NFP–Not for Protestants?
Natural Family Planning is widely known as “Catholic birth control,”-- except only a minority of Catholics, especially in the secular West, adopt it as their preferred method; only 2 percent of married women of reproductive age, according to Patrick Fagan, cited in the appendix of my book, The Holy Family Model Not Exception. What are we to make of the fact that Lutheran pastors, Walter and Ingrid Trobisch, missionaries to Africa, enthusiastically endorsed the natural methods, adopted them as their own preferred method and founded the Family Life Mission, which provided counseling to couples worldwide?
I first met Ingrid in Cali, Columbia. We were both attending the first international conference of the International Federation for Family Life Promotion (IFFLP), an organization founded by Claude Lanctot, a Canadian doctor. Ingrid had been born in 1926 in Moshi, Tanzania since her parents were missionaries to Africa. However, most of her youth was spent on a farm in Springfield, MO. In 1949 she was commissioned as a missionary to Cameroon in West Africa. There she met a German missionary and eventually they were married and had five children, all born in Cameroon. One son, David, is a distinguished bible scholar and an advisor to the Bible Museum in Washington DC among other accomplishments.
Ingrid was not only beautiful but proved to be a gifted writer. Her husband was already a gifted author. I remember Ingrid telling me that when her husband was “pregnant” with a new book, he went into himself and needed to be left alone. Like Ingrid’s books they mostly concern marriage, especially what it means to love. Walter died unexpectedly in 1979 so that Ingrid was let a widow. Writing was an important way she struggled with grief with such books as Leaning to Walk Alone (1985) Ingrid’s first book, On Our Way Rejoicing was published in 1964. But it is The Joy of Being a Woman (1975) that chronicled her own experience with fertility and children.
Ingrid’s first chapter underlines the importance of self-acceptance. She notes in the foreword that there are two kinds of women’s movements, those who try to eradicate differences and urge women to be like men, and those who fully appreciate the uniqueness of womanhood. “I want to help,” she writes “the liberated woman to retain her femininity.” Self-acceptance, she calls the key; “A husband can accept his masculinity only if his wife accepts her femininity.” Acceptance of self comes from being loved. (If this does not happen in the family she counsels that the person can find it in the unconditional love of Jesus Christ). Self-acceptance means that above all a woman must accept her body.
A great aid to acceptance of the body is understanding the fertility cycle. Chapter III tells how Ingrid first met Dr. Josef Roetzer, Austrian NFP pioneer, while searching for a birth control method she considered most suited to African culture. But it was not only in Africa that Ingrid saw the benefits of such information. All women, single included, she concluded, need to learn “to live consciously with their cycle.” Acceptance of the body in marriage also means accepting the fullness of conjugal love. Ingrid does not shy away from detailing how the vaginal orgasm is so much richer than the surface clitoral experience. Here the differences between men and women need to be taken into account. There is so much more in the book about shared pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding but they must wait for another blog.
“A real man is one who can wait. Only a child wants what he wants when he wants it.”
So here we were, fellow authors at the first (IFFLP) conference. I was there with an assignment to write a book for a New York publisher on NFP. Later, when the publisher lost interest in the topic, I secured the rights, putting the six chapters on the marital relationship into a smaller book, called Challenge to Love. Ingrid penned the following Foreword:
To live with our bodies, and not in spite of them, is a discovery, our “civilized” world is just now making. An old Asian wisdom maintains that perfection is only acquired through mastery of the body. The more one is able to live with his or her own body and master its nature, the freer is one’s mind and the wider the horizons. An Africa chief told me recently. . . “A real man is one who can wait. Only a child wants what he wants when he wants it.”
She ended the Foreword with these words, “It is time to overcome ignorance and prejudice and to discover ‘the growing learning process’ that this book describes in both simplicity and depth.”
I had the pleasure of meeting Ingrid once more when we both attended an IFFLP conference in Hong Kong in 1983. Below is a photo of her together with Doctors Lynn and John Billings, originators of the Billings or mucus method of NFP and founders of the World Organization of the Ovulation Method (WOOMB).