Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way

35. The First Teacher of the Sympto-Thermic Method of Natural Family Planning

On April 20, 1938 Father Hillebrand wrote the following letter to H. Knaus. "In short succession, I have observed three pregnancies in couples who had received careful instructions from me in your teaching and rules on natural family planning. These pregnancies resulted from intercourse BEFORE the fertile days according to your rules, but which fit exactly into the days of rare conceptions according to Ogino, viz. days 20 to 24 prior to menstruation. These cases shocked me and forced me to study and search for a simple but reliable means to identify the time of ovulation, first for these women and then for all other women."

"Then I suddenly remembered that I read, some time ago, in Van de Velde's 'Perfect Marriage' a chapter entitled Periodic Functions in the Female Organism in which he stated that the hormone of the corpus luteum exerts, amongst others, a characteristic influence on the body temperature of women. This caused me to determine, in as many women as possible, their monthly temperature cycles with the aid of a clinical thermometer. In the short period from August to December 1935, 21 women, married and single, had been investigated. They had recorded BBT curves for 76 menstrual cycles."

"I soon found in a woman that she showed a deviation from your norm, viz. ovulation on the 15th day before the onset of menstruation. She seemed to ovulate at the 19th day before menstruation. This greatly upset me, and I reproached her with not having kept sufficiently accurate measurements. However the impression made by her as a person and the way she put her case were overwhelming. A further case finally convinced me ...

"So far, I do not doubt that you have discovered the physiological and normal time of ovulation in women. However, I have found that deviations from your norm occur, both at the beginning and at the end. Therefore one cannot accept your rules blindly. Fortunately the estimation of the time of ovulation by the basal body temperature curve resolved the uncertainty and thus gave birth to natural family planning."

With a letter written on November 30, 1949 Father Hillebrand explained to me how he got involved with Natural Family Planning. "Let me first introduce myself. I am a Catholic parish priest but (!) the son and brother of physicians. When I first heard, in 1933, that there is a so-called natural method of family planning, I studied the subject with the intention to get an estimate of its reliability."

"I first got the impression that the method seemed to be effective, but I was shaken when I observed, simultaneously, as many as three failures though the couples, had faithfully followed the rules. This was in 1935. Of the three couples two conceived in the first cycle and the other couple after a few cycles but after I had suggested to them that they may use the "infertile" days of the postmenstrual phase, too."

"The first failure immediately enticed me to find the cause of the fiasco. I remembered that I once read in Van de Velde's 'Perfect Marriage' that a woman's temperature rises shortly after ovulation and that in the case of pregnancy the temperature remains elevated. I decided to test Van de Velde's observation. First of all I checked the correctness of the common clinical thermometers and I experimented with the different techniques of taking the temperatures... "

"To sum it up, from that time on to this day I have used the basal body temperature, more and more successfully, in the service of natural family planning."

"Through Dr. Doering I have heard about you and I have read your publications. This has caused me to write to you, and send you my compliments. I should like to hear from you. You know now my motives which forced me into this new and remarkable occupation. How did you get pinned~"

How did Father Hillebrand operate as a family planning adviser? "I have concentrated my efforts on the methodology how couples may be best and safely introduced to natural family planning. This is not possible through popular or scientific publications of any kind though they may be helpful. This must be done by a kind and competent person who takes the pains and time to introduce the couples not in general but individually for so long until they have become capable to master the method."

In summary Father Hillebrand wrote (1949):

  1. "First of all, the present status of natural family planning must be fully documented. Only then can a further discussion of physiologic, medical, psychologic, moral and pastoral issues be fertile."
  2. "To serve the cause and progress of natural family planning the available data must be collected and systematically analyzed .... The facts will then decide on future plans but not the so-called authority of a name."
  3. "That natural family planning may occupy the position in human society which it deserves, requires that the political and clerical authorities give their full support... "

(Summary of a paper published in the Winter 1979/1980 issue of the International Review of Natural Family Planning, with the permission of the publisher, Father Paul Marx.)


  1. Hansen, T.B.: Ueber praemenstruelle Temperatursteigerungen. Beitr. Klin. Tuberk., 27: 291-310, 1913.
  2. Hillebrand, H.: (brother of Father Hillebrand) Zwischen aerztlicher und seelsorglicher Ehehilfe. Mainz, Matthias Gruenewald Verlag, 1962.
  3. Knaus, H.: Die Physiologie der Zeugung des Menschen. Wien, Verlag W. Maudrich, 3rd ed., 1950.
  4. Ober, K.G.: Dr. med. H.C. Wilhelm Hillebrand. Geburtsh. Frauenheilk., 20: 188-192, 1960.
  5. Ogino, K.: Conception Period of Women. Harrisburg, Penn., Medical Arts Publishing Company, 1934.
  6. Smulders, J.N.J.: Periodische Enthaltung in der Ehe. Regensburg, G.J. Manz, A.G., 1931. Vollman, R.F.: The Menstrual Cycle. Philadelphia, Penn., W.B. Saunders, 1977.

by Rudolf F. Vollman, M.D.

Rudolf F. Vollman, M.D. Hiltbrunnerweg, CH-8713-Uerikon, Switzerland. After medical school he specialized in Obstetrics, Gynecology and Biostatistics Stages in Veterinary Pathology; Research Associate with the Department of Embryology Carnegie Institution; Medical Officer of the NIH Primate Colony, San Juan; Head of the Department of Obstetrics, NIH; Consultant to the Section on Human Reproduction, WHO.

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