Written by Anne Marie Stroud. Originally published in Family Foundations.
Having initially come from two different faith backgrounds, Brendan and Heather Murphy found the Catholic Church teachings on NFP were an ecumenical foundation that brought them closer together. It was through the loving evangelization of an NFP instructor that they came to embrace the teaching and live it through family. Seeing the growing hurt in our culture, Brendan and Heather try to exemplify the truth and beauty of fertility awareness to others through both words and actions.
Anne Marie: Brendan and Heather, how did you meet?
Brendan: Heather was in sixth grade, and I was in seventh grade. She was in a local student play of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” She was Lucy and my younger brother was Linus. I had never seen her at school before until she walked out on stage. I went home from the play, and I looked up her address in the phone book, because we had no internet or anything like that yet. So, I did what any shy seventh grade boy would do – I wrote her a letter. Heather now jokes that the letter was written like a resume cover letter introducing myself. I am one of eight siblings, so I knew I would be made fun of if I was caught dropping it off at her house, so I mailed it from the post office down the street. I did something right because I got a letter back from Heather and the rest is history! We dated for almost four years through college and then we were married in 2002. At her formal graduation in May, we were already married – that was kind of fun.
Anne Marie: Going into your marriage, was NFP something you learned early on or was it something that you were introduced to later?
Heather: I grew up Methodist and Brendan was from a big Catholic family. I was not aware of NFP or Catholic teaching, but since we went to University of Scranton – a Jesuit school – we had to take Theology. I started learning about the Catholic faith. I thought I was going to convert him, but it did not go that way! I very happily converted to Catholicism once I started learning more about Church teaching. Through that process of conversion, the teachings of contraception, natural family planning and being pro-life all started to click into place for me. There was a woman who would come and give talks on campus named Megan. She gave a witness talk about how she met her husband and her reversion to the Catholic faith and chastity. I became a “groupie,” I would go listen to her talks because she was so inspiring. She was also an NFP teacher, so I said to Brendan, “If I can learn from Megan, then I’m willing to learn and practice NFP.”
Brendan: I have never really heard of NFP before college. My parents never really talked about it. I am from a big family but my parents lead by example, not by their words. I do remember being in high school and one of my classmates knew I was Catholic, and he asked me, “Catholics can’t use contraception, right?” I did not know what he was talking about. I never heard that term before. When we met with Megan to learn NFP, it went so well. She was a charismatic teacher, and she opened a door for us with NFP. As with many NFP students and teachers, we are still friends today. Megan and her husband are godparents to our oldest son. That friendship led us to become NFP teachers and PreCana leaders in our diocese. It was great to be able to share that knowledge and experience.
Anne Marie: How would you say that NFP has impacted your marriage?
Brendan: I think for me, it helped that it is a teamwork approach to family planning. Even when we were engaged and not living together, Heather would track her signs and her temperature. Then she would let me know, and I was at my apartment charting it every day. That is how we learned. It gave me an appreciation of how her body works and how she was made by God. You never learn these things in health class. I was always impressed by how everything worked together and the science behind it. NFP helps us be in communication about where we are at in the cycle and decisions we are going to be making. You are always having that conversation. It was never just on Heather alone. It is always the two of us together. When we are teaching, I always encourage the husband or fiancé to be involved in helping track in some way. I always found it helpful to take the team approach.
Heather: For me, I thought that contraception was the ultimate control over your body. Then the more I learned about NFP, I realized that natural family planning is truly empowering because you understand your body and your fertility. They say that “knowledge is power.” It is just crazy to me to think how the pill masks so many underlying issues that women are trying to heal. Part of the beauty of NFP is understanding what is going on and working with your body, not against it.
Anne Marie: How do you think birth control is feeding into the anti-life culture?
Brendan: A big part of the problem is that many people do not even know how some of these contraceptive approaches work. Couples think that birth control methods just prevent ovulation, and they do not realize that a lot of them are abortifacients. I have met people who consider themselves pro-contraception and they think they are pro-life because they’re not having an abortion or recommending abortion. That is what is great about teaching NFP. We can teach with a pro-life perspective, helping people live with no doubts or ambiguity.
Heather: Abortion and valuing human life was the most important argument against contraceptives for me. But there are so many other harmful ripple effects of contraceptives in society and even in the environment. Just think about all the synthetic hormones being put into the water system.
Anne Marie: How are you imparting these pro-life and pro-family values to your own children?
Heather: That’s funny because our kids are super awkward about real conversations about stuff like that. We try to keep things age appropriate and answer questions and make ourselves available for when questions come up and have hard talks. We try to live by example and have respect for each other. We are fortunate in that we are surrounded by a lot of big families. We are one of the smaller families in our group of friends. Some of our kids are like, “Mom, when are we gonna have more kids? We need another baby.” So, we have those conversations about openness to life with them at an age-appropriate level. That is part of being pro-life and practicing NFP.
Anne Marie: How do you see NFP being even more relevant in today’s culture?
Heather: Our society is so overwhelmed with misinformation and confusion regarding sexuality,
gender, and marriage. We’re at a point in history when promoting NFP, living your faith boldly, and sharing the truth are critical to breaking through the noise and making a huge impact. It’s important to do this with an evangelical and loving heart, and meeting people where they are. That’s how we build this culture of life together.
Brendan: We recently started watching “The Chosen” as a family and Jesus tells Simon, “Get used to different.” That’s our call in this mission. When you live out NFP in your life, others will notice your joy is different and want to follow. Invite them!
Anne Marie Stroud is wife to Colin and mom to Magdalena Grace. She currently works for a Catholic marketing company. You can connect with her on Instagram @thecatholichypewoman or read her blog at thecatholichypewoman.wordpress.com.