The Definitive Book on NFP: Not a Revision -- New from the Ground Up

Author: Marilyn Shannon

(EWTN Online Services highly recommends the new edition of "The Art of Natural Family Planning" by John and Sheila Kippley.)

The Art of Natural Family Planning by John and Sheila Kippley Newly published 4th edition

The Definitive Book on NFP: Not a Revision -- New from the Ground Up 529 pages reviewed by Marilyn Shannon

Those of us who use NFP know that it's far more than just a means of spacing births. It's a way of life. Yes, NFP is practical and physical; the wife's cycles, her nutrition, her overall health and her age may all affect its use. Yet it deeply involves the interpersonal, as the cycles of embrace and abstinence depend upon the mutual agreement between husband and wife. Its interpersonal aspects also include the child, for NFP centers on the call to have or to avoid having a baby. Beyond the physical and interpersonal, though, it encompasses the spiritual and moral: What is God's plan for our lives? Our marriage? Our family? What does the Church teach? Why?

The new Art of Natural Family Planning, 4th edition, is a big book (529 large pages) which covers every facet of this way of life. It remarkably combines comprehensive breadth and depth with practical simplicity. In writing it, the Kippleys have obviously made two commitments -- first, to include every and all topics that relate to NFP, from newlywed days through menopause; and second, to make this information simple to find and easy to understand. How can thoroughness and depth combine with ease of use? The answer is in the style. The Kippleys address the reader directly and informally. The print is large, the margins are wide, and the chapters are short and focused. For instance, in Part I, which covers the observation of the signs of fertility and the rules for interpreting them, the chapter titles act as distinct signposts. "Getting Started with Temperatures," "Getting Started with Mucus," "How to Interpret Your Temperature Pattern," and "How to Interpret Your Mucus Pattern" are all separate chapters. Even the guidelines for shaving irregular high temperatures are in their own short but nicely illustrated chapter. The new book also pulls together the best features of several other CCL publications. For example, like the old home study workbook, most chapters end with "Self-Test Questions" which will quickly expose misunderstanding among those who are using the book as a review or as a self-study course. The Practical Applications Workbook, assigned for practice in the formal courses, is incorporated as Part II of the new Art. Updated information previously available only in CCL's excellent new pamphlets on tubal ligation and vasectomy now appears in Chapter 1. I am particularly delighted to see "Practical Helps for Seeking Pregnancy," a pamphlet with key recommendations on health habits, nutrition, timing of intercourse, and so forth, integrated into one of the chapters on infertility.

The Physical

When it comes to the "nuts and bolts" of NFP, you may be surprised to learn that several of the basic Sympto-Thermal rules have been modified. Rule B to establish post-ovulatory infertility is now useable even if the three rising or elevated temperatures are not quite consecutive. Rule R now allows "shaving" of one irregular high temperature. The shaving rules themselves have been changed. The pre-shift base has been renamed the "low temperature level;" the thermal shift level is now the "high temperature level." These changes reflect both the ongoing refinement of the method itself and the move toward simpler terminology. The 4th edition maintains the Kippleys' previous commitment to ecological breastfeeding, in fact expanding this topic to two chapters. Even more good reasons to breastfeed are given compared to the older editions. For example, Sheila Kippley now includes the value of breastmilk to brain development of the child, and she provides updated research on breastfeeding's ability to lower the risk of breast cancer. The second chapter on breastfeeding offers many helpful guidelines for detecting the gradual return of fertility during breastfeeding; readers familiar with the earlier editions will notice that it is much easier to use than before. Completely new to the book is an interesting discussion of whether a moral obligation to breastfeed exists.

New but Already Indispensable

On original chapter on drugs and fertility, written by Paul Weckenbrock, R.Ph., CCL Central's pharmacist and Director of Teacher Training, is a high point of the new Art. In the past, Paul has spent many hours on the phase answering questions about how particular medications affect the mucus and temperature signs. How, you can quickly look up the answer yourself. The chapter covers medications class by class, and each drug profile includes a subtitle, "Common effects on fertility cycle." Other comments identify drugs which may cause birth defects, drugs which may cause breast tenderness, and drugs which may encourage yeast infections. Acne drugs, analgesics, antibiotics, antidepressants, and antihistamines begin the list of drug classes. Brand names are included; for example, under "Hormones," Premarin, Provera, Synthroid and many more are listed. In this section I discovered that fertility drugs such as Clomid "...will most likely cause a drying effect on the cervical mucus. . . Also, the cervix will most likely not show the normal changes..." I was also surprised to find that common painkillers such as Motrin and Advil can decrease mucus and delay ovulation. Believe me, this chapter will be an essential reference in my NFP counseling, starting now! Paul's innovative contribution will surely result in a higher method effectiveness for all NFP users, particularly those who choose to use mucus-only methods. No such work has ever been published before; marketed separately, it would probably cost half the price of the entire Art.

Also new is a complete chapter on miscarriages. This chapter is a perfect example of the synthesis of the physical, the interpersonal and the spiritual that is characteristic of the entire book. It provides possible explanations for several of the known causes of miscarriage, particularly for the common but often puzzling losses that occur without apparent development of the tiny child. It moves on to preventive steps -- improving nutritional habits, avoiding X-rays, avoiding medications, and a number of other suggestions. It also debunks a couple of myths -- that intercourse at the margins of the fertile time ("old" sperm or "old" egg) is related to miscarriage; and that exercise, lifting or running cause miscarriage.

A section on what to do if you have a pregnancy loss reviews the physical events as well as the spiritual aspects. In a touching anecdote, the Kippleys share their own experiences with the three miscarriages that they have suffered. The define "conditional" baptism and recount John's conditional baptism of their 13-week- old son, whose body they recovered after a miscarriage. They relate how they were able to bury the child in a Catholic cemetery. A sidebar by CCL board member, Dr. Joy Kondash, recommends that such children be named and their dates entered in the family record book. The sidebars, by the way, that appear here and there in the margins are another nice feature. They are like little asides, many of them comments that the reviewers made during the preparation of the book. In fact, I made an embarrassing number of them myself, not expecting to see them in print! A similar helpful feature is the subtitling in large print in the margins. Comprehensive as the new edition is -- and it is exhaustively comprehensive -- it is really easy to find the topic you're looking for. For example, the chapter, "Cycle Irregularities" has these sidebar subtitles: "Eat right," "Exercise right," "Consider night light," "Medical checkup," "Anovulatory cycles," "Premenstrual spotting," and so forth. In the chapter on achieving pregnancy, the margins carry in large print, "Pre-pregnancy nutrition," "The proper timing," "Knowing you are pregnant," "Estimating your due date," "Sex during pregnancy," and "Trying to pre-select the sex of your baby." Unlike the old editions, which were primarily reference manuals, this book is a browser's delight.

The Moral

The new Art of Natural Family Planning has greatly expanded coverage of moral considerations. That most difficult question -- do we have a serious reason to avoid a pregnancy? -- is dealt with thoroughly yet practically in a beautiful chapter, "Planning, Providence and Prudence." The chapter strikes a perfect balance between "the call to generosity and the call to Christian prudence." Many couples of good will will be greatly helped by a section called "Sufficiently Serious Reasons." It offers the most practical guidelines I have ever seen to couples trying to discern whether or not they are called to conceive. For example, the emotional and energy reserves of the parents and the ability to educate already born children are discussed as potentially serious reasons to postpone or to avoid another pregnancy. Conversely, the Kippleys exhort newlyweds to avoid the traps of materialism and debt so that children can soon be welcomed into the home.

For couples struggling with infertility, an entire chapter illuminates the moral issues involved in the new reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization. Using analogy, examples from other cultures, and a careful explanation of the Catholic document, Donum Vitae, the book eloquently defends God's plan for marriage and children. It exposes the abortion and other moral disasters that result when technology rather than religion defines the limits of procreation. The title is aptly and sensitively named, "Thy Will Be Done."

There and other moral concerns are discussed from the perspective of the Catholic Church, but I must assert to all my brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter what your denomination: Despite other agreements you may have with Catholic belief, the Catholic teachings on procreation are a beacon of light for all in this age of sexual darkness. Couples of all faiths will certainly benefit from the emphasis on Catholic documents which are extensively quoted in the chapters which deal with moral issues.

Menopause, and Much More

The thorough new chapter on the premenopausal time will be a welcome guide to women in their forties and fifties. The chapter clearly explains this period as a natural life transition caused by changes in the ovaries. Many questions are answered: When will it start? How long does it last? What will the cycles be like? The Kippleys discuss common symptoms of this natural life transition, and suggest nutritional improvements first. They take a stand against hormonal replacement therapy(HRT) because of its association with breast cancer. Also, they are cautious about the unknowns: "The enthusiasm for HRT concerns us because there was this same sort of enthusiasm for the Pill in the Sixties." They balance their opinions by noting that HRT does help ward off osteoporosis.

The chapter uses graphs and statistics to illustrate the sharp decline of fertility in the forties. It emphasizes the important point that "fertility declines during your premenopausal years even though you may have every external sign of fertility." Unlike most writers who assume that all older women are delighted to experience the inability to become pregnant, the Kippleys have a section on "Pregnancy during premenopause" for those who wish to conceive. It contains accurate data about the incidence of Down Syndrome in older mothers. However, for the majority who will be avoiding pregnancy during the premenopause, a great deal of specific new advice will help such couples to confidently use NFP, even if great cycle irregularity occurs. There are numerous other improvements throughout the new Art. It contains excellent new information on effectiveness, which will be reassuring to NFP users and convincing to their critics. It has a complete section on educating your physician and clergyman. It even has a chapter on overcoming PMS. I would never have guessed that the mature insights for dealing with abstinence, which have been an outstanding feature of the old editions, could be significantly improved upon. But they have been. Numerous gems of wisdom are sprinkled throughout the recognizable old chapter on marriage building through NFP.

Here's a question that may be on your mind since you probably already own a copy of an earlier edition of The Art of Natural Family Planning: Should you spend the money to purchase the new Art? Even if your budget is tight, my answer is an unqualified yes. NFP works only through knowledge, and the 4th edition expands that knowledge base in all directions. What is between the covers of this book will assist you from your newlywed days through the years following menopause. Cycle irregularity, pregnancy, breastfeeding, miscarriage, drugs you might take, premenopause changes -- it's a lifetime guide. Should infertility be your cross, the new Art contains essential self-help information you will find nowhere else. Its chapters on marriage building and discerning your family size will foster Godly, self-giving love, even during the rough times. The moral perspectives illuminated in the book will guide you in safeguarding your health, your marriage and ultimately your immortal soul.

May I make a suggestion for those who are materially blessed? Donate a copy of the new Art to your church or public library. Through your charity this beautiful book can then minister to other couples, fertile or infertile. To the extent that The Art of Natural Family Planning , 4th edition, is read and its counsels heeded, the health, the family life and the morals of all society will be leavened.

To purchase this book please contact:

The Couple to Couple League P.O. Box 111184 Cincinnati, Ohio 45211-1184 ph: 513-471-2000 Email address: 73311.256@Compuserve.Com