While television shows, movies, and music frequently throw images of our sexuality around carelessly, the Catholic Church (and many other Christian churches) has always taught its members to  respect this special gift.

One way married couples revere the gift of fertility is by using a method called Natural Family Planning (NFP) instead of artificial birth control.

“Many people think of NFP as the ‘rhythm method’ and say, ‘Oh, this doesn’t work,’” says Heidi Kerkhof, a NFP instructor from Oshkosh.  “But this is different and it does work.  If it didn’t work, I wouldn’t teach it.”

Kerkhof is not Catholic, but is a Christian who learned NFP with her husband about 18 months ago.  “A big mission of mine is to spread the message that is not just a ‘Catholic thing,’” she says, “but also a ‘Christian thing.’”

In her desire to take it beyond the Catholic Church, she offers to give an introduction to NFP --- what it is, how it works --- to any group who is willing to sponsor her.  Women’s groups, Bible studies, pro-life groups, social concerns committees are some groups who may be interested, but Kerkhof says she is willing to meet with others as well.

She is giving a free presentation on Thursday, Oct. 1, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., at St. Raphael church, Oshkosh.  She says she will address what NFP is and who can use it, as well as answer any questions people may have.  She asks people to register by calling her at 920-426-8063.

Kerkhof says NFP is a more reliable way than the old rhythm or calendar method for couples who want to monitor their fertility.  It can be used when people have serious reasons to postpone having a child or when they are trying to conceive.

A woman charts her fertility using a variety of her body’s natural signs: vaginal mucus, temperature changes, and cervical checks.  Some women opt just to use one or two of the signs if they are uncomfortable with the cervical checks, Kerkhof says.

NFP has been proven to be as effective as artificial birth control methods, including “the Pill,” Kerkhof says.  She says NFP is free (after any initial class fees for learning it, and possibly the cost of a thermometer), easy to use, and does not harm your body like hormonal and chemical methods.

Birth control methods like the Pill, shots like Depo Provera, implants like Norplant, and intrauterine devices all carry serious health risks like future infertility problems, permanent scarring (in the case of IUDs), and other health problems.

“NFP is totally safe, effective, inexpensive, and frequently a blessing to the couples who use it,” Kerkhof says.  “They realize this is our responsibility --- a team effort.”

Every month, a couple using NFP to delay having a child usually discuss their goals and plans, evaluating their decision, working together as they either confirm or change their minds.  These important discussions help couples deepen their trust in one another, improve lines of communication, and foster an appreciation for God’s gift of fertility.

Kerkhof says men and women alike are fascinated when they learn exactly how their bodies work.  “It makes them feel good about themselves,” she says. 

She says also that anyone can use NFP, even women with irregular cycles, those in menopause, and those who are breastfeeding.

Kerkhof also instructs people in the Bradley Method of childbirth, a natural childbirth method.  “If you trust God, He will take care of you through pregnancy and labor,” Kerkhof says as she describes this view of childbirth.  Drugs are discouraged and other ways of managing pain are stressed.

People interested in learning about the Bradley method are invited to a free introductory session on Oct. 10 from 9 - 10:30 a.m. at Advocap, 2929 Harrison, Oshkosh.  Registration is required and can be done by calling Kerkhof at 920-426-8063.

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