Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
January 15, 2001
Family planning the natural way
Local promoters of natural family planning see manifold benefits to avoiding contraception
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — If you are Catholic and you want to avoid pregnancy without using artificial contraceptives, you have one choice - natural family planning, the only method of regulating birth which the Church views as acceptable.
Many couples have turned to natural methods not only because they are in tune with Church teachings but also because they are safe, inexpensive and effective. Even more, natural methods can be used to achieve pregnancy when the couple wants it, giving them total control of their fertility.
For Carolyn Towle, 33, and her husband Kelly, 36, natural family planning has been the path to a happier marriage. After briefly using contraception, they turned to natural methods to conceive their second child and are glad they did.
"We now feel totally connected to each other and the Creator," Carolyn said. "There are no devices and no distractions. It's so much more natural."
Kelly's reasons for rejecting artificial birth control devices are straightforward. "I didn't want my wife endangering her health for the sake of our sexual relationship," he says.
Married for five years, the Towles have a four-year-old son, Kristian, and are currently expecting their second baby. The members of St. Joseph's Basilica Parish say natural family planning has improved their communication and has resulted in increased intimacy and a healthier sexual relationship.
"We were able to conceive our next child fairly quickly because we understood our fertility," noted Carolyn, who has been the coordinator for the northern Alberta district of Serena, a Canada-wide natural family planning organization, for the past two years. Kelly is her assistant.
The Church rejects artificial contraception because it contradicts the design of marriage by deliberately closing the conjugal act to procreation.
But the Church promotes natural family planning because it respects the integrity of the sexual act by remaining open to procreation.
Natural family planning refers to methods of avoiding (or achieving) pregnancy that cooperate with a couple's fertility rather than suppressing it through the use of drugs or contraceptive devices.
These methods involve determining the woman's fertile period and abstaining from intercourse during that time to avoid pregnancy, or having intercourse then to achieve pregnancy.
Natural family planning takes the approach that sexuality is a gift given by God and therefore needs to be treated with care and respect, dignity and knowledge, maintains John MacDonald of the archdiocesan Family Enrichment Centre, which promotes natural methods among engaged couples.
"Sexuality is there so we can become creators. That's the beauty of natural family planning - it gives people a significant knowledge of their sexuality and it shows them how to use it, with care, with wisdom and with purpose, the purpose being either to not become pregnant or to become pregnant."
What's more, natural family planning gives a couple "total control and responsibility" of their fertility, MacDonald said.
"A couple who use artificial contraception believes that they have a certain degree of control. Their control is either to use contraceptives or not to use them. But a couple on natural family planning have the control of their sexuality in their hands everyday as to whether they want to become pregnant or not become pregnant."
The best known natural family planning methods are the Billings method and the sympto-thermal method, both of which are taught locally by certified teacher couples.
The Billings Ovulation Method, developed by Australian doctor John Billings in the 1960s, depends on measuring a woman's vaginal secretions each day to determine her fertility, explains method teacher Ingrid Brodeur.
"Women are required just to make daily observations of any changes that occur at the outer labia. There is no internal examination at all; it's all external."
The sympto-thermal method, promoted by Serena-Canada, adds a recording of basal body temperature to the observation of pre-ovulary and post ovulary symptoms.
This method insists on the thermal recording because a woman's basal body temperature rises and falls depending on the phase of her menstrual cycle.
"The couple basically learns to identify their fertile phase in menstrual cycles so that they can plan to achieve pregnancy or avoid it," Carolyn explained. When a couple determines that they are in their fertile phase they abstain from intercourse, if their purpose is to avoid a pregnancy.
The period of sexual abstention averages 10 days for most couples, time during which they can use other forms of intimacy, including touching, holding each other, talking and getting to know each other better.
"Abstinence doesn't mean you stop loving each other," Carolyn explains. "It means you channel your love in other ways. Our love not only has a sexual dimension but other dimensions as well."
Kelly says that in addition to promoting greater sexual satisfaction and self-control, the postponement of intercourse during the fertile phase of the cycle also promotes mutual respect and cooperation, more communication and a stronger relationship.
"Periodic abstinence gives couples a feeling of harmony with nature," he maintains. "It's a time when you really learn to appreciate each other."
The Towles used natural family planning to postpone pregnancy during Kelly's post-secondary studies as a computer system technologist. But a few months ago they decided it was time to have a second child. So they used the fertile phase to achieve pregnancy and were successful within Carolyn's first cycle. She is now four months pregnant.
"By using natural family planning we are more aware of the miracle of creation," Kelly says. "And we feel that by using this method we are allowing God's will to be done."
Carolyn agrees, saying that since they started using the method they have more of an "openness to God's will and we see ourselves as co-creators with God."
The Billings method, hailed by the World Health Organization as 99 per cent effective, is taught not only to people in the First World but is also used all over the Third World, according to Brodeur. "It's even taught to blind women because it doesn't require visual observations but sensations."
It is estimated that more than 50 million couples are currently using the method worldwide.
The Billings method has four teacher couples in Edmonton. It also has teacher couples in Spruce Grove, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Pincher Creek, Edson and Fox Creek.
The Serena method is also taught worldwide and is as effective as the Billings method. Carolyn put the effectiveness rate at between 98 to 99 per cent. In the last year the Serena method has been taught to almost 500 couples across Canada, including 100 in the Edmonton area. Serena has over 200 teacher-couples across Canada, many of them in the Edmonton area.
Although natural family planning methods can be used to avoid pregnancy, they cannot be categorized as contraceptives because they don't involve drugs or medication and its users are "always open to life," stressed Brodeur, a mother of 10 who learned the method after her ninth child.
She and her husband Raymond have been volunteer teachers for 12 years and have taught the method to all their children.
Unlike contraceptive devices, natural family planning provides many advantages to a married couple, including the "added appreciation" a couple has for each other when the fertile period is over.
"We feel it certainly helps enhance a couple's relationship because they have to communicate not only their sexual desires for each other but also where they stand, especially if they have made a commitment not to conceive," noted Brodeur.
For more information on natural family planning call Serena at 488-5221 or Billings Ovulation Method at 488-6875.
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