Marriage: one flesh, given and received is the theme of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual Natural Family Planning Awareness Week set for July 23-29, as it highlights the anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae vitae,” published on July 25, 1968.
The week also coincides with the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Mother, on July 26, designated as World Grandparents Day by Pope Francis in 2021.
“The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is an original gift from God to humanity. Although sin entered the world damaging the marital relationship, this gift was not lost but redeemed by Christ and raised to a sacrament,” according to the official USCCB website. “Sacred Scripture proclaims that God created humanity in ‘His image’ as ‘male and female.’ So unique is this relationship that the marital union makes of husband and wife ‘one flesh.’ Procreation, scripture teaches, is a gift from God. When spouses conceive new life, they participate in the Lord God’s creative power. This is an awesome privilege and sacred responsibility.”
“Natural Family Planning is the general title for the scientific, natural, and moral methods of family planning that can help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancy,” the USCCB explained. “NFP methods are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle.
“No drugs, devices or surgical procedures are used to avoid pregnancy,” the site continues. “Since the methods of NFP respect the love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (procreative) nature of the conjugal act, they support God’s design for married love.”
The Importance of NFP Education
As Natural Family Planning Awareness Week approaches, it’s important for couples to first understand that, just like any healthcare, the key is in finding the method that works best for them.
There are several experts throughout the Diocese of Nashville who can help couples discover these things.
Paula Romanoski, a registered nurse and former alumni of University Catholic, has been a certified instructor of the Marquette Method since 2020, following six months of study with Marquette University, a Jesuit college in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Since receiving her certification, Romanoski has taught and worked with more than 150 women in various stages of their fertility journey. Through Vitae Fertility, she has been able to work alongside nine other experienced instructors who offer classes via Zoom to couples all over the world, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Kenya.
“Natural Family Planning is a logical decision which is supported by science. It is a reasonable request on the Church’s end to ask this of us,” said Romanoski, who is a parishioner of St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro. “Also, you are married to your spouse, not your method of NFP or contraceptive. If what you are practicing is not working for you, there are other resources and options you can try.
“I want to help take the anxiety away with NFP. Marquette is simple and it works. It is effective,” she added. “Marquette’s efficacy is higher than most popular forms of contraceptives. I want to help couples space their children in a way that is manageable, I want to help couples who are struggling with infertility successfully conceive, and I want to help women with irregular and frustrating cycles get healthy again.”
That’s the importance of Natural Family Planning, she noted. It’s just as much of a healthcare method as it is a way to plan a family.
“NFP helps couples understand their fertile window. This can help them to either avoid or achieve pregnancy in a way which helps strengthen their marriage and faith because it forces couples to talk,” Romanoski explained. “Every month you are asking, ‘Can we be open to a child?’ If not, ‘how can we love each other besides sex when we are fertile?’
“Also, a woman’s cycle is her fifth vital sign. It helps her know if she is healthy or not,” she added. “Practicing NFP can help you see if you have health concerns that should be addressed to help you become healthy again.”
The Creighton Method is another form of Natural Family Planning, which Stephanie Martin, a parishioner of St. Patrick Church in South Nashville, has been teaching virtually to clients nationwide for eight years.
“My husband and I learned about NFP as we were traveling our journey with infertility. Though both of us are Catholic converts, we did not know at the time about NFP and restorative reproductive medical care. We had initially sought out traditional medical care to address our infertility,” Martin explained. “Traditional solutions offered to us did little to nothing to identify and address the root causes of our problem, and some solutions offered were financially prohibitive, not to mention, contradictory to our moral views.
“At this point, I immersed myself in online research to find help and thankfully stumbled upon the Creighton method of NFP. In 2013, my husband and I sought out a Creighton practitioner, learned to chart my cycles, and met with a collaborating OBGYN trained to read Creighton charting and apply restorative reproductive medical care to address what was at the core of our issues,” she continued. “I was so astounded through my and my husband’s own journey of all that we were finally uncovering that I made the decision in 2015 to become a Certified FertilityCare™ Practitioner so I could help other women and couples.”
After completing a post-graduate training internship, which included 150 hours of theoretical education and more than 200 hours of clinical experience, Martin became a certified educator of Natural Family Planning, and her knowledge has only grown.
“As my professional and personal experience has grown over the years, so has my knowledge,” Martin said. “As a result, I am now providing customized NFP instruction to my clients that allows for the tracking of cyclical biomarkers, basal body temperature, and Billings method symptoms.”
“Every man and woman deserves to fully understand and appreciate their God-given fertility and to develop a mutual respect that comes with this appreciation. Yet, many are seldom taught this,” Martin added. “Instead, contraceptives and barrier methods are often the norm in today’s society, which bypasses God’s wonderful procreative process that is meant to be shared between husband and wife through open lines of communication and respect for one another.”
NFP Success Stories
Natural Family Planning as a help for overall healthcare and healthy communication and respect in marriage proved true for Colleen Halfmann, a parishioner of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, who started using the Creighton Method in college after experiencing painful cycles for much of her life. Through the care of her obstetrician, Halfmann discovered that she had endometriosis as well as adhesions that were then able to be treated surgically.
Natural Family Planning “works with the woman’s body to address anything that’s not working right,” Halfmann said. “It’s about optimizing the way the body works naturally and the overall health of the woman’s body.”
By learning that method and realizing how beneficial NFP is for a woman’s overall health, Halfmann and her husband, Alex Halfmann, were able to bring that into their marriage. Later, when trying to conceive, they soon found success, welcoming their oldest child in 2018. After later switching to the Marquette Method, they conceived again and welcomed their twins in 2021.
“Natural Family Planning helps couples to value their spouse, and that’s something that we both really appreciate,” Alex Halfmann said. “It really helps make sex more unitive and about the other person, as well as keeps it as a gift from God.”
“Coming from a Catholic background, we both had learned Theology of the Body and had good catechetical formation. So, we knew that sex was for procreation, but also unity. That means it is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. NFP allowed for all that,” Colleen Halfmann added. “The part that scares people is that it does require sacrifice, but that’s what makes it honest and real. It teaches you to be intimate in other ways if you’re not in a position to conceive another child. It’s taught us how to have a fuller intimacy in our relationship.”
Heather and Graham Honeycutt, who are parishioners of St. Matthew Church in Franklin, have also found success in using Natural Family Planning, welcoming six children over the course of their marriage.
“We feel that NFP is really the only family planning method that embraces the purpose of marriage to be both unitive and procreative. We value the gift of life, and NFP really has taught us how to appreciate life,” Heather Honeycutt said. “It also allows the couple to be on the same page about all aspects of their marriage, and the communication and intimacy that comes from NFP helps the couple improve their connection in all aspects of life together.”
Honeycutt, a graduate of Overbrook Catholic School and St. Cecilia Academy, said she first learned about NFP while in high school, and learned to explore it further while at an engaged couples retreat in Atlanta with her husband. Later, they took a class that was offered in the diocese.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what NFP is, i.e., that it is ineffective at family planning, that it’s an old-school method that our parents used, that it puts all the pressure on the wife, or that it doesn’t work for a woman who has irregular cycles,” Honeycutt added. “There are several methods of NFP and many online support resources to help couples who want to learn more.”
For more information and resources about Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, visit www.usccb.org/topics/natural-family-planning/national-nfp-awareness-week.
For more information about Romanoski’s offerings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Martin’s offerings, email email@example.com or visit stephaniemartinfcp.com.