Warning: Missing argument 2 for wpdb::prepare(), called in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/25090/domains/catholic.nowealthbutlife.com/html/wp-content/themes/canvas/functions/admin-functions.php on line 692 and defined in /nfs/c02/h01/mnt/25090/domains/catholic.nowealthbutlife.com/html/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1210
Catholic Life | Tag Archive | Natural Family Planning
Tag Archives: Natural Family Planning

Fertile Math

People don’t understand Natural Family Planning. One of the reasons that I wish more would follow Cardinal Sean and use the term Fertility Awareness is that “Fertility Awareness” combined with abstinence is not only a more intuitive way to understand the Church’s teaching, it is also helpful with understanding the reality of how NFP actually works.

Have you ever thought “NFP= surprise babies” or said something like “NFP was the best mistake I ever made?”

Or are you one of those who worries that NFP is misused, used with a contraceptive mentality, too effective at avoiding pregnancy, or over-taught to young couples who have no reason to use it?

If so, have you considered that perhaps you do not understand how NFP actually works? Yes, there can be the occasional purely miraculous surprise pregnancy with NFP. Yes some couples may struggle with separate (I cannot say “unrelated” because all of our life is interrelated) sins of selfishness while practicing periodic abstinence for the sake of avoiding pregnancy. But NFP itself inherently avoids both problems. How? Math.

The effectiveness of NFP is very closely matched to the determination of the couple to avoid pregnancy.

If one is very strongly motivated to avoid pregnancy, then it is likely that one will be willing not only to observe and faithfully chart multiple fertility signs, one will also be willing to accept significant abstinence.

If one desires to avoid pregnancy, but is somewhat less motivated, then one can skip charting in favor of methods that don’t require good records, chart poorly (noting observations on some, but not all days), track fewer fertility signs, or, the most classic of all: abstain less.

There are some people who are simply misinformed. They may mistakenly expect NFP to be 99% reliable for avoiding pregnancy without following the rules that allow for such a rate. Some examples:

The woman who is shocked to be pregnant when she thought she was being so conservative with NFP, even though she was not charting was probably either using the rhythm method or two-day method, or intuition, and while all of those are methods of NFP in the strictest sense, they are all methods where a “surprise” pregnancy shouldn’t be shocking.

The woman who is new to NFP and says that she “ovulated early” and was “not supposed to ovulate until 3 days later” than she did In reality, one has to chart cycles for 12 months before one can say anything about when one as an individual woman is “supposed” to ovulate. The whole “day 14″ thing is just a generalization. If one is depending on a theoretical view of when women generally ovulate,  then one is using the classic rhythm method and should expect a pregnancy within about 5 years of using it faithfully.

The woman who “must have ovulated twice, or something” This is the reason God invented thermometers. And cervixes. And patience. And fertility monitors. And diligent following of the rules of the BOM-based method if that is really what one wants to use. Though, if this is an issue for you then I can’t imagine why a woman with access to computers would want to only use one sign of fertility and ignore all the rest. But that is another issue.

The woman who carefully follows her 96% effective method only to find herself in the 4% who become pregnant This may be the result of starting  a method that assumes infertility for the first 6 days, and being one of the rare women who has cycles so short that this rule is inapplicable. Or it could be only making external observations of cervical fluid when you are a woman who really needs internal observations. Or it could be counting as infertile days prior to ovulation where there is no cervical fluid, even though it will start an hour later. These are not precisely the same as the previous cases, but the couples who choose to follow these methods need to be aware of the likelihood that they may indeed be the reasonable exceptions.

The man who does not know what rules were being followed, or even anything about his wife’s fertility cycles, he just knows that they were “using NFP to avoid” and she got pregnant These are always sad cases because they indicate the fact that, while NFP is never contraceptive, men can experience it in the same way that they experience contraceptive methods which are simply left to the wife to take care of. Men, for practical purposes, if you don’t understand the logic of where your wife is in her fertility cycle and why conception is unlikely, you should assume that it is likely.

Now, if you were one of the people on the other side, you should now have a slight inkling about what it is you were missing when it comes to assuming that NFP is selfishly overused. NFP requires a lot of dedication. In order for NFP to be used as an extremely effective tool for avoiding pregnancy, a couple must be willing to abstain a lot. Yes, NFP may be a good tool for avoiding pregnancy without a lot of work or abstinance for a few women for a few cycles, but eventually it takes both serious dedication to observing and charting fertility signs and significant abstinence.

If a couple does not have a good reason to avoid pregnancy, then it is highly unlikely that they will be willing to put in the diligent effort that it takes to practice NFP in a way that is highly effective. Not only is God always in charge of conception (or the lack thereof), fertility awareness + abstinence for avoiding pregnancy is specifically orientated toward being ineffective for those who do not have a serious reason to avoid pregnancy.

Ultimately the NFP equation of fertility awareness + abstinence =no pregnancy means that NFP is incredibly scalable in its effectiveness for avoiding pregnancy. Those who are seriously motivated to learn rigorous forms of NFP, and then continue to be motivated to chart faithfully and abstain as much as is necessary are incredibly unlikely to experience a surprise pregnancy. But those who are not willing to put forth the dedication and self-control will find NFP significantly less than “very effective” for avoiding pregnancy.

This is why it is incorrect to see NFP as either inherently ineffective or easy to misuse. NFP is both effective and challenging. And that is precisely why it is such a wonderful tool for a couple who seeks to follow the Church’s guidance in determining the number of children that is appropriate for their family.

Read full storyComments { 5 }

Let’s Talk About Fertility

I have a nice long post sitting around about Fertility Awareness/NFP and how it requires a lot of work/abstinence. But over the past few years I have become aware of the fact that others have a very different view of this than I do. It has also been 3-5 years since I was reading NFP studies and I am beginning to realize that I don’t remember as much as I’d like to think I do. So, this is a call for help.

In your experience, how many days in a typical cycle would you identify as fertile for the purpose of avoiding pregnancy? And by “identify as fertile” I mean abstain from sex on the day in question, not which days you’d guess were actually fertile once you were looking back on the completed chart after the cycle was over.

The second request is for you to provide studies that show how effective your method is for avoiding conception.

For instance, CCL cites a study that indicates a 99.6% method effectiveness for avoiding pregnancy. And when you look at the actual study you see that there was an average of 13 days per cycle that were identified as fertile and required abstinence.

Based on my understanding of NFP, there are 6 days per cycle that could really be fertile (sperm life + egg life), and an additional 3 days (to account for the possibility of double ovulation and to confirm that it was indeed ovulation– not merely a disturbance in temperature or cervical fluid building up to ovulation but then stopping without ovulation). That means that unless one is either counting on lower fertility (for instance, assuming that a woman will only have a few days of fertile cervical fluid so the sperm could only survive 2-3 days) or else taking chances with not really confirming ovulation, the minimum number of days a (blessedly healthy) woman can expect to identify as fertile is 9.

I recently re-read through the instruction manual for the method that Josh and I learned while engaged (the Cross-Check Method: think STM flirts with Marquette) with the goal of figuring out the least amount of abstinence possible for a healthy woman who was seriously determined to avoid pregnancy. After playing around with the various rules, the shortest that I could come up with was 10 days. A quick review of our practice charts (theoretical, not my body’s data) revealed that the shortest was, in fact, 10 days.

And I am just focusing in on the shortest possible length of time. I know quite well that for many women there will be many months where they must abstain for much longer if they are truly serious about avoiding conception.

So, help me out here. Does your experience or training indicate something else? Please, please, please do direct me to studies. At this point I am thinking that a week of abstinence may get many women a 90-95% method effectiveness rate for avoiding pregnancy, but I just can’t see how it would take less than 9 days to get to 99%.

What am I missing? I don’t want to be ignorant and say silly things in future posts. :-)

Read full storyComments { 20 }

Using NFP With a Contraceptive Mentality: Reality Check

For a while now I have thought that it does not make sense to talk of using NFP with a “contraceptive mentality.” After all, a contraceptive mentality must be based on the separation of procreation and pleasure in the conjugal act, and abstaining from both in order to avoid either obviously does not separate the two.

But it is only recently that I realized how far such a thing is from any reality that I have ever known. The only way that it makes sense for one to be concerned about others “using NFP with a contraceptive mentality” is if one sees children as burdens “oh, everyone must want to avoid children if possible and only good Catholics accept the difficulty of raising these troublesome beings!” and also does not enjoy sex “and it is so easy to abuse NFP since all you have to do is abstain from sex for a few weeks, and that is so easy to do!”

So I decided to do a thought experiment, or whatever it is they call these things, and consider what it would look like for couples to “use NFP with a contraceptive mentality.” I tried to call certain couples to mind with this experience. Unfortunately no one who actually uses NFP thinks that they do so with a contraceptive mentality (although there are certainly those more scrupulous individuals–typically women–who do ponder the issue frequently and seek to insure that they are perfectly discerning the just place of abstinence in their family planning). So I had to turn to those who had previously used NFP “with a contraceptive mentality” and repented from their evil ways.

Here are their stories. Do let me know how well they match with your world.

Katherine and John (Because NFP is abused by newlyweds)
As told by Katherine

For years I had dreamed of a candlelit winter wedding. Inspired by our parish’s 8pm Christmas Eve mass I pictured the church full of candles and twinkling lights and green trees. Only there would be red roses rather than poinsettias.

But then when I actually got engaged and started planning with my friend Melissa, she pointed out how tired I would be after a 7pm wedding and hours of the reception. It was a no-brainer, and I immediately started planning our lovely morning wedding. It was not as glorious as my dreams, but it was quite nice, and I knew that being married ::blush:: was more important than the wedding!

Unfortunately though, John was still Southern Baptist at that point. He prayed daily for the Lord to wait until after our honeymoon to come back. After we took NFP classes he also started praying for me to be infertile on our wedding night. He has always been a good man and accepted that we would not use contraception, but he still had the contraceptive mentality.

After the wedding we got to the inn around 4pm. I must have been tired, but barely noticed. But John, the new leader of our home, acted as if he would never consider making love since the chart showed ambiguous signs of fertility. I pointed out that a baby really would be nice, but he shook his head resolutely and reminded me that if I got pregnant then we could never afford to go on a cruise for our first anniversary.

Well, that solved it for me! I mean, goodness, who cares about a few more days of abstinence as long as it means one can avoid the burden of a baby who would cause one to miss out on a Caribbean cruise next year?

Regrettably, I sunk so quickly into my new husband’s contraceptive mentality that I did not even think of praying about the issue as we flopped down on the bed with the laptop to spend the evening researching cruise lines.

Since then, John has become Catholic and is now on the parish council. Whenever the diocese talks about adding an NFP requirement to the pre-Cana curriculum John is the first to write to the bishop to remind him that NFP will only be used contraceptively by newlyweds.

Beth and Gabriel (Because NFP is abused by young couples who think too much)
As told by Gabriel

Well, the problem is that Beth was a grad student. No, not that she had just started grad school, after all, her program wasn’t really that demanding, she totally could have completed it with babies and we were guaranteed health insurance. But she is a statistician, and was constantly immersed in numbers, without a break. So when she would come home at the end of the day it was all still numbers.

Things would start to heat up, and then she would stop and say “Gab, it’s 7.1268.” And I’d be like “blast it” and she’d be like “you know we decided together to not risk anything higher than a 2.6.” And I’d be like “well, it’s not like those numbers are really real. After all, you’ve just crunched the studies and your cycles for the past 5 years and your maternal history of fertility rates and gynecological records. But there could be something missing.” And she’s be like “I’m sure there is something missing, but this is the best info we have.” And I’d be like “you’re so right, why are we even having this conversation?”

And that was that. Honestly, I don’t think that we ever could have gotten over our sinful desire to control our fertility at that stage. It was just too hard. Things only got easier as we got older and had been married longer and started to see sex as something that couldn’t quite be planned on. Thank God for grace!

Ignatius and Felicity (Because NFP is abused by couples with many young children)
As told by Felicity

The contraceptive mentality has always been a problem in our marriage. We did not notice it at first because we really wanted babies. I had spent my whole life planning on being a mother of a large family. I could not wait to get started.

But after four babies in five years, Nate started to suffer from the sin of worry. He was overly concerned for me. He thought that we should just abstain in order to avoid another pregnancy while the baby was still in diapers. So we did. For months at a time. I still feel so guilty writing this. I have confessed it many times!

Eventually we were overcome by the call to be open to life. Our fifth child was conceived a year later. But we had already fallen into a pattern of sin. So it was so easy to continue. I am eternally thankful for the grace that came in Easter, 2008.

We had, of course, abstained through all of Lent. And it was obvious that I was fertile on Easter. We would have to keep abstaining through the Octave in order to continue as slaves to the contraceptive mentality. But Nate had been to confession a lot during Lent. His spiritual director urged him to mature spiritually and cast aside his sin of doubt. Filled with the grace of the Easter Vigil, we were blessed with the conception of our sixth baby who was born right before our eighth anniversary.

Thanks be to God

So, maybe my imagination just is not good enough, but in the world that I live in, most people like sex. A lot. And most of them are not so great at calculating a 10% chance of pregnancy (that is, having to deal with a baby in nine months) and then determining that they are going to abstain from sex at the moment in order to maximize their selfish pleasure years in the future.

And when it comes to “being open to life” it typically looks like engaging in sexual intercourse because the couple felt like it. It seems entirely odd to me to view those who choose to forgo sexual pleasure for the good of their family with suspicion and constant concern that they are “abusing” their right to abstain from sex.

For real.

And just a reminder in case anyone was only half-reading, these were not real stories. I made them up in response to the typical accusations of groups of people who “routinely abuse” NFP. You know, newlyweds never have just cause to avoid pregnancy and all that.

Read full storyComments { 30 }