Catholic Herald Staff
Four women across three states, brought together by a desire to learn and promote Natural Family Planning, connected through social media and now minister through social media, sharing their passion about God’s plan for marriage and its potential to reward couples with joy-filled living.
While that full one sentence summary of “You, Me and NFP” is accurate, it is far from a complete description of the faith-filled women and their professionally presented work. The women are focused on connecting heads and hearts, but without disconnecting the church and the bedroom.
Anneli Schraufnagel, Sarah Tramonte, Valerie Kelly and Katie Ratliff are all in their 30s, all moms with three to five kids ranging from infancy to 11 years old.
The women have combined their individual gifts, and desires and are reaching out in a relatable style through the tool that brought them together. They are bridging modern-day realities by reframing the church’s teaching with a backdrop of God’s gifts of grace and a Christ-minded community of support.
As stated on their website, www.youmeandnfp.com, the four women behind the initiative felt called by the Holy Spirit to cooperate with him, blending their talents and experience as an artist, NFP instructor, youth minister and digital marketer. The goal is to reach people where they are, empower them with knowledge, make NFP easily accessible and accompany each other on their journeys.
Anneli Schraufnagel and her husband run a family crop business in the Ashland area. They are parishioners at Our Lady of the Lake Church and their school-age children attend Our Lady of the Lake School.
“Everything pretty is Anneli,” Val Kelly said referring to the graphic design of their social media and website, photography and videography.
Kelly, a Michigan native, is the youth minister whose idea for video testimonies meshed with Roswell, Georgia, resident Sarah Tramonte’s hope of developing a website to promote her services instructing in the Marquette method of NFP.
Other Natural Family Planning methods include the Creighton Model, Billings Ovulation Method and CCL’s Sympto Thermal Method. All fall under the umbrella of Fertility Awareness Based Methods, or FABMs.
However, not all FABMs are considered NFP. NFP methods use abstinence during fertile times if the couple has prayerfully discerned avoiding pregnancy. NFP advocates don’t deny abstinence requires self-denial and discipline, but promote its ability to enhance a couples’ communication, their mutual respect, multi-faceted intimacy and generosity besides the advantage of being hormone- and carcinogen-free.
Tramonte has found that Marquette’s use of the Clearblue fertility monitor to register fertility hormones, in addition to other biological indicators, can increase a couple’s confidence using NFP because of the objective cycle phase markers.
A registered nurse, she has worked with more than 800 couples and knows each one is unique, like each woman’s cycle. She makes a point of meeting each couple where they’re at, something “You, Me and NFP” has made a mainstay of their outreach.
Tramonte spoke about the benefits of what she teaches. Besides helping a woman better understand her reproductive health and wellness, statistics show that NFP is good for a couple’s relationship health. Statistics show a 2-percent divorce rate among married people using NFP methods as compared to the national average divorce rate of 50 percent.
Some couples come to her seeking first-time instruction after what she called “method-pregnancies.” Careful to clarify the difference between NFP’s effectiveness, and the effectiveness element reliant on the user, she has taught everyone from single women wanting to understand her own reproductive health to couples where trying to learn a different method of NFP is the last attempt before resorting to contraception or surgical procedures.
Most women inquire about classes with the support of their husbands, but Tramonte wonders how many hundreds of couples, even thousands and millions, are out there who have never even heard of options besides the pill, IUDs and barrier methods.
Of those who contact her without both spouses being on the same page, she said many husbands “can buy into it quickly because they hear the basics and realize it’s more than Russian roulette.”
Tramonte acknowledges a lot of work is needed “to bring guys in, because men need men, and men need men influencers … it is much more than a women’s issue.”
It was mentioned that men by nature tend to grapple with trusting God. Add to that the everything-but-positive affirmation they are dealt in their workplaces, social environments and even by family members, and it’s no surprise couples are challenged by the countercultural Catholic teachings.
Kelly affirmed how what is seen as responsible and prudent can be good intentions of which the devil takes advantage.
“It’s a good thing that they want to provide for their families,” she said, but added that when vehicle size, number of bedrooms and/or considering college savings are the main reasons to limit family size, the couple should really take it to prayer, both individually and together, and see where God is asking them to grow.
She used the image of a woman’s womb – a uterus can’t accommodate a full term baby immediately. Just as it takes time for her body to adjust to the new life inside, God allows for nine months of other adjustments, too.
The desire to share stories and experiences was how Val got involved with Sarah. She had started a YouTube channel – “You, Me and NFP” – for that purpose and approached Tramonte, her former teacher, to make a testimonial video.
“It was his name,” Kelly said. “You (God) and me, and it’s not just us sharing but everybody together and how multiply the good news is by you and me … all of us in relational aspects.”
The mother of four, all delivered by c-section, was strongly advised not to have more children. Experiencing anxiety given her medical history, Kelly had felt accompanied by her instructor practically, as well as emotionally and spiritually.
“Not only was (Sarah) a fabulous instructor,” Kelly said, “but it all clicked once I took her class.”
She and her husband Brendan are also parents to a baby “in heaven,” and brought to the conversation that “a lot of people are carrying the cross of infertility, or miscarriage after miscarriage.”
She advocated for continuing to include “so many in the infertility world” – the increasing number of couples open to children, but for whom “It’s just not happening.”
“Being open to life isn’t just about having babies,” Kelly affirmed.
The women spoke of how eye-opening it has been to realize just how many couples are struggling silently and are not sure where they fit into the NFP crowd. Especially when couples are open to life, it can be hard to make sense of why some have their hands so full while others long to hold even one child.
Tramonte chimed in, “You can tell a family who’s open to life – whether they have one child, or 12 – because they just display and instill that virtuous living that the child(ren) are raised up to carry forth.”
Spiritual parenthood was also recognized as validly and admirably being open to life. As the pro-life generation comes of age, adoption needs to continue to be embraced and practiced by families – both those able and unable to conceive and give birth to their own children.
It was also affirmed that openness to life encompasses being called to help aging relatives or other family members in need, careers and other callings to serve and build up God’s kingdom whether expressly church-related or not.
Kelly shared a conversation with a Creighton practitioner who works specifically with couples trying to get pregnant.
Repeating the doctor’s angst, she said, “If she could do anything for fertility awareness, it would be to teach teens and young adults the side effects of the pill and how it has contributed to future infertility.”
Tramonte added that a “diagnosis of infertility is tricky.” She noted that many women really do have infertility – some genetic, some pharmaceutically and medically induced – but also said research is surfacing that links in vitro fertilization with fertility issues in IVF-conceived children.
At the same time, “others just think they are (infertile),” Tramonte said, because they haven’t learned to track their fertility.
Working with colleagues in the medical field is particularly important for Tramonte, who called it a “huge disservice” that FABMs are not included in their medical school and training.
“Why am I teaching physicians?” Tramonte asked.
While reproductive science expands pharmaceutical and interventional care, Tramonte sees “such a lack of formation” regarding the natural, scientifically based methods as they pertain to both achieving and avoiding pregnancy.
Tramonte spoke highly of the work of Dr. Marguerite Duane who co-founded FACTS (Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science) in 2010 with the purpose of spreading information about these methods among fellow healthcare providers.
According to the organizations website, www.factsaboutfertility.org, their goal is “to share the best evidence available with health care colleagues so they can educate women and men about their fertility, empower them to make more informed choices about family planning, and enable women to collaborate with their physicians to better monitor and manage their reproductive health.”
Kelly commented, “FACTS is a step in the right direction for fertility awareness appreciation,” adding that it was both “really awesome and really sad” that something like that has to exist.
The fourth member of the team, Katie Ratliff, was unavailable for the interview. A fellow resident of Roswell, Ratliff had been asked by her friend for help with a website. Tramonte and Kelly were working on ideas with Ratliff when Schraufnagel – another former student of Tramonte’s – contacted her instructor with a desire to support marriage and family through her art.
The first time all four women met together in person was September 2018.
The group was “lit up inspiration-wise,” Schraufnagel said of that first gathering. Just months later, their “You, Me and NFP” website and social media platforms were launched with the beginning of Advent.
Tramonte commented how they are “continually amazed” at how, as they are planning for one thing, “the Lord redirects or pushes us forward.”
Instagram is their largest platform. For their almost 4,200 followers, the women regularly post and share via Instagram stories and IGTV. More than 600 follow the “You, Me and NFP” Facebook page, where the feed shares Instagram content and showcases select videos.
While the majority of their followers are women ages 25-35, they also include a range of ages from teenagers up to women in their 60s.
Schraufnagel observed how the community that has formed “has enjoyed the testimonies to bridge the age gaps.” She mentioned a newly married couple in their 20s who took over the Instagram account to share their story and answer questions and how powerful it was for successfully connecting with a younger demographic.
The same day of their conversation with the Catholic Herald, a couple closer to the end of their fertility was going to be featured through a “You, Me and NFP” Instagram live interview.
“Each testimony only reach(es) a certain group,” Val acknowledged, “so multiplying testimonies broadens the reach and reduces outliers.”
Having worked with women of all ages, Tramonte commented, “When you have those really close friends, it doesn’t matter what their ages are. When you have that mutual faith and commonality it makes you feel like you’re on the same playing field.
“I feel like that’s what we’re hitting,” she concluded. “When sharing God’s plan and design, age doesn’t matter – from 18 to 48, we’re all in it and we’re all desiring the same thing.”
The women are motivated by the hope that their efforts today will have laid the groundwork for young people as they become tomorrow’s future NFP-practicing couples. They are working for the transition from the predominant mindset of contraception as the norm to one where FABMs and Natural Family Planning methods will be more readily received and embraced.
With the knowledge of the high percentage of fertile couples who are not practicing, and likely have never even heard of NFP, the team developed a video production called “Explore NFP.” Under Schraufnagel’s direction, the video – which is available for digital purchase at youmeandnfp.com – was designed to be a resource for Catholics as well as individuals and couples of any faith.
“Wherever they’re coming from, it’s really a resource and invitation for anybody and everybody to join us in this way of living because we know the joy that comes from following this beautiful plan,” Tramonte said.
The video was designed as “a plug-and-play option that’s really modern,” Kelly said. It could be a resource for parishes and dioceses in their marriage preparation programs.
She added, “We want to be a resource for the church.”
Tramonte concluded, “Our approach to showcasing and branding and marketing showcases what this is about … sharing God’s design and his invitation into this joy which is for anybody.”