Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tiber River Review: The Art of Natural Family Planning

The Couple to Couple League's The Art of Natural Family Planning Student Guide is a wonderful guide to understanding your fertility and using that understanding to achieve or postpone pregnancy. Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the only church approved method of regulating births. The use of artificial birth control is not morally approved by the Catholic Church, so if a couple needs to postpone pregnancy or space the birth of their children for serious reasons, practicing NFP is the way to go.
Couples can learn the Sympto-thermal method of Natural Family Planning from the Couple to Couple League (CCL) in a classroom environment or in a home study format. The student guide is used for both courses. Of course, you can also learn this method by reading the student guide on your own, but doing so does not afford you the privileges of being a CCL member (taking a CCL course makes you a member) such as ongoing support with personal charting and interpretation. There are obviously benefits to taking the CCL course, but it is not impossible to learn how to effectively use this method of NFP on your own.
The full color student guide is separated into three sections. Each section corresponds to the three classes that comprise the CCL course. There is also a section of supplemental material. It is comprised of two appendices, a reference guide, a glossary and an index. The appendices correspond to exercises that are presented in the class sections.

The first class starts off with a lesson that explains why the Church does not allow contraception, and goes into a brief explanation of the Theology of the Body. It is followed by a brief anatomy lesson and an explanation of the female cycle and how it is divided into three phases. It is in this class that students will learn how to chart the woman's cycle and interpret signs of fertility within the cycle. There are several exercises regarding charting that are presented in this section. After completing the exercise, you can refer to the answer key that is contained in the appendices.

The second class reviews the lessons learned in the first class and then goes on to discuss some issues you may encounter with regards to charting (such as time disturbances in temperature taking). Rules for determining phase I infertility are introduced. There are several exercises that pertain to determining the end of phase I and the beginning of phase II. Later in this section there is a discussion on how to optimize your chances for conceiving. By the end of this section, a couple will have the information they need to determine whether or not they want to try to conceive or postpone a pregnancy. There is also a portion of this section that address how a couple who uses NFP to postpone a pregnancy is different from a couple who uses contraception to achieve the same end.

The third class, like the second class, starts off with a review of the material from the previous section. Following that, a brief overview of other methods of NFP is presented. These methods are explained, but instruction on how to effectively use these methods is not given (other methods of NFP have their own instructional classes and manuals). The CCL mucus-only and temperature-only rules are introduced in this section, as well. The next lesson discusses the use of NFP in special situations such as illness or stress. It is followed by a section the expands on why the Church teaches that marital relations are to be self-giving and live-giving. Next, methods of birth control, which are not Church approved, are discussed with the main focus being on the serious side-effects that occur from using said methods of contraception. A lesson is devoted to the effectiveness of NFP when used correctly (It's 99% effective when couples faithfully follow the rules). Two sections follow that discuss the effect of breastfeeding on fertility, and the use of NFP during premenopause. To learn more about either of these situations you can take a CCL class that deals specifically with that subject area. CCL offers both a postpartum guide and a premenopause guide that are used with their respective course. I have not reviewed either of those guides, but I would assume that one could read those manuals in lieu of the class and learn to implement NFP within those circumstances. But, just like with this student manual, if you do not take a class through CCL, you will not have the benefit of their ongoing support for chart analysis. The final portion of class three extols the benefits of practicing NFP.

As I mentioned earlier in this review, the appendices all correlate to specific exercises in the class sections of the book. The reference section of the book expands on some topics that were presented in the class portions of the book. There is a useful list of common drugs (both OTC and prescription) and how they can affect fertility (both male and female). A brief section on miscarriage is presented (a topic that was not discussed anywhere in the three classes). Full color pictures of cervical mucus and their descriptions as they pertain to NFP charting are also presented in the reference section. All of the rules for the CCL's method of NFP are reviewed in this section. It is the only place in the book where all of the rules are listed together. Information on how to successfully chart and use NFP when coming off of hormonal forms of birth control is also discussed.

In all, I found this to be a very informative manual for learning to use the Sympto-thermal method of NFP. It is very similar to the Sympto-thermal method, that I currently practice. I actually found the CCL's explanations to have more clarity. I would highly recommend this guide to couples who are seeking to learn a method of NFP that is effective. What appeals most to me about the Sympto-thermal method is the built in checks and balances. Instead of charting just one sign of fertility you chart two or three.

This review was written for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods. For more information and how to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

As a reviewer for Tiber River, I was given a free copy of The Art of Natural Family Planning in exchange for my honest review of the book.

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