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Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Mary Hebda has dedicated more than 30 years to working with the Couple to Couple League. A passionate advocate of natural family planning (NFP), she knows from personal experience the need for education on the Catholic Church’s all-natural birth control method.

“When we did pre-marriage counseling, we didn’t do pre-marriage counseling,” she said.

Her priest knew her well, so Hebda and her husband, Richard, married 40 years, never learned about NFP.

After she attended her first classes, “my moral life was changed drastically,” she explained. “We were having issues and I was taking birth control because that’s all I knew. We weren’t taught.”

The couple was struggling, and a Precious Blood priest recommended they have a child. They signed up for NFP class.

“By the third class, we were pregnant,” she said.

Her husband thought they’d failed, but Hebda disagreed.

“We succeeded,” she said, “because NFP is all about fertility.”

‘Green’ NFP

Having experienced some of the negative side effects of birth control pills, Hebda embraced the cycle-based family planning strategy she learned in NFP class.

The Couple to Couple League promotes the sympto-thermal method, a combination of daily temperature-taking and observing other signs of fertility.

“You don’t need any plastics or anything,” Hebda said. “All you need is a reusable thermometer.”

NFP is also “green” in its lack of chemicals, she noted.

“Would I want to put chemicals in my body?” she asked. “It was a no-brainer.”

Beyond any negative side effects suffered by women who take them, birth control pills are also harmful to the environment, Hebda said. Synthetic hormones are polluting waterways and creating intersex fish, with larger environmental implications still unknown.

When she reflects on a more ecologically friendly lifestyle, Hebda thinks about nutrition. Even before she gave birth to their first child, the Hebdas were growing healthier.

“It changed our eating pattern right away … because when you nurse a baby … you think about what you eat,” she added. “Going green meant literally going green.”

As she reared her three children, Hebda took the natural approach – no-painkillers births, extended breastfeeding and family sleeping.

“My kids are so independent now, it’s ridiculous,” she said, “and they’re compassionate, and they share, and they do all the things that NFP promotes.”

Personal ecology

Dr. Cliff Tenner, a family practice physician in New Richmond, cites personal ecology as one reason he doesn’t believe contraception constitutes health care.

“As a physician, I like to remind people that what we do as physicians,” he said. “Ideally … we try to restore health to our patients who are ill … Someone presents us with dysfunction and disease, we’re trying to restore health.”

Contraception, on the other hand, impedes the body’s natural processes.

“We’re actually giving drugs to induce a state of dysfunction or disease,” he said, “and people don’t understand that.”

Tenner believes when patients are looking for contraceptives, they are seeking a service rather than health care.

“That’s a big distinguishing factor for me,” he said. “The more we go along in medicine, the more it becomes a McDonald’s thing … more about what people want than fixing problems.”

Contraception also has the potential to create further dysfunction.

“When we also look at, one of the epidemics we have in our society is infertility,” he said. “It turns out about one in five couples are infertile.”

Fertility is treated “as a disease to be annihilated,” he continued, and then, after years of taking contraceptives, women get married and want to have children.

“Some people can,” he said. “Some people can stop, and they have very high fertility.”

That’s not true of all women, though. Many find themselves struggling to conceive, and changes to the body’s reproductive system can take years to undo.

“Everyone in endocrinology understands it is a huge market,” he said.

In the beginning

When Hebda considers NFP on a philosophical level, she is reminded of God’s first instruction to mankind in the Book of Genesis: Be fruitful and multiply.

Contraception, she said, “is cutting us off at the very first thing he told us to do …. I think we’ve forgotten that first creative directive from God.”

In the Ojibwe creation story, she sees the importance of women as life-givers.

“They emphasize so much the role of the woman,” she said. “If you disrupt the beginning part of what God created as life, you’re disrupting a lot of things. There’s so much confusion and chaos now.”

Used correctly, NFP is 99.6 percent effective, according to one recent study, she observed. NFP classes through the Couple to Couple League cost $130, but that includes continuing support.

“It’s making that choice, and once you do, it becomes easy,” she added.

Hebda remembers the day she abruptly quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom. That same day, her husband called to tell her he’d been promoted to foreman. She hadn’t even known he was being considered for a promotion.

“If you make the choice of doing it according to God’s plan, even though it’s counter-cultural … God provides all the time,” she said.

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