Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Reluctant to take the mandatory NFP class?

Are you dreading your first natural family planning class? When you realized you had to take it as part of marriage preparation, did you and your fiance roll your eyes? You are not alone - many couples, including NaturalGuy and I, are initially skeptical about NFP. When we got engaged, I just assumed that we would do the "responsible" thing and use birth control. It never crossed my mind that there were other options. NaturalGuy had heard about NFP in high school, but hadn't given it much thought since.

We were re-introduced to the idea of NFP by one of our favorite mathematics professors, who used NFP with her husband and knew we were Catholic. NaturalGuy was immediately convinced - I took a while! Nine months before our wedding, I started to feel really anxious about the possibility of having children as soon as we got married. I made an appointment to get a birth control prescription and even started the prescription before realizing that NFP was a much better option. It is never too late in your engagement or marriage to decide to learn and use NFP (except menopause!).

I wish someone had told me that it is normal to feel anxious about the possibility of getting pregnant. If you and your fiance has abstained this far, marriage will mark the first time you have a chance of getting pregnant. This is a huge change and couples the world over have found it scary! But contraceptives do not solve this fear because they do not remove the chance of pregnancy. Natural family planning is just as effective for postponing pregnancy, but comes with the additional benefit of understanding your bodies, cooperating as newlyweds, and having a very deep understanding of what type of "risk" you are taking.

If you and your fiance are already sexually active, you are probably currently using a contraceptive. Maybe you've never considered using NFP and feel happy with your current choice of birth control. You probably have a lot of questions about NFP - chiefly "why am I required to take an NFP class to get married?" The Catholic Church believes that using contraceptives is immoral - hormonal contraceptives, barrier methods, pulling out, sterilization, any method that seeks to prevent pregnancy by separating the procreative and unitive aspects of sex. There are three valid approaches couples can take - the default is having sex whenever they'd like and accepting children as they come, alternatively couples may observe a woman's natural cycles and time sex to increase or decrease the probability of pregnancy, and finally, a couple can abstain completely. Obviously many couples would prefer to limit the number of children they have and not abstain for long periods of time.  (It's worth having  a frank discussion with your priest about all of this. Why jump through the hoops for a Catholic wedding if you don't want a Catholic marriage?).

Maybe you and your fiance are practicing Catholics, but you are taking hormonal contraceptives for health reasons. Being required to take NFP classes might feel extra frustrating - after all, what is there to chart? This is very worth discussing with your instructors - they should be compassionate, understanding, and helpful. It's also worth discussing revisiting your treatment with your doctor, or even seeking the opinion of a doctor who is accustomed to treating patients without hormonal contraceptives. It's good to develop a long term plan, including how your treatment will change if you want to achieve pregnancy.

If you have hesitations, I highly recommend doing some research into NFP before your class - these classes can be extremely useful, but only if you know what you want to get out of them!

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