Natural Family Planning supports God’s gifts in marriage
By Dc. Tom Cuskey | Editor
In a society currently mired in protests, divisive rhetoric and opinions concerning abortion, contraceptive means and family values, it couldn’t be a better time to celebrate Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week, observed July 24 through July 30. This is a national educational campaign that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) undertakes, tied always to the date of July 25, the anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, or Of Human Life. The document articulated the “beautiful and clear teaching about God’s plan for married love and the transmission of life” (USCCB).
In the Diocese of Syracuse, the Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry coordinates efforts to educate couples and individuals on NFP as part of their mission. NFP includes natural, scientifically-based methods of tracking fertility that are in line with Catholic teaching on God’s gift of life and love.
“This year’s theme is Called to the Joy of Love,” says Lisa Hall, director of the diocesan office. “We send these items to pastors and deacons, hoping they will talk about the topic, and that God truly has a beautiful plan and gift for human sexuality, for married love, for the gift of children.” The items she refers to include information to help increase NFP awareness.
Morgan Durfee, program liason in the office, adds that raising awareness for NFP is a year-round mission and that education and sharing materials is a constant. “We don’t expect pastors to be the knowledge, to know everything about it” she points out. “All they have to do is to invite people, living in the beauty of God’s gift of life and love, and then send them to our office.” Durfee, who has spent five years in the office promoting NFP, adds that staff is ready to assist with any and all inquiries, and that there is also a new diocesan website dedicated to NFP education (see the link at the end of this article).
Hall says that the website features “a quiz to see what type of natural family planning may best fit their individual circumstances.” There is much more information on the website concerning NFP benefits, fertility difficulties and other related topics.
Also, the office has responsibility for Pre-Cana education workshops for couples preparing for marriage. “One of the things we’ve been doing since March 2021,” says Hall, “is asking couples in their evaluation if they would like to learn more about natural family planning.” Hall reports that they have seen a steady increase in the number of couples who respond positively to the invitation, especially since the Pre-Cana event now includes a visit from an NFP practicing couple who give their testimonial on the process. Since then, interest has “gone up exponentially,” according to Hall. Durfee adds that the quality of interest has also increased, as well as the numbers.
Quality is what NFP is all about. Instead of the preventative connotation that most means of contraception imply, natural family planning is about the promotion of life and God’s love, and couples being attuned to the natural processes that their bodies were created for.
”Why don’t more people know about this?”
Sarah and Tim Fitzgerald recently celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary, fueled by a “love at first sight” romance, says Sarah, that began when they met two years before they married. They met at a church-related gathering, and they both bring active faith lives to the relationship. Residents of Utica, they have two children and have also suffered through two miscarriages.
The Fitzgeralds practice NFP in their marriage and also serve as teachers in a couple-to-couple program, helping others who want to know more. They discovered NFP during their engagement, and Sarah says that resources and education have increased since then.
“At the time in the diocese…the only option was the sympto-thermal method from the Couple-to-Couple League,” she says, “but now it’s come a long way with a lot of options.” The Fitzgeralds learned and prepared to practice the method, and began to discover the beauty and graces associated with the natural processes. ”Why don’t more people know about this?” Sarah said of what they experienced.
The couple became part of the solution to that question, formally teaching, assisting and supporting other couples what they have learned. “We communicate with the couples before and throughout the class,” Tim states. When teaching online, couples from around the country might be participating, and the coaching support can extend well beyond the duration of the classes. “You’re getting that personal,” and Tim adds that “it’s easy to build a relationship.”
Tim grew up one of four boys in his family. As he says, gaining knowledge about the woman’s role in family planning was new for him. “It was a huge learning experience for me,” he says. Understanding that relationship and the intentionality required in successful family planning has taken their love to new levels.
“We learn how to express our love in other ways. There is the physical expression of love, but let’s also look at the emotional expression of love, the intellectual expression of love, the spiritual expression of love. What can you do to grow in love when it’s not in a physical sense?” He adds that he’s become more aware “of every aspect of Sarah to practice NFP effectively.”
Sarah also shares that as relationships, family situations and personal health needs change, there are choices a couple can make in selecting the NFP method and holistic, natural solutions that best suit one’s needs in life.
NFP “changes the dynamic” between spouses
Kristin Dievendorf is the Family Life Coordinator in the diocesan office. She and her husband also practice NFP in their marriage.
“NFP is not a calendar method, it is really a fertility method,” she explains, “understanding your body and understanding God’s gift of life.” She adds that it represents the practical ways for marriages to thrive by understanding one’s fertility. “It changes the dynamic in the conversation between spouses: what are your goals and where do children fit into your lives?”
However a couple responds to that question, NFP teaches that “children are a gift, that God is the giver of life,” she says. “There is a reason that women are not fertile every single moment of every day.”
Kristin agrees that what separates NFP from the connotation of contraception is that it also can assist with couples who experience challenges to conceiving, she says, “ways of understanding if you have trouble getting pregnant, if you wish to have a family. Understanding fertility can help identify signs of underlying health issues, and I can speak to that personally.”
Kristin and her husband “struggled with infertility” throughout their marriage. She explains that, in practicing NFP, they were able to “to pursue different avenues” to growing their family. It also helped identify reproductive health issues early on in their marriage that have contributed greatly to her overall quality of health and brought the couple closer together. “Understanding my health has really informed and freed our relationship in a lot of ways,” she adds.
For more information on natural family planning, you can call (315) 472-6754 Ext. 6 or visit online at https://syracusenfp.org/.