“Natural Family Planning is more than just a method for achieving or postponing pregnancy, it is a way of life that opens them to receive God’s gifts-even the unexpected ones. For many couples…Damian and Sonya, NFP works all the time, even when it doesn’t.

Children are a precious gift. A family is a source of love and joy. Yet, bearing and raising children and supporting a family is not always full of rainbows and buttercups. In the land of Eden, God’s first commandment to husbands and wives was to “be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen 1:28). At the wedding alter, a man and his bride vow to honor each other as man and wife for the rest of their lives and accept children lovingly from God. In Humanae Vitae, the Encyclical Letter on the Regulation of Births, Pope Paul VI explains in depth the Church’s teaching that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life but also recognizes there can be grave and serious reasons for wanting to postpone a pregnancy. In these times, the Church calls on married spouses to remember “God has wisely arranged natural laws and rhythms of fertility…[and] it is then permissible to take into account [these] natural rhythms…and to make use of [the] marriage [act] during the infertile times only, and in this way to regulate births without offending the moral principles…”

Today, these methods of using the natural laws and rhythms of fertility to postpone as well as achieve pregnancy are known as Natural Family Planning (NFP). Other barrier or artificial hormonal contraceptive devices cannot be used with authentic Natural Family Planning methods. The successful use of NFP to postpone or achieve pregnancy relies on communication between spouses and their knowledge of how to apply their observations of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman's menstrual cycle to meet their unique and ever-changing circumstances.

The Natural Family Planning (NFP) Office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states “with regard to spacing or limiting pregnancies, NFP is up to 99% successful when couples understand the methods, are motivated, and follow the guidelines. Couples can achieve an effectiveness rate of 97-99% when they follow all the guidelines for postponing pregnancy all the time (perfect use) and couples can achieve an effectiveness rate of 85-90% when they do not follow all the guidelines for postponing pregnancy all the time (imperfect use).”

Natural Family Planning methods are generally easy to learn and understand but in reality can sometimes be challenging to apply. Even with the high rates of effectiveness, couples can easily become frustrated and disillusioned with NFP when it does not work the way they hoped. For one couple, their frustration with NFP was forming a rift in their marriage and so, against their better conscience, they threw in the towel and resorted to other forms of artificial birth control. However, they soon found out that instead of closing the gap in their marriage it only grew deeper and wider. While the artificial contraceptive was easier to use and ‘worked’, it was actually eroding their marriage. Before it was completely destroyed, they contacted their local NFP office, enrolled in a new class and renewed their commitment to only using natural and morally-acceptable methods of family planning in their marriage. Today, they warn other couples that “artificial birth control might give you a sense of new-found freedom but it will never help your marriage truly grow in intimacy or love.” They also remind others that resources for understanding NFP methods and face-to-face guidance and support are only a phone call or click away. Couples who struggle with NFP in their marriage can find encouragement in Pope Paul VI’s closing message of Humanae Vitae to Christian Husbands and Wives to remain hopeful, rely on God’s grace through the Sacraments and find strength in God’s mercy.

Damian and Sonya Carrillo, members of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Wichita, KS have faithfully applied NFP throughout their nineteen years of marriage and have been blessed with six children.  However, in the beginning, they were not sure NFP would work with Sonya’s irregular cycles due to her Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). To their happy surprise and thanks to NFP they conceived their first child in their first year of marriage but had difficulty conceiving their next child. After two years, they consulted with a faithful priest and their doctor and began using a mild infertility medication and Sonya continued charting her fertile and infertile times and communicating these observations with Damian. It was this continued charting and communication along with the fertility medication that eventually helped them conceive their son, Isaac.

A few years after Isaac was born, Damian was without full-time employment and had returned to school and Sonya was recovering from a serious illness and using a medication that could interfere with a newly conceived life. They decided their current situation was “grave” enough to use NFP to postpone another child for a time. However, since her fertility signs were masked by the medication during this time their daughter, Monica, was conceived. Damian responded to this new pregnancy with surprising confidence. “Great! Now I know we’re on the right track because God wouldn’t send a baby without a means to provide for it!” Sure enough, he secured a full-time job & health benefits two months before Monica was born. Sonya continued to experience chronic fertility irregularities but she and Damian learned to tailor NFP to fit their needs and trust God to provide for their marital and family life.  Just when they thought God was finished with them, she conceived their fifth child, John Paul and two years later they were surprised again with their son, Sixtus. From a world view of families like the Carrillos, NFP doesn’t work. However, for Damian and Sonya and faithful Christian spouses, Natural Family Planning is more than just a method for achieving or postponing pregnancy, it is a way of life that opens them to receive God’s gifts-even the unexpected ones. For many couples, like Damian and Sonya, NFP works all the time, even when it doesn’t.

Copyright 2011 Erika Higgins