Natural family planning’s holistic approach gains followers

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NEW ORLEANS - The trend of going green and being more conscious of the environment could explain why more young couples are using natural family planning, say instructors of the practice.

At the very least, couples preparing for marriage have shown less resistance to NFP in recent years particularly as they understand more about what contraceptives can do to a woman's body, according to NFP teachers in the New Orleans Archdiocese.

Gayle Rizzo, who began teaching NFP to couples about 20 years ago, said the concept of using NFP was not embraced in the same way it is now. The practice allows women to monitor periods of fertility through close examination of naturally occurring physiological signs, and use that information to prevent pregnancy or space births.

"Very definitely, in the beginning, for me personally, it was a very difficult area to minister in the church because it was fairly universally rejected," said Rizzo, who has taught NFP since 1992 and now is involved in training certified NFP teachers. "We know that the teaching was rejected, so it has been a climb up from people not even giving it a second look to now.

"Whether it's from the health standpoint or the ecological standpoint, people are giving this a look. What gives me the greatest hope is that they are looking at it as good for marriage and the love between a man and a woman," she said.

She said when she teaches the class, participants' eyes "open up because they can now make the decisions themselves about their own fertility. It puts them in the driver's seat and also expands the vision of what God designed. It gives them a renewed hope for marriage and for a committed love that lasts a lifetime."

The Archdiocese of New Orleans offers eight to 10 NFP workshops a year and plans to offer additional classes in Spanish. Most of the participants are engaged couples who have been asked to attend by the priest or deacon preparing them for marriage or are married couples no longer interested in using contraceptives.

Rizzo said when she first started teaching NFP, more women than men were open to the idea.

But in recent years, she said, more men have accepted the practice, saying they want the best for their wives and they think contraceptives are unhealthy for them.

"To me, that's a major change," she added. "These men have seen the negative effects that contraception has caused and they are desiring more from their relationship. They want to be able to be real husbands who really, truly love their wives."

About five years ago, Rizzo helped train Caroline Cleveland Sholl as an NFP teacher, and Sholl now teaches many classes throughout the year. Sholl said the increased openness to using NFP is rooted in the idea that it is "a green method of family planning."

"Even outside of the moral draw, it's compatible with the 'Whole Foods' way of life," Sholl said. "Most of the students who take the classes are required to be there, but for those who end up using NFP, the main draw is that it is good for your body. It seems simple to the women who buy hormone-free chicken. They realize the irony when they're putting hormones into their body every day to shut down a part of the body that is working properly."

The classes consist of four, 90-minute sessions over two months.

Sholl said NFP is not a "magic bullet" that will keep marriages together, and she even said it can bring some tension that the couple needs to work through together.

Sholl said it was initially a great source of tension and the couple wondered if they were going to be similar to the Duggars, the couple with 19 children on the reality television show "19 Kids and Counting."

She said they ended up embracing NFP as part of God's plan for their family and also realized "this was for our family's ultimate good and it strengthened our marriage."

"But if your marriage is in trouble, NFP is not going to save it," she added.

Sholl and her husband, Brian, have four children.

"But don't panic," Sholl said. "That doesn't mean that NFP didn't work. We knew exactly what we were doing."

Rizzo said NFP "statistically has the higher effectiveness rate as far as avoiding pregnancy." But the real benefit, Rizzo said, is the shared cooperation and unity it requires the couple to commit to.

"There's something about the change in focus that begins to happen that makes all the difference," Rizzo said. "If a couple truly comes to live this with an open heart to God and each other, it makes all the difference in how they love each other."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015