NFP, or Natural Family Planning, is a method of tracking fertility naturally to either avoid or achieve pregnancy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms its moral use when coupled with prayerful discernment of responsible parenthood when it says in paragraph 2370: “Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom.”
There’s a huge variety of methods, reasons for using NFP (or not), and couples out there so I’m not going to dig into all of that today. But I did want to share for fun eleven reasons why we love NFP! It’s definitely not the easiest or most fun thing in the world at times, but you’ll see below why we have grown to appreciate this great tool the Church has approved and given us as we discern how to grow our family.
- It does absolutely nothing to altar my body or my spouse’s body. NFP ensures that intercourse between spouses remains a complete and total gift of self. We hold nothing back from each other. Using condoms, birth control, or other methods all hold something back. They say “I give you my life, my everything, except my sperm/my ability to conceive/etc.” Romantic, no? I love NFP because when we are open to life, every single act is a total gift of self. And that is pretty awesome.
- It helps me understand my body. I first started charting my cycles during engagement as practice for marriage and it was eye opening. I had always known about women getting a lil’ crazy right before their period hit (growing up with five women in a house will do that), but to me it was just a label and a fact of life. Yeah, periods suck, you get grumpy right before, suck it up buttercup. But when I started charting, I found definite patterns of moods and energy that coincided with my cycle that I had never been aware of before. Want to talk about empowering women? This was empowering to be able to understand why my body was reacting to my hormones changes in these ways and anticipate them before they took me off guard.
- It helps my spouse understand my body. I grew up in a home of five ladies and just two gents: my dad and little bro. There was always an endless supply of feminine products flowing at home (bad pun?). When these boxes or bags showed up in the grocery haul, the male crew regarded them as something terrifying. The cycle of a woman was a mystery they wanted nothing to do with. So it was a whole new world to take a class with Jake when we were just engaged and throw around words like cervical mucous in front of him. But after the initial shock, it was really awesome. The things I learned about my body also became common knowledge to him as well. For example, in our marriage, he’s been able to let certain things go when I’m more emotional because he knows just where I am in my cycle. Being on the same page and understanding my body and hormones as a gift instead of a mystery is a great way to build emotional intimacy.
- We can change our mind without a doctor visit. The cool part about NFP is that it is always month by month (or cycle by cycle). Since there’s no medical devices or medications I have to keep tabs on, we can discern being open to conceiving children each month and all we have to change is when we have intercourse. Unlike an IUD that must be removed or the pill which can disrupt normal hormone function and take a while to regain normalcy, NFP gives us more power as a couple to discern and change our mind easily if we feel called to.
- It is based on solid science. Most NFP methods, when followed strictly and accurately, have the same success rate or better than most all of birth control methods on the market currently. (The lower rates of success of avoiding a pregnancy using NFP usually come from user error or a more liberal approach to the method.) This makes the most sense if we are seeking to avoid. I’m not just popping a pill hoping the numbers are on my side and staying in the dark. I am tracking everything, know the odds of conceiving based on which cycle day we have intercourse or not, and have it all right in front of me. And when I do conceive, I know right away without guess work because it’s all in my chart.
- It can be free (or close to). Depending on the method you choose, the investment is typically a class (you definitely want to learn the method thoroughly), a thermometer, a monitor/test strips, or an instructor consult. If you really can’t afford much, there are methods that don’t need anything but the initial learning material or class. Financially, this makes much more sense than monthly costs of condoms, pills, or doctor co-pays (or terrifyingly, the medical costs of the scary side effects and complications that can come with some birth control methods).
- It teaches us patience. This is something I hear many people complain about with NFP. And truthfully, times of abstinence can be really hard when cycles are wonky or charting isn’t making sense. But at the same time, it is something I love about it. We had fantastic instructors that didn’t sugar coat things, so I anticipated some great times and some difficult times. The beauty is that if you know your method well and use it conservatively, most people will have a definite infertile window they can use each cycle safely if you have serious reasons to avoid. Is it always a large chunk of time? Nope. But to me, it’s still far better than choosing something that would compromise our souls. Marriage is like any vocation – it is marrying the cross. We love and serve each other, even if that means setting aside our personal desires for a time for the good of our family. We’ve had times of having to practice extreme patience, and times where we could be more relaxed about things. All marriages go through seasons and I’m happy NFP is there so we can stay faithful to what we ultimately desire for each other: heaven.
- It keeps us connected. When we are actively charting, I take my temperature in the morning and Jake writes it down. I track my symptoms and mark those down, and he looks at it at the end of the day. It’s a great way to feel completely on the same page about things and have a connection deeper than just wanting to have intercourse. For us, it’s a way to remind us that every time we come together we are open to any life God wants to give our family (because even in infertile times, our bodies are still giving the full gift of self and expressing that openness).
- It reminds me to check for signs of cancer monthly. The times we’ve been lax at charting, I admittedly don’t do breast exams to check for signs of cancer. Even if we aren’t using NFP to avoid pregnancy, I still love charting to keep track of my body and what’s normal. That way, if something comes up that’s a red flag I can have it looked at immediately before things get too scary.
- There’s methods for everyone. I love that it isn’t exclusive. Each woman, man, couple, and family will have a vastly different situation when it comes to their bodies, fertility, financial status, health, and more. I love that NFP isn’t a one size fits all. There are a variety of methods and each couple can discover which will work the very best with their situation. And can change whenever they want.
- I know when we’ve conceived. This is a big deal to me, because the medical field bases due dates on last menstrual period. For some women, (like me this pregnancy), that number is not correct if your have long cycles or irregular cycles. The first office I consulted wanted to give me a due date two weeks earlier than my actual due date because they wanted to use last period only. Even though I showed how long my cycle was and when conception would have actually been possible. Since I was charting, I knew within a two day window when we had conceived and was able to get it adjusted with the office we are with now. This would be especially useful for those that don’t get early ultrasounds to confirm a due date or in the case of possible miscarriage if the baby is too little to show up on an ultrasound.
And what method do we use? We’ve loved and used the Sympto-Thermal Method according to Natural Family Planning, Inc. (NFPI) from day 1 of our marriage. We have several reasons why.
First, the manual and all resources are based heavily on the writings of St. Pope John Paul II and written by the Kippleys who have written some most amazing works in moral theology for marriage and sexuality. I trust the information I find there completely. Second, the method is cheap. We purchased a thermometer and monthly I print off a free chart from the site. While other methods seem wonderful, we haven’t wanted to spend that much for the supplies or consultations. Third, it is a cross-check method which means I have several ways to check my fertility. If my mucous is hard to interpret, I cross check that with the temps and other symptoms I track and can pin down where I’m at in my cycle (as opposed to some methods that rely just on one or two symptoms).
And finally, we use this method because it recommends the use of the seven standards of ecological breastfeeding for postpartum (which can be a uniquely difficult time for charting because of delayed fertility and hormones balancing out again). Beyond the science (which it is backed by), this method has formed me deeply as a Catholic mother and transformed how we parent in the first year of life. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world.
(If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend reading Sheila Kippley’s book on the matter before making an opinion on ecological breastfeeding. You can buy it here inexpensively here using my affiliate link. I’ve found people to have very negative opinions of the method, only to find out they have not read the actual book or followed the standards exactly.)
There you go! I’d love to hear why you love NFP in the comments below!