If you have been a reader of Engaged Marriage for a while, you know that Natural Family Planning is a topic that has been discussed several times. The reason is simple: it has been a very important part of my own marriage and I want everyone to know about it.
I want to clarify that my goal is to raise awareness of Natural Family Planning. While I’d love for everyone to try it, I know that’s not realistic and it is never my aim. I simply want there to be a general understanding of NFP as a viable option to artificial birth control.
I was also proud to host an incredible post by Katheen Quiring of Project M called “An Educated, Artsy-Fartsy Protestant’s Thoughts on Natural Family Planning” and I guest posted on her site to answer some frequently asked questions about NFP.
However, I have never discussed our story as it relates to Natural Family Planning.
Before I begin, I want to say that our story includes a lot of religious influence, especially early on. However, if that’s not your thing, I’d encourage you to go ahead and read with an open mind. And keep an eye out for a future post where I explain why NFP is relevant for a wide variety of lifestyles (non-religious included).
But for now, this is our story.
Our Long Path To Natural Family Planning Starts On the Pill
My wife Bethany grew up in the Catholic Church (I did not, not even close actually. But I joined in my college years). She knew as a teen that the church taught that birth control was wrong, but didn’t know why or what to do about it. As a young teenager, even though she wasn’t yet sexually active, Bethany went on the Pill to regulate her irregular and painful menstrual cycles.
When we got married, we continued to use artificial contraception to make sure we did not get pregnant for the first 3 ½ years of our marriage. At this point, we understood that the Pill could act as an abortifacient, so we actually tried to avoid any kind of pregnancy by using condoms as “extra protection.” Yeah, we were doubling-up on our birth control methods.
During this time, we were “uncomfortable” using our methods of birth control because we knew that the Church didn’t approve. However, we didn’t understand the reasons why and everyone we knew used contraceptives. We were honestly unaware of any alternatives for planning our family. So, we decided to go ahead and continue using artificial birth control.
A Fateful Homily in Rural Illinois
Several years into our marriage, we went on a camping trip and visited the local Catholic church one Sunday morning. It was here that we heard a serious homily (think fire and brimstone) about contraception that made us seriously question the moral consequences of the Pill. The homily explained the gravity of the sin of using birth control in very certain terms to the point that we questioned even receiving Holy Communion that Sunday.
At this time, we didn’t fully understand all of the reasons why the Church taught that contraception was wrong, but our experience in church that morning certainly made us want to seek out advice. We decided to talk to our priest when we returned home.
Father Doesn’t Know Best
Frankly, our priest at the time did not offer much help. He told us that since we weren’t using the Pill primarily as a means to not get pregnant, we were okay. After all, Bethany presumably would still have painful periods should she stop taking it.
We still didn’t feel like we were doing the right thing (as it turns out, his advice was way off-base). Through our own research, we were beginning to better understand the Church’s teachings on why contraception was wrong, but we still had no other alternatives.
Engineer Meet Teacher: Planners Delight
Happily, at this point, we decided that we wanted to start a family. In hindsight, this sure seems a lot like a call from God on our lives, though we didn’t see it that way at the time.
We are planners (that’s the engineer and teacher part) that like to research things, so we went looking for effective ways to achieve pregnancy in an effort to help us better time our baby’s birth. We found some information on the latest methods of fertility care on the Internet and in particular something called “Natural Family Planning” or NFP.
From there, we were able to learn enough to help us get pregnant within the first month or two of trying.
Natural Family Planning, Officially
After our son was born, we then took an official NFP class to learn how to avoid pregnancy using the same scientific knowledge. Now that we knew NFP existed, it was effective, and we fully understood the Church’s teachings, there was no going back.
Although the published studies say that it is 97-99% effective, it still took a lot of trust in each other and in God to use Natural Family Planning when we wanted to avoid pregnancy. However, the benefits in our marriage are where we’ve really seen NFP impact our lives.
My Feelings on Why Natural Family Planning Matters For Us
Once we started practicing Natural Family Planning,we quickly realized that its benefits went way beyond family planning. Outside of the bedroom, our communication is more open, the bond between us is incredible, and we have developed an appreciation of true intimacy that we didn’t realize was there before. I’d encourage you to click that last link for more on these aspects.
Of course, Natural Family Planning has a big role in the bedroom as well. For me, the difference in our actual lovemaking when we were using contraceptives and now that we use NFP is profound. Every time we engage in sex, we are truly saying “I trust you” and “I trust God.”
There are no barriers between us whether they be chemical, physical or emotional. When I make love to Bethany, we are experiencing everything that God hopes for us, and we have nothing to feel ashamed about and nothing to hold us back. Sex has become an incredible gift from God, and we praise him every time we share his gift with each other.
Simply put, our use of Natural Family Planning and our realization that God wants us to have great sex are the best things that have happened to our marriage.
What’s the Takeaway Here?
Again, I don’t expect you to read our story and immediately go seek out a class on NFP. However, I hope that the next time you hear the term Natural Family Planning, you remember our story, our struggle and our passion for the impact that this counter-cultural means of planning a family has had on our lives.
And I hope it doesn’t take another young couple years of confusion and uncomfortableness to discover that there are safe, natural and effective means of family planning. If you meet one and they have questions, please send them my way.