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Number of NFP teachers to more than double in Bay Area

Those being trained are mostly in 20s, 30s

December 10, 2015
Valerie Schmalz

The number of natural family planning teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area is about to more than double, after a weekend training session at St. Dominic Church drew more than a dozen couples.

“Once you understand it, it is so beautiful – awesome,” said Christina Sullivan, 31, who attended the weekend of instruction with her husband Sean, 30.

Four of the couples attending the training by the Couple to Couple League were from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, two from the Diocese of Oakland, two from the Diocese of Santa Rosa, four from the Diocese of Sacramento, and one from the Archdiocese of the Military, said Mike Manhart, executive director of the Cincinnati, Ohio-headquartered Couple to Couple League. Most were in their 20s and 30s, said Ed Hopfner, director of marriage and family life for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

“This more than doubles our Bay Area teaching capacity once these people are certified,” Manhart said. He and his wife have been part of the Couple to Couple League since early in their marriage, shortly after the birth of their first child, 30 years ago, Manhart said. The couples that came to the training at St. Dominic Parish inspired them, he said.

“Karen and I walked away thinking the church is going to survive and thrive with couples like these,” said Manhart, who took over as executive director in 2009. “Nothing is going to keep them from being successful. It was very exciting for us as teachers to see the enthusiasm and energy and the commitment. They were a special group.”

Natural family planning is an organic, natural form of fertility regulation that is in sync with Catholic Church teaching. It relies on easily observed symptoms of fertility and daily monitoring of the wife’s temperature (using the Couple-to-Couple League method) as well as daily communication between the husband and wife. All modern methods boast reliability rates of 97 to 99 percent effectiveness in postponing pregnancy, when used as directed, Hopfner said.

The Couple to Couple League was formed shortly after Blessed Pope Paul IV published the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” in 1968 that affirmed Catholic Church teaching prohibiting artificial birth control.

“Initially it is an upfront investment in your time just to kind of learn the process. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not that complicated a process,” said Bill Hull, 27, who attended the two-and-a-half days of training at St. Dominic with his wife Nicole, 28, and their 11-week-old baby girl. The couples will complete the second half of the training online before certification. “Once you start practicing, you’re like, ‘wow, this actually works!’” Bill Hull said.

The Couple to Couple League now has a mobile app that helps the couples share information daily with each other as well as sending it to a mentor at the league if they can’t figure out something, Hull said.

Amelia was a planned pregnancy, the Hulls said, pointing out another aspect of NFP: “It also helps people conceive.”

“A lot of people say you got pregnant six months after your wedding – and we were like, yes, God blessed us,” Nicole Hull said, adding the natural aspect of NFP was “kind of a no-brainer for me.”

“I still don’t understand why people put hormonal contraceptives into their bodies,” Nicole Hull said.

Christina and Sean Sullivan, parishioners of St. Dominic’s who live in the Richmond district with their 3-year-old and 1-month old daughters, also attended the training offered by the Couple to Couple League in mid-November. They hosted two other attending couples, one from the Sacramento area and another from Eureka.

Sean Sullivan just returned from a military tour of duty Jan. 22.

“It was fantastic as far as quality of instruction,” Sean Sullivan said of the intensive weekend of instruction. “The teaching couple had been doing it for so long. They made very good points – they didn’t just teach it, but how to teach it.”

The biggest obstacle in telling the story of NFP will be the default use of the birth control pill by many couples, Sean Sullivan said, noting that the World Health Organization labels the pill a Class 1 carcinogen.

Artificial birth control is “such a disservice to the female body,” Christina Sullivan said, saying the pill assumes “my body is broken and it needs medicine to fix it. Wait a minute. Let’s take a step back. There’s a reason that women are fertile for a week out of the month. God did not design us to be constantly pregnant. The book is there; we just have to read it. God has laid the groundwork for this beautiful system.”

The Couple to Couple League offers NFP instruction in a traditional classroom setting; live online, learning from a teaching couple via webcam; and self-paced online, videos, quizzes and games on the couple’s schedule.

In addition to the natural family planning teachers being trained by the Couple to Couple League, there are two others in the archdiocese who are learning the Creighton method, which also relies on natural signs of fertility, and is well-studied and highly reliable, Hopfner said.

For more information on the Couple to Couple League, visit https://ccli.org/.

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