The word is getting out — natural family planning is not your parents’ rhythm method
When Kathy St.Hilaire got married in 1967, “rhythm” was the only natural family planning method available. “There was no one willing to teach it to you or help you with it or anything. I got a book,” she said.
Today, though, married couples have many more options for effective natural methods that allow them to plan the size of their families while staying true to church teaching about openness to new life and responsible parenthood.
And, unlike the rhythm method — often undependable because it relied on an “average” 28-day fertility cycle — the newer NFP methods using periodic abstinence are science-based and refined through ongoing research. These methods can be 97–99 percent effective if used correctly, according to the Natural Family Planning Program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“That means going to a class and learning it from someone who has used it,” said St.Hilaire, a member of Bellingham’s Church of the Assumption Parish and mother of six who has been teaching NFP for 30 years. “You have to follow the rules. It’s up to you as a couple if you cheat on those rules or not,” she added with a laugh.
Technology is even available to help couples who want to learn and use NFP methods. Some instructors in the Archdiocese of Seattle will teach a couple via Skype. And apps for computers and smartphones are available to allow a woman — or her tech-loving husband — to easily chart monthly fertility signs.
Still, “even using all the rules, you might get pregnant,” St.Hilaire said. “You have to give God at least 1 percent.”
In the following pages, meet three local couples practicing NFP.
John and Hollie Coalson. Photo: Courtesy Jamie Pace Photography
‘Challenging, but worth it’
John and Hollie Coalson
Sacred Heart Parish, Lacey
Married 14 years; five children, ages 4–12
When John and Hollie Coalson decided to become Catholics, they wanted to follow all the church’s teachings. So the parents of four began using natural family planning in 2008, during their RCIA process. Hollie first tried to learn NFP on her own over the Internet. “That didn’t work,” she said, and their fifth child was born.
Afterward, they discovered the Creighton Model and Hollie began working with a nurse by phone. But it wasn’t easy. “I was very frustrated because I had a brand-new baby and four kids,” Hollie said. “I can’t even believe I’m trying to do this,” she remembers thinking. Then Hollie started working with a parishioner who was being trained as a Creighton instructor.
It took about a year of charting Hollie’s cycles before she and John felt confident in recognizing her fertile and non-fertile times. Until then, “there were months on end that we couldn’t be intimate,” John recalled. It was a difficult teaching to follow at first, but “now that we’ve done it for so many years … this part of our faith is no longer the most challenging,” he said.
Their message for other couples? “There’s going to be some stretches of frustration, but it’s the right thing to do,” John said. “It’s challenging, but it’s worth it,” Hollie added.
Randy and Kristin Yoshimura. Photo: Courtesy Rachel Bauer
Accepting what God has in store
Randy and Kristin Yoshimura
St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Camas
Married 18 years; three children, ages 7–15
Kristin Yoshimura was a young teenager when her mother got her on the birth control pill. “I was part of the culture where everybody did that. You were on the fringe if you didn’t use birth control,” Kristin said.
After she and Randy married, they talked about contraception “countless times and he knew how much it bothered me,” Kristin said. Although Randy wasn’t Catholic, he supported Kristin’s desire to use natural family planning after their first child was born.
Now a Catholic, Randy realizes “when I follow what the church teaches, everything falls into place. It does seem like we’re closer because we know we’re doing what we should be doing,” he said. “Sometimes, of course, it’s a challenge.”
Kristin said Randy has always been loving and respectful toward her, but using NFP “just elevated that feeling for me and made me want to do more for him, outside of the intimacy.”
Although NFP can be very effective, Kristin remembers some fear before taking the leap, mostly wondering, “Can I be a good parent? Can I manage more children than I may have anticipated having?”
The decision to use NFP means “trusting the way God has made me completely,” said Kristin, who is a new NFP instructor at her parish. “We’re willing to accept whatever he has in store for us. That’s kind of exciting.”
Tom and Carrie Herring. Photo: Courtesy Clare Herring
‘God has designed our family’
Tom and Carrie Herring
Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish, Bremerton
Married seven years; four children, ages 4 months to 6 years
As college students preparing for marriage in Bellingham, Tom and Carrie Herring took a class in natural family planning required by their parish. “I knew we were going to do it and it would work, and God would work it out if it didn’t,” Carrie said.
NFP wasn’t a new idea to the couple. Tom, the oldest of 13 children, learned the general concept from his parents as a young teenager. “The church’s moral teaching on sexuality was never something foreign to me, or something which was difficult to accept,” he said.
Carrie learned about NFP while studying Pope John Paul II’s theology of the body in the Life Teen program at St. Michael Parish in Olympia. She went from thinking the church was “just archaic” in its view of contraception to understanding “why the church teaches what she does and the beauty of it.”
As it turns out, the 30-something couple have yet to use NFP to regulate their family size. Although Carrie notes her monthly fertility signs, “we’ve never felt the need to avoid or achieve a pregnancy,” she said. The only time she and Tom thought about it was after Carrie suffered a miscarriage during her first pregnancy.
Today, Tom and Carrie are part of the marriage prep team at their parish. They tell engaged couples that “openness to life can take many different forms for each family,” Carrie said — whether that means “many children, struggling with infertility, miscarriage, children with special needs, adoption or foster care.”
For the Herrings, having four children in six years hasn’t been a hardship. “That’s how God has designed our family and we’re happy with it.” Carrie said.
Natural family planning is a new apostolate at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Camas, where six parishioners have been trained in the Billings Ovulation Method and four are teaching other parishioners how to successfully use the method. Read about the new program.
Just what is NFP?
Natural family planning is an umbrella term for a variety of natural, science-based methods used to achieve or avoid pregnancies. Each method focuses on one or more signs of a woman’s fertility:
Cervical mucus methods: A woman observes changes in her cervical mucus to determine which days of the month she is most fertile. Examples: Billings Ovulation Method (boma-usa.org), Creighton Model (creightonmodel.com).
Sympto-thermal methods: Several signs of fertility, such as basal body temperature, cervical mucus and cervical changes are observed, charted and cross-checked to pinpoint ovulation. These methods are taught by groups such as the Couple to Couple League (ccli.org).
Sympto-hormonal method: Signs of fertility are used along with an ovulation predictor kit or fertility monitor that detects reproductive hormones in urine. Example: Marquette Model (nfp.marquette.edu).
Source: Natural Family Planning Program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org)
Isn’t NFP just ‘Catholic contraception’?
No. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains, couples who use chemical or barrier contraceptives “suppress their fertility, asserting that they alone have ultimate control over [the] power to create a new human life. With NFP, spouses respect God’s design for life and love. They may choose to refrain from sexual union during the woman’s fertile time, doing nothing to destroy the love-giving or life-giving meaning that is present.”
Source: Married Love and the Gift of Life, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Instructors and apps
Find a list of local NFP instructors at www.seattlearchdiocese.org/NFP. Some instructors teach by
Seven reasons to use NFP
It is natural, with no harmful side effects.
It can help achieve or avoid pregnancy.
It requires shared responsibility and cooperation.
It fosters communication.
It encourages respect for and acceptance of the total person.
It promotes marital chastity and
It honors God’s design for married love.
Adapted from www.usccb.org
NORTHWEST CATHOLIC – March 2014