Catholic News Service
“It was shocking for us how it worked,” said Aryn and Sean Sylvester, referring to their use of natural family planning (NFP) in the early days of their marriage, some 16 years ago.
Just four months prior to their wedding day, the Phoenix-based couple realized that “we wanted to do something to provide for the spacing of births and postpone pregnancy, but we did not want to do anything artificially.”
Raised as Catholics, they knew the Catholic Church’s teaching on NFP “on some level,” but didn’t know where to turn. After connecting with an instructor, they learned the sympto-thermal method, which involves monitoring and charting a woman’s fertility indicators such as cervical mucus and basal body temperature.
“Basically, we just embraced it — as scary as it was,” said Aryn, “it was just one of those leaps of faith.”
“We started talking about a subject we had never talked about,” she admitted. “We started talking about sexual intimacy right away because you kind of have to.”
For the couple, the experience has been transformative. “It changed our perspective of what love is,” said Aryn. “Lines of communication opened way up,” said Sean, and it “changes the dynamic of the relationship” and how you view your spouse. “We approach things from a united perspective.”
Good communication has likewise been a happy result of using NFP for Beth and Kevin Mitchell, a couple from La Crosse, Wisconsin, married 13 years.
“It opens up your communication line, which in turns open up to the spiritual factor,” said Kevin. Beth said the practice “helps remind me on a monthly or daily basis that God’s in control — he’s in control of my body and our relationship.”
“So often I get the question from my family: Are we having (more) kids? How many are we going to have? Things that I don’t have the answer to because we leave a lot of that up to God,” explained Beth. “We let God have a hand in that say.”
And God has had a say. The Mitchells first turned to NFP two years into their marriage when they wanted to have children — a testament to the fact that NFP works in two ways: achieving or postponing pregnancy.
A 2003 study examining the sympto-thermal method found that 80 percent of couples seeking to achieve pregnancy conceived during the first six cycles of a woman’s reproductive cycle.
Now, five children later, the Mitchells are “more intensely following the rules” and appreciating the challenge of showing “physical closeness without being sexually intimate.”
“I don’t think society today appreciates that’s even possible,” said Beth, but it’s something she values. “Knowing that anytime Kevin wants to rub my back doesn’t have motives behind it; it’s just because he loves me.”
All NFP methods require a period of abstinence for couples avoiding pregnancy, which proves difficult for some. The Sylvesters refer to abstinence as a type of “fasting” that’s “automatically built” into their marriage, and was “an area of struggle for us in the beginning.”
But with fasting comes spiritual gains, and the couple call abstinence “one of the great benefits of NFP.”
“Abstinence is not easy,” said Aryn Sylvester, but “it changes the way you look at your spouse. It can rekindle things.” And, her husband added, “it forces you to relate to your spouse in a way that you might not be used to. It can become more acute or more in your face, after you’ve been married longer.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “these methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them and favor the education of an authentic freedom” (No. 2370).
One person using a device or taking a pill, said Beth Mitchell, “will not foster any ‘mutual-ness’ like this does. It’s a partnership versus one person being a gatekeeper.”
(Follow Capizzi on Twitter: @annamcapizzi.)
For more information on natural family planning, visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website: www.usccb.org/nfp/index.cfm
To learn about the sympto-thermal method, visit the Couple to Couple League’s website: https://ccli.org/
To learn about the Billings Ovulation Method and take online classes, visit: https://learnnfponline.com/
To learn the Creighton Model and find fertility care centers, visit: http://www.fertilitycare.org/
To read about NFP methods that use hormonal tests (sympto-hormonal) like the Marquette method, see: http://nfp.marquette.edu
To watch a video series on marital love and responsible parenthood, available in Spanish and English, visit: http://www.loveandparenthood.com/
For a summary of Catholic teaching on the moral prohibition of some assisted reproductive technologies see: www.usccb.org/nfp/catholic-teaching/upload/Life-Giving-Love-in-an-Age-of-Technology-2009-2.pdf