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The Power of Stories in Teaching NFP

After being married for almost two and a half years, I’m not sure men really “get” the power of stories. Perhaps it’s that difference in our brains ­— you know, the women’s-brains-are-like-spaghetti, men’s-brains-are-like-waffles theory. Whatever the cause, all I know is that when my husband has something to report to me, he generally does so headline-style: “Jim showed up today and went toe-to-toe with Bob.”

Then begin my 20 questions to extract all the details.

Certainly, before it can be considered a special gift of women, the power of stories is a human phenomenon. That’s why Christ’s parables were such an effective teaching tool.

But when a woman tells a story, she tends to really tell a story. You’ll get the background, the action, the full (often highly editorialized) character development, then — especially if it’s that kind of story — the emotional drama in all its colorful detail.

In fact, women don’t typically just tell stories. They feel them. Deeply. I would even argue they feel them more strongly than men when they’re on the listening end.

This is why especially when it comes to women, stories can change lives.

I sense this during the women’s sessions on the marriage preparation retreats and seminars offered by the Archdiocesan Office of Marriage, Family Life, and NFP. It’s fascinating to watch the conversation really start rolling when the ladies begin sharing their personal experiences and offering advice to their sisters. At the risk of oversimplifying things, my observation has been that cold, hard facts change women’s hearts less frequently than facts combined with the reassurance — often conveyed through stories — that someone understands what they are going through.

This is why when my Aunt Becky shared her infertility story with me recently, I could hardly contain my excitement.

It’s one thing to provide women the scientific facts behind how and why NFP works. It is another thing altogether to share a story that shows how this information affects real marriages facing real problems. While the first may or may not convince them intellectually, the inclusion of the second can move and open their hearts.

My aunt began by describing how painful the early years of her marriage were as she and my uncle, Kevin, struggled with infertility. She said she was willing to do whatever it took to fulfill her dream of being a mother, while Kevin questioned whether some of the options being offered to them were in line with their Catholic beliefs.

Since their marriage in 1996, they had approached five doctors who recommended one fertility treatment after another without ever attempting to diagnose why she wasn’t able to get pregnant in the first place. Their search came to an excruciating standstill when Kevin insisted they draw the line at IVF and artificial insemination.

Finally, in 1999 Becky’s mother-in-law recommended Thomas Hilgers, M.D., the physician who discovered NaProTECHNOLOGY and created the Creighton Model FertilityCareTM System. She told them if Hilgers couldn’t help them, she doubted anyone could.

A bit apprehensive about approaching what might be their last hope, the couple completed three months’ worth of charts and mailed them to Hilgers. To their surprise, within a week and a half Hilgers himself called Becky with a preliminary diagnosis that proved to be accurate: She had endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and hormone dysfunction. After several surgeries, which included the repair of two completely blocked fallopian tubes, the couple was blessed with the births of three beautiful daughters.

Becky recalled how powerful and healing it was to encounter Hilgers’ headquarters, the Pope Paul VI Institute, in Omaha, Nebraska. “We knew we didn’t have to question anymore whether the options being provided were in line with our faith.”

Hilgers, a devout Catholic, aims to work with the natural design of women’s bodies instead of against them — which sets him apart from the attitude and innumerable methods of fertility control advocated by most of the medical industry.

Becky told me how her struggle with the mainstream medical community continued, as the local ob-gyn who delivered her daughters could not seem to understand nor respect the knowledge she had gained about her body through her experience with Creighton and NaPro. But she didn’t let that stop her from sharing her story with friends and acquaintances, and several of the women she has shared with have gone on to use the information to successfully achieve pregnancies. She is currently discerning whether to become trained as a Creighton practitioner.

I, for one, hope she does. But in the meantime I am incredibly grateful to be able to share her story of hope with the women I encounter, both inside and outside of the diocesan marriage preparation programs. Not only can I give them the facts, I have a story to back up the facts…and to reach their hearts.

FertilityCare.org is an excellent resource for couples seeking more information and local teaching and medical resources related to the Creighton Model FertilityCareTM System and NaProTECHNOLOGY.

This article originally appeared in the Oct 25, 2011 issue of San Antonio E-News: NFP News & Info for the Archdiocese of San Antonio.


Valerie Pokorny grew up in Ohio in a Couple-to-Couple League family and was bitten by the Texas bug as a junior at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She now lives in San Antonio with her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Isabella.