OVIEDO | After 12 years of practicing and nine years of teaching Natural Family Planning (NFP), Katie and Matt Del Giudice discovered there was still more to learn when they conceived their third child, despite diligent chart keeping.
“This is the point of NFP that I didn’t get at first, but now I do,” Katie said. “You still have to be open what God wants you to have.”
The couple learned about NFP on their Engaged Encounter or Pre-Cana weekend, prior to getting married, more than a decade ago. A presenter introduced the Billings Method of Natural Family Planning, which teaches women how to determine ovulation cycles. A human factor psychologist, the presentation appealed to Katie’s scientific mind.
“She spoke to me as a scientist, not just as an NFP practitioner,” Katie recalled. “She explained, this is how your body works. You can read your signs so you know when you’re fertile and when you’re not. It made so much sense. … I thought, this might be a good path to follow.”
Frances Stadler, marriage preparation and family life coordinator at the Del Giudices’ parish, Most Precious Blood, in Oviedo, agreed the method makes sense. She added, it provides “practical and spiritual benefits to couples.”
“It gives women real insight to their health, strengthens marriages by fostering cooperation and communication between husband and wife,” she said, adding couples who practice NFP have a less than 3% divorce rate. “And it affirms the Sacramental nature of their union. … I would also say, in general within family life, practicing NFP is a witness to older children to the whole of our Catholic faith. If you follow all teachings of the Church, but disregard this one, what are you saying? If you pick and choose which teachings and truths of the Church to abide by, it gives the larger message to your kids, what else can I disregard in my faith?”
The Del Giudices pursued the NFP path and practiced the Billings Method for five years, then switched to the Sympto-Thermal Method (which adds temperature checks for increased accuracy) after their eldest son was born. As Katie gained confidence in the method, it led to a desire to teach others. “I think everyone should know this,” she thought. “They should teach it at the high school and pre-teen level when you’re learning about your body and how it works… you can use it to plan and space your family, but I think it’s knowledge everyone should have.”
Katie and Matt began teaching through Couple to Couple League International, a Catholic organization that offers NFP courses. They also taught and presented the topic through their parish. Eventually they had another son.
“For the first two, it was really great. I thought, ‘Look how awesome this is. We got pregnant right away. We’re working with God,’” she said. “It was this feeling that we wanted this for ourselves and God also wanted it, and it was pretty cool to be able to participate in that.”
She acknowledged how the method was more difficult during the early years of their marriage because of preconceived notions of a couple in the “honeymoon” phase of the marriage. Those notions began to fade away as their family grew.
“After you start having kids, you realize, I’m not always going to be available because, sometimes I’m tired or the kids have been up all night,” she said. “So, it can be a burden, but it really also does helps you to connect in different ways.”
She said this is a plus for younger couples who may not have had a long courtship. She said it offers an opportunity to talk, spend time together watching a movie or playing a game, and learning more about one another.
“Those are the times when you have to have that tool bucket so you can say, okay, let’s do this tonight because it’s going to help us connect in a different way. It’s fun to connect with each other in those ways; have different experiences together. That’s important for couples, beyond intimacy.”
After practicing NFP effectively for 12 years, she unabashedly admitted, when she became pregnant with her third, she felt confusion. Parenthood is a difficult vocation and she was not sure she wanted to become pregnant again.
“I was like, whoa God, what’s going on here? I think He was whispering this was the path you need to be on, but I didn’t want to listen,” Katie said. “I truly believe that God wanted us to have a third, but I was very hesitant and kind of holding back.”
This was a point where the couple that had studied Natural Family Planning and taught the method learned an important message about the method: “You can’t go into it with a contraceptive mentality.”
“It’s very easy to slip into the mindset that I can use NFP perfectly and it’s going to get me exactly what I want, but that’s not necessarily true,” she said. “If you are a couple and actively intimate with each other, you must be open to the fact that, despite our intentions, there might be another intention at work here. That is something I don’t think I got until I had this experience.”
She said all couples must face that fact that no method of family planning is 100 percent. This includes how many children they hope to have. The balance is to be open to God’s will, trust it and come to accept it, even if it might not be the long-term plan they drafted.
“Being open to life means different things for different couples, but I think it’s important for couples to have honest conversations about what being open to life means for them. There is a point where you realize the act of being intimate allows you to participate in creation,” she said. “NFP is about working in partnership with God to build our families and coming to accept the things God has planned for our lives. God likes to challenge our assumptions to help us grow closer to him and each other. Now that our third is here, I can’t imagine life being otherwise.”
To find classes on Natural Family Planning methods, click here or contact Lynda Monckton, director of family ministry at the Diocese of Orlando, 407-246-4882.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, August 5, 2020