Natural Fertility Awareness and Responsible Parenthood

Almighty God manifests great confidence in us in giving us a share in His greatest work of creation. The future of the human race depends by God’s design on our cooperation.

Fr Denis L. St Marie

 By God’s design, the married couple seals their wedding vows of love and commitment through their sexual union. The intimate, beautiful encounter of man and woman becoming one flesh is meant to symbolize and communicate God’s free, total, faithful, fruitful love. When a husband and wife give themselves to each other without reservation they are giving the most personal and powerful sign of their love. This total gift of self is healing and creative, increasing the graces in a marriage. In a multitude of ways it is both love-giving (unitive) and life-giving (procreative).

In His wisdom and love for us, our Creator laid an immense blessing upon this act of union. The marital embrace has the greatest potential of all acts to crown the marriage with the blessing of fruitfulness, since no other act so participates in God’s creative power to bring forth new life. “Be fruitful and multiply: fill the earth and subdue it”. (Gen 1:28) Fertility, then, must be regarded with awe, as a great privilege.

“Almighty God manifests great confidence in us in giving us a share in His greatest work of creation. The future of the human race depends by God’s design on our cooperation. If the greatest thing God did on earth was to create man, surely the greatest thing that man could ever do with his body would be to procreate” (Fr Denis L. St Marie Family Planning: A guide to Reflection p1).

The Gift of Fertility and Procreation

God intended marriage as an “intimate partnership of life and love” (Gaudium et Spes, # 48). He created man and woman for each other (Gen 2:18), placing deep in our being a yearning for communion, and he gifted us with a physical body capable of expressing and satisfying (in part) this longing.

“A man’s body does not make sense by itself. Nor does a woman’s. Seen in light of each other we discover the unmistakable plan of the Creator: man is designed for woman and woman is designed for man… Our bodies literally fit together, summoning us to the ascent of love and enabling us to be a life-giving (spousal) gift to one another” (Theology of the Body, Pope Saint John Paul II, Ch 15:1).

The Meaning of Responsible Parenthood

Because the capacity to transmit life is such a great good, responsible Christian parenthood obliges married couples to prayerfully discern what is God’s will for them concerning their family. The spouses, in their marriage vows, have promised to give themselves to each other, and this mutual self-giving includes the gift of their fertility. Free, total, faithful, fruitful love in practice means that husband and wife remain physically open to the possibility of new life in every marital embrace. Their openness is an act of profound reverence for the dignity of their calling and the meaning of their vows.

The Church never proposes how many children a couple should have. Ultimately this decision is one to be made by the couple alone. Serious circumstances – financial, physical, psychological, or those involving responsibilities to other family members – may affect the number and spacing of children. The Church understands this, while encouraging couples to be generous. A couple need not intend to conceive a child in every act of intercourse. But they should never suppress the life-giving power that is part of what they pledged in their marriage

Faithful love does not come effortlessly

“Being faithful to one’s spouse… means living what you promised at the altar through thick and thin, no matter how difficult, no matter how challenging, no matter how much sacrifice is required.” Here follows the challenging practical implication of this truth: “Wedding vows are the expression of God’s love here on earth. When spouses contradict their vows through the language of their bodies, they contradict the very meaning of life – our call to image God by loving as He loves…” Christopher West, Good News about Sex and Marriage, 2004. If a couple intentionally prevent their physical union from being life-giving by using contraception, their love is no longer unconditional: this changes the ‘I do’ of wedding vows to ‘I do not’.

Fertility Awareness and Management

What should a couple do if they have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy?

In His providence, God has provided a natural means of birth regulation by which we can space our children without harming our fertility, or our friendship with our spouse and with God.

Scientific researchers have, over the last few decades, studied various markers of natural fertility, giving rise to a range of Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs). These methods focus on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Couples relying on these methods to avoid pregnancy, abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle. No drugs, devices, or surgical procedures are used. Couples seeking pregnancy are able to optimize conception using their knowledge of the fertile phase of the cycle.

Use of FABMs within marriage respects the dignity of the human person and the shared gift of a couple’s fertility. In remaining open to the possibility of generating new life, the couple preserves the love-giving and life-giving aspects of the marital act, enriching their marital bond.

Who can use FABMs?

Any married couple. A woman need not have regular cycles. The key to successful use is expert tuition as well as generosity, cooperation and communication between husband and wife.

How effective are FABMs?

FABMs can be highly effective, depending on how strongly motivated the couple is and whether they follow the rules of the method. Couples who carefully follow all the rules to avoid pregnancy can achieve a success rate of 99% using the
Billings Ovulation TM Method, which is comparable to artificial contraception.

What are the benefits of using Fertility Awareness Based Methods?

• Shared responsibility by husband and wife
• Low cost
• No harmful side effects
• Can be used throughout childbearing years
• Can be used in special circumstances such as post-partum, breastfeeding and peri-menopause
• Charting can help to reveal underlying health problems such as polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis and ovarian cysts.
• Charting abnormalities can be used to help diagnose causal factors when there is difficulty with conception

How can we learn to use FABMs?

The best way to learn a FABM is from a qualified instructor. The John Paul II Centre for Life offers tuition in the Billings Ovulation TM Method. Our teachers are accredited with WOOMB International. To make an appointment, please phone 03 351 3227 during office hours.

For more information see:

• Fertility Awareness Based Methods
• Billings: Leaders in Fertility Education
• Married Love and the Gift of Life, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (2006)
• Catechism of the Catholic Church (see in particular #2370)
• Church Document: Humanae Vitae 
• Church Document:  Donum Vitae

Resources available to borrow from the John Paul II Centre
Good News About Sex and Marriage, Christopher West, 2004

Some information on this page comes from the Melbourne Archdiocese: Life, Marriage and Family website. Used with permission. 

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