|Nick and Monica Warren, pictured with their children, were unclear about Church teaching on birth control when they were first married but then found Humanae Vitae online. Courtesy of the Warrens.
Many married couples are discovering the benefits of Natural Family Planning and making the switch from chemical contraceptives. That change has made a surprising impact on our marriage.
When we were first married, we started using the birth-control pill to manage our fertility. At the time, we were unclear on the Church’s teaching on contraceptives. Like many modern couples, we wanted a proven way to plan the timing and size of our family. We were advised by our OBGYN that Monica would benefit from the pill since she had a history of endometriosis.
Even though we were told about NFP before during Engaged Encounter, we chose not to use it. NFP looked too difficult to learn, too complex for us, and we feared it would interfere with the spontaneity of our love life. Plus it didn’t seem current or relevant to us, a modern-day Catholic couple.
We were also concerned about NFP’s effectiveness — even though we didn’t actually know the actual statistics. We didn’t spend any time seriously considering or praying about how to manage our fertility and just slid into using the pill.
The side effects of the pill slowly started to impact our marriage. The source of these side effects wasn’t obvious at first. Monica felt low libido and intimacy was sometimes painful due to personal dryness. Nick felt awkward when asking for intimacy. We felt the romance slowing going away. These were actually the side effects of our contraceptive choice.
Like many people our age, we were and still are health conscience; we try to exercise regularly and eat well. We buy organic milk and yogurt. Yet despite trying to keep artificial growth hormones and antibiotics out of our diet, we were accepting that we would put artificial hormones into Monica’s body for the next 25 years via a pill. That made no sense to us.
After being married for two years, we were ready to have children. We went off the pill and got pregnant. Because we wanted to space our children a year and a half apart, we didn’t go back on the pill in between each pregnancy. We had our three children over a five-year period.
After our third child was born, we decided we wanted a more permanent method to control our family size. We started to research different methods to handle our fertility and started to earnestly pray for God’s guidance in the matter. Nick found information about various contraceptives, their effectiveness, side effects and the merits of each. We’ve found over the years that this is a normal decision point reached by couples after they have had the number of children they intend.
Google led us to Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical that contains the Catholic Church’s official position on contraceptives. It explains why NFP is important and discusses the benefits to married couples. We realized those benefits were missing in our marriage. Humanae Vitae also clearly states that using NFP is the only family planning method that is morally accepted by the Catholic Church.
After reading Humanae Vitae and praying, we knew it was God’s intention for us to use NFP. This was not easy for us to accept at first. It was out of obedience to the Catholic Church that we initially decided to use NFP.
We found a local NFP class and attended. The NFP method being taught was the Sympto-Thermal Method, one of three methods actively taught in our community. It was simple and we came to understand it quickly. By the third class, we felt confident using the method.
We also discovered there was a large NFP community right in our own parish. Many of our friends were using NFP and we didn’t even know it.
According to Dr. Mike Manhart, the executive director of the Couple to Couple League, which offers NFP training to married couples worldwide through local certified NFP instructors, “We have seen a nearly 20 percent growth in number of couples taught in the last year.”
It became simple to incorporate NFP into our lives after we started to use it. The benefits were almost immediate. Within a month we started to have more desire to be intimate more often. Intimacy was also more enjoyable. Monica started being more responsive, and she is “in the mood” more often as compared with when she was on the pill.
Thanks to ongoing charting, we also started to see patterns in Monica’s cycle that led us to understand that she had a micronutrient deficiency. By adding a few simple foods to her diet, we were able to alleviate these deficiencies, which made her cycle healthier.
We can see in the charts when Monica is sick — sometimes Nick can tell before Monica even realizes it.
Another benefit we experienced when using NFP is that a romantic spark returned to our love life. This is because we abstain during the times that Monica is fertile. NFP doesn’t say when you can and can’t be intimate with your spouse — it’s just awareness of when the woman is fertile by watching the natural fertility indicators of her body. If a couple chooses to be intimate during the time that the woman is fertile, they are saying they are open to achieving pregnancy, and they may conceive. If they abstain during the fertile time and are intimate only in the infertile times, they won’t get pregnant (with 99.6 percent effectiveness). For us, this means we abstain about 10-12 days in a typical cycle.
We were surprised to discover that abstinence actually improves our love life and even increases how often we are intimate. Our time of abstinence is a time of buildup in anticipation for the night that is coming when we are infertile again. Both of us know when this is coming a few days in advance. We flirt during that buildup time in anticipation, which brings a spark of romance. It’s like we get to experience each month what it was like our wedding night.
We are surprised when other couples tell us that intimacy and romance have faded in their marriage, because for us it has been the opposite experience.
NFP also opened new channels of communication between us. We talk more about intimacy and our marriage more than we did when we were using a contraceptive. NFP has given us a reason to touch base with each other every month to see how the other is doing and do we want to consider having more kids. So far neither of us has wanted to have more children at the same time. Nothing else has encouraged as much communication in our marriage like NFP.
We were so surprised about the changes that NFP brought to our marriage that we decided to get certified to teach the Sympto-Thermal Method, so we could influence other young couples.
We feel NFP is one of the best kept secrets of the Catholic Church. It’s no wonder more people are discovering and using NFP in their marriage.
Nick and Monica Warren are certified Sympto-Thermal Method instructors for the Couple to Couple League and live in Austin, Texas, with their three children. They have been married 13 years.