Does It Work?

 I got an email from Fr. Alphonsus asking for Effectiveness stats to give to the OC priests as follow-up to our recent Clergy Day. This is what I sent to him. It’s the Creighton Model Effectiveness Study for avoiding pregnancy that followed 1,876 client couples from 5 different FertilityCare centers throughout the country. Method effectiveness (or “perfect use”) was found to be 99.5% and Use effectiveness (or “real world use”) at the end of 12 months was 96.8%.

Some people think the 3.2% “method failure rate” is much too high, but this is, in fact, comparable – if not better – than the methods of artificial contraception. When a client is able to accurately identify days of fertility and infertility, she can use the principle of selective intercourse to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. If she has the intention of avoiding pregnancy, then she would only use days of infertility. If she is trying to achieve pregnancy, then she would try to conceive on days of fertility.

Yes, it does work.

Every once in a while, I’ll encounter a couple who tells me that they absolutely cannot have a baby at that time. In that case, I tell them that if they’re looking for a method that is 100% effective, then abstinence is the way to go. Nothing else out there can guarantee zero chance of pregnancy. But I do say that if they observe and chart correctly while following their instructions, the chances of conception are very low.

What’s so wonderful about natural family planning, however, is the context in which it should be taught. According to the groundbreaking 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI clearly stated that NFP can be used when necessary. The following is an excerpt from the document:

With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person.

With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out.”

Basically, this says that it is up to the couple to discern through prayer what God is calling them to do with their family. In doing so, they need to prioritize through His eyes and with His heart. If there is serious reason to avoid pregnancy, then they may use the knowledge given to them about days of fertility and infertility to decide when to engage in the marital act.

The underscore in the last quoted paragraph does drive home the point that it is not ultimately up to us to determine whether or not a child should come from the union between husband and wife. That is left in the hands of the One who breathes life into being. So EVERY marital embrace must be left open to the possibility that God may work against the odds to bless the couple with a baby if He so chooses.

Of course this is hard to hear when we don’t feel we are in the position to carry another pregnancy, feed another mouth, or raise another human being when our resources are spread incredibly thin. Yet we need to remember Who’s in charge.

If the omnipotent, all-knowing God of the universe decided that it was in our best interests to welcome a child into our hearts and our home, He’s going to make it happen. The difference between our perspective and His is that ours is incredibly limited. We can’t see into the future and know how another son or daughter is going to bless our other children. We don’t know how much virtue we will gain from such a generous “Yes”. We cannot even fathom how powerful a new life will be in changing the world for the greater good.

But God does.

He knows how to orchestrate our lives in such a way that exceeds the most perfect of human plans. He never does anything without a fruitful purpose. There is always a deeply profound “why” behind every divine action.

So essentially natural family planning is supposed to be practiced with God as a participant. Because He’s in on it with us, He frees our hearts from fear as He summons us to trust His guidance and His loving providence. 

As I write this, I feel the aches and pains of returning lupus symptoms. Just an hour ago, I was talking to my husband about how it would not be prudent to have a fifth child if my immune system is all out of whack. From the beginnings of our marriage, my health has been our #1 deciding factor. We do our best with what we know and use the Creighton Model System accordingly. Some days my womb feels the emptiness, especially as our little Jean Paul is growing well into toddlerhood and almost every woman I see bears a beautifully pregnant belly.

God is still here with us in the midst of it all, speaking to our situation. While Gary and I haven’t heard a “No more”, it is clear that the current message is “Not now.”

Interestingly enough, it is my rheumatologist who keeps bringing up the fact that I have a number of fertile years left and I shouldn’t rule out the possibility of Baby #5 down the road. And if anyone was to caution me about growing our family size, it would be him. He knows my immune system better than anybody. It scares me a little, but then I’m called to follow my own advice and lean on the same words of consolation I give to my couples who are in tough spots, too.

Meanwhile, we are still able to renew our vows to one another and celebrate the sacrament of our marriage as we surrender our family to the perfect will of our Creator. For every opportunity to do so, I am grateful…