By Elizabeth Wong Barnstead | WKC
Martha Winn believes “it’s a really wonderful time right now” for natural family planning initiatives, considering the “movement in our culture toward a more ‘green’ type of healthy living.”
As a teacher and trainer in the Billings Ovulation Method of natural family planning, Winn is contacted by Catholics and non-Catholics alike who are interested in nature-friendly fertility awareness.
Winn, a registered nurse and a parishioner of Holy Spirit Parish in Bowling Green, said that natural family planning – also known as NFP – is “an awareness of combined fertility.”
Winn and her husband, Earl, were born and raised Catholic, and practiced natural family planning from the beginning of their marriage. Winn knew that NFP was approved by the Catholic Church, but decided to do her own research to understand why.
“So (I started) reading and reading, and I don’t think I’ve stopped reading about it!” she said.
The Billings Ovulation Method, as well as many other NFP methods like the Creighton Model and the Sympto-Thermal Method, operates with the understanding that men are always fertile, and women are fertile at specific times of their cycles.
“It can be used to achieve pregnancy, to space pregnancies, and to monitor reproductive health,” she said. “There are no chemicals, devices, or anything like that.”
NFP methods instruct women to track their fertile signs – such as cervical mucus and basal body temperature – to determine fertile times, and then discern with their spouse whether or not they are called to seek or postpone pregnancy that month. When postponing pregnancy, the couple abstains from sex during the woman’s fertile time.
Winn said NFP is approved and promoted by the Catholic Church because these methods embrace the philosophy that “our Lord is creator of life, and we are co-creators. It just makes sense.”
“To understand that the bonding and procreative aspect of the marital act – not separating those – really helps us to communicate with each other and to communicate with God,” she said.
In 2003 Winn said she “really felt called” to become a certified NFP instructor, mainly from other people who would say “hey, you’re Catholic, can you tell me about natural family planning?”
“It’s good news for everyone,” said Winn, and referenced the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s annual promotion of Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, which this year is July 24-30.
Winn recommended certified instruction “and a proper understanding” for couples who are interested in NFP, so that in whatever method they choose, “you become knowledgeable about that method.”
She said there are several cultural misconceptions about NFP, such as the belief that women with irregular cycles cannot use NFP.
In fact, she said that NFP is helpful for women with irregular cycles, since “the couple will be able to pinpoint the time of fertility and infertility” and may even uncover hidden fertility problems.
“Sometimes the underlying cause is something that needs to be treated from a healthcare perspective,” she said. “This can be caught with the awareness of what’s going on.”
She said that another misconception is that NFP is the same as the rhythm method, which operated from the idea that women ovulated the same day each month. But in reality, many factors contribute to when a woman may or may not ovulate, and can’t be reduced to a calendar.
Winn said that the woman’s chart, which is used to track her fertility, “becomes a ‘printout’ of information… they help the individual keep an accurate record of what’s going on day-to-day.”
Winn said that she and her husband were married in 1981 on July 25, which is also the anniversary of the release of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the regulation of birth.
“I didn’t know it at the time,” she said. “But God may have been planting the roots of this ministry in my heart!”
Learn natural family planning
To learn more about natural family planning or find an NFP instructor within our diocese, visit owensborodiocese.org/natural-family-planning.