Thursday, November 20, 2014

No Better Aphrodisiac: Why NFP?

Kevin and Allison Gingras speak honestly about why they switched from artificial birth control to Natural Family Planning (NFP) after discovering, among other things, how artificial birth control can lower a woman's libido. They also cover topics like the effect of peri-menopause, the benefits to using over-the-counter ovulation kits, and how regular times of abstinence can improve intimacy.


Kevin and Allison started out as high school sweethearts who went to both junior and senior prom together, and now they've been married for 25 years. They are proud parents of Ian (age 18), Adam (age 15), and Faith (age 8). Faith, who is deaf, was an extra special gift coming to them all the way from China when she was almost 4 years old. Kevin and Allison began using Natural Family Planning over 20 years ago, after reading about a local class in their church bulletin. Allison blogs at Reconciled to You and is a Catholic radio and tv personality as well as an app developer. You can read Faith's adoption story here and find out how God touched Kevin and Allison's heart to adopt even while they were using NFP to prevent pregnancy.

1. Why do you use NFP?


Our use of NFP coincided with our reversion to the Catholic faith over 20 years ago. We were at a point in our lives where we wanted to open our hearts to children, after living very self-centeredly for the first several years of our married life! I had discovered the horrific things I had subjected my body to by using birth control pills including their abortifacient effect and the increased risk for certain cancers (no one ever bothered explaining that, and I foolishly never read the lengthy pamphlet tucked inside the package each month). We saw a class being offered in our parish bulletin and signed up to learn more. I particularly loved that this method was not just my responsibility, that we’d be achieving and avoiding pregnancy together – yet of course, always open to God’s will.

2. Which method of NFP works best for you?


We were able to rely only on basal body temperature for 17 years, until Allison began peri-menopause. We have now added the Clear Blue Easy ovulation detector along with temperature charting. To be very honest, this new phase of fertility has been incredibly challenging especially in light of how easy it was for us before this change of life.

3. What are the biggest pros and cons of using NFP, in your experience?


Pros:

Allison: The natural breaks of intimacy that come in conjunction with a woman’s fertility cycle has been one of the most powerful marriage strengtheners. When you are able to say not tonight I’m “not safe” without hurting your husband’s feelings, that is a beautiful blessing. At one point in my life, I was in a Bible study with 40 women, and was one of the only women practicing NFP. One night we had an open honest discussion about sex in marriage – more than half of the women complained about always having to be "on" or "available" to their husbands. They spoke of intercourse with their spouses as a task – one most were not interested in - instead of the bonding, procreative gift from God it truly is. I recognized instantly the negative effect that birth control or sterilization can have on a marriage (nearly all of the women reporting an unhealthy intimacy also confided they were either on some form of birth control or one of spouses had received sterilization surgery).

Another huge benefit, which I never considered when we began our NFP adventure, is being able to accurately estimate the day of conception. This became very helpful when our first child was born 2 months premature – he was such a monster the doctors doubted my actual due date. I told them, if I had time to go home, I would bring them my chart!  After he was born they did the Apgar tests, and lo and behold we were spot on with the gestational age of our little man (who was dubbed as the big man on campus because he was 5 lbs already at only 32 weeks!)

Cons:

Allison: Really I had NONE until peri-menopause. While I want with my WHOLE heart to trust God’s plan for us, the idea of being mid-40s with a new baby is terrifying. I remember sitting in the class as a mid-20something-year-old joking that I’d be the woman with the mid-life baby as we covered that in the class. Now that I’ve arrived in mid-life, it is NOT as funny as I thought, nor am I as willing to be that woman as I was 20+ years earlier. So the con is definitely the extended abstinence couples can face with irregular cycles resulting from peri-menopause.

4. What NFP resources does your diocese have?


The Diocese of Fall River web site lists two NFP teaching couples in the Massachusetts area. But we have not been able to find anyone (except online) to teach a peri-menopause informational update class. That's what we really need.

5. What NFP resources have been most useful to you? 


We received all our NFP resources from Couple to Couple League.

6. How do you think your marriage would be different if you used artificial contraception instead of NFP?


Allison: We know what it was like, because we used them for many years. We had needless arguments and hurt feelings when one of us just wasn’t up for intimacy. I also struggled with a very low libido, a side effect of birth control – this also led to a period in our marriage when my husband really wondered if I loved him or if I was even maybe having an affair because of my lack of interest in being intimate. It was only in hindsight did we recognize that all of these issues, which truly threatened our marriage, were directly related to our use of artificial contraception.

Our marriage with those “natural breaks” that comes from following my cycles provided the healthy balance we needed. It also forced us to learn other ways to express our love and affection apart from having intercourse.  Added bonus, there is -- dare I say -- an excitement that builds with anticipating your safe time together that continues to fan our passion for each other. The grace from being open to life and God’s will are no better aphrodisiacs if you ask me!

The Gingras Kids: Ian, Faith, and Adam
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How Do You Say Yes to God?

In honor of the launch of Lisa Hendey's new book The Grace of Yes, she's asked everyone to flood the Internet with stories and images of how we say yes to God. Naturally, I asked my closest advisors -- my husband and my kids -- for their input. Here are our answers! (If you want to share your own stories or images, just post with the hashtag #graceofyesday. Awesome printable signs are available here.)

HOW THE SANTOSES SAY YES TO GOD

BY HAVING SIX KIDS



BY OBEYING MY PARENTS
(I so totally did not pay her to say that)



BY CARING FOR MY FAMILY



BY BEING THE BEST I CAN BE
AND
BY PRAYING AS MUCH AS I CAN



BY HELPING MY MOM AND DAD



BY USING MY PRAYING HANDS



Please join in -- the social media campaign will be going all day long! Plus, bloggers can join the CatholicMom.com link-up also!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

My Top 10 Favorite Date Ideas from Spouse Dates

I signed up for an email newsletter called Spouse Dates that arrives in my inbox every week with three or four fun date ideas, including at least one I never thought of and several that we haven't tried for a while. Here are my top faves.


1. Karaoke Night: Manny and I went to a karaoke bar on one of our first dates together. The only song we both knew was The Impossible Dream from the musical Man of La Mancha. You could hear the sneer in the karaoke emcee's voice when he announced us, then we totally blew it out of the water. Fond memories!

2. Drive-In Movie: Not every area still has a drive-in movie theater, but they're lots of fun. There's one in Virginia near where my parents live and we try to go every summer. If you're feeling brave (and limber), you can even lie down on the hood of the car together. Just make sure you bring a blanket to get comfy.

3. Run a Race Together: This idea is especially good for couples who (ahem!) need a little extra incentive to exercise. Our town sponsors a "Turkey Trot" 5-mile run every Thanksgiving. There's also a 1.4-mile "Fun Run" earlier in the day for people who just want to ease into it.

4. Romantic Scavenger Hunt: My husband Manny excels at scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, you name it -- the more elaborate the better. He recently designed a scavenger hunt with pictures of our April 2014 trip to Spain taped up all over the house and a list of riddles to help me and the kids identify the right picture. A romantic scavenger hunt could include items that are a bit more ... personal. Just make sure the kids don't find them first!

5. Visit an Aquarium: We've visited aquariums in places from Coney Island, New York, to Lisbon, Portugal. The dim lighting creates a great atmosphere, and watching fish undulating through the water is very soothing.

6. Local Wine-Tasting Event: You can combine this with help for your favorite charity, if you're so inclined. In the Long Island area, for example, the St. John's Kenyan Children's Foundation holds a wine-tasting fundraiser every year.

7. Breakfast Date: This works especially well on a day when hubby's off of work, but the kids are away at school. Since my husband works at a Jewish hospital and the kids go to Catholic school, Manny and I are sometimes home together on a Jewish holiday. No need to leave the house for the breakfast date, if you don't want to.

8. Read Poetry or a Novel Together: Manny likes Shakespeare, I like Chaucer. We could definitely explore both. Great saints have also written poetry, like St. Theresa of Avila, St. Therese of Lisieux, and even Pope St. John Paul II. A novel might be more your cup of tea, but reading poetry together takes a lot smaller time commitment.

9. Watch a Romantic French Movie: Since Manny and I mistakenly wound up in Paris for our honeymoon (a story for another time), we picked up the habit of shouting "Vive la France!" whenever unexpectedly awesome things happen. Watching a romantic French movie could give us lots of opportunities to shout "Vive la France!" at least as long as the main characters don't drive themselves off a bridge or something. Ever noticed how many "romantic" French movies have very, very depressing endings? Avoid those.

10. Go Ballroom Dancing: The parents of one of our friends used to go ballroom dancing together every week until she died. So sweet! Restaurants with ballroom dancing often feature live bands, so it's worth trying it for the music alone. You don't have to be any good, since honestly no one knows how to dance any more. Just put your arms around each other and hold on.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Grace of Admitting Our Brokenness

Even healers need to be healed. Even teachers need to learn more. And even those who advise perfection aren't perfect. If we're willing to admit that, then we have the grace of integrity, explains Lisa Hendey in her fourth book The Grace of Yes, released yesterday by Ave Maria Press. Integrity gives people in authority (including all parents) and people in ministry the strength to face down two equal and opposite temptations. The first temptation is to believe our own press and to think that we can live up to our own airbrushed avatars. The second is to perceive our own brokenness, our falls, and our failings, and then to despair that God can ever spread his word through us. With integrity, we can stare unflinchingly at our shortcomings and preach the good news of love and redemption anyway, knowing that we need it as much as anyone else.

Integrity is one of the many hidden graces that Lisa introduces us to in The Grace of Yes. Others include creativity, vulnerability, and even the strength to say no to a good that we are not called to do. Throughout the book, Lisa's encouraging voice reassures and inspires us to dig deeper, reach farther, and keep fighting the good fight. Not surprisingly, when Manny and I asked the publisher of our marriage advice book for examples of the warm and personal tone they wanted, they sent us The Grace of Yes. Lisa gives the impression that she has been in the trenches and shared the same journey as the reader, our publisher said, and I agree 100%.

Working with Lisa through the CatholicMom site, I can testify to the difference that Lisa's yeses have made in my life and ministry. Lisa was the first person to welcome me to social media. When I asked her to stop by and visit my fledgling blog back in 2011, she did. When I asked her to run a press release celebrating my blog's first 1,000 pageviews, she did. When I asked her to endorse my yet-to-be-published Catholic marriage advice book, she did. It's no exaggeration to say that Lisa's generosity of spirit and the vibrant community of women into which she welcomed me have been essential ingredients in the growth of my ministry.

In gratitude to Lisa, I want to work harder at saying yes to others and at giving thanks when others say yes to me. Lisa's book gives me the tools to turn that wanting into reality. You, too, should read it, implement it, and see how the grace of simple, small yeses can open the door to so much more.

Lisa's book is available through Amazon here and through Barnes & Noble here. My thanks to her for the free review copy.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Blessed Pope Paul VI: Interceding for Life on Earth and in Heaven

At the end of the contentious Synod on the Family, Pope Francis beatified Pope Paul VI, who was best known for reiterating the Catholic Church's objection to artificial birth control in the late 1960s. This beatification may signal more about the current pontiff's vision for the Church than his refusal to choose sides in the often acrimonious Synod debates between bishops over cohabitation, homosexuality, and pastoral care for the divorced and civilly remarried. This article originally appeared at Aleteia.


The Church canonizes a pope, not a papacy, as the saying goes, but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the man from the office he holds. Pope John XXIII’s canonization seven months ago amounted to a public declaration of the worth and validity of Vatican II, with which Pope John XXIII was so strongly identified. And when Pope Francis beatified Pope Paul VI this past week, it was as if the current pope put to rest all doubts about the Church’s continued adherence to Pope Paul VI’s most infamous encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which affirmed the Church’s stance against artificial birth control.

The timing of the canonization could not have been more powerful. The Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which took place from October 5 to October 19 in Rome, brought us images of cardinals raising their voices, challenging each others' views and intensely debating issues that to many of us seem undebatable – the Church’s doctrinal opposition to homosexual acts, sex outside of marriage, and divorce and remarriage outside the Church. In his closing speech on October 18, Pope Francis complimented the bishops for speaking their minds and criticized both “traditionalists” for their “hostile inflexibility” and “progressives” for their “deceptive mercy.” In light of calls for the pontiff to pick a side in the debates, he pointed out what he saw as flaws on both sides equally.

But Pope Paul VI’s beatification, which took place at the closing Mass of the Synod on October 19, displayed unity and unalloyed respect for a man labeled as a traditionalist and a progressive – a traditionalist for his proclamations on birth control and a progressive for his support of Mass in the vernacular.

“Few people understood how comprehensively he saw things,” noted Deacon Scott Dodge of the Cathedral of the Madeleine. At Pope Paul VI’s beatification, Pope Francis praised his predecessor’s heroic virtue in “hold[ing] fast with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter.” If the beatification signified anything about Pope Francis’ plans for the future, it signaled an intent to stay the course, and not change what cannot be changed.

Similarly, the final report of the Synod mentioned the need for a positive reception of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, a reception which few Catholics have been willing to give it. One man who was ahead of the curve in this respect is Dr. Thomas Hilgers, who has based his entire medical career on answering the call of Humanae Vitae.

While a senior in medical school, Dr. Hilgers read the encyclical and became an “instant convert,” as he explained to me in a videoconference from Rome where he had participated in the beatification ceremony.

At the death of Pope Paul VI in 1978, Dr. Hilgers vowed to create an institute that bore the late pope’s name – the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction. In 1985, Dr. Hilgers broke ground on the institute. And this year, he was invited by the Vatican to read the prayers of the faithful in English for an audience of more than 300,000 attendees at the historic occasion of Pope Paul VI’s beatification.

What impacted Dr. Hilgers the most about Humanae Vitae were the calls to action to medical professionals and men of science, encouraging the development of modern methods of natural family planning. Dr. Hilgers went on to create the Creighton Model of fertility care, which blends family planning with reliable diagnosis of reproductive disorders, and NaPro Technology, which provides moral medical solutions to those disorders. He dreams of one day finding a cure for infertility based on these methods, he said.


Despite having trained more than 600 doctors through his fellowship program and having established over 280 fertility care centers across the country, Dr. Hilgers claims that educating the medical profession is not enough to create the health care revolution he yearns for. “This is a revolution that will occur not because of the doctors, but in spite of the doctors,” he told me.

“People are getting hurt” by modern medical agendas fueled by the culture of death, stated Hilgers, and the proof is widely available. “The data is there,” he explained, “the sociological data of destruction – abortion, divorce, sexually transmitted diseases.” According to Hilgers, the downhill trend started with the advent of the birth control pill. When the medical profession began prescribing the birth control pill not only for contraception but for numerous gynecological disorders, it started down the path of masking symptoms without treating the underlying problems, he explained. 

“We’ve wasted 36 years of really good research capability” into curing things like post-menstrual syndrome, post-partum depression, and infertility, he lamented. A lot of research money has been poured into the technologies of in vitro fertilization, which lead to many more embryos being destroyed than being implanted in a woman’s womb and still don’t solve the root causes of infertility. 

Hilgers’ research, on the other hand, has been dedicated to discovering and fixing underlying reproductive disorders. By learning how each woman’s cycle functions, in a way as unique as a fingerprint, Hilgers has been able to detect hormonal problems that can be corrected. In developing laser surgery of the reproductive organs that leaves minimal scarring, he has made great progress in surgical methods of overcoming fertility problems. But “there’s an enormous amount of work that still needs to be done,” he acknowledged.

A lot of that work amounts to education in overcoming biases against natural family planning, which has often taken on the connotation of the old and ineffective “rhythm method.” Education about the benefits of natural family planning “has to start with very young people,” Hilgers said. Dioceses could also throw themselves more wholeheartedly into promotion of NFP, according to Deacon Dodge, who is an NFP instructor himself. Most dioceses require engaged couples to take a three-hour introductory course in NFP as part of pre-Cana instruction, but a full course lasts several months, in order to enable couples to analyze data from several cycles. Some dioceses do require a full course as part of pre-Cana, but others are faced with a shortage of NFP teachers, stated Deacon Dodge. For such a requirement to work, most dioceses would need to train more teachers, he added.

The most pressing need, according to Dr. Hilgers, is to “develop the richness of Humanae Vitae – not the words of Humanae Vitae, but the values of Humanae Vitae.” In the last 40 years, we have descended to a “great depth of spiritual poverty,” he said. But in his practice, he has seen patients come back to the Church because they are “overwhelmed by the goodness of this teaching” on life issues.

The beatification of Pope Paul VI sends a strong and beautiful pro-life message. The miracle required for beatification was in fact a pro-life miracle – the healing of an unborn baby in the womb. Pope Paul VI’s intercession in that case demonstrated his love for life extending beyond the borders of heaven. Pope Paul VI, enthused Deacon Dodge, has proven himself to be a “powerful intercessor on behalf of life and on behalf of marriage and family.” Blessed Pope Paul VI, pray for us!


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