Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Interest in Natural Family Planning leads to teaching, research

by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff

(From the Feb. 3, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

When Joy DeFelice saw an ad in the Inland Register for a pilot series on Natural Family Planning in the fall of 1976, she signed up for the series, never dreaming that God would call her to spend the next 29 years teaching and researching NFP. What she discovered through the series was a hunger among couples of all ages and backgrounds to understand God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage, and a lack of adequate resources, research and materials for couples to learn the natural methods of charting their fertility.

Since she and her husband had been practicing NFP for 18 years when she observed the pilot series, DeFelice volunteered to help out for a bit until things were more organized and more teachers could be trained. However, she found herself returning again and again as more and more people requested her assistance in learning about their fertility. After just one more year, DeFelice found herself teaching regular courses at Sacred Heart Medical Center and researching the feminine fertility cycle – always striving to help more people understand God’s great plan for procreation.

“If you had told me that first day that I’d be talking to perfect strangers about these things I would have collapsed,” said DeFelice. “In my generation, women just didn’t talk about these things.”

NFP is a system of charting a woman’s fertility cycle based on three signs – vaginal discharge, waking temperature and an internal examination. It is a scientific method of family planning that is sanctioned by the Catholic Church and completely natural.

“Following the three signs, no matter the cycle you’re having or what part of life you’re in – whether you’re pre-menopause or breast-feeding, needing to avoid pregnancy or trying to conceive – you can get the information you need to know if you’re in a fertile or infertile time,” said DeFelice.

DeFelice said that not only is NFP as or more accurate than any of the artificial methods of birth control on the market – both at achieving and avoiding pregnancy – but the divorce rate among couples who use NFP is much, much lower than that of the rest of the public.

“(NFP) requires the same qualities as you do to have a successful marriage,” she said: trust and healthy communication. “More and more women who begin using NFP in their marriage also note that they don’t feel used anymore, and most never recognized that they did feel that way before they began using NFP.”

DeFelice stresses that NFP is not a method of birth control.

“NFP is not wanting to stamp out fertility,” she said. “In fact it works with fertility. It generates an understanding of, an appreciation for and a confidence in your fertility. You don’t have to protect against it because you’re very confident and at ease with it.”

Through the years, DeFelice has designed a teaching course and user-friendly materials to help couples learn about and chart their fertility. When she first began teaching, she said, the resources usually were thick booklets full of detailed information that was very time-consuming for people to wade through when learning about NFP – especially mothers of babies and young children who barely have time to shower and comb their hair, let alone read hundreds of pages of scientific information about their fertility.

DeFelice thought that when she was learning it would have been nice to have “a rule sheet,” so she set about compiling all the available information into short booklets and one-page reference sheets that quickly sum up the complex information into a user-friendly format.

DeFelice notes that though the course is taught from a Catholic perspective, nearly 50 percent of the couples who enroll are not Catholic.

“It’s not just a Catholic thing,” said DeFelice. “A lot of people don’t like things (the birth control pill) that can cause early abortion. A lot of people don’t like to put a barrier between them. They want to take care of their bodies. And, a lot of people want to achieve pregnancy and they find that NFP is more effective than most other things at doing that.”

DeFelice said that her classes are always full. “There’s a general increase in wanting to know how their bodies are designed and how it works and not wanting to cause abortion or other side-effects,” she said.

Though NFP is physically beneficial for the woman, DeFelice also points out that it is very beneficial for the couple and their relationship, as well.

“The couples are extremely grateful,” she said. “Many of them wish they had known it sooner. Couples will say it just opens a whole new world of responsibility and appreciation for your fertility. It increases communication as a couple and it really relies on trust between the husband and wife – it’s not just her responsibility or his. You have greater insight into God’s love and wisdom.”

Colin and Brenna Kelly enrolled in NFP classes shortly after their engagement as part of their marriage preparation. By their June 2004 wedding, the two had a good grasp of NFP and have been singing its praises ever since.

“We are so glad that we use Natural Family Planning in our marriage for many reasons,” they said. “The best advantage is that it is healthy and non-invasive. It involves both of us, rather than placing the responsibility of a birth control method on either husband or wife. It also keeps intimacy new and exciting, and something sacred to look forward to rather than something we may have taken for granted otherwise. Practicing NFP has brought us closer to each other and God, and discovering our love for each other.”

Though she has noticed a dramatic increase over the years in knowledge about NFP, DeFelice said that she still struggles to correct misconceptions about it. “So many people don’t even know it exists or they have misconceptions about it or they have not been accurately taught,” she said.

Though the Kellys admitted to having some misgivings about NFP, after they attended classes and began using the method in their marriage, they knew they made the right decision.

“Before we were married, we were advised by well-meaning friends that we should not ‘risk’ using NFP, when in fact the success rate of avoiding pregnancy rivals any contraceptive method,” they said. “Now that we are married, we are glad to be open to life and God’s plan for our family. We are confident in knowing that we will have a child when we are ready and are excited to know that when we want to start a family we can plan more effectively and lessen the frustration many couples experience.”

DeFelice is well known in the field of NFP. She has researched and produced two theories that are used in other programs throughout the nation. Her early research produced a theory of “temperature adjusting” based on the time of day that a woman wakes in the morning. The temperature adjusting method allows women to choose a “base-time” and adjust her oral temperature recording based on the amount of time she strays from that base time when she wakes. Adjusting enables a woman to obtain a much more accurate reading and to determine much more closely when she ovulates.

While working with couples, DeFelice also noticed that excess light at night seems to affect women’s fertility.

“Women, and people in general, just don’t get a nighttime anymore and that confuses our hormones,” said DeFelice.

DeFelice noticed that darkening the bedroom at night helped many women to regulate their fertility cycles. Everything from a streetlight outside the window, to the glowing numbers on a digital alarm clock, to the light from a nightlight in anther room sneaking under the bedroom door can make a distinct impact on the fertility cycle. DeFelice also notes that darkening the room helps both women and their spouses to sleep better.

“Eliminating all the excess light just makes such a difference in so many ways,” she said.

Though she never imagined she would be teaching NFP to perfect strangers, DeFelice said it seems very natural now.

“It seems to have become an apostolate,” she said. “It’s a real privilege to be allowed into people’s lives in this way. It’s a very special and rewarding type of teaching.”

She wants people to realize that NFP is a completely different way at looking at fertility. “It’s not a disease – it’s a gift to be fertile. It’s a blessing. You can see God’s loving design and his wisdom in our fertility and the wisdom of the Church in holding onto God’s design.”

For more information about Natural Family Planning, or to register for NFP classes, contact the Women’s Health Center at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane at (509) 474-2400.

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