He Said: Natural Family Planning, by Mark Voorheis
I was 24 years old and facing the reality that I would be practicing the “art” of Natural Family Planning with my wife for the next 20-25 years of my life. I was not thrilled. I wonder which seemed like a more significant ask on the part of the method: abstinence at certain times every month if we chose to avoid conception; or the prospect of being awakened by an alarm clock every single morning so my wife could take her temperature. As a young man entering into marriage, I viewed abstinence as the most challenging thing but, frankly, any requirement that has to be done daily is a challenge.
Twenty years later, the truth is that NFP is just as rewarding–and just as challenging–as it was when our priest required us to learn it in order to marry.
The first thing I remember that sold me on the idea behind NFP was a conversation I had with a friend who was a few years older and already married. I shared some of my concerns about NFP with her. She told me an honest story about the struggles with contraception that she and her husband had early in their marriage. They were initially using the birth control pill. She explained how she slowly grew resentful of her husband, and how after a few years she started to feel like the “job” of birth control was laid squarely on her shoulders, while he had no such responsibility and simply enjoyed the benefits. I must say, her husband was a solid guy; no slacker with responsibility and not one to take his wife’s concerns lightly. But not knowing what real alternatives they had, she simply kept silent while the resentment towards her husband grew.
Their story ends happily. When she did share her feelings with her husband, they discussed their alternatives. They learned about NFP and started to study the method. What happened next was not magic, but basic human psychology. Once they started studying and practicing the method, they started talking with each other. They communicated about their family. How big was it? How easy or difficult was life right now? Was it the right time to have more children? Should they stop abstaining and try to conceive?
Ultimately, their experience revealed the most significant benefit of NFP–It is not solely in the science, but in the communication that NFP fosters between couples. That is a powerful tool for building a strong family, regardless of family size.
She said: Natural Family Planning, by Erin Voorheis
I picked the Catholic faith. Or it picked me. I converted to Catholicism from being raised without a faith, in a feminist, pro-choice household. And I converted as a single woman, at the age of 28, after much study. I have a tendency towards order and control, and I like to know all of my options before I choose anything. I made a careful consideration of the faith, and chose it. In all of my learning, I knew the church was against contraception. What I didn’t know was what it was in favor of—or how to let go and trust in God’s plan.
I learned what the church believes about birth control and about trusting God’s infinite wisdom about two years after I converted, met my future husband, and began dating him. During our marriage preparation, our priest told us we would be going to a class in Natural Family Planning. I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to be anything that would work for us but, as someone who had contracepted before becoming Catholic, I wasn’t thrilled about any of the other methods out there for preventing children. I wanted to find some method that gave me total control over our family. In hindsight, I was looking for a birth control method that would impose order on the seemingly random nature of fertility.
As we learned NFP and used the practice over the years, I began to see life differently. I learned the cycles that my body goes through every month and began to see a pattern, where before I only saw random events seemingly strung together on a calendar. I could see my temperature rise and fall, and cross check that with other symptoms to understand what phase my body was in. That gave us an understanding of when we could conceive children.
Over time, I became less anxious about “preventing children” and controlling when we had children. I understood that there is a fairly small window of time when I was able to conceive and that I could predict when that would arrive. NFP also had Mark and me talking. We were talking about when to have children, how many to have and why we were either avoiding pregnancy or trying to conceive. I suppose it’s no surprise that after learning how my body worked and communicating with my husband and with God, I felt a lot more comfortable about having children.
After the birth of our first two children we were hoping for more children—at least one more, but preferably two. We conceived and then subsequently miscarried. With all of my learning and predicting, I had to learn, again, that God is in control, not me. Mark and I talked and prayed some more. I was particularly worried that we wouldn’t be able to have more children—and still felt the need to control how many there would be and how they would be spaced. We prayed about adopting, and that seemed to lead nowhere. We showed up for an informational meeting, and it had been cancelled but we’d never received that cancellation email. We weren’t conceiving, and Mark suggested that maybe we were meant to have two children and use the extra love we had to foster other children–or in volunteer work. I didn’t want that. I wanted what I wanted, which was to conceive another child. I continued to pray for God’s help to make me desire what He had in store for me and for me to accept the wonderful gifts we were given. We kept praying and talking and seeking to know what God wanted us to do. Eventually, we ended up conceiving, and our doctor asked us to have an early sonogram.
This appointment marked a point where we both began turning our lives over to God’s will and trusting that He knows best. The sonogram technician saw two healthy babies—twins! So much for any illusion that I had about controlling the size of my family or having children spaced “just so.” At that point, with the talking and the praying and the practice of NFP firmly instilled in our hearts, we marched on to become parents of a family that doubled in size in an instant. I’d love to tell you that we stepped gracefully into that role, but of course we didn’t. What I can tell you is that we continue to use NFP, to talk to each other, and to pray to God for guidance. We also try to remember that He’s in charge, and His plans are so much better than any we could create.
Erin and Mark Voorheis, longtime friends of Tepeyac and Divine Mercy Care, have learned to value their use of Fertility Awareness Methods of Natural Family Planning—and to wish everyone knew what they’ve learned about this healthful, natural, effective lifestyle.