For almost six years, I have worked for the Office of Natural Family Planning in my diocese, as their social media manager. In preparation for NFP Awareness Week this year, I conducted a series of pre-recorded interviews, talking about the theology, science, and goodness of NFP with couples, a doctor, a priest, and our office staff. In previous years of doing this, I have always been amazed by the themes that the Holy Spirit weaves through these interviews.
This year’s overarching theme seemed to be how the cross goes hand-in-hand with joy. Every person I spoke to reflected in some way on how NFP is both hard and yet so, so good. In my almost thirteen years of practicing NFP – while trying to conceive with secondary infertility or while trying to avoid pregnancy due to some serious health reasons – I have found the same. NFP isn’t the easiest thing in the world to practice, but the goodness that comes from it – physical health for the woman, relational health for the couple, the opportunity for the man to sacrifice for the sake of his wife’s health and well-being, etc. – make the struggle more than worth it.
Then, during the week when I was having these conversations, the Pontifical Academy for Life released a document suggesting that the Church reconsider her teaching on contraception and related issues. I was in shock, and I immediately texted a fellow staff member of office that I work for, who likewise expressed consternation.
The Church teaching against contraception and treatments like IVF is not only theologically sound – it spells true freedom for women (as well as men).
For the Well-Being of the Body
In our office of NFP, there are two comments that we hear from women, again and again. The first is, “Why didn’t I know this sooner?!” Raised in a culture that views a woman’s fertility as an inconvenience at best and a curse at worst, most women never learn the full truth about how their bodies work and how good and incredible their hormones and cycles are. There is simply no excuse for this basic health information to be kept from women!
Most contraception works by putting a woman’s healthy, functioning body into a state like menopause. Young, healthy women are routinely offered this form of “health care” which robs them of the natural benefits of their hormonal shifts and cycles. This can lead to serious side effects at the time, but it also can lead to significant problems down the road. Women’s bodies aren’t broken, and pretending they are isn’t real healthcare.
The other comment we often here in our office is, “For the first time, I felt like it wasn’t all in my head!” Natural Procreative Technology (or Napro, for short) seeks to find and fix the root causes behind various women’s health conditions. We have heard countless stories of women with painful or irregular periods being told by ordinary gynecologists that the only solution they could offer was for them to “go on the Pill.” Of course, this only masked the symptoms, and didn’t heal whatever the root cause was.
On the other hand, Napro Technology, with a focus on healing a woman’s body (and fertility) has done extensive research into the treatment of conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, infertility, secondary infertility, hormonal acne, repeat miscarriage, post-partum depression, and PMS. In the decades since its (excuse the pun) conception, countless doctors have been trained in Napro technology, and have worked through medicine, supplements, bloodwork, imaging, and surgical intervention to not only diagnose but treat these conditions. Women who had lived with pain for years are able to have the cause of their pain treated and their quality of life improved.
If the Church were to “change her teaching” on contraception, these same women would undoubtedly be met with even more difficulty on their path to health and healing. They would be likely be pressured by family and friends to “just take the pill,” and would feel foolish or unsupported doing otherwise.
Instead, the Church’s opposition to contraception has led to Napro Technology (and its approach to true women’s health) and NFP – a tool for women (and their husbands and doctors) to appreciate, understand, and cooperate with the way women’s bodies work.
For the Well-Being of the Marriage
Likewise, contraception leads to a culture of women becoming commodities. When Dobbs passed, many pro-abortion women declared that they were going to go on strike against physical intimacy “unless they were trying to get pregnant.” The reality is bonding and babies – the twofold nature of married conjugal love – are meant to go hand in hand! Whether or not humans have always understood this, women have always had times in their cycles when they are infertile (and very narrow windows in which they are fertile). The bonding in this side of marriage is only authentic when it goes hand-in-hand with sacrifice. If NFP is being practiced correctly, that sacrifice is either the sacrifice of being open to the unknown of a new human life (and possible loss) or the sacrifice of having grave reasons to avoid pregnancy, even as the couple acknowledges the goodness of children.
Authentic love is born of sacrifice for others. NFP allows couples to discern what sacrifices God is calling them to, becoming good stewards of the fertile and infertile times in a woman’s cycle. I have heard people worry about NFP being practiced with “a contraceptive mentality.” While I suppose that such couples might exist, I have yet to meet a couple who has practiced NFP in that way. There is simply too much sacrifice involved! Avoiding pregnancy is never convenient, and even when a method is used to avoid it, NFP always leaves the door open to God surprising a couple with pregnancy. The methods can be very scientific – making use of ultrasounds, bloodwork, and hormone levels to determine when ovulation occurs. Yet, even with all of those tools, a couple using NFP acknowledges that coming together during ovulation does not guarantee them a baby, and even when coming together post-ovulation, they are not doing anything to physically block conception. While they acknowledge that they might think that it would be best to avoid pregnancy for grave reasons, they also come together in the marital act with the understanding that God may know better.
NFP is good for marriages because it forces couples to stop trying to tightly control their lives, and instead to be open to where God is leading them, from cycle to cycle.
In acknowledging that, ultimately, God is in control, a husband and wife can experience true freedom together. They can experience their marriage as a gift and receive any children that come as the same. (NFP couples with “surprise” babies will often comment, “All of our children were planned…by God, even if not by us!”)
For the Well-Being of the Soul
Finally, contraception is not good for the soul (while NFP, when used with a healthy disposition of heart, can be). NFP draws the spouses to self-mastery, self-sacrifice, generous love, radical trust, and openness to God’s plan. It calls on couples to pray, together, to discern what God is asking of them.
While none of these aspects of NFP are easy, they are healthy for the soul. The alternatives – lack of self-control, refusal to sacrifice, stingy love, tightly controlling life, and insisting on our own will instead of God’s – ultimately become a prison. We are not meant to be God. We are meant to put ourselves in God’s hands, while also making use of the intellect and knowledge he has given us. We are called to be good stewards of our bodies, doing what we can to keep ourselves healthy and whole. And we are meant to bond – truly and deeply – with our spouses, in a way that allows God to be part of the union.
None of this is possible with contraception. The truth of Church teaching (as found in Humanae Vitae) may be challenging, but it is both still true and still good.