BY ELIZABETH WONG
A growing trend among married couples who wish to achieve or postpone a pregnancy without contraceptives or other artificial methods is the use of natural family planning.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ web page on natural family planning, the term NFP refers to different methods of fertility awareness used to achieve or postpone a pregnancy, by observing symptoms from a woman’s fertile and infertile phases.
There are numerous methods of natural family planning, but the most common methods include the Billings Ovulation Method, the Creighton Fertility Care model, and the Sympto-Thermal Method.
“(NFP) makes the marriage stronger,” said Dr. Hanna Klaus, who has taught the Billings Ovulation Method of natural family planning since 1973.
She explained that using natural family planning not only helps couples determine whether to postpone or achieve a pregnancy, but it helps the spouses learn to respect each other in their identity as man and woman.
The Billings Method, founded in 1953 and one of the first widespread methods of natural family planning, is a mucus-only method, relying on the changes in the woman’s cervical mucus to detect rises and falls in fertility during her cycle.
“We keep it very simple,” said Klaus. “But any (of the methods)—if the couple learns correctly—will have high reliability.”
This method, which is approved in more than 120 countries as a successful family planning technique, was the topic of a World Health Organization study from 1978 to 1981.
The Creighton Fertility Care model is an expanded version of mucus-only methods. Often associated with NaPro Technology, which assists women in maintaining reproductive and gynecological health via the Creighton methods, this model pays close attention to the consistency and appearance of the woman’s cervical mucus.
The Creighton model’s advantages include placing responsibility on both spouses equally, as its website explains, “To use this system successfully, it is necessary to make accurate observations and to chart them correctly… Also, the couple should be mutually motivated in its use and enter into it with a loving and cooperative spirit.”
This method, like the Billings method, records the woman’s cycle with multicolored stickers on a chart to identify the different phases of her cycle.
Oftentimes, if a woman detects an irregularity with her chart, she is able to contact doctors who practice NaPro Technology, and receive a consultation on whether she should receive a natural hormonal supplement or surgery to assist her fertility.
The third available option in the Steubenville area is the Sympto-Thermal Method, promoted by the Couple to Couple League. This method combines the traditional mucus-monitoring method with checking basal body temperature and changes in the cervix.
“CCL’s approach is quite unique in that married couples provide the instruction,” said Vicki Braun, a Couple to Couple League consultant. “In so doing, they also witness to the effect natural family planning has had on their own marriage; married couples provide complementary instruction that helps both the men and the women identify with their own gender.”
The couple checks and records the woman’s basal body temperature with an oral thermometer every morning at the same time. Because a woman’s basal temperature levels rise and fall according to the amounts of hormones in her system throughout her cycle, the temperature signs cross-check with the cervical mucus signs.
Braun explained that it is up to the couple’s individual discernment to determine whether it is an appropriate time to conceive a child, and that “all couples practicing NFP are called to this discernment.”
“If they determine that it is best to postpone pregnancy for a time, periodic abstinence is required,” she said. “This requires discipline and self-mastery of the sexual urges and can actually help build marriages. In that context then it could also be a great way to gain graces for the couple’s marriage.”