The blessings of NFP: Couples share their stories
By Nissa LaPoint
Poster by USCCB
Juggling their three children in diapers had pushed the Hanley’s to their limit.
“We got to the point where most couples after kids today say ‘that’s enough,’” said Kim Hanley, of Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, about her and her husband, Steve, when raising their children in the ‘90s.
They looked at options to prevent a repeat of the hectic life that became their daily existence—either sterilization, artificial contraception or any way to prevent another pregnancy.
Then they heard about natural family planning (NFP)—the Catholic Church’s approved birth regulation method for grave circumstances—and took a class with the Couple to Couple League.
It led them on a path that changed not only their marriage but their faith in God.
“Once we really understood the Church’s position, (we) agreed with it and saw the wisdom—it was eye-opening,” Steve said. “It really does move your heart.”
The Hanleys and other couples recently spoke to the Denver Catholic Register about their decision to use NFP and the many resulting benefits—and occasional challenges—in practicing it.
Natural family planning, they believe, may be the most misunderstood and unknown form of family planning even among Catholic married couples.
It has evolved from the antiquated rhythm method, experts say. Modern NFP includes the ovulation method, the sympto-thermal method and the Creighton model, which recognize and chart the observable signs of a woman’s fertility. The methods do not require drugs and can help couples achieve a 98 percent effectiveness rate if avoiding pregnancy.
During their 20 years of marriage, Greg and Jane Benz of Our Lady of the Plains in Byers have found NFP to be health supporting.
Rather than take the carcinogenic birth control bill—the World Health Organization found a direct link between oral contraceptives and cancer risk—NFP gave the couple a drug-free way to monitor fertility.
For 10 years, the Benzs, who have five children, have taught courses about contraceptives’ health risks through the Couple to Couple League.
“We tell them that the pill does not actually cure any health issues,” Jane said. “It may cover up or mask them.”
The couples said NFP increases communication between them every month even beyond the simple discussion of readiness for a child.
“The communication and working together on this topic grounds your marriage,” Greg said.
Making these monthly choices sometimes requires abstinence, during which Greg said takes a higher level of willingness and acceptance of the challenge.
“We found in our marriage it took a while to know each other’s boundaries (during times of abstinence),” he said. “You have to actually talk about it and say what’s too much intimacy and discuss what you’re going to do during every cycle.”
These times of sacrifice became another way for Adrian and Stacey Nagle of Holy Ghost Parish in Denver, who’ve had four children, to show love and respect for each other through their actions.
“It’s a real physical way to demonstrate love,” Stacy said, especially during months when it was necessary to abstain for health reasons.
For the Hanleys, practicing NFP requires sacrifices, but it bore fruit in their lives.
“It’s like anything when we live out the Catholic faith—there are challenges and struggles and it does come at a price, but NFP is a fabulous way of handling this,” Steve said.
The price became beneficial when the Hanleys realized practicing NFP was meant for more than simply avoiding children, Kim said.
“The Church has an incredible wisdom on this and there’s an incredible beauty to it,” Steve said.
With a shared awareness of Kim’s monthly cycles, she said she noticed Steve’s deepening care and concern for her. The benefits to their marriage became mutual, Steve added, when he noticed Kim became more forgiving and understanding.
Furthermore, Kim, rather than letting the busyness and exhaustion of life become an excuse for a lack of intimacy, she said NFP helped them appreciate the times when they didn’t need to abstain.
“In the times we had to abstain, we appreciated the other ways of showing each other care and compassion, but we didn’t waste the opportunities to show intimacy when we could,” she said.
Beyond the graces it brought to their marriage, NFP impacted all of their relationships, including enabling them to better teach their children the virtue of abstaining.
“I think the one core lesson NFP drives home is being in the habit of doing things for the good of others,” she said.
And their trust and faith in God has become unmovable.
“NFP is the way to put God at the center of our marriage...and it became a reality for us,” Kim said.