By Celine Klosterman
Natural Family Planning is a healthy, effective and relationship-strengthening way for spouses to follow Catholic Church teaching, according to those who practice it.
“You don’t have to wait until heaven to see the benefits,” said Maggie Schoonmaker, who’s certified to teach the Billings Ovulation method of NFP and has spoken in the Davenport Diocese. “I think people see the benefits now.”
NFP works with women rather than against them, encourages people to respect fertility, helps spouses love each other more selflessly and deepens trust in God, said Schoonmaker and Devin and Kim Schadt. The Schadts, married parents of four, belong to St. Anthony Parish in Davenport.
In NFP, couples monitor a woman’s biological signs of fertility for guidance in working to plan pregnancy. Several methods exist, all of which respect Pope Paul VI’s observation in Humanae Vitae that every marital act must remain open to life. That teaching is based on the “inseparable” link God created between the “unitive” meaning and the procreative meaning of sex, according to the encyclical.
For the Schadts, understanding the theology behind NFP has deepened appreciation for that teaching.
As with many couples, that understanding came with time. The two started using NFP as a way to achieve pregnancy. But, anxious about the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy, they didn’t fully embrace NFP to avoid conception until later in their marriage. Then, they remained committed to it even after Kim suffered complications while pregnant with the Schadts’ third child, Anna Marie, and was warned not to conceive for two years.
Not that being faithful to NFP during that period was easy. “I wasn’t really a mature man yet from a Christian perspective,” Devin said. “I wasn’t really loving my wife in an altruistic way.” Abstinence proved frustrating, he said, and made him question Kim’s love. Kim, meanwhile, was stressed by fear of pregnancy.
But after Devin was given tapes by Christopher West on Theology of the Body, his perspective on marriage and sexuality shifted. He said he realized he was called to love as Christ did, lay down his body as a sacrifice and love selflessly. Later he attended a weeklong seminar on Theology of the Body, and “came back a new man,” Kim said.
He wanted to sacrifice for the good of their marriage and family, she said, which made her want to sacrifice, too. She decided to work on trusting God and received further education on her fertility cycle.
“That’s probably when I said, God, it’s completely in your hands.” If she became pregnant, God would take care of her family, she decided.
“So after that we had healing in our marriage,” Kim said. And armed with a fuller understanding of her body and insight into Theology of the Body, Natural Family Planning no longer felt like something the Schadts practiced solely out of a sense of obligation.
Five years after Anna Marie’s birth, the couple welcomed another daughter, Zelie. Her conception wasn’t planned – though she was conceived when the Schadts knew pregnancy might be possible – but “we look back now and think what a blessing she is. We couldn’t imagine life without her,” Devin said. So there’s little reason to fear unplanned pregnancy, he added.
With NFP there’s also no need to fear negative side effects of usage, noted Schoonmaker, a married mother of five. “The coolest thing about offering this alternative to artificial contraception is … I know without a shadow of a doubt this will not cause any blood clots, strokes, weight gain, depression or loss of libido.” She explains the medical advantage to patients referred to her by Dr. Karla Polaschek, a pro-life obstetrician and gynecologist with Medical Arts Associates Ltd. in Moline, Ill., and to engaged couples she works with on marriage preparation in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill.
Artificial contraception may be convenient, as is eating processed foods with hydrogenated oils or “letting the TV raise your kids,” but such shortcuts all bring negative consequences in the long run, Devin said.
“Some people think it’s just that the church doesn’t like artificial contraception, but it’s so much deeper than that,” Schoonmaker said. The church hopes people grow to respect fertility — and when they do, the paradigm of sex shifts from use to gift, she said. “That’s why the church loves NFP so much.”
Trying to exert your own control through artificial contraception “shuts out God,” Kim said. But without the obstacle of contraception, the marital union can be free, total, faithful and fruitful, Devin said, citing West.
“Overall it’s just been incredible to experience the liberation of really being able to be a gift to my wife,” Devin said. If spouses can be “giving instead of grasping, loving instead of lusting, it will change the whole family dynamic.” Children will pick up on and want to imitate their parents’ altruism, he said. “If we get this right, our marriage will be right, and then our family will be right. Then our children will change the world.”
For more information, visit the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ NFP Web site at www.usccb.org/nfp.