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Living the Sacrament: A Catholic NFP Community

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

This guest post highlights a wonderful new online resource for women practicing NFP.  If you’ve been around Engaged Marriage very long, you’ll know that this topic is near and dear to me, and I love to share quality resources when I find them.

In the United States, only about 1.5% of women use a form of Natural Family Planning (see Reference 1 below).

Unfortunately, this often means that many of these women are isolated from others who use NFP. For instance, one of our council members, Larissa, drove over 60 miles to attend an NFP class with her fiancée.

Beyond family members, she did not know who else she could ask questions of, or share in the joys and struggles of practicing chastity within marriage. She often wondered:

  • “Does NFP really work? “
  • “How come nobody else is doing this?”
  • “Abstinence is a lot harder than I anticipated, how do other women cope?”

As Catholic women, we need a support system. Often due to daily workload, family commitments, and physical distance from others with similar beliefs, we can often feel isolated.

Recognizing this need for connection with others, five women, in the fall of 2010, decided to take this need to prayer and find a solution. We felt called to provide a place for others, like ourselves, to learn more about NFP and Catholic teachings on marriage and fertility.

We wanted women to have a safe space where they could receive encouragement and share ideas, supporting one another while living out their vocation. Thus, “Living the Sacrament: A Catholic NFP Community” was born!

Our Leadership Team

Like many of our members, our leadership team is spread out across the United States.  Kara is from Kentucky, Larissa is from California, CC is from Texas, Tara is from Arkansas, and Kristin is from North Dakota!

We have already begun adding international members to our site and hope to one day have them represented within leadership as well!

What You Can Expect to Find On-site

Women visiting our community can expect to chat with others who are striving for holiness whether they are single, dating, engaged, or married. Our members use a variety of NFP methods including CCL, Marquette, Billings, and Creighton, just to mention a few!

Our current membership also includes several women who are currently NFP instructors as well as an IBCLC or two. We do our best to honor and support one another in following the teachings of the Catholic Church and encourage our members to do so as well.

More specifically, we provide online forums for women prayerfully using NFP within their marriages to postpone pregnancy, achieve pregnancy, and cope with fertility issues. There are also spaces for sharing parenting advice, posting prayer requests, asking questions about faith and marriage, and even for reviewing products we have used in our homes.

It is our greatest hope that all women will receive the love and support they need and that those still struggling with their fertility choices will be moved to abandon artificial contraception in favor of Natural Family Planning.

Do I Need To Be Catholic Or Married To A Catholic In Order To Join?

Absolutely not! We welcome women of all faiths to join us if they feel the need for support in their lives or would simply like to learn more about Natural Family Planning!

We do however expect the conversations of our members and content of our site to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church.

What about the Men?

While we are currently a women-only site, we cannot forget the importance of support for our husbands and Catholic Men in general.

Natural Family Planning is about both husband and wife, working together with shared fertility to uphold the virtues of a chaste marriage. And this is often not an easy task. Historically, there has been even less support for our husbands than for us.

There are two sites in particular that we would like to encourage Catholic Men to check out!  The first is The National Fellowship of Catholic Men.  They are on the verge of opening The Global Catholic Men’s Community. We believe this will be a wonderful resource for all Catholic Men.  You can learn more about their plans here.

The second resource is Catholic Dads Online, a wonderful ministry that allows blogging Catholic Dads from all over the globe to share with one another through their personal writings and life experiences. If you don’t have a blog yourself don’t let that stop you.

Read along and join in the conversation!

How To Join Us at Living The Sacrament

To better assure the privacy of our members and allow them the freedom to seek support in areas that are sometimes difficult to talk about, we are a private forum.  This simply means that our main forum is not viewable to non-registered members.

To log-in, you will first need to register and your account will need to be activated by an admin which can happen almost instantly or take as long as 12 hours depending on if one of us is online at the time of your submission.

We Look Forward to Serving You!

Although we just recently opened, our membership is steadily growing with both national and international members! We welcome women from all over the world to come connect with others in their search for holiness.

We look forward to meeting you!

Reference 1: Chandra, A; Martinez GM, Mosher WD, Abma JC, Jones J. (2005). “Fertility, Family Planning, and Reproductive Health of U.S. Women: Data From the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth” (PDF). Vital Health Stat (National Center for Health Statistics) 23 (25). Retrieved 2007-05-20. See Table 56.

Christian Family Planning Network: Supporting Natural Forms of Family Planning

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Natural Family Planning

I’m really excited today to introduce the Engaged Marriage community to a wonderful online resource that is helping to educate and support the practice of natural forms of family planning.  As you may know, Bethany and I are quite passionate about Natural Family Planning and all the goodness it’s brought to our marriage.

Well, Stephanie Berman is the creator of an awesome resource called Christian Family Planning Network.  At her site, you can become part of a community to learn and practice either NFP or the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).  FAM is essentially similar to NFP in that it involves the tracking of a woman’s fertility cycle.  Very basically, the difference is that us NFP users abstain from sex during the fertile times, while FAM users (often Protestant Christians who have no moral objections to contraceptives) use barrier contraceptives during those times and continue to have sex.

I think you’ll learn a lot about this important topic by reading Stephanie’s guest post today, and I encourage you to go check out the Christian Family Planning Network.  Thanks Stephanie for accepting my invitation to share your good work with our community!

______________________________________

Thank you Dustin, for allowing me this opportunity to introduce your readers to the Christian Family Planning Network (CFPN)! I know that a few of the readers here have already benefited from it, and I trust that many more will in the years to come.

First, a little bit of the history of the CFPN and why it came to be. When my husband and I got married in 2007, he suggested using “natural family planning”. (His words, not necessarily meaning CCL’s NFP). I was hesitant at first, as I have irregular cycles, and I was unsure we’d be able to discern when I had ovulated.

However, I agreed that working with my body, rather than against it, was a good way to go. So, we started researching. Through another website, I was introduced to the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). Because my husband and I do not have moral objections to barriers, we felt that if we were both okay with using them, that Fertility Awareness was our answer.

As we began our journey with FAM, I realized that there was not a lot of support for Protestant women who didn’t want to use hormonal birth control. After months of praying about it, I joined with a few online friends who were also interested in FAM and NFP, and in January 2009 we started a website where Christians of any denomination can come and learn about all their options.

What is the Christian Family Planning Network All About?

The Christian Family Planning Network’s purpose is to educate engaged and married Christians about their options for birth control beyond artificial or hormonal contraceptives.

We hope to overturn the common misconception that all natural birth control methods are the Rhythm Method of decades past (note from Dustin: this misconception is one of the biggest causes of stress and anger in my life.  It’s SO wrong! :) ). In supporting this purpose, we offer a message board and an online course in charting your fertility cycle.

The message board is a vibrant community where women from all walks of life, and all theological perspectives, can come together and support each other in their decision to not use hormonal birth control. Some of our members join the community while still on the Pill, or the Shot, or the Ring. In situations like this, members of the community who have been in their shoes will come alongside and support them, answer their questions, and encourage them that they are doing a good thing!

Many of the women on our “Avoiding Pregnancy” forum have been using natural methods their entire marriage. Some of our long-term members have avoided pregnancy for up to four years, before deciding to try to conceive their first child. Now some of those members have given birth to their first child and are avoiding again with FAM or NFP postpartum!

In addition to supporting women who are avoiding pregnancy, we also have forums and buddy groups for women who are trying to conceive, are dealing with infertility, are pregnant, or parenting. We encourage all of our new members to join a buddy group and to plug into the community where they need support.

Is This an NFP or FAM Site?

Because we are a diverse community, both NFP and the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) are represented. The leadership team actively encourages each group to learn from and encourage the other in their convictions, and we celebrate the common ground that we share in wanting to encourage women to use natural birth control methods, without dwelling on our differences.

Here is what one of Dustin’s (Catholic) readers had to say when asked how she feels about the community:

As a Catholic and NFP instructor joining the Christian Family Planning Network …I wasn’t sure if my belief in abstinence during fertile times would be accepted by the community or if I would be challenged and judged. However, since the day I first logged on, I have encountered nothing but acceptance and support by the diverse variety of women on the CFPN.

Time and time again I have been impressed with the respectful dialog that occurs while discussing topics with varying viewpoints and varying beliefs. I have found an incredible amount of support in our journey to use NFP during some challenging postpartum times, while TTA and now as we begin to TTC.

The online course is a great place to start if you’re looking for information on natural methods of pregnancy avoidance. Because our ministry caters to NFP users and FAM users, it does not discourage the use of barriers, nor does it dwell on their use.

Abstinence is presented as a great option for pregnancy avoidance and the study questions in that unit help the students to think of ways to show love and affection beyond intercourse during the fertile phase. We do provide statistics of barrier failure rates, but the choice of barriers or abstinence is left up to each couple to make based on their own beliefs and conscience.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a quote from another Catholic member.

Being able to share with other Christians about your journey through life with this fertility choice is extremely positive. I know the other forum I found back when I was first charting and had lots of questions was very secular and made me uncomfortable on more than one occasion. This is a much more friendly place to air your questions and get answers from Christian perspectives.

If you’ve been looking for a place of support during your journey with natural birth control, please come take a look at our site! We’d love to have you join us.

A final note from Dustin: While Bethany and I practice NFP, I share Stephanie’s enthusiasm for finding common ground with supporters of all natural forms of family planning.  I encourage you to check out CFPN and support their ministry in any way that you feel called, including membership or a simple donation.

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

If you’ve been part of our community at Engaged Marriage for very long, you know that my wife and I are big believers in Natural Family Planning (NFP) and its positive impact on marriage.  One of our goals is to spread the word about NFP and simply let people know that its a viable option for planning their family without the need for artificial contraception.

Well, this week is actually Natural Family Planning Awareness Week!  In honor of the occasion, I am providing links to all of the NFP-related posts that have been featured on this site so far.

I am planning to assemble these links on their own page and highlight it as a resource called Natural Family Planning: A Handbook for the Curious.  I’d like to hear from you so I can cover the right information in that resource. 

In the comments below, can you please offer suggestions for other NFP-related topics that you’d like to see covered here at Engaged Marriage?

Previous NFP posts for your enjoyment:

Natural Family Planning: 5 Good Reasons You Haven’t Tried It

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Natural Family Planning ChallengesNatural Family Planning has its challenges.

I’ve shared the story of our journey to Natural Family Planning (NFP) and made a really big deal about the benefits of NFP for marriage.  I’ve shared an informational video, explained what Natural Family Planning is in my own words, and talked about how technology can work with such a natural method of planning a family.  I’ve even encouraged an artsy-fartsy Protestant woman to share her own thoughts on NFP.

Do I love Natural Family Planning?  Yep, guilty as charged.

But I also understand why NFP is practiced by less than 5% of couples in their child-bearing years.  If Natural Family Planning were the easy choice, everyone would use it, right?

Well, probably not, but I recognize the challenges of using NFP because we live with them every day.  Engaged Marriage is a place for no-B.S. information on topics that effect your marriage, and your family planning choices are certainly a big issue.

And so, in the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I present to you the top five challenges of using Natural Family Planning.

The Challenges of Practicing Natural Family Planning

1. NFP is Misunderstood by Others

Trust me when I tell you that this is a big one.  It can be very frustrating to be pigeonholed as some mindless, Pope-worshiping, chauvinist, old-fashioned father of 20 children whenever someone hears that you practice Natural Family Planning.

Fortunately, with so much good information being spread online and through new communities, some of the die-hard myths about NFP are finally starting to be broken down and replaced by the truth.  Here are a few examples in case you were curious:

2. NFP is Not Encouraged by Most Doctors

The sad reality is that most OB-GYNs in practice today either don’t understand Natural Family Planning or simply dismiss it as a viable birth control option for their patients.  The reasons for this are a matter of opinion, but I have a few.

There is no money in “selling” NFP since it is a free method of family planning.  By contrast, birth control pills are a HUGE industry (have you seen all the contraceptive commercials during an NFL game?) with many well-paid pharmaceutical reps knocking down the door of every doctor’s office in the country.

NFP is also not standardized enough to give an assembly-line approach to patient care.  It’s easy for a doctor to write (well-sponsored) prescriptions for birth control pills all day long and never give a second thought to the individual needs of each patient.  Well, NFP requires attention to each patient’s fertility cycle and some time to educate them on how to do it.  That takes both time and interest, and remember that doesn’t pay the bills!

There are also doctors out there who are simply ignorant about the effectiveness of NFP and never take it seriously.  My wife’s doctor (who is Catholic, by the way) laughed at us when we told him that we were using NFP.  Rather than switch docs, we decided to show him it works…and three purposely-planned pregnancies later, he shows us a little respect.

3. NFP Requires a Daily Commitment

When you hear about how you actually practice NFP, you find out that you have to take your temperature each morning before you get out of bed to get an accurate basal body temperature.  This actually doesn’t apply to some methods of Natural Family Planning, but all methods do require some fertility awareness during most days of a woman’s cycle.

Frankly, when I hear people use this as a reason not to practice NFP, I have to chuckle.  Most birth control pills must be taken each day (unless you get a shot of some sort), and barrier methods (like condoms) require you to have a contraceptive on-hand at all times.  Taking your temperature is just not that big of a deal.

4. Those Darn Periods of Abstinence!

Now THIS is a legitimate challenge of practicing Natural Family Planning! 🙂

When you use NFP, you simply don’t have sex on the days when your wife is fertile (if you wish to avoid pregnancy).  This can be tough, and I have to admit that it was my one big objection to fully embracing NFP…until we actually gave it a try.

If you can’t control your sexual urges for a week or so at a time, you can’t use Natural Family Planning.  However, if you do have control over your body and free will, you may find these periods of abstinence as enhancements to your communication, intimacy and overall sex life.  We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the impact that they’ve had on our marriage.

5. Special Occasions Don’t Always Happen at the “Right” Time…

It’s New Year’s Eve, you have a hotel room with NO kids, you’ve just enjoyed an awesome night of drinking and dancing, and you are both very interested in a fantastic night of sex.  Sounds great, huh?

Well, if you practice NFP and it just so happens that your wife ovulated the day before, you’ll know that this is going to be a night requiring strong willpower if you don’t want to get pregnant.  It could also be a night where you decide that maybe God does want you to welcome a new life into your family.

Either way, it’s these special occasions that will test you and your intentions when you practice Natural Family Planning.  Some people don’t have the willpower or the mutual respect to make it through these situations.  Even though they’re rare, they will happen and you have to find strength in each other to make the choice you’ll be happy with in the morning. 😉

Are These Your Reasons, Too?

I’ve stated it many times, but let me make it clear that my posts about Natural Family Planning are not intended as tools of mass conversion (yeah, I know I’m not that influential).  Instead, I just hope to shed some light on a very misunderstood topic and let everyone know about their options since we struggled so much in our own family planning decisions for years.

I hope you have found it helpful to hear about the lesser-discussed “difficult” side of practicing NFP.

Now, I’m really curious to hear from all of you:

If you do practice NFP, how have you dealt with these challenges?

If you don’t use Natural Family Planning, what has held you back from giving it a try?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!

(photo source)

Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor: A Review Based On Our Experiences

By Dustin | Sex & Family Planning

Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor Review

If you have had trouble conceiving a baby or just want to understand your fertility cycle better, you may have heard of the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor.

My wife and I bought one last fall with the intent of using it initially to help us get pregnant and then later as an additional tool in our practice of Natural Family Planning.

Fortunately for us, but unfortunately for a long-term review, we were blessed to conceive our third child the first month that we used the fertility monitor.  However, we learned all about it, gained some experience using it, and I even made my first YouTube video to show the world what comes in the box when you buy a Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor!

How Does the Fertility Monitor Work?

In the most basic sense, the monitor uses urine samples to identify days of High Fertility and Peak Fertility.  Obviously, if you have sex on those days, especially the one or two Peak Fertility days, your chances of achieving pregnancy are greatly improved.

There are only a limited number of days during the menstrual cycle when sex can lead to pregnancy.  Conception is most likely to occur if you have intercourse on the day the ovaries release a new egg, which is called ovulation, or during the days leading up to it.  The fertility monitor tracks a woman’s level of estrogen and LH to predict when ovulation is approaching and indicate the day it has occurred (the Peak Fertility day).

The Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor prompts you on the days you need to take a urine sample.  This will be a total of ten tests per cycle for more “typical” cycle lengths, or it will be twenty tests for long or irregular cycles. When you start using the monitor, you’ll set a testing time window that needs to be maintained, though you can test up to three hours before or after the time you specify.  When you turn it on, the fertility monitor will tell you whether you need to test that day or not.

In general, the manufacturer recommends that the monitor be used by women with menstrual cycles lasting 21-42 days.  As you test for several cycles, the monitor begins to “learn” about your menstrual patterns, and the testing days will be better defined.

What’s in the Box?

The answer to this question is not much!  Here’s a short video I made to show what the monitor looks like and what you get when you buy one.

Our Experiences With the Monitor

When we started thinking about buying a monitor, I did a lot of research and was convinced that the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor was the single best ovulation tracker on the market.  We also spent a lot of time learning how it worked, which was aided by the understanding we’ve gained of fertility cycles through our practice of Natural Family Planning.

Like I said, we only used the monitor for one month before Bethany became pregnant (she’s due in July!).  As luck would have it, she had a crazy-long cycle that month of over 50 days, and we hit the max of 20 tests before she ever ovulated.  Of course, we knew what was going on since we were also using the sympto-thermal methods of NFP (which helps prove the point that NFP is not only for those with nice, regular cycles).

With this super-long cycle, the monitor basically stopped testing and would have waited until we told it her period had started.  It would have then started over testing the next cycle with the “knowledge” of her long menstrual cycle taken into consideration.

Of course, that next cycle is several months away at this point since we successfully conceived a baby.  However, even based on our limited first-hand experience, I can tell you that the fertility monitor was very easy to use, and I am confident that it is effective in identifying the days of high fertility and communicating this simply to couples hoping to achieve pregnancy.

And that’s what it’s all about when choosing a fertility monitor.

We plan to use ours again after the baby arrives and Bethany’s hormones calm down.  We are hopeful that it will become an additional tool in our practice of Natural Family Planning moving forward, and we plan to learn more about this approach by studying up on the Marquette Model of NFP, which includes the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor in its methods.

UPDATE: It’s now mid-2012, and we’ve been using our monitor for nearly two years since the birth of our daughter Avery.  We LOVE it!  The Marquette Model has been a real Godsend, and this monitor has made it so much easier to track Bethany’s fertility each month.

Where Can You Buy One (and Learn More)?

We did a lot of research on fertility monitors, and I can tell you that you will find the best price and most dependable service by simply buying your monitor through good ole Amazon.  This is not a cheap investment in fertility awareness, and I would encourage you to stick with a trusted resource.  Amazon also periodically runs sales on the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor.

Please note: When you buy a monitor, it does not come with the testing sticks that you’ll need.  And you’ll have to continue buying testing sticks as long as you are using the monitor.

Fortunately, Amazon offers a combination package where you get both the monitor and test sticks to get you started at a slightly reduced price.

When you visit the Amazon page for the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor, you’ll also find customer reviews and additional information on the product.  I always find this additional peer feedback to be helpful when considering such an important purchase.

Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor ReviewClearblue Easy Testing SticksClearblue Easy Fertility Combo

If you do decide to buy a fertility monitor or testing sticks, I’d really appreciate it if you used the links above.  For referring you to their site, I get a (very) small commission from Amazon and your price is unaffected.  Thanks in advance for your continued support of Engaged Marriage!