Our NFP Journey
by Renee McGuire
We tell this story so often, I don’t even know where to start. It’s really become so much a part of our lives, that I don’t know where it begins and where it ends.
On one hand, we came to NFP “accidentally.” On the other hand, I can clearly look back now and see God’s gentle guiding hand in our journey.
We both grew up Catholic, attended Catholic schools and lived very much the secular worldview. We considered ourselves Catholic and definitely “pro-life”. We had no intention of letting old men in Rome tell us how our marriage should be.
After a few years on the pill, we learned something surprising
The first couple years of our marriage, I was on the Pill. It wasn’t much of a thought. Until my best friend, while in pharmacy school, asked me if understood that the pill could work as an abortifacient. She explained the ways that the pill (and other hormonal contraceptives) work is by:
- Prevention of ovulation
- Changing the woman’s cervical mucus to make it inhospitable
- Thinning the lining of the uterus so that if the other 2 things don’t work and breakthrough ovulation occurs (which happens much more often now than the early pill due to less hormones and less side effects), implantation of the fertilized egg is prevented leading to an abortion.
Wait! What? We’re Pro-Life. We don’t believe in abortion. This didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t sit well with my husband either. Embarrassingly, though, we didn’t do anything about it.
Elation leads to grief
Amazingly, months to years later, we stopped contracepting. We were ready to start our family, on our time. We conceived the first cycle we tried and were elated. Scared and overwhelmed and excited at the same time. Unfortunately, only a few weeks later, we miscarried our baby. My brain and my heart turned to research and grasping for knowledge in trying to work through my grief. No one will ever convince me that my choices didn’t lead to my body rejecting my baby. Because I put all of those chemicals in my body for years, my baby wasn’t able to live.
This took a lot of time and hindsight to come to this. During this time, we also recognized that our marriage was not very healthy - one of those things you don’t see until you look back and wonder how you got there.
So, after recovering (or so we thought) from the miscarriage, both physically and mentally, we were ready to try to conceive again. But we couldn’t get pregnant. After many months of trying, we saw an ad for Natural Family Planning in our Church bulletin saying that it could help us achieve or avoid conception. And we went.
Our eyes were opened
Right away, I understood the science behind NFP. Wow! This does work - not what I had understood it to be previously. The theological principles made sense. I felt like this is what I had been needing to understand all along and couldn’t believe that such important knowledge had been kept from me. Every woman should truly understand how and why her body works! Every man that loves her should know this and love her the way God intended us to love. And so much more! I knew right away that I wanted to teach this, to spread this knowledge and joy and Truth!
This was also my “Aha” moment in recognizing that maybe the Catholic Church was on to something - instead of the Church of “No” that I had understood before, maybe it was trying to keep us from the pain when we don’t follow God’s will? Maybe Mother Church truly loves me by wanting what’s best for me - despite what I think that is? Maybe we wouldn’t have had to experience the pain of miscarriage and infertility and marriage difficulties had we done it His way instead of our own?
Over the course of the next few years, we were able to conceive again. Our son was born and pretty quickly after that, another son was on the way. We had proven that with NFP, we could get pregnant. If we still wanted to teach this, we had to make sure we understood how to postpone pregnancy as well. Kerry was not quite on board to teach NFP right away. Another good testament to couples teaching couples - we had and have different perspectives. When the timing was right for us as a couple, we moved forward.
We became a certified teaching couple by Couple to Couple League. Their mission (and ours!) is “to inspire, educate and support couples in family planning that is natural, effective, healthy and consistent with God’s plan for life, love and marriage.” Until we fully embraced this, we didn’t understand how much our marriage had grown and how much we had truly been missing. We communicate better. We have learned to truly give ourselves as gifts to each other and love each other completely. Our marriage is still a work in progress, but it’s helpful to work toward the ideal that ALL life is precious. When we know that life begins at the moment of conception and never stops growing and changing until we die, we know that we’re not in charge. This is not something that we should try to control.
NFP is not always easy. It takes discipline. It takes leaning on each other and on God. It is ALWAYS worth it. We’ve decided and said over and over that this is the BEST decision we’ve made in our marriage, to give us the strong foundation in this chaotic world. It’s all based on Knowledge, Communication with each other and with God, and being willing to Sacrifice for one another.
Learning NFP is learning the “nuts and bolts”, how to read the signs of our fertility, understand what they mean and how to apply them. Practicing NFP is different. Responsible Parenthood is the key. Discerning whether or not it’s a good time to add another child to your family is between the spouses and God. Factors such as finances, mental and physical health, age, other commitments, stress, etc. should all play a role in this discernment. We are asked to provide stable homes for our children and follow God’s will in our respective state of life. NFP is not a form of contraception because we work within God's natural law not against it. Ultimately, it’s the one area of life where we work in conjunction with God. Isn’t it amazing that God made our bodies the way He did!
We went on to have 3 more children. God opened our hearts and we allowed Him to give us more than initially thought we wanted. They were all planned yet came on His timing. We often say that you don’t have to have 5 kids if you practice NFP.
What is keeping you from learning more about NFP and all its benefits?
The fullness of the Truth is available once you search past the secular nonsense. Here are five steps that helped my husband and me fully embrace natural family planning.
1. Learn what the Church is teaching. Don’t take your neighbor’s word, do your research! Talk to your priest. Read the Catechism and Humane Vitae. Dive into Theology of the Body. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has insightful information on their Love and Sexuality webpage as well.
2. Make a good Confession, and embrace the sacraments. There is true beauty in the marriage of science and theology, and there are untold graces for those taking that leap of faith.
3. Learn the methods. There are multiple NFP methods that are scientifically validated and theologically backed.
4. Share the Good News, despite how uncomfortable it may feel. Support people trying their best to follow the teachings of the Church, whether or not you have personally grasped the concepts yet. Even if you don’t believe this applies to you, share God’s message. You don’t know who that could be and God’s role for you in their life. We ALL can learn to live more chastely — clergy and religious, all married couples, those preparing for marriage, single people, and those who have passed their fertile years or undergone sterilization procedures.
5. Teach your children about NFP. The marital chastity NFP requires allows you to be a model for your children. This becomes a natural gateway for then teaching abstinence to your teenage children. Taking the “easy” way out and encouraging them to use contraceptives in the place of instilling the virtue of chastity can lead to many physical and spiritual consequences.
God’s will for each of us is amazing. We all are asked to make different sacrifices in His name. The graces revealed in that are innumerable. One of St. Pope John Paul II’s favorite sayings was “Be not afraid.” Please, do not fear the unknown.
Six things we learned since dumping contraception in favor of Natural Family Planning:
- Natural Family Planning is NOT the “rhythm method.” This is often confused. The rhythm method is outdated and not based on significant scientific knowledge. NFP is 99% effective in postponing pregnancy. That is the same effectiveness of many other contraceptive methods, all while 100% in-line with Church Teachings.
- NFP is all-natural, doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t harm any part of the bodies God gave us. We work WITH the fertility God established within us. There are so many detrimental physical and spiritual side effects of artificial contraceptives and sterilizations that aren’t widely publicized. For example, the World Health Organization classifies combined hormonal contraceptives as a Group 1 carcinogen, the same classification as Asbestos and Tobacco.
- God calls us to love as He does. This is agape love — permanent, freely chosen, self-gift, based on knowledge of human dignity, and life-giving. We learn to love fully without using each other.
- NFP has strengthened our marriage in ways that we never understood could happen. Our communication and respect for each other has only continued to flourish.
- Responsible parenthood, the virtuous decision by a married couple to either conceive a child or postpone conception, is what makes NFP different than birth control. Catholics are NOT expected to have as many children as possible!
- NFP calls for obedience. Obedience can be a scary word or duty, but fulfilling this virtue can lead to many spiritual graces. I have learned perseverance, tolerance, faithfulness, self-control, diligence, joy, faith, and commitment.
What’s responsible parenthood? It’s the virtuous decision made by a married couple to either conceive a child or postpone conception. Catholics are NOT expected to have as many children as possible! We have learned to trust in our ability to parent our children in accordance with God’s providence. This hasn’t always been easy.
I’ve often heard others say that my husband is “unique” for his willing participation in all this. While I agree that Kerry is amazing and an extraordinary husband and father, I don’t know that we didn’t become better spouses by our commitment to the practice of NFP and truly loving one another versus using each other.
"This is what makes NFP different from contraception or sterilization “we are working with our God-given, natural bodies without interfering, altering, or violating our reproductive systems or harming any healthy, functioning major part of the body. This allows us to preserve the unitive and procreative ends of marital love."
~ Renee McGuire