Concern for marriage and the family has always been central to the Mission of the Church. The future of humanity passes by way of the family (Saint Pope John Paul II). It became emphatically urgent in our day for so many varied reasons. In Nigeria as in the rest of Africa, the reasons have emerged to include but not limited to:
- Misunderstanding of Marriage as a Sacrament and the commitment it entails which often leads to marital apathy fuelled by misplaced zeal for tradition and culture.
- Not enough preparation for and by the young people
- A near total lack of access to post-marriage accompaniment especially in the area of relationality, Responsible Parenthood including natural family planning, the proven key to living Responsible Parenthood fully
- Poverty – economic and otherwise
The above highlighted factors have led to a gradual erosion of marriage and family values causing a high rate of unhappy, “damaged, managed” marriages, separation/divorce leading to irreparable family breakdown with all the negative impacts on the children and society.
Here is a story of one such couple which ended happily thanks to Natural Family Planning (NFP) introduced to them by another couple and which earned me a unique and special Easter Gift – the appreciation of a grandmother along with her sons and daughters-in-law.
The story began in a rural Catholic Diocese in Nigerian. It is about a couple Barth 35, and Betty 30 (not their real names) parents of four children (the fifth is on the way now) whose 11 year marriage was on the brink of breakdown due to a horrible experience of the couple especially Betty in the Community back in 2016. They are both junior secondary school dropouts.
What really happened?
Trouble began for the couple when their village community noticed that Betty was pregnant, in her fifth month with their fourth child. Normally, this would be great news for all but here the community rather made life unbearable for Betty all because their third child was barely two months old when she became pregnant. Betty was berated and labeled ‘sexually promiscuous’, insulted, disgraced and ostracized. At the village market, no one would buy from her nor sell to her. Even her usual robust health seemed to have left her. She hated herself, her husband, the baby in her womb and all around her. Her mother-in-law was the only support she had. The couple and their children lived in the city and so were not near enough for the real support that Betty needed. Betty said she had considered suicide to end it all! Fortunately, her trust in God and the loving support of her mother-in-law stopped her from going that direction.
Things got worse for Betty when in her seventh month, her “water broke” and she went into labour. At the hospital, she was told that she had to have a caesarean section to deliver the baby! And so baby Favour was delivered pre-term on the 25th January 2017. Barth proved himself a caring husband and loving Dad to his four children. For a while, things seemed fine and the family lived in harmony again.
However, a few months after the delivery and Betty seemed to have recovered sufficiently from her surgery, their marriage was threatened again! As usual for men, Barth has started demanding to have sex with his wife and Betty had “vowed” after her last ostracization experience, never to allow her husband near her for any sexual relationship until baby Favour was at least two years! She would rather leave the marriage than become pregnant before the two years. Back then in 2017, she was only eight years married and with four very young children. She felt she could not cope with more just then. Their marital life came under serious threat until Betty now worried about losing her husband to another woman and out of concern for her children, resolved to go for contraception, the only option she knew about. At the clinic, she was offered various choices, not being confident enough to make such choice, and having heard about some negative effects these methods may have on her health, decided to consult her older and more enlightened sister-in-law Catty in the city, who herself though was on the contraceptive coil, but unknown to Betty, had embraced natural family planning and removed the coil.
Catty and her husband were just a couple of months into NFP and had already experienced the life-giving and love enhancing impact of NFP. She warned Betty against contraception and told her about NFP while the husband explained the same to his younger brother. They agreed to try NFP. And so, during my 10-day follow-up visit in the diocese, Barth and Betty were brought to me by the senior couple. Having listened to their story and seeing their desperation, I introduced the Couple Bead method of NFP to them. Following my second lessons with them and seeing their high motivation and enthusiasm, I allowed the senior couple to follow them up under my supervision, thanks to WhatsApp that enabled them to send me their monthly chart. Thus, they became proficient by their third cycle and were declared autonomous. They were absolutely thrilled, enjoying a new sense of achievement, self-worth and marital harmony that was hitherto unknown to them.
I received a surprise phone call Wednesday evening of Easter week from the couple to wish me happy Easter which was nice. But their main message was from the mother-in-law expressing profound gratitude for what “I did to my daughters-in-law and to the women in general for bringing NFP to our diocese”! I was then given the great news that Barth and Betty decided after the 3rd birthday of their last child Favour, to have another baby and that they are pregnant now. “So, everyone in the family is thrilled and grateful to you” she concluded. I was also very happy for them! Amazingly, on the day I decided to write this story, Betty and husband phoned me to personally give me their news and again expressed their gratitude for teaching them natural family planning. Their joy was palpable!
This is the story of just one couple, which underscores the huge need that I see, as I travel around Africa: For couples to hear, to know/learn and live NFP. What a difference it would make in their lives and what harvest of sense of respect and dignity, peace and harmony that would abound in family life, the bedrock of Society! But how can they hear unless someone announces it, it will not be announced unless someone is sent, and someone cannot be sent unless… (Rom. 10:14).
I also know for a fact that NFP is not only scientific but as a way of life, is grace and also art. Lived fully, it has the capacity to reduce to the barest minimum the problems that married people encounter and the resultant horrendous effect upon the children in particular and the society in general and in turn, improve the economic capability of the family.
Sr. Kelechi Agugo RSC Natural Family Planning Training Programme