladden the heart of man.” Another reason NFP is nearly freakin’ perfect: it changes hearts, opens them up to lives beyond their own, and makes them more generous and more trusting.
Neal and I will be married twenty two years this October. Thanks to NFP, every day of our marriage has been contraception free. Our children were spaced prayerfully and intentionally, in consideration of Neal’s medication schedule/changes. Soon, Abby will be turning twenty-one. Natalie just turned eighteen. Isabella is fourteen, and Hannah is eleven. We are also blessed with John Kolbe Christopher who would be seven, but whom we’ll have the joy to meet on the other side. So yes, Neal is blessed among women, but we are both blessed to have been introduced to NFP. It has radically influenced our understanding of self gift within marriage. It has matured us and our communication. It has deepened our trust in one another, our trust in God, His goodness, His providence, His plans, and His love for us. NFP has taught us discipline and self mastery, authentic love and generosity. #ThanksNFP!
*This article was inspired not only by NFP awareness week, but also by the article,
NFP: Not Freakin Practical at Chastityproject.com.
I strongly recommend Jason Evert’s Green Sex CD which is available for purchase at Chastityproject.com. There are other NFP related blog posts on their website that are worthy of your time and seeking. Also check out the statistics on the birth control pill provided at Chastityproject.com
**NFP is effective in postponing or achieving pregnancy. It works as effectively as oral contraceptives at postponing or avoiding pregnancy. It is clinically proven to be 98 to 99 percent effective at avoiding pregnancy when used properly (Ascension Press, God’s Plan for a Joyfilled Marriage) https://ascensionpress.com/categories/all_studies/programs
On September 18, 1993, the British Medical Journal reviewed the effectiveness of Natural Family Planning. Nineteen thousand, eight hundred forty three women participated in the three year study. At the end of three years there was a pregnancy rate approaching zero. Two tenths percent of women experienced a pregnancy in comparison to the two out of every hundred women who end up getting pregnant using oral contraceptives as their means of avoiding pregnancy. http://www.bmj.com/content/307/6906/723
***Check out this other awesome website: https://womenspeakforthemselves.com/