Planning Families, Naturally

Nicole Syed is a nurse from Australia who now runs the Central London Fertility Care Center. Situated in the basement of St. Patrick’s Church in the Soho section of the city, the center is introducing English Catholics and others to the benefits of natural family planning — and the theology behind it.

Were you instantly convinced of the rightness of natural family planning?

I had been predominantly skeptical of natural family planning because I had never really been taught accurately anything about it. I had only heard people say, “The rhythm method doesn’t work.” It was never proposed as something empowering or highly effective.

What changed your view?

I remained very skeptical until I came across the Creighton Model. The other natural family planning methods I had looked into seemed a bit too vague and fluffy in their educational approach and not objectively and scientifically taught in their methodology.

What exactly is the Creighton Model?

It’s a powerful system of fertility education and charting. In other words, the scientific biomarkers of fertility are observed and charted throughout the month. It also acts as a highly useful reproductive record used to treat infertility and women’s reproductive problems. It empowers both men and women to understand, care for and take charge of their reproductive health.

How long does it take before couples are able to use the method?

Couples can begin using the method immediately. It takes approximately five learning sessions to learn the system in its entirety.

How easy is it for couples to practice natural family planning?

If taught correctly, it is very user friendly. I have taught couples with very little English, others with little education and some with learning difficulties. More than half of the couples who come to the center are not Christians.

How difficult was it to establish the center in London?

It was incredibly difficult. I was a foreigner in a foreign land, with no contacts, financial resources or support. The first two years were particularly hard as I tried to establish things from scratch with no funding or place to work from. Despite writing to and meeting Church figures and those in a position to support such a project, no finances were forthcoming.

I knew I was proposing something that people knew so little about, which initially provoked heated discussion. But there was a hunger for a different way than what popular culture was proposing.

How has the center grown?

Its presence has now become more widely known but it is a slow and steady process.  Hundreds of couples and women attend each year for family planning, infertility and women’s healthcare purposes. As well as this, it now regularly runs fertility seminars and holds lectures for schools, seminaries, clergy, parish groups and universities. And it acts as a resource for Catholic clergy and some Protestant denominations and provides information to doctors, nurses and midwives.

Were you always a committed Catholic?

In my teens in Australia, I was very committed but not well formed in the faith, to be honest. But I had no solid catechesis after being confirmed, despite being involved in all sorts of youth and young adult ministry.

I always sensed God was central in my life, but didn’t know how to put my faith into practice in key areas particularly important to the teens and 20s age group. I was hungry to understand the why behind a lot of Church teaching, but I was never really taught the why, only the what.

What led you into promoting natural family planning?

I was working as a nurse and I had a deep conviction that artificial contraception was somehow not the way God planned it. I was concerned by the way strong synthetic hormones, barriers and devices such as coils and intrauterine devices were being used to suppress, shut off and impair normal, healthy fertility. I thought, “Why interfere with something that is normal and healthy?”

I had a sense that using artificial contraception was in some way either chemically or physically sterilizing the beautiful expression of sexual intercourse, detracting from its very nature.

And I was concerned for the multitude of women taking hormonal contraceptives who were experiencing and exposing themselves — usually unknowingly — to minor or serious physical and emotional side effects of the pill.

What are some of the side effects of taking the pill?

There are many. For example, risks of cervical cancer, liver tumors, breast cancer and blood clots. The pill can also create irregularities in the menstrual flow.

I began asking: Why are we women doing this? Why are we potentially impairing our fertility for the future and suppressing a normal body function? Also, the contraceptive culture, where some people have multiple sexual partners, has brought about a rise in sexually transmitted diseases.

What are the links between contraception and abortion?

I also had no idea that the pill was not just a contraceptive in how it worked, but also an abortifacient, working to also prevent the implantation of new life already conceived. This is clearly abortion. This shocked me, especially as most women have no idea that the pill is not purely trying to prevent conception.

It concerned me that most women seeking terminations were doing so because of pill failure. Therefore its use has led to an increase in women seeking abortion, which is destructive to the mother’s life, psychologically and sometimes physically, as well as the life of the baby.

Why do you think many Catholics don’t practice natural family planning?

Because they know nothing about it and have never been taught why the

Church teaches what it does. And in many areas the Church does very little to provide professionally run natural family planning services. Young people and those preparing for marriage need to be educated.

How accurate were Pope Paul VI’s predictions in Humane Vitae?

Pope Paul VI was prophetic. Forty years later, we can see the legacy of contraceptive use: a disconnection between the procreative and unitive potential of sexual intimacy, women being seen and used as sex objects, promiscuity, a rise in sexually transmitted diseases — the list goes on.

How informed are priests?

Most know very little about natural family planning. Having recently spoken to hundreds of priests at workshops and conferences all over England, I know that they often feel inadequate to teach or speak about the subject. Many don’t understand the depth of significance of Humane Vitae and Pope John Paul II’s teachings on the theology of the body. Because of this, many avoid the subject.

Finally, how important is natural family planning to married life?

Marriage is all about unconditional love of the other person; therefore, to withhold fertility by using artificial contraception is withholding one of the most beautiful gifts that define us — our fertility and reproductive potential.

Greg Watts

writes from London.


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