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International network of reading groups who discuss Pope John Paul II's theology of human sexuality.

Natural Family Planning
Information on the ovulation method of Natural Family Planning.

The Last Things and the Perseverence of Boston Red Sox Fans by Elizabeth Wirth
Why is it that Red Sox fans are the ones showing the world what it's like to persevere? Why are they giving more meaning to the word �believe� than we are, as the Church?

This Is My Body, by Elizabeth Wirth
As I cried along with my newborn son Christopher one sleepless night, I remembered the words of my Lord the night before he sacrificed himself for me: "This is my body, broken for you."

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Month after month, my temperature rose and fell and my hormones marched in perfect harmony. I had no idea I was so beautiful.

Natural WomanI always assumed I would go on the pill when I got married. The fact that I was a practicing and believing Catholic posed no contradiction. Certainly, I was aware of the Church's teaching about contraception, more or less�but I had never actually been taught it. I didn't know anyone who believed the doctrine, much less practiced it, and far from challenging my beliefs, no one had ever even brought up the subject. The only thing I knew was the statistic that approximately 90 percent of Catholics ignore the teaching. That, and the ubiquitous jokes: What do you call a woman on the rhythm method? Mommy.

Still, I'm the kind of person who hesitates before taking ibuprofen for a headache. Was I ready to take a drug every day, potentially for years, that would affect my entire reproductive system? Reading the list of potential side effects�depression, migraine headaches, loss of sex drive�and then meeting people who actually had experienced those side effects made me wonder even more. For the first time, I found myself open to what the Church might have to say about birth control. But when I started to question, I couldn't find anyone to give me a straight answer.

I decided that a good first step would be to ask a priest at the parish where we were to be married. Not being accustomed to discussing these issues with anyone, let alone a man whom I didn't really know, I nervously waited until the end of our meeting to bring up the subject. Finally, I asked if he could talk to me about the Church's teaching and give me any advice. He paused for several seconds and looked at me quizzically, as if he was trying to figure out if this was something I really wanted to know, or if I was only asking because I thought my Catholic mother could somehow hear. After about a minute, he mumbled, "Well, that's a complex question." I should talk to a doctor before doing anything rash, he said, because the method espoused by the Church was complicated and unreliable. I asked if he knew of any doctors�or anyone else, for that matter�with whom I could meet. As he ushered me out the door, he said he'd get some names for me. He never did. Was I really the first person ever to ask him about this?

Next came our "pre-Cana" wedding preparation, mandatory for marriage in the Catholic Church. I had been looking forward to the section on sexuality. I was prepared to disagree with the Church's unreasonable teaching, but at least I'd learn something about Natural Family Planning (NFP)�the phrase I'd heard associated with Catholics and birth control.

To my surprise, the only mention of birth control was the chaplain making sure that we knew she was on "our side." She told a story of how a priest from a different parish had talked to her about the difficulty in getting brides not to use birth control. "Of course they don't want to!" she had told him. "It's a complicated process, involving mucus and charting. And it is for the woman's entire life!" She ended by telling us, "Yes, the Church says that it is a sin, and yes, you need to think about how you feel about that. But does that mean that you can't be Catholic and use birth control? Of course not. Does using birth control mean that you're still a good Catholic? Of course."

People wonder why Catholics have nagging guilt�well, I can tell you that being told, "Yes, it's a sin, but of course you should do it anyway" is profoundly confusing. It was their teaching, not my own, that I was trying to follow�but no one would teach me! I started to wonder if the 90 percent of those ignoring the teaching consisted of Catholics who actually had heard enough to disagree with the Church�or whether they had just gone through a process like this.

I considered abandoning my quest, but I still really didn't want to go on the pill. And I still had no idea what this mysterious "NFP" was. All I knew now was that it involved mucus. (Gross.) But that smacked enough of having some scientific basis that I decided to follow the priest's original advice and go to a doctor.

My first challenge was finding a gynecologist who would discuss the method with me. I was transferred several times on the telephone as the receptionists at my HMO tried to figure out what I was talking about. Finally, I got an appointment with the fertility specialist�since she was the one who used these methods to help women become pregnant, they seemed to be thinking, she could just reverse her usual advice for me.

To her credit, she tried to hide her surprise at my questions. But when she delicately asked, "Is this for religious reasons?" I felt my face redden with shame. I mumbled that I was Catholic, but wanted to know for other reasons too. At the word Catholic her face lit with a mixture of understanding and pity.

She did sit with me for over an hour and explained to me a method which involved charting my waking temperature each morning. Because of hormone changes around ovulation, that temperature rises several tenths of a percent at and after ovulation. She explained that I could chart my temperature, abstain from sexual intercourse starting approximately three days before the day I expected the temperature to rise based on previous cycles, and resume intercourse again after the temperature had risen. Her main point, though, was that the method was not reliable. "After all, kids are great, but you don't want to have too many, or too soon," she smiled, glancing at the picture of her two children on her desk.

Wasn't there something about mucus? I asked. Yes, she said, but that was just to support the temperature thing. "See how unreliable this is?" Her eyes smiled patiently. Finally, I asked, "So, if this is so unreliable, what are my other choices?" She lit up. Her presentation of birth control options ended with such a glowing recommendation of the pill that I could have sworn she owned stock in a drug company. Somewhat numb, I took the bus home, clutching the list of birth control methods in one hand and the basal temperature chart in the other. Was this truly my only option?

Somewhat desperate, I decided to do my own research. I logged on to Amazon.com and searched for a combination of "natural" and "birth control." My heart leapt when Amazon.com suggested dozens of books. So this thing existed? And people had written about it? And then, I found the community I didn't even realize I was longing for�peer reviews. One of the books had over thirty reviews from women who had read, used, and praised the method. One reviewer said that every woman should read this book to understand how her body worked�another claimed to have used the method with success for over nine years. Nine years? I'd been led to believe that I wouldn't last a week and a half.

Somewhat wary of what it would do to my future Amazon.com book suggestions, I ordered Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. It was through Weschler's book that I finally learned the NFP method. At last, someone knew where I was coming from. Someone understood that I didn't want to put chemicals in my body or have a physical barrier in what was supposed to be a free and intimate experience. And someone explained the method to me, respecting me as an intelligent woman who had the capability to understand my own body. And as far as I could tell, she wasn't even Christian, let alone Catholic! She just cared about women and their reproductive choices.

NFP is not the justly ridiculed rhythm method, which involves vaguely guessing when the woman expects to ovulate and abstaining for a few days around day fourteen of her cycle. The full method involves charting the woman's waking temperature, changes in cervical fluid, and the position of the cervix. These fertility signals together indicate to the woman when her body is fertile. During that time she can either use barrier methods (this is known as the Fertility Awareness Method) or abstain (NFP). So my gynecologist was right in telling me that her method was, indeed, unreliable, as she only taught me one of the three fertility signals.

Advocates of the method point to several benefits: increased communication between partners, lack of side effects from drugs, latex, or medications, and higher efficacy rates than barrier methods (NFP is over 98 percent effective when followed correctly). We found all these to be true, and my husband Karl and I agree that NFP is one of the best decisions we have made in our marriage.

But the turning point came for me as I watched, month after month, as my temperature rose and fell and my hormones marched in perfect harmony. I had no idea I was so beautiful. I found myself near tears one day looking at my chart and thinking, "Truly, I am fearfully and wonderfully made." My fertility is not a disease to be treated. It is a wonderful gift. I am a wonderful gift.

I'm not upset at those who didn't tell me about NFP. Some didn't know about it, and others really thought they were on my side. Perhaps people didn't want to mislead me and certainly didn't want to be blamed if I became pregnant unintentionally. But they made their suggestions knowing nothing about me.

Perhaps a child is a more welcome side effect to me than potentially aborting an embryo. Why did my doctor automatically assume that decision for me? NFP does involve discipline�making sure to monitor carefully and actually to abstain from sex during fertile times. But taking the pill involves discipline too, and only about a minute less time per day.

It is true that not all sexual partners are up for that kind of commitment�but my advisors didn't know my husband. NFP doesn't provide for the same consistent spontaneity of sex as the pill, but they didn't ask whether I think that sex and children ought to be that easily separated. In retrospect, I cannot believe that no one told me I could avoid the side effects of the pill by abstaining from sex a few days a month. And the fact that the method is completely free, but for the cost of a thermometer, makes the omission all the more alarming.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this experience was discovering how tied to the culture I truly am. As a Christian, I am at least somewhat used to being counter-cultural. The first sentence of this article is crazy enough to most people�what on earth do sex and marriage have to do with each other? But while my decision to refrain from sex until marriage had the whole-hearted support of my Christian community, no one else I knew was struggling with the issue of birth control. I eventually ended up obeying Catholic teaching, largely inadvertently and for my own reasons. But as I have been obeying it, I am considering whether I have been wrong in assuming the neutrality of contraception�mostly because I have tasted the goodness of life and marriage without it. Had my previous position truly been informed by my faith, or was it just what the culture had taught me?

People continue to look at me funny when they find out I use NFP, and they still make fun of the Church's position. But I don't mind so much anymore. I've got my own version of the joke now: What do you call a woman practicing NFP? Free.
September 17, 2003

Reprinted with permission from Regeneration Quarterly. All rights reserved.

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12.09.04   Terry says:
Dear lindadic,You ask some good questions that unfortunately many Catholics, priests included, don't seem to know the answers to. As I strive to answer the questions you raise, my prayer is that my answers are grounded in charity and truth.I first need to point out that you make an erroneous assumption when you ask "Why use frequently ineffective means?". My wife and I have practiced NFP for over 20 years and can attest to its effectiveness rate, that rate being 99%. NFP's rate of effectiveness is better than or equal to all means of artificial birth control and without the harmful side affects. Only the pill approaches the effectiveness level of NFP.NFP is different from artificial birth control in one very crucial way and it goes to answering your second question and your presumption that the conjugal and procreative natures of the marriage act can be separated. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches as follows: 1652 "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory."The begetting and raising of children is an act of selfless love. In fact, in the Eastern Church couples are given crowns, crowns of martyrdom, at their weddings and upon rearing four or more children are considered to be white martyrs. So you see procreation cannot be separated from the marriage act without turning the act itself into something selfish. The marriage act is a total giving of each spouse to the other. Something much more holy and sacred than your example of enjoying fine cuisine. It is the one and only action a man and woman can take that in so doing they participate in God's act of Creation. It is the only thing any of us can do that will have as it's end the creation of something that will last forever, that being the immortal soul of a child.Artificial birth control prevents that total giving of self while NFP does not. NFP still allows for the possibility of procreation to occur should God will it to. From a man's point of view I can also tell you it has given me a much higher appreciation for the beauty of my wife's fertility. The beauty of how God has created woman is a holy wonder to me, a wonder born through the practice of NFP.To your last statement, you must remember that God has given us free will. As a result of that free will, we can use the gifts He has given us for good or for evil. Lastly I want to suggest that today's culture of death of which our Holy Father speaks, a culture that celebrates a woman's "right" to kill her unborn or near-born child, has its foundations in the cultural acceptance of birth control. Birth control separated the conjugal and procreative natures of the marriage act. Once this happened, the baby was seen as an inconvenience to be done away with. In fact, the pill and IUD act as abortifacients so in this case someone could not truthfully say they are pro-life and use the pill or an IUD.In Christ and Our Lady of Gaudalupe, Patroness of the Unborn,Terry

12.08.03   lindadic says:
It seems to me that natural family planning is different only in degree from artificial contraception--the idea is to avoid conception. Why use frequently ineffective means? I wonder why every act of intercourse should be open to the possibility of procreation. Since we have been given the ability to enjoy lovemaking, why must we assume that the enjoyment is necessarily a (positive but incidental) side effect? Why shouldn't enjoying sex with someone you love glorify God the way enjoying lots of other pleasures�eating fine cuisine for example�does? This does presume that sex and procreation can be separated; that is the benefit of "artificial" contraception. The brains to invent such contraception is also a gift from God, just as is the ability to cook very well. Eating whatever comes to hand (uncooked fruit, nuts, etc.) would be sufficient to keep us alive; sex to conceive would be sufficient to keep our species alive.

10.27.03   boreal says:
I've signed on here and am answering on impulse, because I thought you might be interested to hear from someone who's been using NFP for , um, 26 years. We have six children aged 25 to 13, our oldest child is now married and is a mommy herself with a 17 month old daughter. What I always point out to the couples at the marriage prep courses my husband and I lead is that - our youngest is 13. That's a lot of cycles where we didn't conceive.Our experience of learning NFP in the first place was even more haphazard than yours, about 6 months after we were married, we spontaneously relaized that using the Pill was wrong, flushed them down the toilet and pulled out our University biology text books to figure out some other method ourselves. We didn't know about NFP, had never heard about NFP and truly thought we were alone in thinking the way we did. It wasn't until after the (planned) birth of our first that I met someone who told us about a method. And it wasn't until nearly 15 years ago that we came across the Sympto Thermal Method that we were really comfortable with. I guess the main thing I'd like to tell you both is, besides that Yes, it works and it's the best thing you'll ever do for your marriages! - is that the nice thing about being counter cultural is that you get to teach it to your kids. They won't have nearly the hard time with it that you might, and teaching our children to respect life, their bodies and each other will go a long way towrds restoring a culture of life in oursociety. Do correspond with me directly if you'd like at and please excuse any spelling errors, for some reason the message screen is entirely black and I can only check what I've written by highlighting it...

10.08.03   LinuxTux says:
NFP does seem to be catching on. You just have to walk into Walmart or Target to figure that out. Alongside the pregnancy tests, I've seen fertility monitors and such. Thing is, companies won't call them NFP aids. They don't want to be associated with the Catholic method. Why? Because as the article implies, NFP is often mistaken for the outdated rhythm method that never worked too well. And another sad truth right now is that the Catholic Church isn't being viewed in the best light. When people hear "catholic", they think of the scandals, the Pope being sick, the news of the latest proposal from the Vatican, and the Pope strongly objecting to homosexuality. These things aren't going to help the secular world be ready to accept the Catholic method.

09.16.03   Godspy says:
Natural is in, and fertility awareness books are big sellers. So why hasn't Natural Family Planning (NFP) caught on? Did the author�s experience surprise you? Share your thoughts here.

09.15.03   Godspy says:
Month after month, my temperature rose and fell and my hormones marched in perfect harmony. I had no idea I was so beautiful.

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