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Natural Family Planning is not Catholic birth control

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Couple credits NFP for changed worldview
By Maria Wiering
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Chris and Christelle Hagen weren’t Catholic when they decided to use natural family planning instead of artificial birth control.

From left, Kateri-Anne, Chris, Christian-Samuel, Camille-Joy, Emilie-Rose and Christelle Hagen enjoy a nature walk near their Stillwater home. Understanding natural family planning has deepened the couple’s appreciation for children. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit
Christelle was initially attracted to NFP for health, not moral, reasons, she said. At first, Chris was surprised she didn’t want to use birth control pills, but he was happy to oblige.

Now, 13 years into their marriage, the Hagens, members of St. Michael in Stillwater, say using NFP has positively affected not only Christelle’s health, but also the way they view their marriage, intimacy and children.

NFP also opened the door to the couple’s exploration of the Catholic faith, and their eventual conversion to Catholicism from the Evangelical faith in 1999, said Chris, 34.

Learning to trust

Unlike contraception, which uses barriers or hormones to prevent the marital act from producing life or, in some cases, can act as an abortifacient, NFP ensures the couples’ marital act is always open to life. When a couple does not want to become pregant, they abstain from sex when the wife is fertile.

According to the Catholic Church, NFP is the only moral way to regulate pregnancies.

Christelle, 37, first learned of NFP while living with a Catholic family after college, and she explained it to Chris, whom she was dating. They made a decision to use NFP after they married.

But, out of fear of pregnancy, the Hagens used condoms during their honeymoon. A few nights later, however, they had a spiritual experience — something Chris said is difficult to describe.

“We both felt an intense amount of fear, we felt very vulnerable, and we both had the sense — we were experiencing this at the same time — that it was because we were using condoms,” he said.

They didn’t use a condom after that night and tried better to trust God, they said.

Their Evangelical church didn’t teach contraception was wrong, and initially, the Hagens thought that, while it was wrong for them, contraception wasn’t wrong for everyone, Christelle said.

They eventually changed their minds. Chris was persuaded by the fact that no Christian denominations approved artificial birth control until the 20th century. Although Christelle had already changed her mind, a miscarriage eight months after their wedding confirmed her beliefs, she said.

“That experience for me was really a turning point emotionally for NFP, because I realized more of what was at stake with sexuality — that it had incredible power to it, the power to create life, and after that, I’ve never looked back,” she said.

They started to teach NFP, which they did for eight years as a couple through Couple to Couple League. When Chris became too busy to co-teach, they retired from Couple to Couple League, and Christelle focused on her growing interest in childbirth and parenting.

Practicing NFP deepened their appreciation for children, they said, and today they have four, ranging in age from 2 to 9.

Open to God’s work

Four years ago, Christelle founded St. Croix Birth and Parenting, which offers education, resources and support for couples and families from conception through parenthood, according to its website, stcroixbirth.com.

As a certified childbirth and fertility educator, Christelle reaches out to people interested in NFP for health reasons while integrating Catholic truths about human dignity and sexuality, she said. While several NFP models focus on reaching Catholics, Christelle hopes to reach non-Catholics, too.

“Somehow, with sexuality, God can use it to actually deepen your spiritual life and take it in ways that we just can’t expect,” she said.

Although her curriculum incorporates Catholic teaching, Christelle isn’t trying to convert her clients to Catholicism, she said.

“I just want to help people to plan their families with integrity, to give birth with dignity, and to parent with joy — that’s my slogan,” she said.

Adam and JaNae Westrich, Baptist seminary students at Bethel University in St. Paul, contacted Christelle in order to learn more about childbirth and women’s health.

“I can sense that [Christelle] is going to be that type of person who is going to be that mentor, that counselor, that person who will be there with you through the whole process,” JaNae said.

Shortly after they began dating, Adam and JaNae discussed birth control and found that both were opposed to using it. JaNae was interested in NFP’s health benefits, and Adam was convinced of the immorality of artificial birth control because of reading he had done in college. They took NFP classes through Couple to Couple League when they were engaged.

The Westriches, both 30, have been married for two years, and although practicing NFP hasn’t always been easy for them, they consider it a blessing.

NFP encourages wives and husbands to track the wife’s fertility together, which increases the husband’s appreciation for his wife and her body, both Adam and Chris said.

“It’s the wisdom of God in [a woman’s] body,” Adam added.

Practicing NFP has deepened JaNae’s faith.

“[I’ve] noticed within my own spirituality that my ability to take that step of faith has increased, and my ability to trust God that his grace will be there has increased,” she said. “My ability to be open to life has increased.”

As someone who has taught NFP, Chris knows many couples who say practicing NFP has changed them, he said.

“It’s almost like there’s this letting go of this control factor,” JaNae added. “When you let go, you’re letting God decide, and you’re really putting that into his hands and letting him dwell in that space. Even if there are fears, you know that God is going to be there and provide.”

Natural family planning questions and answers

What is NFP?
An umbrella term for methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. The methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle. No drugs, devices or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy.

Why use NFP?
NFP reflects the dignity of the human person within the context of marriage and family life, promotes openness to life, and recognizes the value of the child. By respecting the love-giving and life-giving natures of marriage, NFP can enrich the bond between husband and wife.

Who uses NFP?
Any married couple can use NFP. A woman need not have “regular” cycles. NFP education helps couples to fully understand their combined fertility, thereby helping them to either achieve or avoid a pregnancy. The key to the successful use of NFP is cooperation and communication between husband and wife — a shared commitment.

What are the benefits of using NFP?
Both spouses are taught to understand the nature of fertility and work with it, either to plan a pregnancy or to avoid a pregnancy. Couples who use NFP soon learn that they have a shared responsibility for family planning. Husbands are encouraged to “tune into” their wives’ cycles and both spouses are encouraged to speak openly and frankly about their sexual desires and their ideas on family size.

Other benefits include:

» Low cost.
» No harmful side effects.
» Effective in spacing or limiting pregnancy.
» Can be used throughout the reproductive life cycle.
» Marriage enrichment and mutual understanding.
» Appreciation for the value of children.
» Fosters respect for and acceptance of the total person.
» Moral acceptability.

How effective is NFP?
When couples understand the methods and are motivated to follow them, NFP is up to 99 percent successful in spacing or limiting births.

— From the U.S. bishops website

Schedule of area NFP classes

From a doctor's perspective

Why is Dr. April Lind an NFP-only physician? Why does she think NFP offers emotional, physical and spiritual health benefits? Read: Plan your family naturally while embracing your divine design.

Yes, you are welcome here! Embrace life.

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