In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis wrote, “begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors God’s creative work.” To preserve both the unitive and procreative dimensions of conjugal love that allow married couples to participate in this work of creation, the Catholic Church teaches that couples should use Natural Family Planning (NFP) rather than artificial contraceptives. This method allows them to postpone or achieve pregnancy by observing naturally occurring fertility signs.

Melissa Solares grew up being familiar with Natural Family Planning, but she later found out that many women do not learn about it until much later in life. After she and her husband, Santiago Solares, took a course with the Couple to Couple League while preparing for marriage, Melissa felt returning to teach a course was “something I really feel called to do,” she said.

Her husband agreed, and now the two have been teaching Natural Family Planning to other couples through the Couple to Couple League for 13 years. Santiago and Melissa said they have become friends with many of their students, and have enjoyed later meeting their children.

Santiago and Melissa are parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish in Bowie, and have three living children, as well as two whom they lost in miscarriages.

“Fertility is a gift,” said Melissa, who emphasized that many couples think they will be able to achieve or prevent pregnancy whenever they want to, but often that is not the case. After having trouble getting pregnant at the beginning of their marriage, they had three kids, and then had two miscarriages.

“It really is a journey with God, you have to place your trust in Him because you don’t know how many kids He is going to give you,” she said, noting adoption as another option for families who struggle with infertility.

At the same time, “God never puts you in a corner with no options,” said Santiago.

In addition to its theological backing, couples that opt for Natural Family Planning note other reasons for choosing it over contraceptives like the birth control pill.

Prior to having children, Melissa was a wildlife biologist who worked at an environmental consulting firm, assessing the potential impact projects would have on different species. Along with the desire to allow God to be a part of her marriage and family, she said she opted for Natural Family Planning because she was trying to be environmentally conscious, as studies have shown that hormonal contraception causes chemicals like synthetic estrogen to enter water sources and affect fish or potentially drinking water.

She also likes that with Natural Family Planning, she is not putting any chemicals in her own body or changing the way it naturally works, but instead is observing it and making decisions based on that information, like scientists do.

Melissa is also pro-life and did not want to use hormonal birth control because of its potential to act as an abortifacient by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting.

Another thing that Melissa said she appreciates about Natural Family Planning is that while many birth control options fall on one spouse or another to do, this method requires cooperation and dialogue.

“It is important not to forget it is a couples’ method…the husband has to be involved,” said Santiago.

Couples who decide to use Natural Family Planning have several different methods to choose from, and once they decide upon one, Melissa noted that it can take a while to learn.

“Some couples, when they start out, get overwhelmed with all of the rules,” said Melissa. “…It takes time as you start to learn your body.”

Melissa said she hopes women will pass on the knowledge of Natural Family Planning down to their daughters, because “the knowledge base taught by families is really important.” She also hopes to see an increase in doctors and others in the medical field who understand Natural Family Planning.

Santiago noted that Natural Family Planning helps with achieving pregnancy in addition to postponing pregnancy, since paying attention to the woman’s natural cycles helps the couple know when she is most fertile. Natural Family Planning charting can also help identify hormonal imbalances or other health effects in women, Melissa pointed out.

Melissa and Santiago both noted how practicing Natural Family Planning affects attitudes toward children, and many couples end up with larger families by design, rather than by accident, they said.

“It is not because [Natural Family Planning] doesn’t work, it is because at some point you start trusting more,” said Santiago.

Agreeing, Melissa said, “It tends to (foster) a whole attitude of loving families.”