You may be thinking, as an unmarried adult, how is Fertility Awareness (Natural Family Planning) relevant to me? In her article titled, “Fertility Awareness and Women Religious,” Sister Renée Mirkes, OSF, PhD, mentions a few motivations to learn fertility awareness, which can be applied to ALL people. To sum, they are: better understanding of the nuptial meaning of the body, health, and stewardship. I will briefly identify those here:
1. Nuptial Meaning of the Body. Our mission as Catholics is to know, love, and serve God. One part of knowing God is knowing how and why He created us. Studying fertility awareness demonstrates God’s awesome design in allowing us to be co-creators with Him. This knowledge is meant to inspire us to reflect on Trinitarian love. Sister Renée writes, “I experience the practice of tracking my fertility, now transformed by grace, as an ever renewing reminder that, in the essential nature of my sexuality, God has created me to be a gift.” Don’t wait until you’re holding a newborn to be inspired by the genius of women. Sister Renée explains that fertility awareness reminds her of this gift on a daily basis as she charts her observations. Specifically for those called to celibacy through religious vocations, she explains the nuptial meaning of the body through charting:
What she seeks is a marriage and a family directly with God. Her practice of fertility awareness advises her that she is called to love on the human plane as a spiritual mother, as an icon of God’s life-giving love. She is called to imitate the diagram of Christ’s love on the cross, to imitate a love for others that is unto death.
2. Health. Charting teaches women to become self-aware of subtle signs that could point to serious health complications. Women’s bodies are designed to be fertile when they’re healthy. When a woman identifies sub-optimal fertility through charting, she’s observing the initial signs that there’s something wrong. Some of the health conditions that will show symptoms through fertility awareness are PMS, thyroid disease, some types of cancer, PCOS, and endometriosis. In addition, fertility awareness will identify those who are at risk for miscarriage and premature birth. Women who chart their fertility are able to bring their concerns to their doctors sooner than women who don’t chart, and therefore receive treatment sooner. Too often I hear of women ignoring health concerns until they are pregnant with their first child. By then it is too late for prevention, and they risk the life of their unborn child through early miscarriage or premature birth. Besides monitoring a woman’s health, fertility awareness helps new parents more accurately identify their baby’s due date. This is important in terms of receiving timely prenatal care and reducing the need for labor induction.
3. Stewardship. Because this knowledge is available, and has been proven trustworthy from over 40 years of research, we have the responsibility to learn it well to become good stewards of our bodies. This can happen by perfecting the gift of self through this awareness, or by taking responsibility for our bodies through treating illnesses immediately and ethically. Learning to chart now before marriage also helps you clarify your future family goals. If you are suffering a condition that threatens your fertility, it is important to discuss that with your fiancé before marriage as well as throughout it. In this way you open up discussion early for alternative approaches to the procreative end of marriage beyond parenting biological children: adoption, foster care, community service, or missionary work.
More dioceses are presenting NFP instruction through pre-Cana. Some couples may find that they never have a need to space children more than what breast-feeding permits, nor will they ever find themselves jobless, seriously ill, caring for high needs children, or any other reason that would require avoiding pregnancy temporarily or permanently. However, the problem is that we can’t predict the future. By the time a crisis arises in your life, you need to start charting 3-6 months ago to have a handle on making accurate observations and informed decisions.
Consider learning more about fertility awareness as a way to grow closer to God and to those whom you serve through Him. Sister Renée has written extensively on all sorts of moral quandaries regarding reproductive technology and Catholic teaching. She is available by phone and email, so I encourage you to contact her for any ethical questions.