Posts Tagged ‘pregnancy’

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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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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I know, I know, I know. Seven months is not a long time to wait to get pregnant without success. I shouldn’t be using such strong terms as “barrenness.” In fact, it’s perfectly normal to have to wait several months, and in no way indicates infertility on either partner’s side. I know.

But I’m still depressed as hell most of the time. Because for Mennonites, seven months is a really long time to wait. But I’ll get to that later.

I want to begin by saying that all my life, I was puzzled by the idea of couples wanting children. I heard about couples “trying” or “deciding” to have kids. Sometimes I heard about couple’s “not being able” to have kids, and them feeling “frustrated” about it. I never understood.

Who wants children in their lives? Who wants to let a bunch of noisy, uncontrollable, and utterly ungrateful little people invade their lives forever?

I have never felt anything special about children. I’ve never connected with kids. Even when I was a child myself, kids didn’t especially like me – I’ve always been too serious and nerdy – and as I got older, they liked me even less. I’m not particularly charming or funny or matronly. Kids don’t find me especially interesting or likable, and frankly, I’ve never found them all that interesting or likable either. The feeling was mutual.

So I’ve never understood how a person could reach a point where she wanted children – enough to get upset about it if she didn’t get them. She could always comfort herself by saying, “Oh well – at least I don’t have to endure that harrowing nightmare that is childbirth.”

I didn’t understand, that is, until April of 2009. Suddenly, for reasons I can’t fully explain, everything changed. At that point nothing made sense any more.

If you are like me, and have always wondered what it must feel like to actually want children, well, here are some of my experiences and reasons. And if you have never wondered, then you already know exactly what I’m talking about.

An overwhelming desire to love somebody.

It’s preposterous. But these days I’ll see a sudden movement outside, through the window, out of the corner of my eye, and my heart will skip a beat as I hope it’s a puppy or kitten who needs my love. (It never is).

I am in agony over wanting to give my love to somebody. I feel I have so much to offer a child.

I have been babysitting a professor-friend’s little boy, Avery, for about as long as I’ve been trying to conceive, and it is very hard sometimes. I think he’s a source of my problem, to a certain extent. I love him too much.  Ever since I began to care for that child, my desire for a baby of my own has been almost physically painful. I cry buckets some nights because I don’t have a little one to kiss and hold and care for. It just hit me one day when I was putting him to sleep and has never gone away.  And the sensation is made worse by the fact that it is so new and came on so suddenly. When did I become this person? Who am I? How do I deal with this? My new-found desire for children is confusing and disorienting. I’m not a mother, I’m an academic! Or . . . at least, I was. Now I don’t know what I am.

It is torture for me to hold back my fondness and affection for the little one. He provokes such intense feelings of tenderness in me. I want to pour out all my love into him . . . But he’s not mine. I feel an overwhelming wellspring of love, and yet have no one to direct it to.

I want to share this overflow of love with someone.

It frustrates me to find out I have absolutely no control over the matter.

I was under the impression that having a baby was a decision one made. And I had made my decision. I had planned it all out. I was going to get pregnant in the summer – my aim was August at the latest – so that I would have a spring baby. That way, I could carry my newborn around outside in a sling for the first months of his life.  I would be in my second trimester by now. I would know the baby’s sex, and we would have a name picked out for him or her. We would have a crib and a stroller. I would be saying things like, “Oh, little Benny was so active last night . . . I could hardly sleep.”

Now I say, “family planning? Ha! In my dreams.”  There is no planning in any of this. It isn’t a choice. It’s just something you hope for and wait for without any say in the matter. It sucks. I was totally wrong about all this.

Everyone else in the universe is having babies right now.

Those of you who aren’t a part of the Mennonite culture might not understand this, but women in my world have babies in their early twenties. At 24 and babyless, I’m already behind schedule, all because I wanted to get a degree. In my social circles, it is universally understood, “We want to be done having kids before we’re thirty.” And most of my friends, like me, plan to have three or four children, so they have to get started early if they want to reach this goal. They are already all on their way to achieving it, but I’m not.

My sister never tires of saying “Mennonites have an uncanny ability to get pregnant the second they have sex.” And it’s true. I’ve heard that Mennonites statistically have the highest fertility rate of any cultural community in the world. (Well, technically the Hutterites beat us, but they are Anabaptists too, so I consider us all a part of the same, ridiculously-fertile family).

Just listen to my own situation. Right now, there are four unwed girls in my church who are with child. These girls didn’t choose to have babies; they got them by accident. One of my close friends recently found out she unexpectedly got pregnant right on the heels of her first child’s birth, and another got pregnant on purpose, after her second month of trying. Two of my married friends recently had unplanned honeymoon babies even though they were using birth control.  The real kicker: almost every single one of these girls – seven out of the eight – is younger than me.

Every other day I get a new Facebook update from a distant acquaintance telling me that she too is carrying another child, and is asking for advice on how to deal with the nausea.

And in the non-Mennonite world: half of the bloggers I follow right now are currently expecting or are brand-new first-time parents. I actually had to stop subscribing to a few because it was too depressing.

Even Jim and Pam from The Office are expecting, for heaven’s sake, and theirs was also unplanned.

I myself entered this world by mistake, two months before my parents were married. Mom’s fertility was through the roof – she got pregnant eight times in ten years, giving birth to six children.

It seems like the only way to have babies these days is by accident. Alternatively, my friends just have to think the words, “I feel I would like to start a family,” and they immediately begin gestating.

Why is it so easy for everybody else – so easy that it happens by accident – and yet so hard for me and Ben?

The women around me, their bellies swell with new life and their breasts swell with life-sustaining nourishment. Next to them I feel gaunt, barren, pre-pubescent – like a patch of gritty, inhospitable desert amidst fecund, luxuriant rainforests.

Most absurd of all: I feel like God is withholding a child from me because he doesn’t think I would be a good enough mother.

This is ridiculous because I don’t even believe God works like that. It goes against everything my theology teaches me. And if he’s letting all kinds of irresponsible single girls around me have babies, surely he doesn’t pick and choose his mothers that way. I’m married and I’m taking all the friggin’ vitamins and reading all the parenting books, for goodness’ sake. But a part of me still entreats him to change his mind. I worry that he thinks I would forget to feed them, that I would be too negligent. I cry out, “God, I promise I will wake up for her every time she cries, and I will even send her to that lame Sunday school if you want me to, and I will read her stories every day so she will be smart, too.” But he doesn’t hear me. He thinks I would be forgetful and careless. That’s how it feels, anyway.

There’s also something impossibly depressing about thinking (hoping!) that maybe there is a baby inside of me and constantly finding out that there is not. It’s disheartening to pray, month after month, “God, if there is a child inside me right now, please make him healthy and safe,” and then to have a stupid little stick tell you month after month, “You wasted your time. There was never anyone in there to begin with.” To think, “Maybe my baby – little Benny or Kathy Junior – is living inside of me right now,” and then to realize, “Nope – the only heart beat that has ever been inside this body is your own.”

There’s no one there. There never was.

Of course, it’s not all bad. I remind myself that I can get a ton of writing done without kids around. I remind myself that I don’t have to worry about morning sickness, hemorrhoids or stretch marks. I can sleep in whenever I want. I can see a late movie with Ben at the drop of a hat if we feel like it.  I also remind myself that for some unfathomable reason our society prizes the appearance of malnourishment and infertility in women, so that other women actually covet my gangly body. After the fifth consecutive month of getting a negative test back I went out and bought a bunch of tight-fitting clothes to make me feel more valuable as a person. I may not be a scholar and I may not be a mother, but frig, at least I can be “hot.” Maternity clothes be damned. I’m wearing skinny jeans, because they don’t look good on curvy women.

These are just some of my irrational feelings. Don’t try to reason with me, I already know all the logical responses to these feelings. Logic is scheduled to resume on Friday.

How about you, though? Have you ever felt the desire to have or care for children? What was your experience? Or do you find the desire to reproduce as bizarre as I always did?

I’d love to hear from you. But if one more person tells me I need to “relax and it will happen” I will personally sock them in the nose.

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