25 – 31 July 2021 is Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, a national educational campaign by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meant to celebrate and reverence God’s vision of human sexuality. The dates highlight the anniversary of Pope St Paul VI‘s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968) which articulates Catholic beliefs about human sexuality, conjugal love, and responsible parenthood.
In honor of NFP Awareness Week, Central Coast Catholic is proud to present this exclusive piece by Sheila St John, CFCP. Sheila is a Certified FertilityCare Practitioner (CFCP) and the Executive Director of the California Association of Natural Family Planning who has been teaching NFP in the Diocese of Monterey in California for 39 years. First drawn to NFP as a healthy way to plan families, drug and device free, Sheila’s passion for the topic has grown as she has witnessed its many benefits in the lives of the 800 couples she has personally instructed in its use.
The California Association of Natural Family Planning is a state-wide non-profit that provides information on the healthy, effective methods of NFP through state-wide conferences, exhibits, website, newsletters, and presentations.
Nota bene: The names in the following are fictional to respect confidentiality, but the people and their stories are real.
I Just Wish Someone Had Told Me This Sooner
Couples who come to learn Natural Family Planning are as varied as their reasons for using it, but one
sentiment is almost universal—why didn’t anyone tell me about this before?
Maria and Gustavo came to learn NFP after four gut wrenching years trying to start a family. Their
diagnosis was “unexplained infertility” and the only solution offered was IVF. Their research revealed
surprisingly low success rates for IVF, a procedure they found ethically and aesthetically concerning, at a
financial cost that would propel them deeply into debt. They were growing despondent, as the years
continued to tick by, of ever fulfilling their desire to become parents.
Jane and Julius heard an NFP teacher present during their Engaged Encounter. Satisfied with their
current birth control, and overwhelmed with planning their wedding, it took them almost a year to
Ali and John had used the pill to avoid pregnancy ever since their youngest, now a teenager, was
born. One day, a couple going through the RCIA program they were leading in their Catholic parish,
asked them why the Church teaches birth control is a sin, and they found themselves struggling to
articulate a response. That started Ali and John on a path of discernment that would change their lives.
Rose and Jim had three children in their first five years of marriage, spacing them with a combination
of breastfeeding, their own guesses about fertile days, and an occasional condom. Feeling uneasy about
using condoms, they invited the priest who married them over for dinner, to seek clarification of Church
teaching. Father told them the Church teaches you must be open to life in your marriage—but assured
them they had already demonstrated they were by having three children, so whatever they did now was
fine. That advice confused them.
What did each of these couples’ experience when they eventually came to learn NFP?
Maria and Gustavo have only been learning NFP for a few months, but due to the insights they gleaned
already from charting her cycles, and a consult with a physician trained in NaPro Technology (a medical
approach which utilizes the very detailed information the charting provides to restore health and normal
function), they now have a diagnosis for the cause of their infertility, and have begun treatment that is
ethical, restorative, affordable, and proven to be even MORE effective than the IVF they were
previously offered. For the first time in many years, they are filled with hope.
Jane and Julius sought out the NFP teacher who presented during their preparation for marriage. They
continued to avoid pregnancy, using this healthier, more effective, natural alternative, while they
pursued the financial security they desired before starting a family. As they integrated NFP into their
marriage, they started to examine some of their priorities, becoming more aware of how the cultural
messages of “responsibility” and “success” had informed their values and attitudes toward accepting
children into their lives. Little by little, shining the light of their faith on their love and life-giving
decisions, they grew in their appreciation of children as a blessing, which they are now opening
themselves to receive.
As Ali and John researched what the Catholic Church teaches about contraception, they gulped to
discover it is indeed a distortion of their marital covenant, and yes, that inquiring couple in their RICA
class was right, a sin. With much anxiety but determined to align their expression of their marriage with
God’s design for it, they threw out the pills, and found out there was an NFP class right there in the
parish. They feared pregnancy, and yet rationalized that at their age, and after almost 20 years on the
pill, it seemed unlikely. Perhaps that undermined their diligence to avoid a pregnancy, and they did
indeed conceive. They were simultaneously overwhelmed at the prospect of “starting over” with a new
baby, and at peace that their faith had led them to open themselves to this gift. Indeed, that child has
been a gift not only to those parents, but the almost grown siblings he joined in that family.
And what about Rose and Jim? That priest’s advice, while meant to be compassionate, simply did not
resonate in their hearts as true. After much searching, they found an NFP class, and used what they
learned to space their children, adding several more to their family over the years. They found that by
embracing their faith in this one aspect of their life, it grew in many other ways as well. Jim had always
attended Mass with Rose, but now was baptized and initiated into the Catholic faith. Excited about what
they discovered in NFP, and frustrated it was so hard to find, Rose pursued training to become an NFP
This may not be the article you expected, on the blessings of NFP. Is this what successful use of NFP
looks like? Taking a leap of faith only to be surprised by a pregnancy? Is it a good sale’s pitch to include
someone who had a bunch of kids using NFP? Did the infertile couple become pregnant?
Oh, there are stories aplenty of couples using effectively to avoid, in quite serious situations, over
decades of marriage. Stories of becoming pregnant using NFP, after failed IVF, that would leave the
most stoic among us in tears. They are plentiful, because NFP is effective, for both avoiding pregnancy,
and achieving pregnancy. Simply put, it works.
But the real story of NFP, is in the impact on our lives, when we invite God into our marriage bed. We
embark on a journey, with twists and turns and blessings we did not even know were possible. It is not a
journey without challenges, but like any faith venture, it is filled with profound joy and blessings beyond
what we could imagine for ourselves.
And part of the story, is the role one person played, in each of these couples finding NFP. Programs,
priests, parishes, and dioceses, all have crucial responsibilities in providing NFP resources. But most
people will only find those resources, through the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the people placed in
their lives. This month, we celebrate National NFP week. I invite all to seek out a better understanding of
NFP, for yourself, but also because you may be that one person the Holy Spirit uses, to invite someone
on this journey, lest they too experience the regret, of just wishing someone had told me this before.
Sheila St John, CFCP