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You absolutely need to begin learning about and then charting your menstrual cycles.

Let me back-track a little, and maybe I will start sounding a little less insane.

As most of you know, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot lately about natural family planning. It started off as a mere curiosity about something I thought was neat. But I have become increasingly serious about it. As you also know, I am currently trying to get pregnant, so at first I didn’t think NFP was entirely relevant to me. At the same time, though, I have been rethinking the whole issue of birth control since I just recently came off it. And I’m starting to have serious doubts about the necessity, validity and safety of contraceptives in general, and I am starting to seriously consider the value of natural family planning – alternatively (and more appealingly) known as fertility awareness.

Well, to start off my more serious studies into the subject, I took some of my readers’ advice yesterday and took out the book Taking Control of Your Fertility (by Toni Weschel) out of the local library. I flew through the first quarter in the first night. I was just floored by all the information I gleaned from it. I’m not done yet, but I plan to be soon, and then I hope to share with you some of the stuff I have learned. But one thing I have already concluded is this:

All women deserve to know this stuff about their bodies, and it is a shame that most of us live our entire lives in relative ignorance about it.

More than anything else, knowledge is power. And I believe women deserve to have power over their own fertility. As it stands, with most of us knowing nothing about our fertility, we have to be at the mercy of our doctors and gynecologists to tell us where we stand. We have to rely on invasive, expensive, uncomfortable and often painful medical procedures to give us answers about our fertility, when most of the information we will ever need is in plain sight at all times. I am learning that even the dullest of women (i.e. women like me) can learn to recognize the signs of their fertility with relative ease. It just takes some time and attention. And a chart and a thermometer.

If you learn about your menstrual cycle, and learn to detect the various changes in your fertility, I am now absolutely certain you will gain confidence and power.

Did you know that you can easily tell for yourself whether or not you are pregnant without taking a test? With time, you can also tell for yourself whether or not you have a fertility problem, and you can help your doctors immensely in diagnosing the problem.

I had no idea about any of this stuff until now. And I feel totally ripped off that I have never been properly educated about something as fundamental, basic, and important as my fertility.

I now believe that every sexually active woman, whether she is trying to avoid or achieve pregnancy, ought to be tracking her fertility. Just think: no more worrying about whether or not you’re pregnant! No more frantic trips to the drug store during your lunch break to buy a $15 test, just to get a negative result! No more worrying that your bodily fluids are freaky and diseased! By practicing fertility awareness you can know the answer to these questions for yourselves.

Of course, fertility awareness doesn’t work if you’re on the Pill, because if you’re on it you’re not fertile (or at least you shouldn’t be). So I’m starting to think no woman should be on the Pill, either – for their own good. But now I’m venturing into “You’re insane, Kathy” territory again, so I will leave it at that.

I do plan to write an article soon about how the Pill, which was meant to liberate women, may have actually unnecessarily burdened us all. But for now, I’m leaving off with, “Ladies, I think you would do yourselves a huge favour by becoming educated about your own fertility.” I know I am so happy and relieved to have come across this information, and I think you would be, too.

I welcome your thoughts and reactions!

I think I’m going to take just a teensy-weensy break from blogging. Just, like, a week or two. Two reasons:

First the obvious one. It’s Christmastime. I don’t think people are reading blogs that much right now. They’re too busy banqueting and cleaning their houses and stuff. So I’m gonna wait to post any of my really serious stuff until after Christmas, I think. If I had a Christmas-themed series going on or something it would be a different story but I don’t. I’m just not that into this pseudo-Christian pagan holiday this year for some reason. Bah humbug.

The second reason is that I want to focus a little of my time on my other writing project. I’m working on a collection of creative non-fiction pieces about Mennonite culture for publication. Wooo! I’m working with a real publisher, even. I want to focus my creative energies on that for a couple of weeks. But my heart will remain with Project M.

I might throw in a story or two while I’m away, especially if my holidaying gets particularly nutso, but those posts will be lighter and shorter than some of my recent stuff.

But before I sign off for the holidays, I want to say a couple of things about this last year and the year to come.

First of all, thanks a ton, guys and gals. Thanks to my faithful friends who have been reading my blog for the last five months, and thanks to my fabulous new readers who have encouraged me so much in the last couple of weeks. A HUGE thanks to the NFP-loving community that has deluged me with encouragement, prayer, advice, and useful information.  My brain has expanded significantly and my heart has been warmed thoroughly.  I told my sister yesterday that I don’t think a Mennonite girl has ever had so many Catholics praying for her (and for her fertility, no less!) in the history of Christianity. It means a lot to me, folks.

Second, I want to outline some of the subjects I plan to tackle in the New Year. Most of them spiral out from stuff I’ve come across in the last few months. And I’m doing some research. I’ve taken out books from the library (including Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which several commenters suggested) and I’ve downloaded documentaries and I can’t wait to learn more.

I will warn you that the list looks really . . . um . . . Christian. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But I am a Christian and everything that happens in my brain is influenced by that fact.

In all of these subjects, keep in mind that I will need help from you, my dear readers.

A Couple of Questions I Want to Consider in 2010

  • Why haven’t most Evangelicals in the last few generations thought much about contraception and its implications? Why did I get fifty comments from Catholics on my articles on NFP but only three from Protestants, even though 99% of my friends are Protestants? What are we missing?
  • Why do/should we Christians make such a big deal out of sex?
  • What is the point of marriage, anyway?
  • What are we to make of the Bible’s talk of male headship and female submission (ack!)?
  • What role does gender play in marriage, and in the universe? Is it important? What is gender, anyway?
  • What should Christians think about marriage laws (including gay marriage), and how should we respond to them?

I am even toying with starting a series on domestic stuff (like, where readers can contribute tips on frugality, efficiency, green living, and how to hard-boil the perfect egg — stuff like that). But I’m not sure if that would fit right with the rest of Project M. Maybe you can tell me.

Well, what am I missing? What other subjects do you think need to be covered in regards to marriage? What do you want to see more of? Do the above subjects sound boring? Do you think I should NOT take a break from blogging?

Have a happy, happy Christmas, and don’t try to drown your family frustration with food and drink. It will only make you feel bloated and disgusting on top of frustrated. Trust me — I know. Blessings.

Another reason I love Ben:

He puts up with my taste for kitsch.

See, Ben appreciates sophistication. He likes to sip expensive coffees from tall mugs, and scotch from short glass tumblers. He likes homes that are clean and modern. He likes fancy cars. He’s always dreamed about working in a high-rise building, wearing a suit, surrounded by framed architectural drawings on the walls. He appreciates leather couches and classy jazz music.

So when I found a gold Christmas tree on discount during Boxing Week when we were engaged, I thought for sure he wouldn’t go for it.

I have a soft spot for kitschy stuff. I actually didn’t even know what the word “kitsch” meant until recently, when I looked it up on Wikipedia. The first thing I saw pictured on the page was a garden gnome, presented as a prime example of kitsch. And I thought to myself, “Ahh . . . so that’s the name for the stuff I like.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve always had a thing for tacky stuff. Like my gnome collection, or my oversized, sombrero-wearing, stuffed frog Helen. That kind of stuff just gives me the jollies. In moderation, of course.

Helen

I think I was about twelve when I first saw a silver Christmas tree, featured on Family Matters. I decided at that very moment that I would someday have a silver Christmas tree. When I got older I started to doubt whether I’d ever come across such a rare marvel. And then I stumbled upon the “auburn wonder,” six feet tall, on sale for only $40 at Sears. I had to have it. I had to have a gold Christmas tree. But I was scared to bring it up with Ben.

When I did, he just said, “Sure. Where can you get it from?”

We drove to the mall and picked it up that weekend. We also came across some other mind-blowingly awesome accessories, the purchasing of which Ben wholeheartedly supported.

I don’t know why he agreed to it. It’s totally not his style. But he could see how important it was to me, so he just let it slide. In fact, he lets me get away with almost all my decorating fancies. He let me paint our living room “lively lime” (yes, that’s the actual name of the paint colour).  He lets me put up a miniature gold tree up downstairs for the gnomes. He occasionally lets me bring Helen out of her closet. OK, so he’s not totally accepting of Helen. But he hasn’t burned her in the fire pit yet like he keeps threatening, so that’s something.

I appreciate that he’s willing to make those kinds of sacrifices for me. Because he knows they’re important to me.

Every year, now, instead of having to dread the supremely frustrating and rather pointless tradition  of putting up a Christmas tree, I have something to look forward to. I still dislike the process of stringing the lights and getting the ribbon to go around it nicely, but I do it anyway out of my passionate love for the “evergold.”  We have the rock-awesomest Christmas tree in the world, I’m pretty sure. To allow you the full effect, I will now present to you a video of the Seventh Wonder of the World: the Quiring Residence Golden Christmas Tree.

[OK, crap. You may have noticed that that’s not a video. I can’t seem to upload my video footage no matter what I do. So I’ll have to just describe it to you. *Sigh.* The tree has a special base, into which we can plug the lights. It comes with a Santa-shaped remote. With the press of a button on the remote, you can control the lights – on or off. Another button makes the tree slowly rotate. And a third button plays an ear-shattering medley of pingy-sounding Christmas songs, from “Jingle Bells” to “Deck the Halls.” It is a wonder to behold. It is a shame I couldn’t share it here.]

What kinds of idiosyncracies does you spouse tolerate from you just to keep the peace? Or, if you’re not married, what kinds of things do you hope your spouse will tolerate? What kinds of junk do you put up with  for the sake of love?

Hey guys,

Remember Dustin, the really smart and classy guy from Engaged Marriage who answered ALL my questions about natural family planning last week? Well, he kindly asked me to offer some of my own thoughts and reflections on NFP, as a response to the Q&A we put together. I enthusiastically agreed, because I now have lots to say on the subject! Maybe I was a little too enthusiastic. I wrote a lot. Nevertheless, you can find my response over on his cool blog. He gave me the thumbs-up on entitling it “An Educated, Artsy-Fartsy Protestant’s Thoughts on Natural Family Planning.” I told him I felt bad about putting “Artsy-Fartsy” in his permanent archives but he was totally cool with it. What a nice guy, right?

While you’re there, take a look around: he provides fabulous, practical marriage advice (something I don’t do), as well as thought-provoking articles on marriage. I appreciate that he’s young and that he has a fresh, energetic style. I really dig his site. It’s not every day you get to hear about marriage from a young but wise and knowledgeable guy. Plus, his site is real fancy-looking, without being flashy. I like that. I aspire to have such a nice-looking site someday.

If you’re a new visitor from Engaged Marriage: Hi! Thanks for stopping by! If you want to get a general idea of what Project M is all about, you might want to start with this post, which explains my goals and purposes. There’s also my About the Project page, but you probably could have figured that out yourself. Some people get a kick out of my discussion of sex. That’s where this whole things started, actually.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy day to check me out! Blessings!

“Here, practice with this,” said Ben, crossing the kitchen with the blue crazy-straw in his hand. He had just retrieved it from the silverware drawer and was handing it to me.

“Um,” I said, but he didn’t notice. He put his pipe back into his mouth.

“I don’t want you to accidentally inhale any of the smoke because you don’t know how to do it. You don’t want to get any smoke in your lungs. Now do like me.”

I followed his lead, slipping the straight end of the crazy straw between my lips.

“So you’re creating a vacuum with your mouth, sucking in the smoke not with your breath but using your cheeks and tongue, like when you suck on a straw. Then you just let it out of your mouth without breathing.” He demonstrated a few puffs for me, releasing the smoke dramatically each time. “See? No breathing.”

He had already demonstrated how to pack a pipe, which he had only learned himself that afternoon from YouTube.

I don’t know when I became interested in learning how to smoke a pipe: one day I thought it was a vile form of recreation, and the next day I wanted to be like C. S. Lewis. I had always known C. S. Lewis smoked a pipe, and I had always wanted to be like him, but this was the first time I wanted to be like him by learning how to smoke a pipe. And Ben had reassured me that pipe smoke was never inhaled, so it didn’t sound so bad. I puffed away on the crazy straw while he puffed away on his pipe – the one he had bought in an outdoor market in Leeds for ₤2 when we were there last fall.

So there I sat, bare-foot and cross-legged atop our kitchen table, with my husband in front of me on a chair. I had a blue crazy-straw between my lips, grasped lightly between my forefinger and  middle finger the way I had seen adults hold cigarettes in my childhood. I scraped at the aquamarine nail polish on my toes with my fingernail absently. It was very late – the kitchen window that opened onto the back yard was a rectangle of black. Sweet, woody-smelling smoke curled like dancing ghosts between us as he showed me how to hold it in your mouth for a few seconds before blowing it out.

And I became conscious all of a sudden that I had never imagined a scene even remotely close to this when I had envisioned marriage before our wedding day. There was no place in my imagination for such bizarre and unexpected fancies. This was my marriage in real life: learning to smoke a pipe in the kitchen with my husband, on a loopy blue plastic straw. How could I have foreseen that married life could be so . . . peculiar?

Once he felt satisfied with my performance on the straw, I graduated to the real thing. I put the stem of the pipe between my teeth and sucked as I had practiced. I was delighted as my mouth filled with thick, musty warmth.

“Awesome,” I said, releasing a gray cloud from my mouth; but in speaking I felt some of the smoke slip down my throat. “Oh, crap!” I said, slapping my hand over my mouth.

“Don’t breathe in!” he warned.

It took me a while to get the hang of it: despite the formal practice I kept letting the smoke into my body. Each time, I clapped my mouth and yelled, “Oops – crap!”

We took turns with the pipe, showing off our newly-acquired skills, until I started to notice the awful dirty taste in my mouth. It had been OK at first but now it was starting to get gross.

“I’m done. My mouth tastes like old man,” I announced.

“Yeah, let’s go brush our teeth. It’s late,” he said.

“OK,” I said, slipping off the table onto my feet to follow him into the bathroom. “But first I want to see how I look smoking a pipe.”

“You look cute,” he said.

“Thanks,” I replied, sincerely touched.

How about you? Have you had any of those moments where you thought, “I can’t believe this is marriage?” or “I can’t believe this is my marriage?”

New Domain!

I am getting so tech-savvy. The fact that I can even use the word “tech-savvy” in a sentence indicates just how cutting-edge I have become.

In short, Project M has a new domain! Now, you can just type in “projectmonline.com” to get here! None of that “.wordpress.com” stuff hanging out at the end of the URL.  Save yourself some typing, guys and gals! It’s so quick! So savvy-looking!

I can’t believe I went all this time without such a professional-looking domain. I didn’t realize it only cost about the equivalent of a bucket of fried chicken per year to have one. Sweet deal!

Maybe if I was even more savvy I could have come up with an even better domain, with something better than “online” tacked onto the end of it, but I have to take this one step at a time. It wasn’t even a year ago that I was blogging on my crappy blogspot blog about how I hated the internet.

Well, you guys have yourselves a delightful weekend. It’s been a good week here at Project M. For me, anyways. Hopefully for you, too.

Wow! Guys, Project M made it onto The Marry Blogger’s Top Ten Marriage Blogs List! I get a fancy badge to put in my sidebar and everything! This is so rad!

(It looks like this: )

(And it’s clickable. Ooooh!)

I am delighted and honoured to be listed among the likes of Alisa Bowman (Project: Happily Ever After) and Corey Allan (Simple Marriage),  two bloggers I totally admire. There are a ton of other great reads in the list, too, and I totally encourage you to click on the link and peruse the list.  I am now subscribing to an unreasonable number of marriage blogs, but it is awesome. You will find some excellent stuff there! And don’t forget to browse around Stu Gray’s Marry Blogger — the excellent blog that hosts the list — too.

I want to send a huge thanks to my lovely readers who nominated Project M. It couldn’t have happened without you! You guys are all, individually, The Bomb. Digital high fives all around! (I say that although I have no idea how to actually execute a digital high five. If anyone does, please notify me).

I honestly haven’t been in this good a mood since my sister’s Blast from the Past costume dance party in 2004. Thanks for that!

P.S. Don’t forget to check out Dustin’s guest post below on Natural Family Planning. I am so proud to host this outstanding Q&A on my blog.

I recently came across Dustin Riechmann’s terrific and informative blog Engaged Marriage. I really liked what I saw. I noticed that Dustin seemed to know a lot about natural family planning (henceforth referred to in this blog post as NFP), a subject I’ve been interested in lately. I’ve come to the awareness that lots of people don’t seem to know much about NFP (myself included), so I thought it would be awesome if Dustin would write a guest post for me, and teach me and my readers a little something about it. He graciously agreed, although I wonder if he regretted it a little bit afterwards because I asked him a buttload of questions. He was really nice and answered them anyways. Below is the Q&A that resulted from our collaboration. Enjoy!

Can you briefly outline what NFP is, and how it works?

In simple terms, Natural Family Planning (NFP) is fertility awareness.  By recognizing the signs that indicate when a woman is and is not fertile during her monthly cycle, you can reliably avoid or achieve pregnancy by abstaining from sex or “going for it” during the fertile times.

For more information, please see my post entitled What is Natural Family Planning?

What is the difference between NFP and the Rhythm Method? Because isn’t that what all our parents used when they had, like, three unplanned pregnancies? [Also: is it the same thing as the Billings Method?]

Modern NFP and the Rhythm Method (a.k.a the Calendar Method) are very different approaches to family planning.  You are correct that the Rhythm Method was used by a lot of folks in the 1970’s and 1980’s as a “natural” means of avoiding (or achieving) pregnancy.  We often joke when we are giving our marriage preparation presentations that many of those in the room were conceived using this method. 🙂

NFP is different.  It’s based on exhaustive modern medical research and it uses several signs to determine whether or not a woman is in the fertile phase of her cycle.  The Rhythm Method used only a calendar as a tool to determine when a woman was fertile, and it assumed that all women had a 28-day cycle.  I think that’s enough info to know that this method lacked reliability!

Modern NFP doesn’t rely on a calendar at all.  A couple tracks a woman’s basal body temperature (her temperature immediately upon awakening in the morning) and the state of her mucus “down there” to track her cycle.  Depending on the method, some also incorporate cervical status and/or the use of a fertility monitor such as the Clearblue Easy monitor.  This tracking is highly reliable and pretty much independent of cycle length or variability.

Oh, and the Billings Method (named after the doctor who developed it) is one of several forms of modern NFP.

Doesn’t NFP still have a really paltry success rate? I mean, don’t accident babies happen left and right when couples try to use this method?

Not at all.  When practiced properly, NFP is 98-99% effective, which is similar to artificial contraception like condoms or The Pill.  The difference is that NFP requires communication between the couple, and it sometimes requires self-control when you want to have sex but are also fertile and desire to avoid pregnancy.  If NFP results in “accident babies,” I’d suspect it is from couples who choose to “break the rules” and take their chances.

When you have sex during your fertile time, you are obviously increasing the chances that you’ll get pregnant that month.  The same would be true with not using a condom “this one time,” forgetting to take your birth control pill or having sex when your pill may not be effective (like when you’re on antibiotics).  If you practice NFP properly, you should achieve the published effectiveness rates of 98-99%.  If you get pregnant doing this, I think God had different plans for your family!

Doesn’t NFP take all the fun out of sex, making it all medical?

No way.  I can see where this would be a concern when you talk about charting temperatures and determining when a woman is and is not fertile.  But in reality, the practice of NFP brings an entirely new level of intimacy to a relationship, and it results in a closeness that simply cannot be achieved with contraception.  I can personally attest to the fact that Sex ROCKS when you are using NFP, and it provides an experience unlike that which can be experienced otherwise.

I think this is conveyed pretty well in my post “How Does Natural Family Planning Benefit Marriage?” and also this NFP Informational Video.

Why should couples consider using NFP rather than just going on the Pill if they want to avoid pregnancy?

The moral and spiritual reasons are well discussed and they’re usually the focus of most NFP articles, so I think an internet search will uncover most of that information.  I would highly suggest that everyone read the writings and hear the talks by Christopher West on these issues.  He really does a great job of relating some heavily theological stuff in practical terms.

In short, the Catholic Church condemns artificial contraception, and so did every other Christian denomination until the 1930’s (many until the 1960’s).  There are many reasons for this, but the basis is that contraception prevents the full exchange of marital love in the act of sex.  When we chose to contracept, we choose to exclude God from the act of love-making.  In fact, we purposely dis-invite him from a process that He created as the ultimate demonstration of love.

Theology aside, all forms of chemical birth control (Pills) can be abortifacients, which means they can cause early abortions when they force the uterus to shed its lining whether or not conception has occurred.  If you believe life begins at conception, this becomes a big deal.

I care about these issues deeply, but the main reason we practice and promote NFP is because of the benefits it offers to marriage.  I’d suggest folks read this post to find out about that, but in short those who practice NFP have a divorce rate under 5% vs. 50% for the general population.

Many other, non-Catholic people practice NFP for the other benefits it provides, including health (it uses no hormones, has no harmful side effects, uses no unnecessary pills) and the environment (no artificial hormones in the environment and no condoms in landfills, to start with).  I actually wrote a post addressing these issues called “Green Sex, Anyone?

Why did you choose NFP over the Pill?

Our story is long and interesting, and I’ll be writing about it in a post soon.  Basically, we used contraceptives for the first couple years of our marriage.  We weren’t really comfortable with it from a health or moral perspective but felt like we had no alternatives.  We even sought counsel from our priest and got no help.

We eventually stumbled upon NFP when we were researching ways to get pregnant (we are planners).  We tried the methods on our own and conceived our son the first full month after we quit the Pill and tracked everything.

We have used NFP for both moral and marriage-benefit reasons ever since, which has been about 6 years now.  We had one other (planned) daughter during this time.

The lack of awareness about NFP and its awesomeness are the reasons we love talking about it, and it was one of the motivations behind starting Engaged Marriage.  I should note, though, that NFP is only one part of what we discuss at Engaged Marriage since it is focused on all areas of marriage (marriage preparation, finances, communication, children, romance, etc.).  In a sense, though, all of these issues can be related back to the practice of Natural Family Planning.

Be honest: how long does the average couple have to abstain every month in order to avoid pregnancy?

This will vary depending on the cycle length, the individual woman’s fertility signs (how obvious they are) and just how stringent you want to be about avoiding pregnancy.  As an example, I’d say if you have a 28-day cycle and have dire reasons for avoiding pregnancy, you are probably looking at 10-12 days that you’d avoid sex during the possibly fertile time.  This is obviously just an estimate, and you can reduce this number quite a bit if you have obvious fertility signs and/or are okay with a bit higher “risk” of pregnancy.

Do you have any advice or words of reassurance for couples who want to try NFP but are really afraid of getting pregnant? (e.g. because they’re in school, or have medical conditions that make pregnancy dangerous)

First of all, this is probably a good time to put in a disclaimer to let everyone know my wife and I are not certified as a teaching couple for NFP.  We had training to practice it, and we’ve had great success, but we have not been trained to teach others the specifics.

That said, I would simply point out that when practiced appropriately, NFP has the same “success” rate as artificial contraception.  The only 100% effective means of avoiding pregnancy is abstinence at all times.  I think a lot of couples need to ask themselves whether their reasons are as dire as they might assume at first thought.

The most intimidating time for those who choose NFP is probably the transition away from artificial birth control and the first month or two of using the natural method.  For advice there, I’d recommend the fantastic advice offered by Batrice Adcock (20-something RN and NFP instructor) in the comments area of this post.

What about for women who have really irregular cycles – can NFP accommodate that?

Totally.  My wife has very irregular cycles that can be anywhere from 28 days to 50+ days in length.  We have had two children in the six years that we have used NFP, and both were planned and conceived in the first few months of trying.  Like I explained above, modern NFP methods do not depend on a calendar, and they accommodate irregular cycle lengths easily.

What do you do to help you to abstain during those fertile interludes every month? Do you have any effective techniques for getting through those times? [Is that a really personal question?]

Do I sound like I am afraid to talk about personal issues? 😉  Well, my wife and I follow the teachings of the Catholic Church, which tell us that oral sex has its place only as part of foreplay and shouldn’t be the “culminating event” so to speak.  So, we don’t do that during our fertile times.  We simply abstain from sex.

Abstaining comes down to willpower and a focus on our love for each other.  Sex is awesome, but it’s not the basis of our relationship (that would be called lust).  We can abstain for a few days if we really don’t want to get pregnant.  Incidentally, my wife loves having this time to just hug, kiss, embrace and be romantic with “no strings attached” and no expectations of sex at the end of the night.  It also creates an awesome “honeymoon effect” when you get past the fertile days and are ready to be intimate again…good times!

Why do you think NFP is so little talked about these days? To be honest, I’ve never seriously considered it as an option before. Everyone assumes we will use the Pill. I invite your conjectures as to why this is the case.

For one thing, when NFP is discussed it is unfortunately spoken about as if it’s a “Catholic thing.”  In reality, there are a lot of groups out there using NFP for a variety of reasons (health proponents, environmentalists, naturalists, even feminists), and morality is only one.  Regardless, anything that is considered too Catholic is sometimes dismissed as not applicable to the mainstream.

Unfortunately, many OB-GYN doctors also don’t give any credence to NFP.  Frankly, it requires too much individual attention, and there is no money in NFP.  There is big money in the sales of contraceptives (watch the commercials during any primetime show or sports event if you need confirmation of this).  It is easier and more lucrative to simply push pills and tell people to “suit up” with a condom.

Fortunately, the trend is pointing toward growth in NFP.  And people like me are helping to spread the word about this counter-cultural means of planning our families and enhancing our relationships!

Where can I learn more about NFP? Like, from doctors and nurses and stuff?

Like I mentioned above, you may be hard pressed to learn much about NFP from your OB-GYN, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.  There are a lot of great resources online, and I’d suggest that folks check out the websites of the Couples to Couples League and the Marquette University Institute for NFP.  They should be able to find a local training course, and that is how you should really learn the ins and outs of NFP and put it into practice.

For more non-teaching-specific info, I’d ask people to check out a great site called NFPWorksBlog.com for more information.  Also, I’d love to hear from everyone by email through the contact page at Engaged Marriage, on Twitter (@EngagedMarriage) or on our fan page on Facebook.

Thanks, Dustin!

I hope that was an informative for you guys as it was for me! Let me know if you have any additional comments or questions. I would love to hear from you (and so would Dustin!) Next week(ish) I hope to post my response to this interview on his fine blog.

Writing a blog is very different from writing a book. I haven’t ever written a book, but I think I know what I’m talking about in this respect. Eventually, a book has an end. You reach a point where your book is finished. It gets published. But a blog? It’s never “finished.” It’s an ongoing thing which doesn’t ever technically reach completion. And because of that, a blog is always changing. So I’m always rethinking my blog, considering its future direction. Here are my latest thoughts on the direction of Project M.

In the last few weeks I have come across a ton of other blogs and projects that are concerned with marriage. Most of these have been through Stu Gray’s Top Ten Marriage Blogs list. Through this list, I’ve started to communicate with a lot of other writers who are interested in the same issues that I am, and it has been really cool to discover what is all out there. Some of the blogs and websites are totally awesome. Some of them are . . . not. But most of them are awesome.

Yet, I’m finding that the majority of these other blogs have this same thing in common: they offer advice on how to improve your marriage – how to make your marriage “sensational.” (Each has its own word for talking about “sensational” marriage).

This is a terrific thing: I think that people these days really need to learn how to improve their marriages. Folks these days don’t seem to know how to be married: about half of all marriages break up, which is catastrophic. Evidently, we could use some advice on how to make our marriages work. But I noticed that I don’t really offer advice.

When looking at all these other websites, of course I’ve been forced to think about how my own project fits into all of this. How is my project the same? How is it different?

I came up with a couple of key things that I am trying to achieve, or key points that I am trying to make through my blog. I’m even thinking about updating my “About the Project” page to reflect some of these thoughts. Some of them, I’ve already written about in earlier posts. Maybe you can let me know what you think. Essentially, here’s what I’ve been thinking:

I’m not here to teach you how to have a “sensational” marriage. I don’t think I have the skills/knowledge/wisdom/training/experience to do that. I’m just this girl, you know? I’m from a small town and I’m married and I like to write; that’s about it.

I’m not entirely sure I believe in “sensational” marriages anyway. Call me a cynic. But even the best marriages in the world are just relationships between imperfect humans that are lived out in this ordinary and sometimes tragic world. Imperfect people are annoying. They misunderstand one another. They forget to put others before themselves sometimes. And then they die. Such is the fate of marriage. (Please keep in mind that I really love being married and truly believe that it is the best thing that ever happened to me).

Anyway, I’m not that big into advice-giving or receiving in the first place. I’m not great at applying sound advice to my life, nor am I good at turning my own experiences into instructions that can be applied to other people’s lives.  I like to think of myself as more of an idea-generator, or a story-teller, or something along those lines. I don’t really go looking for instructions from other people, either, even if they’re really wise. I’m more interested in looking for ideas. I’m just not really into practical knowledge. Call me useless and airy-fairy. I majored in English lit.

I know that my lack of enthusiasm for advice is unfortunate in our current Self-Help Age, where people make a killing writing books and offering advice on how to make your life awesome. I could really make something of myself that way . . . maybe. But I just don’t think it’s for me.

Instead, I’m just here to tell the truth about marriage. I’m here to describe it. I believe in Anne Lamott’s dictum that writers have a moral obligation to share our experiences so that we don’t all have to feel so isolated. I’m also here to theorize about marriage.

I’m interested in dispelling the myths around marriage. I want to unromanticizing marriage, but also to occasionally re-romanticize it. I want to think about it with fresh eyes, casting off all the preconceived notions that we have of this multi-millennial practice. Marriage has been around since the beginning of human history, and can sometimes seem a little outdated and irrelevant for today’s high-tech world. But I still believe it is important and pertinent, even today.

I want to inspire people to try marriage, but I also want to be honest about marriage. In one respect, marriage is just another part of everyday human life. It won’t save you. It won’t bring you eternal happiness or satisfaction. I don’t want to give people any false impressions about the glory and majesty of marriage. But in many respects it is glorious and majestic. And it can definitely bring you occasional happiness and satisfaction.  More importantly, I think it enriches our lives and enables us to become better, more mature, more complete human beings. So that’s a good thing.

Ultimately, like all of life, marriage is both marvelous and mundane at the same time. It’s both sacred and utterly earthly.  It has enabled me to experience some of the highest forms of spiritual ecstasy; it has also involved a lot of tedium and engagement with everyday tasks, like laundering my husband’s underwear and cooking him dinner every day. Love is awesome, but complicated. Sex is awesome, but . . . complicated.

So why do I want to talk about marriage specifically? Why do I want to “tell the truth about marriage”?

Because marriage has been the most surprising experience of my life. Before I was married, I thought I knew what marriage was. And I didn’t like it. But since being married, I have discovered that I was totally wrong about all of it. And since I was totally wrong about it, I think that maybe other people are wrong about it too and would like to learn more. Even if it’s from some girl from a small town who likes to write.

What are your thoughts? Do you seek out advice on how to improve your life and your marriage, and do you offer advice to others? Why? Or are you more idea- and story-driven, like me? Do you think I should try to apply other people’s advice to my own life a little more?

*Notice how I have begun bolding certain sentences in my blog posts? Doesn’t that make it easier to read?? See how my blog is always changing??

Sorry to keep rollin’ along on this same theme of child-conception, but I thought I’d like to end the week on some positive notes before moving on to other topics within marriage next week. Here are some things that I’ve learned in the last seven months about trying (unsuccessfully) to have a baby.

1. What people don’t tell you is that the Pill totally whacks out your hormones and it takes some time for your body to recover after you come off of it.

Don’t talk to the three women I know who got pregnant the moment they stopped taking the Pill, exactly the way they wanted – they’re freaks.[i] For most women, apparently, it takes about three months to return to normal after coming off the Pill. It takes this long, or sometimes even longer, to begin showing normal signs of fertility. (OK, I have to admit that I have lost the website from which I got this information, but I swear I just read it like three days ago from a totally legitimate site).

I wish I had known that seven months ago.  I made the mistake of trying to track my fertility (using the basal-body temperature method) as soon as I stopped taking the Pill. [ii] I began with the explicit attempt to find out what my fertility pattern was like, so I could use it to my advantage later when I actually wanted to conceive.

What I learned frustrated the dickens out of me. My temperature was not rising through the first half of my cycle, plateauing, and then falling during the last half like it was supposed to. It was jumping up and down erratically. It did this for a couple of months. Then, one month, around the time my temperature was supposed to peak (during the middle of my cycle), my thermometer indicated that I had in fact become sub-human. That’s right – my temperature was actually lower at this time than the average human’s is supposed to be at any time. I flung that thing across the room in frustration, cried into my pillow for a few minutes, and then stopped taking my temperature for the rest of the month. It wasn’t telling me anything.  That cycle ended up being twice as long as it was supposed to be, too.  I have retried that method a few times in the months that have followed but I’ve seen nothing normal or predictable yet so I’ve officially buried my thermometer somewhere in the back of my bathroom closet. It has been nothing but an aggravation to me.

I now believe that if I had just waited a few months for my body to return to normal, perhaps it would have started showing normal human results and I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated. Maybe I’m even normal by now, and could actually learn something if I started back up again; but at this point I’m so sick of schizophrenic temperature readings that I don’t want to look at another thermometer ever again. Or at least for another year.

So if it’s worth anything, here’s my advice: I recommend going of the Pill before you’re ready to start having a family.[iii] Ease into a less psychotic birth control method. Wait a few months. Then, when you’re ready to start paying attention to your body, it will already be doing what a woman’s body is supposed to be doing (unlike mine). I also recommend not tracking your fertility right after coming off the pill, because the results you get will probably not make any sense and will just drive you crazy.

So wait a few months.

2. When trying to conceive you may, for the first time in your life, have the opportunity to stress out about being too stressed out.

There is no shortage of well-meaning friends and family members who *know*that stress can inhibit conception, and who want to help you out by advising you to be less anxious. Of course, the only real consequence of this advice is that you begin to worry that you are worrying too much. You start to feel anxious about having too much anxiety. See what I’m getting at here? Not very useful.

So my alternative advice is this: remember that worrying is normal. It’s natural. And to a certain extent, it’s even healthy. Own your anxiety.  Tell yourself things like, “My anxiety gives me a richer inner life than all these serene and wispy-headed Buddhas.” Remind yourself of all the stuff you’re good at due to your high-strung nature, like memorizing Latin noun declensions and writing academic papers. And then watch a movie, or do something else you enjoy, citing relaxation as the objective: “I need to watch New Moon in order to relax so that I can get pregnant!”

I don’t know if this technique has helped me get any closer to getting pregnant but it has decreased the amount of crying I do.

3. Talking about it helps.

For some reason that I don’t fully understand, there is this idea circulating that you shouldn’t talk about your fertility problems. Apparently the subject is considered taboo. But fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your outlook), I wasn’t born with one of those filters in my brain which notifies me of what things are and aren’t talkaboutable.  I told lots of my friends about my inability to conceive, before writing about it on here for the whole world to see.

Call me uncouth, but I’m glad I did, because it has helped. Whenever I finish whining and pouring out all the reasons I’m sad, I find that I’m not actually that sad anymore. I get really melodramatic about it for a while, but then I look back and am able to laugh at myself. “Sheesh, Kath; it isn’t that bad,” I say to myself. “What a drama queen. I’m really lucky, actually. I get all this time to practice my writing, and I get plenty of sleep every night, and have lots of fun times with Ben and my friends . . . What was I complaining about, again?” Then I carry on with my life. It never fails. The sad feeling and sense of emptiness eventually creep back, but then I talk about it again. It always helps me to get through. So I’m glad I don’t have one of those filters on my brain.

Also, talking about my fertility has connected me to my female friends in a powerful way. It has made me feel closer to them. We all share this beautiful thing – this capacity to bear children (in theory, anyways) – and sharing our experiences makes us all feel a little more united.

Lastly, my friends have provided me with great comfort when I have talked about it. They tell me they can relate, and that they can see me being a great mom someday. They are all really sweet and sympathetic. I have met with nothing but generosity and love. And the responses I’ve gotten from my blog readers have been equally heartwarming. How would I get all this comfort if I didn’t share my problems with you guys? Where would I be if I followed social norms and kept these things to myself?

So those are some of the things I’ve learned. Yay! Life experiences have made me a slightly wiser person. I guess that’s something.

I would ask you what your own experiences have been in this department but I have a feeling it wouldn’t be relevant to most of you. But do you have any additional thoughts or words of advice on the subject?


[i] Sorry J, A and M. I don’t really mean it. I’m just saying that because I’m jealous.

[ii] For male, young, or otherwise uninformed readers: a woman’s fertility can be tracked by taking her temperature every morning – just the normal way, with a thermometer in her mouth – because a woman’s basal body temperature rises when she is fertile and drops when she is not. A woman is generally only fertile (i.e. able to conceive a baby) for a couple of days every cycle. There are other ways to track fertility but you might not care to know them.  I’ll let someone else explain. Probably next week, actually.

[iii] Actually, I’m starting to think maybe we all should stop using the Pill altogether and turn to healthier, more natural forms of birth control, but that’s another topic.