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Posts Tagged ‘birth control’

If you’ve been reading my blog or engaging in real-life conversation with me in the last couple of months, you know that I’ve been reading, thinking, writing, and even starting to practice Natural Family Planning (NFP). You know that I came across the idea when I came across Engaged Marriage, and after having Dustin tell me more about it, I began writing about it myself.

If you didn’t know that, well, now you do. (And if you don’t know what NFP is, I recommend clicking on the link above where Dustin explains it to me).

I have been learning SO MUCH about the subject, thanks largely to the NFP-loving community who has shared all kinds of wisdom with me in the comments to my posts. I also recently purchased Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler and almost had an explosion in my brain from all the learning.

Just a few short months ago, I was a complete dummy on the subject, and now I have become slightly less dumb!

A complication began to arise, however, because Weschler calls it Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), whereas Dustin and all the other cool Catholics I talked to call it Natural Family Planning (NFP). I started using both terms interchangeably, particularly in this post, and it started to get confusing.

They are not quite the same thing although they share the same basic principles.

So I’m going to do you a favour. I’m going to outline the (very simple) differences between FAM and NFP (for those of you who don’t already know), and tell you which term I’m planning to settle on for good, and explain why I’m settling on it.

Here goes.

Similarities: Both NFP and FAM are examples of sympto-thermo methods of birth control. This means that both are methods of controlling your fertility through awareness of the female reproductive cycle. They both rely on observing cervical fluid and taking your basal body temperature, and tracking both of them on a chart, to help you determine when to have sex (depending on what you’re aiming for). Both can be used either to achieve or avoid pregnancy.

Difference: FAM allows the option of using a barrier (i.e. a condom) during the fertile phase to prevent pregnancy, whereas those who practice NFP choose to abstain during fertile periods if they don’t want to get pregnant.

I guess this means there is a slight difference in the viewpoints underpinning the two methods: NFP-users usually believe that all forms of contraception are morally wrong, whereas FAM-users do not. FAM-users thus permit their occasional use.

But FAM-users agree with NFP-users that contraception is problematic for a variety of reasons, including its negative effects on health, the environment, and sexual enjoyment, not to mention its political implications, and should at least be minimized if not completely rejected.

I’m currently on the fence about whether or not I think all contraception use is morally wrong. Brian Killian’s remarkable blog is having a strong influence on my perspective, and I encourage you to check it out.

Nevertheless, for the purposes of this blog, I have decided to stick with the term “Fertility Awareness Method” when discussing the subject.

Here’s why:

  • I like the emphasis on “awareness.” This term highlights the fact that all it takes to control your reproduction is an attentiveness to what’s going on in your body. You just need to open your eyes to the natural processes already happening in your body and you can begin to take control.

One of the problems I have with contraceptives is that they rob us of this power by encouraging us to be ignorant. Contraception disempowers us. Fertility awareness empowers us. Yay for awareness.

  • I like that FAM does not have religious connections. NFP is commonly associated with religious people. This is unfair but true. Many of FAM’s proponents, on the other hand, are completely secular (including Toni Weschler, as far as I can see).

Now, as you all know, I am a deeply spiritual person. I do not try to hide my religiosity. But FAM can benefit everyone, not just religious people, and I don’t want to ostracize non-religious people. By using a non-religious term, I hope to emphasize what we have in common (a concern for the wellbeing of human beings and the planet) and a de-emphasize what we do not share (a belief in God). If we are open-minded I think we can all agree that there are benefits to FAM.

  • I like that FAM provides more options, and can include NFP. FAM only teaches that you can use barriers during fertile phases if you want to; you don’t have to. Weschler actually discourages it because it’s less reliable. So you can use plain ol’ abstinence during these periods if you prefer. It’s up to you.
  • I’d rather see people use occasional contraceptives, just during fertile phases, than reject FAM altogether in favour of the Pill. I understand that for some people, the 10-or-so-day period of abstinence each month may seem like too much of a stretch. I wouldn’t want someone to reject FAM out-of-hand just because of this. I would rather see couples choose FAM and use the occasional condom than completely reject the whole shebang. Maybe once they try FAM this way for a while and grow to appreciate it, they will more willingly consider the all-natural method.

So there you have it. From now on, I’m going with “Fertility Awareness Method.” I’ve even added it to the Category title “Sex and Fertility Awareness” (in the column on the right). But I am still unspeakably grateful to the NFP community for introducing me to such a wonderful system for controlling my fertility, and wholeheartedly support NFP.

You guys are the bomb!

Which term do you prefer, or which one do you use? Why? Which sounds more appealing to you?

What do you think, experts? Have I dealth with the similarities and differences accurately?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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