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NFP: Our Gift to Each Other

Many have often misconstrued Natural Family Planning (NFP) as “Catholic Contraception”. But far from it, NFP is a couple-orientated method of family planning that respects the love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (procreative) nature of the conjugal act, which supports God’s design for married love.

In Pope St John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”, he taught about the marital love being “free, total, faithful and fruitful”.

NFP is thus a set of methods, which includes the Billings Ovulation Method (which is taught by the NFP team in Singapore), Sympto-Thermal Method and the Creighton Model System of FertilityCare (CrMS) that allows the married couple to experience the joy God has intended for them.

In God We Trust

When Oliver Lee and Estelle Goh were first introduced to Natural Family Planning (NFP), it was during their preparation towards marriage. At first they were slightly apprehensive about the way in which NFP was being practised, given the number of couples that had used it and ended up with more children than they had desired.

Oliver and Estelle had met nine years previously when they were both members of Church of St Francis Xavier’s youth community. As they transitioned together to the Catholic Spirituality Centre (“CSC”), they started thinking more profoundly about how they were going to live out their married life and the realities of starting a family. Journeying with a mentor couple and a priest during their marriage preparation, they gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of NFP. They began to realise that it wasn’t just a family planning tool, but that there was a much deeper significance behind it. NFP was to form an integral part of their couple spirituality. They came to understand that, in order to live their faith authentically, they needed to walk the talk, that their insides, as it were, must match their outsides. They agreed that even the most intimate part of their marriage, their sexuality, had to be in line with the teachings of the Church. So they had to find out more about NFP and learn how to actively practise it in their marriage, not just in the early stages but throughout their child-bearing years. After two years of marriage, they have just welcomed a baby daughter.

We interviewed the couple to find out how they are coping with NFP and what lessons they can impart to fellow Catholic married couples.

What is your motivation for practising NFP?

Oliver: We felt, being a Catholic couple, that we couldn’t cherry pick the teachings of the Church and just follow those that were convenient to apply in our lives. We needed to embrace everything, no matter how hard it might be. Sure, it is easier to simply take contraception like how the world tells us to, however this would not allow us to grow to love freely and fully.

Estelle: My motivation in practising NFP would definitely be my walk with God and my faith. Having encountered the Lord so powerfully in my daily life inspires me to desire for God’s plans for my marriage. In the process of journeying with our mentor couple during our marriage preparation, I was very encouraged by the spaciousness NPF gave to couples to communicate their needs honestly and also allow God to have room to do what He wills.

What has NFP taught both of you about marital love and human sexuality in the context of the Church?

Estelle: It has taught us to be more patient. We live in a society where needs are immediately gratified. NFP has taught us how to wait, especially when we are to abstain during my fertile window. We don’t plan for another child right now so we need to control our desires during the times we wished to be intimate. Having to wait challenges you to question why you are waiting and whether you are willing to wait for what you believe in. It’s purposeful waiting, I would say. Making love as an act is the celebration of the love between us and the waiting fosters deeper intimacy and allows us to experience sex in a different, deeper way. It’s not just the physical act. It transcends that for us. As a result, I appreciate it that much more when it does happen and treasure that intimate time together as something precious.

Oliver: NFP has also taught us that sex is not just about needs and pleasure but about learning there is a larger purpose to sex in marriage. It’s a combination of the unitive part and the procreative part. This is the whole essence of NFP, not to divide the both. It has to come as union and procreation and it’s about always being open to life. It’s a different kind of foreplay. It has made us more aware of each other’s feelings and where we are at. I find myself asking her, “Do you want to have sex?” rather than just forcing myself on her. Thanks to NFP, we now have a deeper level of communication. We always talk about it first. If she is unsure, she has an avenue to say she is not ready. This gives us space to be honest with each other and this can then lead to other conversations that allow us to be vulnerable. This has strengthened our marriage and has enabled us to find another way to connect rather than just physically. For me as a man, having gone through the Theology of the Body, I learned that you shouldn’t use people. But for a guy, the struggle with lust is real. When you get married, contrary to what some of our other friends have encouraged – to have sex regularly to satiate one’s urge, NFP has helped me to be conscious of not using her for that. My wife is a gift that God has given me to love and not to use.

How has NFP opened your eyes to God’s plan for both of you as a married couple?

Estelle: When we got married two years ago, I had no pressing need to be a mother yet. I mean, I was open to it, but it wasn’t a priority for me. Then I had a miscarriage last year, and this awakened my desire for motherhood. Up until then I never knew there was that part of me. If not for NFP, I would not have conceived our angel baby. Oliver and I would have probably put off having children for a longer while as we were very devoted in our ministry to young adults in CSC and felt that we were already bearing fruits in our marriage there. God had used NFP to reveal and convert our hearts to this other facet of our marriage that we were blind to at that point in time.

When I got pregnant again, though it was unplanned, our daughter was certainly not unwanted. Although she came sooner than we had expected, we realised that since God had given us this child, He must have thought we were up to it! NFP really fostered in us a spirit of self-donation and I loved that God gave us this opportunity to grow closer when we sacrificed our need for control and autonomy when we had our daughter.

Oliver: Yes, NFP has helped me submit to God’s plan as you hand over the control you desire for your life over to God. It’s not just our decision anymore. It’s scary to not be in control, but we appreciate partnering with God for our marriage. While I may be the man of the household, we allow God to take control and decide what is best for our family. After all, God’s plan for us is the best, and definitely better than our own.

What sort of difficulties/setbacks do you face practising NFP?

Estelle: Definitely for me it is the charting, community support and trusting in God. We struggle with post-partum charting as I am presently breastfeeding and my body is resetting itself. There is a real fear that I may misinterpret or erroneously chart my symptoms and we are in the midst of seeking help from an NFP instructor to learn how to chart postpartum. This help has given us more confidence in charting.

There is also a severe lack of community support and conversation in our Catholic circle. We are very blessed to have close friends who are a married couple that we can share openly and honestly with whenever we struggle with NFP, however sometimes that is limited.

At one point, I put my struggles out there on Instagram as it was World NFP Awareness Week. I did this as I noticed that there wasn’t really a conversation going on around NFP so I wanted to start one. I feared as I pressed “post” that I might get a lot of negative reaction, or at best that I shouldn’t be discussing something so intimate about my personal life. I was pleasantly surprised by the reactions and support I received. People either messaged to say they identified with what I was going through or they wanted to know more.

That encouraged me to keep the conversation going. I ended up with a group of ladies coming to my home to talk more and exchange experiences. We all shared
our challenges and prayed together. A common thread that came out in our conversations was that it is hard to trust your body. As a woman, you have to be diligent in charting and you have to get your husband onboard. That’s all good in theory, but living it out is another thing. You need to figure the charting thing out and if you feel unsure, the fear of getting pregnant tends to override. On top of that, our friends have had mixed experiences – they got pregnant when they weren’t planning to or ended up with children spaced too far apart, which wasn’t their ideal plan.

At the end of the day, I believe it all bows down to my trust in God. Learning to trust that He knows better than Oliver and I do and that He would not give me more than I can handle.

Oliver: For me, as a husband, the challenge is in finding a meaningful way to participate in the process. I try to be supportive when I can’t really be as involved in the charting process. When she struggles or gets tired, I will be the one to continuously encourage her and also remind us of why we have chosen this for our marriage. The fight against lust and using her is also a very real battle for me. Again, in a time of quick fixes and instant gratification, the desire to want to have sex on demand is real. However, checking in with Estelle about it, praying together and cleaning the house has helped me to overcome the challenge positively.

One good thing that has come of NFP is that in trying to understand her menstrual cycle, Estelle sought medical advice about the spotting she was experiencing between her periods. If it hadn’t been for NFP, she would have gone on thinking it was a normal part of her cycle. Luckily, she was able to get timely treatment, so I believe there is always a method in God’s plan and that NFP is also beneficial medically.

What sort of misconceptions do you/your friends have about NFP?

Oliver: A lot of our friends warn us that NFP doesn’t work since they got pregnant using it. They will also say that it is not natural and that it is in fact counter intuitive to suppress your desires. They also claim that it is not a realistic practice, given the high cost of living in Singapore and that you should be able to plan exactly how many children you can afford to have and when.

Estelle: I think the issue is that NFP is not taught well and is often confused with the outdated “Rhythm Method”, and you don’t really become educated on it unless you intentionally seek that education out. Some common misconceptions I’ve heard from my friends are that NFP is another means of contraception
(a rather inconvenient one) and not a good one at that. Some say that using NFP is a sin since it’s a form of contraception. Then they justify by saying that since you are sinning anyway by controlling how many children you will have, you might as well use the conventional means of contraception and at least be safe from the risk of pregnancy. It saddens me to hear this because NFP is not in any way a form of contraception.

Having done our own research, attending talks and speaking to people who have practised NFP consistently, even those that don’t use it correctly (for example one couple we heard of have five children, three of whom were unplanned) still feel it has blessed their marriage. So we see them continuing to do so and promoting it to other couples. This has been very encouraging to witness as a young married couple.

That said, I still have about another 25 or so child-bearing years to go and that’s a lot of room for God to work! So we are just hoping that our desire to remain authentic in our love for one another will keep us moving forward on our NFP journey.

Estelle: I think the issue is that NFP is not taught well and is often confused with the outdated “Rhythm Method”, and you don’t really become educated on it unless you intentionally seek that education out. Some common misconceptions I’ve heard from my friends are that NFP is another means of contraception
(a rather inconvenient one) and not a good one at that. Some say that using NFP is a sin since it’s a form of contraception. Then they justify by saying that since you are sinning anyway by controlling how many children you will have, you might as well use the conventional means of contraception and at least be safe from the risk of pregnancy. It saddens me to hear this because NFP is not in any way a form of contraception.

Having done our own research, attending talks and speaking to people who have practised NFP consistently, even those that don’t use it correctly (for example one couple we heard of have five children, three of whom were unplanned) still feel it has blessed their marriage. So we see them continuing to do so and promoting it to other couples. This has been very encouraging to witness as a young married couple.

That said, I still have about another 25 or so child-bearing years to go and that’s a lot of room for God to work! So we are just hoping that our desire to remain authentic in our love for one another will keep us moving forward on our NFP journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Natural Family Planning?

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a general name for family planning methods that are based on a woman’s menstrual cycle. NFP methods are based on day-to-day observations of the naturally occurring signs of the fertile and infertile phases of the menstrual cycle. It takes into account the uniqueness of each woman. Generally speaking, a man is fertile throughout the reproductive phase of his life, while a woman is fertile for only a few days each cycle during the childbearing years. A woman experiences clear, observable signs that show when she is fertile and infertile. To postpone pregnancy, the couple abstains from intercourse during the fertile phase. Couples can also use NFP to achieve pregnancy because it identifies the time of ovulation.

2. Who can use NFP?

Any married couple can use NFP. A woman need not have regular cycles. The key to successful NFP use is cooperation and communication between husband and wife.

3. How effective is NFP?

NFP can be very effective, depending on how strongly motivated the couple is and whether they follow the rules of the method. Couples who carefully follow all the rules to avoid pregnancy can achieve a success rate of 97-98%.

4. What are the benefits of using NFP?

a) Shared responsibility by husband and wife
b) Virtually cost-free
c) No harmful side effects
d) Can be used throughout childbearing years
e) Can be used in special circumstances such as post-partum, breastfeeding and premenopause

5. Where can I get more information on NFP training?

For more information on NFP and their training, please call 9106 1990 or email: enquiry@naturalfamilyplanning.sg

Adapted from foryourmarriage.com

Archdiocesan Commission for the Family

Archdiocesan Commission for the Family