First things first: I adore NFP instructors.
Well, not every last single one of you, but in general, I admire and appreciate folks who go into this field. It’s never gonna be a money maker, and you don’t do it because it makes you popular. Modern NFP is heavy on science and medicine, but teachers also have to be good communicators (which is not the same as understanding a topic); and they have to be sensitive and patient with clients who may be going through a wide range of emotional and psychological ups and downs as they navigate the trials of trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy. NFP instructors put up with a lot of jeering and skepticism from a world that sees their work as some combination of new-age, phony sorcery and old school religious oppression. And they probably put up with more interruptions from clients’ kids than any other health professional.
So! To all NFP instructors — really, all of you: Thank you. You’re doing a noble job in an ignoble world. God bless you and keep you.
THAT BEING SAID. Having practiced NFP off and on for many years, and having talked to countless women and men who’ve struggled with every aspect of living the NFP life, I have some advice for their instructors. Pleas, really.
- NFP is medical information. If you’re teaching it, you must act like a medical professional. First off: HIPAA is a real thing, and it’s here for everyone’s protection. Couples learning NFP are exceptionally vulnerable, and the personal information they reveal to you is private. If you’re a health professional (as all certified Marquette instructors are required to be), you are legally bound (with rare exceptions) to keep your client’s name and identifying information private unless you have the client’s permission to discuss it with someone else.If you’re not a medical professional and/or you’re teaching some other method NFP, you are still morally obligated not to blab private stuff to other people.
2. Please make it clear what category of advice you’re giving. The Catholic church has pioneered the study of fertility, so chances are good you and your client have some association with Catholicism. You may be teaching the spiritual aspects of NFP along with the biological aspects. I salute you! That’s a tall order. But when you’re teaching your clients how to gather information and how to act on it, make sure they understand what kind of information it is. The client deserves to know the difference between “Here is how you should behave if you want to avoid pregnancy” and “Here is how you should behave if you want to avoid mortal sin.” These are adults, and should be trusted with full and accurate information.
3. Please be clear about what kind of advice you are trained and prepared to give, and do not give advice you are not trained to give unless the client requests it. It is unwise and possibly dangerous to dispense casual wisdom about things about which you have only casual knowledge. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m sorry, that issue sounds so hard, but I’m not really qualified to give advice about that topic. You might want to call a [priest, therapist, marriage counselor, pediatrician, nutritionist, exorcist, etc.] for advice about that.” Or at very least, make it clear when your advice is only your personal opinion, and does not come from a place of authority.
4. Please let us have our emotions. If you can’t deal with listening to emotional clients, this may not be the job for you. NFP is hard. It’s hard when we want to get pregnant and don’t, and it’s hard when we don’t want to get pregnant and do. It’s super hard when we’re following all the rules and NFP still lets us down.
I can’t personally speak about how it feels to suffer through infertility, but I can tell you how it feels to have a method failure pregnancy. It feels like the end of the world, and it can shake our faith not only in science but in God. It’s a big freaking deal, and we can’t just immediately vault into a place of trust and peace.
The instructor, who taught us the method and should understand better than anyone how terrifying it is to find a flaw in it, may be the only one we can talk to about the experience. It is vital for the instructor to acknowledge that method failure pregnancies are real, and that the emotional fallout can be intense. There is no shame, sin, or weakness in c client feeling horrified, betrayed, panicked, or despairing if we become pregnant at a bad time. The best response an instructor can offer is abundant sympathy and gentle encouragement. An instructor who criticizes or shames a struggling client is failing her client, and may be putting her at risk of severe depression, self-harm or neglect, or even suicide. This is, to put it mildly, not pro-life.
5. Please respond. I know you’re only one person, and I know you have a life and a family and a need for personal time. No one should expect you to be on call 24/7. But it’s only common courtesy to let your clients know how promptly they can expect to hear from you, and, if possible, to suggest a back-up instructor they can contact with urgent questions. Too often, I’ve seen women posting on message boards, “My instructor hasn’t gotten back to me in five days. Can someone answer my question?” — and then she gets bad information from well-meaning but ill-informed amateurs.
6. Please remember that the client is more important than the method. I know the NFP-skeptical medical community loves to joke about Vatican Roulette, and it probably feels like you’re always on the defensive, having to insist over and over again that NFP is scientifically sound and effective. But that defensiveness should never translate to an urge to throw struggling clients under the bus. Please never massage statistics to make it seem like NFP is more effective than it really is. Please never minimize the struggles of clients whose experience doesn’t match the cheerful pamphlet they gave out in Pre-Cana. NFP is about people, not about promotion. When the method’s reputation comes first, everyone loses.
7. Intra-method sniping is so off-putting. The best method is the one that suits the client’s needs. Your method may not be the best match for every client, and that’s okay. It’s great to be enthusiastic about the method you teach; it’s appalling to make snide remarks about other methods and the people who use them. Yes, I’m looking at you, Billings.
8. We need apps. Yes, need. If you’re not gonna give us an app, please at least stop promising an app. For crying out loud. Yes, I’m looking at you, NaPro.
Whew, that’s a lot. Most instructors I’ve met already know all this and then some; and I’m sure most instructors could write their own list of things they wish their clients understood. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comment box! They may make it into a future post. It’s always good when we understand each other better, especially when the stakes are so high.
Obligatory plug: I did literally write the book on NFP. It’s The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, and it doesn’t teach you how to chart, but it talks about how to live while you’re charting. How to stay close to God, how to understand your spouse better, and how to deal, in general. Available in paperback, ebook, or audiobook.
Image: via Pexels