Editor’s Note: In honor of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, please welcome Renee McGuire to The Practicing Catholic. Renee and husband Kerry are parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in West Des Moines, Iowa, where they teach Natural Family Planning classes. This is Part 1 of Renee’s testimony. Part 2 is 5 Steps to Embracing Natural Family Planning.
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“This is just the rhythm method and everyone knows that doesn’t work.”
“Everyone who follows natural family planning has big families and we can’t afford that.”
“NFP is too hard to learn.”
“Catholics don’t really follow this anyway. It’s so outdated.”
“NFP doesn’t apply to me because I have a significant medical reason NOT to get pregnant.”
“We’ve already been sterilized.”
And on and on and on …
There are so many excuses and misconceptions about Natural Family Planning — a principal teaching of the Catholic Church. In all honesty, my husband and I shared many of these feelings. We didn’t understand the Church’s teaching and thought it was completely outdated. While we had used birth control, we pretty much followed the rest of the “rules” and were “good” people.
At least that’s the lie we told ourselves.
Then I had a miscarriage and had difficulty conceiving again. I searched for answers, and I began to connect the dots. I learned about the science behind the pill and its abortifacient (abortion-causing) properties. It is quite possible that the residual hormones left in my body from the pill did not allow our baby to thrive and live. My decision to use birth control left me with incredible guilt.
While researching, I also saw a notice in the parish bulletin for Natural Family Planning classes. The notice stated that the method not only helped couples postpone pregnancy, but could also help them achieve pregnancy — all within the guidelines of the Catholic Church. I signed up for the classes, and my husband Kerry reluctantly came along.
With my medical background, I quickly recognized the scientific basis of NFP and acknowledged how easy it was to apply. Even more so, the Church’s teachings and theological principles behind NFP were presented in a way that we finally understood. There was finally a “WHY” for all of the rules. This was my “a-ha moment,” and I quickly accepted everything that the Church stood for, regardless of whether or not I understood.
Once I started searching for answers, I realized the Church had them.
We learned about Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II and Humane Vitae by Pope Paul VI. We finally understood why the Church teaches that contraceptives are an “intrinsic evil,” — an act that is always bad, despite the intention behind it. This means that the act will cause harm, even if the people engaging in the act are unaware of its evil. We are called to love like God does. How can you love completely when you are in essence saying, “I love ALL of you EXCEPT for your fertility!”?
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.
Once we removed the pill from our marriage, we experienced healing we didn’t know we needed. This truly was a turning point in our marriage. Here are six things my husband and I have 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.
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Part 2 of Renee story continues here. Read how Renee’s “A-ha!” moment has grown into a passion for teaching Natural Family Planning.