Written by Anne Marie Williams. Originally published in Family Foundations.
Natural family planning played an integral role in CCL teaching couple Linda and David Ulmer’s decision to convert to the Catholic faith. Linda first learned about NFP in college during a Marriage and Family class at the Baptist university she attended, though she was told that it didn’t really work well for pregnancy prevention. Several years down the road in 1996, as a young married woman, she worked at a crisis pregnancy center. One day she found a CCL pamphlet on the center’s literature rack. After conceiving their firstborn, experiencing a yearlong window of infertility, and then getting pregnant in quick succession with their second and third daughters, Linda was seeking an effective method for spacing their children, and she proposed taking a class to David.
For his part, after learning about the amazing design of fertility during embryology classes for his Biology major in college, David “was convinced that it was insanity to put the pill or any type of chemical like that into a woman’s body. It just seemed like throwing a wrench into God’s perfect design…we were opposed to it on a medical level, but we didn’t have any sense of it being a sin to use contraception.” While he thought hormonal birth control imprudent, the barrier methods just seemed like a contradiction, like “they shouldn’t be part of a marriage.”
“What struck me the most was the natural spacing. It seemed as though God had created a natural pattern to follow, so ‘why didn’t they talk about that in school?’” By the time David took the CCL NFP class, he’d gone back to school for a nursing degree, but he’d heard nothing about NFP during that time. With the knowledge they gained from the CCL class and periodic follow ups as needed, the Ulmers went on to successfully space their six other children roughly two years apart.
Even though the Ulmers occasionally utilized barrier methods to avoid pregnancy during the fertile times over the years, after seven years of practicing NFP, David came to see that using contraception was a form of using Linda. They wanted their marital union to be an act of worship and they began to understand that abstinence and prayer during fertile times was better than contraceptive sex.
Not long after that revelation, the couple received an invite from CCL to become a teaching couple. As part of their training, the couple encountered the full beauty, depth and richness of the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality specifically through the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Within months, the couple left their Baptist church and entered RCIA. In 2005, they were received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. Fast forward to now, David, who was previously a Deacon in their Baptist congregation, is in the diaconate program for the diocese of Cincinnati, and he serves as the Associate Director of Chastity and NFP for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Asked what each of them liked best about the CCL method in particular, Linda cited “It’s easy to use, inexpensive, and promotes self-discipline through taking your temperature every day but also through making yourself a self-gift to your spouse.” David answered, “I appreciated being able to crosscheck…we had the temperature, the mucus, and the cervix sign. It just gave us a lot more confidence and knowledge to be able to do all that cross checking.” Linda added, “The reason temperature was so important at the beginning was that I was breastfeeding when I first took the class, and I wasn’t having any mucus observations at all. I realized, ‘Well, my temperature, I get this. I can take my temp, see the pattern, I can see what is happening.’ It wasn’t even until later that I learned the mucus pattern.”
The Ulmers wish every couple could see that, in Linda’s words, NFP is “a best-kept secret for healthy marriages and for family planning….It being so natural is great, but it’s been so spiritually beneficial for us to feel like we were in tune with God’s plan for our marriage. It just brought us along in all the ways it needed to in helping us learn self-discipline and making a gift of ourselves to one another.”
Linda also compared NFP to a magnifying glass that helps couples “see the power and the grace of the sacrament, so you’re seeing the virtue and the graces that come from sacrifice, and that is very powerful.”
David shared, “A lot of us struggle with ‘we don’t know if we’re ready yet [for another child], and we just need your help, God, to bring us to a point where we can say ‘yes’ in a free and total way.’ But He gives us that opportunity through NFP to postpone for a time and to seek His will. And that really helps us grow, and in the process of doing that we don’t harm our relationship [by using contraception]. We can continue to grow while we wait to get in total sync with each other and with the Holy Spirit. We don’t disinvite Him from our relationship.” No matter the stage or season of a couple’s marriage relationship, he summarized, “[NFP] can, when used in faith, create this space for couples to grow closer to each other and to God.”