SAN DIEGO — While they were preparing for marriage, Erica and Chris Rossio dutifully attended Natural Family Planning (NFP) classes.
As practicing Catholics, they knew the Church considers artificial contraception to be gravely sinful. So, that was off the table. But they were also aware that the Church didn’t require them to leave future pregnancies entirely to chance.
NFP is a Church-approved approach to family planning that involves tracking the fertile and infertile phases in a woman’s menstrual cycle. It can be used either to achieve pregnancy or, if the couple has serious reasons for doing so, to avoid pregnancy.
Despite their commitment to practicing NFP, some methods of which purport to be around 99-percent effective, Erica and Chris were initially skeptical that it worked. But firsthand experience soon made believers out of them.
The couple successfully used NFP in the first few months of their marriage to avoid pregnancy. Then, changing tack and using it to conceive a child, they quickly found themselves expecting. They now have two daughters: 4-year-old Cecelia and 4-month-old Kolbe.
“Somebody needs to be talking about (NFP), shouting it from the rooftops,” said Erica, 32.
It was that conviction that inspired her and Chris, also 32, to become NFP instructors for the Diocese of San Diego about four years ago.
“I don’t think that we went through the (diocesan marriage preparation program) thinking, ‘Yeah, one day, we’re going to be those guys up there preaching this stuff,’” added Chris, who feels as if God “opened the door.”
The couple attends the diocesan Office for Family Life and Spirituality’s monthly “Celebrating Your Love” days, one-day retreats for engaged couples, which are offered as part of the diocesan marriage preparation program. There, the Rossios deliver a witness talk about NFP and lead a breakout session that serves as a basic introduction. Those couples interested in learning more are able to sign up with the Rossios for a series of classes that take place over the course of a year.
The bishops of the United States focus on this issue during Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, July 19 to 25, with an educational campaign organized to promote Catholic beliefs about human sexuality and conjugal love.
Since 2018, Erica also has served as director of Orchid Fertility & Wellness, a San Diego-based fertility care center, where her clients include many women hoping to overcome subfertility or infertility.
John Prust, director of the Office for Family Life and Spirituality, said the diocese is “so blessed” to have NFP presenters like the Rossios.
“Engaged couples are excited to learn about anything and everything that might strengthen and support their marriage, and that is the lens through which we present the topic of NFP, or fertility awareness,” said Prust. “Chris and Erica do a wonderful job of presenting, from the perspective of their own personal journey, how NFP can be used both to achieve and abstain from pregnancy, how it can help a couple learn to be intimate with each other outside sexual intercourse, and how it can promote healthy dialogue in the area of sexuality.”
There are various contemporary methods of NFP, each of which relies on observation of a specific biomarker in the female body to pinpoint her fertile and infertile phases each month.
“Most people don’t understand that you actually can only get pregnant on certain days of the month,” said Erica, who explained that biomarkers help couples determine their “true windows of fertility.”
For example, in the Creighton Model FertilityCare System – the NFP method that the Rossios teach – cervical mucus serves as the biomarker. In other methods, basal body temperature and hormone levels serve as additional biomarkers.
Chris acknowledged that it might feel “a little uncomfortable” in the beginning. But once a couple succeeds in talking about such an awkward topic, it makes other difficult topics – from finances, to in-laws, to pet peeves about one another, to deeper discussions about how they can grow as a couple – easier, too.
Erica agreed, adding, “Nothing’s really off limits” conversationally after NFP.
When a couple is seeking to avoid pregnancy, that means abstaining from sex during periods of fertility. Spouses will have to exercise self-control, sacrifice instant gratification, and find alternative ways of demonstrating their love to one another. And hand in hand with the monitoring of biomarkers comes ongoing reflection on God’s will for their marriage.
“What makes it great is that it gives couples an opportunity to discern every single month what God is calling them to, as far as their family size, but then also it requires … this ongoing conversation,” Chris said.
“It’s really more than how to conceive a child,” he said. “It’s more how to conceive a virtuous and holy marriage.”
A list of Natural Family Planning “ambassadors” in the diocese is available online.