By ELIZABETH COUTURE, Special to the Bulletin | Published March 31, 2022
“A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The ‘supreme gift of marriage’ is a human person.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 237
The Catholic Church condones sexual intimacy between a husband and wife only when the act remains, “open to life” by abstaining from contraceptives (birth control in oral and physical forms).
The Catechism states, “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life.” (No. 2363)
However, the church does not require families to conceive and bear as many children as possible, but encourages the “regulation of procreation” as long as “their desire is not motivated by selfishness, but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood.” (No. 2368).
Natural family planning (NFP) combines charting fertile indicators with abstaining or enjoying intimacy during peak baby conceiving times. Commonly used methods include the Creighton and Marquette Methods.
Ann Hall, a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw, with more than 25 years as a physician assistant in OBGYN, internal medicine and endocrinology, applied her medical knowledge in teaching more than 650 couples NFP for about 21 years.
“I’ll be teaching natural family planning until I am 90-plus, God willing,” said Hall.
She also takes ultrasound images at a crisis pregnancy center and teaches middle school students about sexuality in a program called “Family Honor.”
Hall learned the Creighton Model of Fertility Care, developed by Thomas Hilgers. It tracks a woman’s cervical mucus to determine times of ovulation. Tracking fertility allows couples to discern when to start growing their family.
“NFP is 95% effective and with an instructor 98-99% effective,” said Hall. Furthermore, the charting of a women’s flow gives data to track irregularities that indicate health concerns such as painful periods and irregular periods.
Sara Flood, a mother of three children on earth and one in heaven, attends St. Jude the Apostle Church in Atlanta. An alumna of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Flood earned her nursing degree and worked for 10 years as a nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta prior to teaching NFP for 11 years.
Flood learned the Marquette Method of NFP from Dr. Kathleen Raviele prior to marriage. She later took an online class over two semesters to master the Marquette Method of NFP.
The Marquette Method of NFP is a fertility awareness program developed in 2000 at the Institute of Natural Family Planning in the Marquette University College of Nursing. It is taught by health care professionals certified in the program.
The Marquette Method is a custom fit method of fertility awareness that uses evidence-based protocol that fits an individual’s needs, said Flood. It uses the Clear-Blue fertility monitor that analyzes urinary hormone samples (estrogen/LH levels). The monitor shows low, high or peak readings as a “very precise way to test ovulation.” Other methods can be used and simplified into the Marquette method.
“The beauty of Marquette is the custom individualized care and looking at the research we have,” said Flood.
Why refuse convenient birth control methods and go through the trouble of learning natural family planning?
“It is my passion to see the transformation in the couples, the deepening of their relationship, their friendship through natural family planning, the communication, the respect, the awe in how fearfully and wonderfully made we are. Truly understanding the gift of God’s plan for our sexuality,” said Hall. “Sex is good; a beautiful gift God has given us.”
Hall acknowledges that the abstinence necessary for couples to properly implement NFP is challenging.
It’s “not always easy, takes a virtue called self-control that will help you in other areas of your life, your work, your finances,” she said. Abstinence allows for couples to focus on the entire person and not take the marital act for granted, Hall explained.
NFP strengthens marriages by requiring constant communication about the timing of their children, building the virtue of self-control and cherishing each other.
NFP is “not a burden, [but] a blessing, a privilege to co-create with God, little people in his image,” said Hall.
“Our whole faith is about saying ‘yes’ to God even when it’s hard,” said Flood. “It is a gift to me to witness other people’s authentic faith and walk with them.”
Flood knows how difficult natural family planning is because God intended us to want to be together.
“NFP is Theology of the Body lived in marriages,” she said. “It allows us to live those teachings.”
As a young mother of two without any expertise in NFP, I offer my own family stories and how it brings me “New Faith Promised.”
NFP really gives new faith promised. By forgoing contraceptives, I feel more fully feminine, in tune with my body and fertility; as well as enjoy true life-giving intimacy with my husband. Three years of marriage yielded two sons with the second planned (meaning we successfully utilized NFP postpartum).
I am aligned spiritually and physically with the sacrifice of periodic abstinence by surrendering to God’s timing for his children who I am honored to care for.
Read the writer’s blog, the Not-So-Couture Momma, at https://bit.ly/3tG8IIS. Here, she shares the story of her wedding in 2018 and welcoming a son nine months later. Beginning a marriage with a baby was challenging for two working parents and included job loss, but their child brought much joy amid the sudden death of another family member.