From the Family Foundations archives
Good for you
How NFP & better health go hand in hand
By Maria Wiering
Ten years ago if you would’ve told Laura Devick she’d have chickens in her garage, the newlywed would’ve laughed. But fast forward a decade, and you’ll find three chickens behind her home in downtown Fargo, N.D. – bantam-sized Ameracaunas that spend the day roosting in an “incognito coop” inside the garage.
“They are pets that make us breakfast,” said Laura, who admits to going “chicken crazy” when she hatched her scheme to raise poultry in her urban yard.
These days, raising chickens in the city is not unusual, and the trend is on the rise. What may be unique is the Devicks’ chicken catalyst: natural family planning, which she and her husband, Matt, learned while preparing for marriage.
That CCL class “opened the floodgates” for the couple, said Laura, 31, a stay-at-home mom of four boys, ages 9, 7, 5 and 3. “We found ourselves measuring everything else we believed against natural law, with the attitude that if the world is so wrong about artificial contraception, what other things don’t we have quite right?”
That query called into question their eating habits and overall lifestyle philosophies. The Devicks, CCL members, adopted a more natural approach – one that, eventually, included eating eggs from yard-raised chickens adopted from the county fair.
While not every NFP user will end up with her own chicken coop, learning natural family planning often means understanding not only the workings of a women’s fertility cycle and how to avoid or pursue conception naturally but also how foods, exercise and nutrients – or lack thereof – factor into fertility and overall health. Armed with new knowledge, women who once eschewed dairy embrace homemade yogurt. Men add spinach salads to their dinners. Couples commit to regular evening walks, whole grains and consistent sleep.
Overall, NFP users seem more health-conscious and disciplined than those who do not use NFP, said obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Kyle Beiter, medical director of The National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility in New Brunswick, N.J. Those attributes make NFP-users stellar patients, he said.
“In the sense of taking responsibility for their health, knowing their bodies, knowing what’s going on, they are the best,” Dr. Beiter said. “If they are disciplined enough to do the charting, that will obviously carry over into other areas of their life.”
Matt Devick, 32, a web developer for BlueCross BlueShield of North Dakota, has experienced that carryover. He called NFP the “springboard” for many of his family’s decisions, especially when it comes to the table. He switched from chips to nutrient-rich nuts when snacking at work. Laura makes homemade sourdough bread and ferments foods from cabbage to kombucha tea. On one recent winter Wednesday evening, the meal was quinoa, shrimp and bean sprouts – not a dinner Laura would serve to guests, she admitted, but an example of her quest to ensure her family’s good nutrition.
In the summer the Devicks’ vegetables come from a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, where shareholders pay a farmer for a weekly portion of produce. In the winter Laura orders produce from Azure Standard, an Oregon-based online natural foods grocer.
She’s quick to point out that her lifestyle may seem far gone to many busy parents. But for her family, it developed gradually and beautifully. “Little by little we’ve been led,” she said. “It’s definitely not a package that arrived on our doorstep. It starts with one spark and then lots of thought and research and prayer. And at times it’s two steps forward and two steps back. We’ll be really on the ball, doing everything we like to do as far as health, and then this week, we’re all sick and have a fuller schedule and we just have to survive, so we pick up a pizza.”
Monitoring fertility signs taught Laura to watch for small changes in her family’s physical or mental health. When a son’s typical behavior suddenly changed, she adjusted his diet before seeking medication by consulting a pair of naturopathic doctors, who discovered the boy is sensitive to wheat. With a low-gluten diet, he is back to his old self, Laura said.
Laura has also observed a boost in her health. All of her pregnancies have gone well, but her last was the best by far, she said. She felt more energetic and had an easy recovery, which she attributes to regular walks and fresh CSA veggies. When her cycles returned, she noticed they were more predictable and regular than ever.
“I’m very thankful for that,” she said.
Kate Harvey, meanwhile, a 24-year-old classical pianist based in Enterprise, Ala., does not eat organic but has been empowered to adapt a healthier lifestyle thanks to NFP. She and her husband, Stephen, took CCL’s course during their engagement. This past fall when Harvey experienced two abnormal cycles in the span of three months, she consulted her teachers. They confirmed that Harvey hadn’t ovulated and helped her recognize that her recent stress-induced weight loss was likely the culprit for the lean 5’11” blonde.
“I never would’ve known that these issues had been stemming from my low body fat if I hadn’t been tracking my cycles,” Harvey said. “I feel so fortunate to be able to figure out the issue this early on and begin working on it. Having this monitored approach to my cycle and having these resources makes me feel really good.”
In addition to consultation from CCL, another valuable resource Harvey cited is Marilyn Shannon’s book Fertility, Cycles & Nutrition, which explores how lifestyle decisions can optimize fertility. It examines the way low body fat can shorten a cycle’s luteal phase and affect ovulation and it helped Harvey gain a few pounds by adding healthy fats like avocado and olive oil to her diet.
Kelly Ley, 34, also read Fertility, Cycles & Nutrition, while researching how to extend her luteal phase when her fertility returned post childbirth. She found that taking the multivitamin Optivite, munching on carrots for Vitamin A and avoiding decongestants helped to establish clear cervical mucus patterns, and cutting out alcohol mid-cycle allowed her to better identify her thermal shift. She focuses her diet on fruits and vegetables and eats few sweets or processed foods.
Parents of five, Kelly and her husband, Chris, live in Fort Wayne, Ind., and learned NFP through CCL. Kelly now directs religious education at her Catholic parish but is also a registered nurse who worked for a decade in neonatal intensive care. NFP fits with her medical background, she said.
“I was used to charting as a nurse and charting subtle changes, so I almost over-charted my first couple charts,” she said with a laugh. “Overall, it’s helped me to look at a more natural approach to a lot of things.”
As an ICU nurse, she is used to taking an “interventionist” approach to health, she said. She now favors natural approaches to labor and delivery, which she attributes to her knowledge of NFP and women’s health. “You start recognizing that not only is fertility not a disease, but carrying a child to term is a normal occurrence that has been going on since the beginning of time, and it’s not a medical event.”
Austin, Texas, resident Tarisa Schmid, 28, calls eating for health “using God’s tools.” When she and her husband, Ben, learned NFP, Tarisa took Shannon’s nutritional advice to address long and heavy periods.
Before learning NFP, Tarisa was a longtime runner but munched on processed and fast foods with little thought. Learning NFP flipped Tarisa’s approach to eating 180 degrees, she said. She began by cutting trans fats and adding more vegetables, and as hoped, her periods lightened and shortened.
Since then Tarisa has changed a lot more about her lifestyle, she said.
“I took NFP initially to follow my Catholic beliefs, and now I’m all for NFP on an ethical and a health level,” she said.
While learning NFP, Tarisa was in graduate school for mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, where she had been skeptical of her classmates’ affection for food grown without pesticides or herbicides.
“Berkeley is a very health-conscious town, and when I was a grad student, I was kind of annoyed because you couldn’t find anything that was not organic,” she said. “Organic, of course, is a little more expensive, and I was a grad student on a budget. I literally just searched around for the cheapest conventional produce I could find in Berkeley.”
Once she changed her eating habits, she was grateful to be in crunchy California, she said. A CCL member and stay-at-home mom, Tarisa now chooses farmers markets and natural foods stores over traditional supermarkets and rarely eats out. She learned to cook, makes her own household cleaners and uses olive oil as a skin moisturizer. She exercises by spending time outside with her 2-year-old son, Michael, instead of taking long runs.
“I’m more conscious about living the way I believe God intended for us to live,” she said. “That even includes exercise. I think we’re not designed for one-hour busts of running every day but constantly walking and being outside and enjoying the fresh air.”
In Rochester, N.Y., Jamie and Wendy Krug were local food aficionados before they learned NFP early in their marriage. Their choices on natural, healthy foods and environmental stewardship led them to embrace NFP, Wendy said.
“We were drawn to it because of our lifestyle already. We try to avoid chemicals and we eat organic and we’re practicing Catholics,” said Wendy, a 35-year-old mother of three who learned NFP through CCL. “It was a natural consequence of what we already were doing.”
Fertility charting also helped Wendy recognize that her cervical mucus production was atypical and a symptom of hyperthyroidism, which prompted her to get tested. Her suspicion was confirmed, and she began taking medicine to address the condition.
Wendy has a master’s degree in pastoral theology and sees a connection between her faith and a natural lifestyle, she said. She wishes more people did.
“The theology is there – that this is God’s world and we have to be good stewards of it – but it’s not what people think of when people think of Catholic theology, I guess,” she said. “But for us it’s very much how we live it out.”
The Devicks share that perspective. Learning NFP deepened their appreciation of God’s creation of man and the natural world, Laura said. She wants her boys to grow up understanding that healthy living dovetails with the Catholic Church’s teachings on human dignity and the Theology of the Body. However, Laura knows natural living can seem overwhelming for people who want to improve their habits but do not know where to begin.
“Even just growing a tomato plant in your yard or on your patio is a great way to start,” she said. “It awakened in us a curiosity of how things grow and how God made plants and us to be so fertile and abundant.”
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