Couples can start their natural family planning journey from many different places. You may be newly engaged or newlyweds, and learning NFP together feels like an exciting, romantic adventure. Or maybe you've never thought much about family planning before, but now that you have a house full of kids, you're exploring your options. Or perhaps you are a contraception veteran who has tried (and hated!) everything, and NFP is your last hope. Wherever you are coming from, learning NFP can feel a bit overwhelming in the beginning. You wonder, is it effective? What if I make a mistake? My cycles aren't normal - will this work for me? What if I can't get my spouse on board?
Here are some tips that I hope you find helpful as you begin this journey.
1. Be patient
The NFP class series is designed knowing that it takes time to learn this stuff. You aren't going to have it figured out after the first few classes. That's okay! Take the pressure off; this program is designed to help you learn a little bit at a time, put it into practice, and then build on that knowledge as you go.
Most NFP courses, including this one, require a bit of abstinence at the beginning. You'll be abstaining at least during the two weeks between the first and the second class. Although this can be difficult, it also means you can relax. If you are confused and your chart seems meaningless at first, it's okay - there's nothing at stake while abstaining! Just follow your instructor's advice, don't panic, and enjoy connecting with your partner in other ways.
2. Chart Carefully
This is the number one most important element of NFP! Your charts are the keys to understanding your fertility. The more data on your charts, the more accurate deductions can be made regarding your fertility and cycles. If data is missing or vague, you'll probably need to abstain more to be on the safe side, and that can be extremely frustrating and demoralizing. As the weeks and months go on, we will continue to draw on data from previous charts when making decisions regarding what rules to use.
Be as explicit as you can when you chart. Many new NFP users don't write things down precisely, or at the end of every day because they figure they will remember. However, several weeks or several months down the road, a little question mark on your chart isn't going to mean anything to you, no matter how good your memory is!
And most importantly, write down what you actually observe, not what you want to observe or think you should be observing at that point in your cycle. Even if it makes no sense (which it often doesn't when you're first starting out!), just write it down and you can figure it out with your instructor later!
3. Follow Instructions
In the first few months of using NFP, there is a sequence of rules to follow that gets less and less restrictive as more data is acquired and as your own skills increase. Eventually, you will become an autonomous NFP user and will probably only check in with your instructor occasionally. But until then, it's very important to follow what your instructor tells you! All of the studies on NFP effectiveness are based on specific rules being followed in a specific way. You are ultimately in charge, you can do what you want; but know that if you take short cuts or only partially follow the rules, you can't really expect to have a 99% success rate.
4. Ask Questions
Don't ever be afraid to ask questions. There are no stupid questions. Your instructor is there for a reason! This is one of the biggest benefits to learning NFP from a class instead of a book. Your cycles and your body are unique, and things may come up not covered in the material. And please, if you are in a group setting, ask in front of the rest of the class. Chances are someone else is wondering the same thing, and you'll be doing everyone a favor by being brave enough to ask out loud!
Yes, sitting in a class with strangers talking about sex, sperm, mucus and the like can be pretty awkward. At first. But remember that your fertility is a natural, God-designed part of you. It's a beautiful thing. Hopefully the more you learn about your body's incredible life-giving abilities, the more comfortable you will get talking about it!