Thursday, 11 August 2016 19:33

How Natural Family Planning saved my health and soul

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Years ago as a newly engaged woman, I dreamt of my wedding day and spending the rest of my life with my best friend. I thought about the future and hoped that God would bless us with children, but I never even thought of prayerfully asking God about the size of our future family. 

 I had grown up in the Protestant faith and was never taught that birth control was immoral. I was taught to plan the family size myself.  So when we were engaged I started looking at my family planning options.  My husband had grown up in the Catholic faith, but he also did not fully understand the Church´s teaching on the subject.

As I started my research on the various forms of artificial contraception I didn’t like the side effects that I was reading about. There were many risks.  Some of the risks included blood clots, heart attack, stroke, and cancer. Some of the studies I was reading said that it increased the breast cancer risk by as much as 75%.  I also read that the World Health Organization had classified it as a class one carcinogen.  That is in the same class as asbestos and cigarettes.  We see all these commercials now days showing us people who have been damaged by cigarettes, and we know not to go into a house with asbestos without a lot of protective face wear and gear. Yet women were being told to take this pill every morning like it was some sort of vitamin.  Do you remember when women were being treated with estrogen for menopausal symptoms like night sweats and hot flashes?  Do you remember when they stopped using estrogen to treat that because they found that it significantly increased the breast cancer risk?  Well, I found out that the birth control pills are the VERY same drug only SIX times the dosage!  We also learned about the abortifacient side of birth control, where sometimes the pill doesn’t always prevent conception, and the newly formed baby cannot implant in the uterine lining of someone taking birth control because it is too thin. Some of the studies I was reading said that the average pill user could lose 1 to 2 babies per year and not know it, due to it being such an early loss.  They weren’t saying that this happened every month, but that it was a possibility.  Being a prolife Christian, that was not an option for me.  At that point I came to the conclusion that artificial contraceptives were not for me.

Some of my friends were starting to agree with me.  In this era we are getting more of a “go green mentality” amongst young couples.  My friends and I were starting to realize that here we were making sure we bought the chicken with no added hormones, but we weren’t even thinking about popping artificial hormones in the form of a pill every morning with our organic milk. 

I approached my OB/GYN and told him my concerns and asked if there was a safer alternative.  He told me that there was really only a short period of time each month that a woman could get pregnant. He basically told us all about what I call “old school NFP” the “Rhythm method”.  He said all you have to do is count a certain amount of days from your period and don’t have intercourse on those days. I thought “wow!” why doesn’t everyone do this? That is so easy! At first we had decided to wait a couple of years before getting pregnant.  Instead of 2 years we were pregnant in two months!  Of course we were excited to welcome a child, but a little confused. I thought perhaps I had counted wrong or something.  We quickly changed things in our life to welcome our new child, but sadly at 13 weeks we had a miscarriage. We named our little baby Riley, and mourned his loss. We were devastated.  We had really fallen in love with the idea of having a child. We went back to the OB/GYN and told him that we would like to try again. He suggested that I give myself 3 months to let my body get back to normal and then try again.  So we went back to calendar rhythm and instead of 3 months we were pregnant in 2! We didn’t understand. I said “now, I know I counted correctly this time! Thankfully everything went beautifully with that pregnancy and we had our first lovely daughter. 

After that though we had come to the conclusion that the rhythm method was not really effective in spacing, or preventing, pregnancy.  We found out that the reason it is not effective is because  most women do not ovulate on the same day every month. Someone told us that there were modern methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP). They said if you can imagine how much medical science has changed in the last 50 years, than imagine what we now know about a woman’s cycle and when she is fertile or infertile.  Someone told us about the Creighton Model FertilityCare System.  We were delighted with everything we learned about the system. Here was something that was modern and effective. It was developed by doctors and scientists over 35 years ago and has revolutionized women’s healthcare.  The method is 99.5% effective in avoiding pregnancy and is completely safe and natural. 

We found out that not only could this method be used to avoid and achieve pregnancy naturally, but also, combined with Doctors trained in a world wide health care system called Naprotechnology –  a new women’s reproductive science –  we could use this system to monitor and maintain my health. Especially with our history of miscarriage (we ended up losing a second baby to miscarriage.)  The Creighton system is used by many women all over the world to treat PMS, heavy painful periods, endometriosis, chronic miscarriage and infertility. It actually has an up to 80% effectiveness rate in helping couples who are experiencing infertility to achieve a pregnancy.  That is 3 times higher than In vitro fertilization (IVF) success rates.  It is even used by young women and teenage girls who may be experiencing these reproductive abnormalities such as heavy painful periods or PMS.  Many moms who have taken their teenage daughters to the doctor due to heavy, painful cycles are surprised when the doctor wants to offer their young daughters artificial hormonal contraceptives.  The doctors tell the moms that it is the only way to prevent the pain and regulate the cycle.  Many moms are happy to learn that now there is a safe alternative with the Creighton system. Instead of just taking the pill to alleviate the symptoms, trained Naprotechnology doctors are able to discover the underlying cause of the symptoms, and treat them safely and naturally without the use of cancer causing artificial hormones.  Many women and young girls are also experiencing anxiety and depression.  Some of this can be related to hormone abnormalities and the Creighton System can be used to address and treat these issues safely. 

After our discovery of the health benefits associated with NFP and once I converted to Catholicism (Yes, I came home!) we started reading more about what the Catholic Church has to say about it.  Growing up in a Baptist family I was taught that birth control was OK. It was the responsible way to plan your family.  I knew I had heard somewhere that Catholics did not believe in artificial contraceptives, but I figured that they must not teach that anymore because a lot of Catholics I knew used birth control.  My husband had gone through 12 years of Catholic school and didn’t really seem to know much about this teaching either.  I did some research and found out that actually the Church had not changed its standpoint on this issue for over 2,000 years, and that actually up until 1930 every Christian denomination also taught that artificial contraceptives were immoral. The confusion in our church today started back in the 1960’s with the sexual revolution.  Many were pushing Pope Paul the VI to join the other churches and “get with the times”.  Humanae Vitae was his response.

Humanae Vitae was written by Pope Paul VI in 1968 

It was the last encyclical he wrote, in it he predated some things that would happen if the use of birth control escalated.  

1.  Increased Marital infidelity

2.  A general lowering of morality especially among the young.

3.  Husbands viewing their wives as mere sex objects.

4.  Governments forcing massive birth control programs on their people.  

Many scoffed at what he said.

Now 40 years later divorce has tripled, STD's have expanded from six to fifty, pornography makes more money than sports and legitimate entertainment combined.  Sterilization is forced on unsuspecting women in third world countries and China has a one child per couple policy.  The number of abortions has risen immensely.  Today even critics of Humanae Vitae argue that it's teaching was prophetic.

Many of us grew up hearing about the promises of the sexual revolution. Many young people are tired of the lies we have been fed.  Growing up a lot of us have watched our parents go through a divorce or even if they stayed married they may not have been really happy. They were more just “toughing it out” if you will. 

Do you know what the divorce rate is today?  It’s like 50% right?  In some areas it is 75%.  Do you know what it is amongst couples who practice a method of NFP?  It is less than 4%.  My husband and I found that to be amazing! Maybe this really was God’s plan for marriage?  We started meeting other young couples who practiced NFP.  They were the happiest little couples that we knew. The kind of couples you expected to be holding hands walking down the beach at 80 years old.

Once we learned The Creighton system we were very happy with it. It was great for our marriage, great for our health, and we felt it helped us to trust in God more and grow in our Catholic faith. After reading the Theology of the Body, a collection of talks given by Saint Pope John Paul II, we learned that we must pray and discern about when and if God is calling us to have another child and not to have a contraceptive mentality with NFP. The church teaches that we should be open to life and that if we have a “serious” or “dire” reason to avoid pregnancy then that is when we should use NFP.  All artificial contraceptives and means of sterilization are always immoral no matter the reason.

“If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions…” [Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 16] 

“For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality.” [Catechism of the Catholic Church 2368] 

 We realized even more what a gift a child was and how wonderful it was to help God in our marital embrace to create a soul that would live on for all of eternity.  We have continued to use NFP throughout our marriage not to avoid pregnancy, but to monitor my health. I definitely have low progesterone that causes me to have a chronic miscarriage issue and through the use of Naprotechnology we have been able to carry our last few babies to full term. 

We have found that our first year of marriage was great, but that every year gets better and better and we are definitely more in love today then we were on our wedding day.  We attribute this to the Sacraments and being open to life.  We really do believe that the marital embrace is a gift.  It creates a love between us that is so strong that 9 months later we might have to give it a name.  Being open to life and allowing God into this special intimacy that we share has also made our love life even more enjoyable.  As a woman I feel treasured by my husband.  He values our time together and understands the beauty of it.  Allowing God into this aspect of our marriage and trusting him with our fertility has also allowed us to trust in him more and grow deeper in our love for Him and His Church.

We loved the Creighton system so much that I was telling all of my friends about it.  Eventually I decided to go to Omaha and train at the Pope Paul VI Institute in affiliation with Creighton University’s School of Medicine to become a Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner.  I have been teaching in Jacksonville, Fl for the last 12 years.

Our diocese is one of several in the US that requires a full course of NFP to get married in the church.  I have been blessed to have been teaching these couples for several years.  You would think that they might come to me with their arms folded and upset that they have to take this class, but surprisingly they are happy to learn about it and ask “why didn’t anyone tell me this before?” The thing I love about teaching these couples is also that a lot of them come to me saying that they want to wait a couple of years before having a baby and I can see right away in their charting if they are more likely to experience infertility, or chronic miscarriage, or if the woman has PMS that is untreated. I am happy to be able to help these couples to get healthy and introduce them to the Theology of the Body through literature and handouts.  I love to show them the beautiful way that God designed their bodies, and to address any reproductive abnormalities that I see while they are engaged, with the help of our Napro doctors, so that they are not coming to me in 5 years with a fertility issue.

These couples are extremely thankful for what they are learning. Not only are they happy about the health benefits, but the Couples getting married don’t want to be a divorce statistic.  They want to have happy marriages. They are learning that not only should we invite God into our marriage, but also into our marital embrace as well. They are learning to pray and ask God if he is asking them to have just one more child for him. Sometimes people see large families and make jokes like “wow! That NFP really works!”  What they don’t realize is that a lot of large families have prayed and discerned that they do not have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy, and are not even using NFP at all. They have decided that they would love to accept more gifts from God.  Like Mother Teresa says “How can there be too many flowers?”

If you have been struggling with this issue in your faith journey and are looking for a natural, safe, reproductive health care system like we were please think about looking up a modern method of NFP.  There are many to choose from and they will fit the needs and budgets of most couples.  You can visit www.usccb.org  and look under marriage and family/ Natural family planning to find a teacher near you. Virtual learning is also offered by many teachers.

Also, some of you may be reading this saying “oh, honey we are way past all of that, we have grandkids now”. Well, that might be a reason for you to educate yourself about modern NFP, or just sit in and audit a class. Learn more so that you can educate your family and the community.  Or if you are in the medical field and would like to learn how you can help more couples or get trained in Naprotechnology visit www.popepaulvi.com

AmyKarneyAmy is a Catholic homeschooling mom of 7 children and a Fertility Care Practitioner for the Creighton Model System. She and her family are Lay Members of the Home of the Mother and live in Jacksonville, Fl.