In October 1994 I was part of a nine day intensive training in Omaha, Nebraska given by the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, together with Creighton University. It was my “Phase I” to become an NFP Instructor. I was learning so much, even though my husband Blaze and I had been charting for some time by then.
We loved how NFP (Natural Family Planning) was a cooperative method, involving both of us, how the chart represented our combined fertility as a couple, and how much NFP had deepened our relationship and improved our sense of unity and the spiritual nature of our marriage. We were amazed enough that we were willing, when the Institute accepted me for this training, to head to Omaha. With the help of NFP for Central Texas Inc. in Austin, we packed up our then one year old daughter Maire, rented a car (ours would never make it), and headed to Nebraska. There I began what would be a thirteen month process of training to become an Instructor. Back then we called a certified Creighton Instructor an NFPP, or “Natural Family Planning Practitioner.” That changed to “Fertility Care Practitioner” as the medical applications of the method unfolded more and more and it was no longer merely a method of family planning.
I was not surprised that Dr. Hilgers, the developer of the Creighton Ovulation Model (or Creighton Method) of NFP, looked like Moses. That seemed appropriate. I was not surprised at how wonderful everyone was or to meet midwives from Kenya, Sisters from the U.S., couples from all over the world, and nurses and doctors who wanted to teach NFP and/or learn its medical applications. The medical side of the method is called “Napro-technology.”
What surpised me was having my mind blown every day: by the beauty, intricacy, and elegant perfection of how human fertility worked, by the statistics on the method’s effectiveness (as good as the “pill”) and how other couples had experienced the same renewal and growth in unity and love that Blaze and I had. The experienced teachers related stories of watching the healing and love that takes place between couples, the conversions of many, and lapsed Catholics coming back to the Faith.
We aspiring Instructors were in our ethics class one day when the teacher was calling NFP “an intrinsic good” in response to a question about whether we could ethically agree to teach co-habitating couples and others in various situations we might feel morally uncomfortable with. I did believe it was a good in itself, that could only do good wherever it was being taught and practiced, just as he said.
Moreover, looking back, having taught NFP for seven years and having turned no one away period, I have seen it myself as an intrinsic good. I have seen the simple self-knowledge that NFP is inspire couples to a whole new level of awe and respect for what a couple is. I have seen women, including myself, find a whole new kind of feminism.
In so many ways our current culture tells women that to be equal to men we need to be as much like them as possible. It treats our fertility like a disease or problem. We don’t even know how out of tune with nature we are until we get in tune and see how our bodies reflect the cycles of nature, the cycles of the earth, and even of the changes of the moon and tides. Our cycles are also affected by the rhythms of the natural world. To me this was like discovering a whole new relationship with the Holy Spirit, and with nature, a whole new idea of the ecology of the body.
As the daughter of a hardcore, outspoken Feminist Hippie Horticulturalist mom, (something I am quite proud of) I had thought, coming into the Church, that I would have to put away that part of myself. This was not so. If anything, the Feminist Hippie part of me was much affirmed and deepened, filled out and given new meaning. By the way, my mom became quite the NFP evangelist and also ended up Catholic. So there you go.
Why does it bring couples together? Why does it bring people to wonderful truths? Why does it increase a sense of unity with God, nature and one’s spouse?
I asked that question in ethics class that day in October 1994. The answer has stayed with me for nineteen years.
Our teacher that afternoon, Fr. Stephen said, “That is because the Holy Spirit is God’s Fertility.” Mind officially blown.
That would mean that the combined fertility of the couple represents a physical manifestation of the fact that marriage is a Trinity, a reflection of great mystery, and that what takes place in a woman’s body with her cycle is a physical expression of the Holy Spirit, God’s Fertility. The couple is one and the life-giving unity between them has a direct link to the life of the Blessed Trinity and the role of the Holy Spirit within it. The Holy Spirit is the Love and Unity between the Father and the Son, so much so that He is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity and is the Life and Love that proceed from the other Two. He is that union. No wonder marriage feels like a living thing of its own, not just two people living together and sharing their lives. It feels like a living thing because it is. Our human fertility is one of the beautiful expressions of this truth. When we work with our fertility as a couple, we are also engaging with the Holy Spirit. So our lives are filled with Him. Also we realize more and more that we are conscious co-creators with God.
Correct me if I’m on the wrong track about this. I’m far from a theologian. However, I’ve been thinking about this and experiencing it and observing it all these years. And I think I’m on to something.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, of Love, Unity and Life. How could He not bring us face to face with the same if we work with Him with the respect and awe proper to the wondrous gift that our fertility is?
In light of all that, the implications of NFP are almost unnerving. But it is a simple, joyful thing for a couple to chart their fertility together. In fact, even my daughter Maire got involved when she was little. She liked the stickers and I used the opportunity to explain to her, on a level proper for a kid, what the chart was all about.
If you’re interested, it started out like this, “Well, Mama has a garden inside and this is what’s happening in it. This is our family’s garden book.” I explained she had grown from that garden too, during one of its springtimes.
So I made the observations, my husband kept the chart, and my three year old put on the stickers each day. She liked the “baby” ones best. (Those are the ones you put on when you are fertile–what you see is what you get!) So the chart was a family effort for a while. 🙂
One day my sister-in-law, Shawna, had left her chart out on the table at her house. Little Maire said, “What season are you in, Aunt Shawna?” After a very interesting discussion, Shawna said she was in “winter” right now. “Yeah,” Maire said, “So is Mama.”
This is funny but it shows another good of NFP and the work of the Holy Spirit. We can use our knowledge of the beauty of human fertility to teach our kids that same sense of respect, connectedness with the cycles of nature, and that great gift, wonder. “For the wonder of myself, I thank you.” (Psalm 139) To Maire, at a young age, fertility was part of life and a beautiful thing to be respected, accepted, and worked with.
My second husband, Bob, was strongly of a secular humanist bent during our courtship. He thought all the “Catholic stuff” about artificial birth control was something he should respect on my behalf, but he didn’t understand it. As he learned how to chart (and started keeping the chart on his laptop), he caught the amazement too. “I’ve never heard of anything like this in my life!” He loved it. And when we went through our marriage preparation classes during which he learned the basics of the Theology of the Body, he was utterly fascinated. He had thought Catholics were body-rejecting and uptight about sexuality. His thoughts on that changed radically. He said sometimes during our classes he didn’t know whether to applaud or run out of the room! He became Catholic too, just so you know. I’m telling you. There is something divinely beautiful here that we have in NFP.
“Come, Holy Spirit! Come by means of the powerful intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy well beloved spouse.”
For more information on the science and philosophy behind Fertility Care (The Creighton Model), effectiveness, or anything else about it that may interest you, check out http://www.popepaulvi.com/