USA

Baby Michael one of the preselected babies

When we think of a treasure, we think of something we cherish so dearly, something valuable that is precious to us and we want to acquire it.  Merriam Webster uses the following related words for treasure: blessing, Godsend, goody, windfall and valuable.
 
I think of Love and Life Natural Family Planning as a Hidden Treasure. This method of Family Planning is derived from Billings Ovulation Method, and it was founded by Sr. Leonie McSweeney in Ondo, Nigeria in I973.  I first heard about Love and Life Natural Family Planning, when Sr. Leonie visited us in the Novitiate of the Medical Missionaries of Mary in Eleta in 1981, Ibadan to teach us about natural family planning.
After learning the method, I did not think about it again until my junior sister, who had three girls, shared with me that she wanted a baby boy. I went and retrieved my book from the cartons, and I started teaching her.  She bought her own copy of the Love and Life book. Thereafter she had three boys. For me it was a first-hand witness that this method actually works.
 

 

Baby Rossy born after many years of marriage
In 2017, I was asked by the West Africa Area Leader to work with Sr. Leonie as she rounded up, in preparation for her retirement and return to Ireland. This was initially meant to be a short assignment after which I would hand over to her successor and move to Angola where I had originally been assigned.  Little did I know that God had another plan for PLAN and that I was that successor.
Initially for me, Pro Family Life Association Nigeria (PLAN) seemed to be an office with five staff, located in Eleta, Ibadan guiding married couples who wanted to use natural family planning. Sooner or later, I discovered a new horizon. The small office had a whole network throughout Nigeria serving many families. Each Diocese has a Regional Director with trained Instructors working voluntarily at Parish and village level to serve the needs of married couples and families in their catchment area.   Every year PLAN Instructors reach out to about 7000 families teaching them the Love and Life Billings Method or supporting them with counselling during their moments of crisis. The head office continues to support those at the grassroots with ongoing refresher programmes and training of trainers in Dioceses, different groups and training schools. This is to ensure that they have enough Instructors at all levels. The accreditation of this method in 2016 by the Federal Ministry of Health, has encouraged more couples to avail of the method.
What are the benefits of the Natural Family Planning method as taught by Love and Life Billings Method?  The Love and life method helps married couples who are having challenges with pregnancy to have babies.  It helps married couples who want to avoid pregnancy to manage their fertility according to the number of children they want, and it also helps those who want to pre-select the sex of the baby to make their choice.  This method can also be used in monitoring reproductive health.  A woman who knows her normal pattern of body signs will be able to spot abnormality if it occurs and she will be able to seek medical attention on time.
Love and Life is more than fertility management.  For the past five years I have had the privilege of journeying with married couples who come to PLAN to look for help. As I teach them the Billings Method of Natural Family Planning, I am also learning from their married life experiences.                
   
This is what I term the Hidden Treasure.  I am using the word Hidden Treasure for the Billings Method of Natural Family Planning because it is not easy to see all the benefits from afar.  It can only be discovered by married couples who use it.  It is a way of life because both couples must be committed to it before it can work.  Just like the Hidden Treasure in the bible, the person who finds it, is ready to offer anything in order to get it.
From one User of this Method who is also an instructor:
“Love and Life has helped me and my wife to live our married life to the fullest and it has helped us to have a better understanding of each other. People think that it does not work. We have lived it and we confirm that it has worked as the research says 99.8%.”   
Another instructor recounting his experience of this method:
“Starting marital life from day one with Love and Life was for me a divine gift. Unknown to us till years later, we realised why God showed us the path of marital sanctity. My wife and I learnt Billings together. We wanted a baby but after attending the course for a full year, we started teaching other couples, while still expecting our baby…. For 20 years of constant questions, visitation and tensions all around, God kept us in Love. Then the boy came when we had lost hope. I remember telling my wife, if couples achieve pregnancy through our work, and we ourselves cannot, then God is at work. Then let us wait”. 
As they continued, it was their belief in the Love and Life method that kept them united for the 20 years.
“The knowledge of the Billings was at the centre of our holding unto God. When inability to conceive cannot be explained, the knowledge of Love and Life helps to keep the couple going. It gives couples the sense of direction”.
Having a child in Nigeria is so important that a marriage without a child can often be shaken. Even if the husband cherishes the wife, pressure from the family members can make life unbearable for the woman. Thanks to modern science that has shown that the infertility is not always from the woman. That is why in PLAN, we give special attention to infertility cases.  In many cultures, the parents are usually addressed with reference to the first child. Thus, you have Eka Affiong, Baba Kunle, Mama Amara etc. It is as if the marriage is in existence for that child. This is how Rossy (not her real name) was feeling when she could not conceive. She got married in 2008, but they had difficulties having a child. For her, their blessing came when she was invited to join the training to become a teacher for Love and Life Billings Method. As well as the learning from the class, she was required to chart her personal body signs. Through the method, she was able to identify her fertile phase and thus became pregnant in the middle of 2021. In March this year, Rossy delivered a bouncing baby boy after twelve years of marriage. She said,” I cannot describe the joy in my heart because I have been able to hold a child of my own through this method”. What is more, “it has helped my husband and I to experience real intimacy in our marriage”. This is the hidden treasure that Rossy is describing.
This indeed is the ultimate purpose of the Pro Family Life Association of Nigeria: to promote love and harmony in families. Achieving pregnancy, avoiding pregnancy or sex pre-selection is the means to that end. In a world that is full of challenges for families, we will continue to reach out to couples who want to uphold the family values because family is the nucleus of the society. Many thanks to our benefactors for enabling us to reach out to families.  
 
Mr Mrs Balogun Baby Ayo and Sr Cornelia Udoka
 

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