Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Natural Family Planning should be Mandatory in Marriage Preparation

With Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week coming up (July 24-July 30), we wanted to share a few thoughts on NFP.  As a teaching couple, we have heard many arguments for and against NFP and whether or not it should be a mandatory part of marriage preparation.  One of the great misunderstandings concerning NFP is that many individuals consider its purpose to be only a natural method to avoid pregnancy.  Now, NFP is extremely useful and efficient in this regard, but in reality, learning about NFP and Fertility Awareness is so much more than simply learning how to avoid pregnancy.  So let us look at a few reasons why learning NFP is so important in our day and age.

Medical Benefits
The simple act of charting can have immense medical benefits for the woman.  Both in our medical experience and in our Natural Family Planning course, we have seen many women who have experienced tremendous paybacks as a result of recording their fertility signs.  And this experience is not simply ours alone.  One only needs to talk to all of the women who have been helped by Dr. Hilgers at the Pope Paul VI Institute to find out how the act of charting opened the doors to cures and solutions of their cycle and pregnancy related medical issues.  Whether using the Creighton Model, the Symptothermal or any other method, a couple who is charting can detect hormonal imbalances, infertility, nutritional deficiencies, cancers, and a variety of cycle issues.  These same couples, through charting, can reduce their need for unnecessary interventions during an infertility workup, or during pregnancy.  Consider that if a couple knows the date of conception through charting, a very accurate due date can be determined.  This saves the couple from needing an ultrasound to determine the due date, and can save many dangerous interventions at the end of the pregnancy since the parents and physician can know with great accuracy when to expect the baby.  If a couple who had a history of charting,  were to consult a physician due to difficulties with either the woman’s menstrual cycle or achieving pregnancy, so much more information can be made available to the doctor.  Without this information, the doctor may not be able to offer as much assistance, or require the woman to undergo many invasive procedures in order to ascertain the root cause of the problem.

Formation of the Lost Sheep
It is obvious that the knowledge of NFP can be truly helpful to many couples experiencing medical difficulties. This is not the only reason, however that we feel that the message of NFP is so badly needed.  The sad reality of today is that, out of those couples who wish to be married in the Church, an overwhelming majority of them are already cohabitating and on the pill. There has been a huge gap in the moral formation of the past two generations and their views on sexuality have been largely formed by the secular culture. The results of this influence have been disastrous. During the morality sections of our class, we have a unique opportunity in reaching out to these couples to educate them in the truth and beauty of human sexuality and to encourage them to embrace God’s design for marriage. Once they understand their dignity as human persons and the nature of love, they begin to see children as a much desired blessing rather than a terrible burden. As in any type of conversion, changing a person’s view on sexuality is a process. We have seen time and again how the Holy Spirit does work in miraculous ways on the hardest of hearts through the message of NFP and watched as relationships have transformed before our very eyes. Many couples have even expressed outrage that no one had ever told them these things before. Through our students we have recognized a burning desire for this message, and a readiness to challenge the unsatisfying lies of the world.  For the majority of those couples, they never would have been exposed to the fullness of the teaching of the Church, had their pastor not required it for their marriage preparation. 

Achieving Pregnancy
Recent studies have shown that 80% of couples who use a fertility awareness method to time intercourse will conceive within 6 months of trying, and over 90% by 12 months.  Dr. Hilgers has shown in his work that 98% of couples in one study were pregnant within one year.  Studies have also shown that at the end of 3 years, over 60% of couples with subfertility will conceive if they use a fertility awareness method.   This has a better efficacy (and lower cost) than IVF and many of the other assisted reproductive technologies.

In today’s society, where children are viewed to be more a burden than blessing, where the majority of physicians do not respect a moral approach to reproduction, and where so many women experience cycle issues, how can we not expose couples to this information?  Even if they choose not to use NFP at that time, they might face a situation in which they may need to turn to it later in their marriage.  A course in NFP may be one of the greatest opportunities a couple has to learn about the beauty of married life and the marital act, and the blessing that children truly are.  By requiring a course in NFP, those being prepared for marriage are being given a great gift of knowledge that they will be able to carry with them for their entire lives.

Brian and Johanna Burke are a certified teaching couple in the Symptothermal Method for the Couple to Couple League and teach in the Diocese of Toledo.  Brian is a fourth year medical student at the University of Toledo, planning a career in family medicine, and is also the Vice President of the Catholic Medical Association Student Section.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Valentine's Day and Marriage

On Valentine's Day weekend this year Brian and I went to Steubenville for a visit with friends and family. It was a last minute decision prompted by the fact that it was Brian's last free weekend for several months to come. The only thing my parents had planned for that weekend was a Valentine's party for married couples. Although we would be the youngest couple there by 20 years or more, we decided to stick around for the festivities. This party however,  had a greater purpose than merely just a social gathering. It was also to be a marriage builder as well. Not only was every couple asked to bring a snack to share, but also a favorite poem, song, scripture, quote or Church teaching that they found meaningful in their marriage.

After a lot of socializing, we circled around in the family room. There were a total of eight couples there, and Brian and I felt like we were walking with giants. Out of the eight couples, 235 years of marriage and 52 children were represented. These couples I had looked up to since I was a child. Not only were they the friends of my parents, they were also the parents of my friends. That night I saw them in a whole new light. I felt as if I were a fly on the wall, still in disbelief that a baby couple such as us would be welcomed by such a group.  Goosebumps went over me as these couples began to share. Behind every song, every scripture verse, every quote, there was a story of a lesson learned, an obstacle overcome, or a love renewed. As the stories unfolded, the beauty of love's strength against the snares of the world, shone out. These couples weren't still together because they had never struggled, but rather because they continually fought for their marriage.

We see it everywhere; marriage is under attack, and even in a conservative Catholic community, there is no immunity. Over the past few years, I have seen more and more marriages, both old and young, crumble to ruin. I will admit, as a newly wed, this was extremely disheartening and distressing. It shook me to the core. Everyone in that room had seen it happen dozens of times. Everyone in that room had been affected in some way by these breakups. We all felt compelled to do something-but what could we do to prevent any more? When our turn came to share, we realized that the solution to this problem was exactly what we were doing then and there-building one another up, encouraging one another to press on. Something very precious was being passed from one couple to another: hope. We looked to these husbands and wives surrounding us as an  anchor, because of their commitment and perseverance, we felt stronger and more confident in our commitment to each other. They in turn looked to us, as hope for the future, not because we were by any means perfect, but because we were realistic about the dangers that lurk and are actively working to protect ourselves from them.

None of this is enough however without the power of Christ. How beautiful it was to bow our heads together and call upon the Lord to strengthen and defend our marriages. Christ said "when two or more are gathered, there am I, in their midst". We felt His presence that night.

When Valentine's Day did come around a few days later, we didn't go out for a fancy dinner, or even exchange gifts-all of that would have seemed shallow after what we had received from the couples present at that party. We were so grateful to simply still be together, still be in love and still be helping one another on the road to our eternal home. 

So when you wonder what difference you can make in saving marriages, remember the biggest impact you will have on others is by keeping the love alive in yours.