Thursday, April 7, 2011

Au Natural

Thinking about a topic for today's blog post, I honed in on the fact that I had a meeting scheduled yesterday afternoon with my NFP instructor. Nothing like getting really personal, right? I tend to do that in this blog, albeit as discreetly as I can. I've never actually gone into this topic with any depth on my blog, so I thought today was a good opportunity.

For those that may not be familiar with it (librarians are all about acronyms) NFP stands for 'Natural Family Planning.' I'm not going to go into why the Church promotes NFP to the exclusion of any form of artificial contraception (that's a whole dissertation right there). I will simply acknowledge the fact that this teaching is one that is often a turnoff to many non-Catholics and Catholics alike, and challenge you to read more for yourself on the reasoning behind it.

I assure you, the reasoning is not "old men in Rome having old fashioned ideas that they want to wield on the rest of the world." Nor is it "the Church just wants people to create more Catholics so they don't let anybody do anything to prevent births." This is a beautiful teaching with a wealth of theology, tradition and practicality behind it. Check it out. I mean it. :)

What I wanted to do was plug NFP a bit. What do we often hear about any form of natural birth control?

"I know someone who used this and she has 8 children!"

"Do you know what they call people who use NFP? Parents."

"That's so archaic. It doesn't work, and it's not in a woman's best interest to not be in control of her own body."

"I have irregular cycles, so this would never work for me."

"Don't women ovulate more than once a month? How can this work then?"

Ok, so let's address these, shall we? Refraining from using artificial contraception does NOT mean that you will have an uncontrollable number of children or that you will not be able to space your childrens' births as you deem prudent. Often, couples drawn to NFP *want* to have a large family, and thus use the method to achieve pregnancy. Or, they may say that they use NFP, because they do sometimes, but the rest of the time they choose not to do anything to track their cycles because they'd rather just let nature take its course. This, of course, is a totally acceptable choice, and does not mean that NFP has "failed" them.

The criticism most dear to my heart :) is the one about how "ineffective" NFP is. The instant someone says this, I have to doubt that they've ever done any research on it. Modern NFP is highly effective for both avoiding and achieving pregnancy. This is not "the rhythm method" that simply counted days on a calendar, assuming that every woman's cycle was just like anothers. This is a customized set of observations of a woman's individual body and signs of fertility that she may chart to let her know when she is fertile. It is empowering information and allows a woman to have *more* control over her own body. It is even ideal for those with irregular cycles. Yes, you may not get your period every 28-32 days, and NFP will allow you to see exactly when you are at peak fertility and predict when your next period will come, even if that is well beyond an average monthly cycle.

And no, women generally do not ovulate more than once per month. Some women will release two eggs (hence fraternal twins) but in close succession to each other. For the sake of argument, to the extent that some odd anomaly occurs and a woman did release eggs at two separate times, her signs of fertility would indicate this and she could abstain from intercourse if she needed to avoid pregnancy. A woman is not going to ovulate without her body providing the signs of fertility. Men are fertile every day. Women are not. She is fertile only for a short time leading up to and following ovulation, and an egg is only present for 12-24 hours. Her body is not hospitable to the survival of sperm aside from this short time each month. This amount of time is different for each woman, depending on the quality and quantity of the signs her body produces. To achieve pregnancy, you would obviously use the days of fertility, and to avoid pregnancy, you would abstain from intercourse.

Some people are turned off by the "lack of spontaneity" in NFP since if you need to avoid pregnancy, you will have a stretch of time (approximately) each month that you will abstain. This time is often 1.5 to 2 weeks (all estimation, of course, it very much varies). However, there is something to be said about building up a little happy energy as you await a later time. :) Really, it's not bad. I'm used to it, of course, but I enjoy this little romantic cycle each month. I will grant that some have much more difficulty with this aspect of NFP than I do. But it's worthwhile, it really is. Give it a shot. :)

Ok, so, those are the basics. Let's say you want to learn more. There are several different methods of NFP, and I'll mention the main ones here. The most popular is the Sympto-Thermal Method as promoted by the Couple to Couple League International. This method uses basal body temperature combined with a series of observations to define fertility. I'm going to say it, cover your ears: cervical mucus. EWWW! I know. :) But it's *essential* to understanding your times of natural fertility and infertility. I believe that with this method, you can also note your cervical position, but I am not certain. This is not the method I use. It is however the one I hear of most people using. It's most prevalent in terms of available teachers, and you can even learn it in an online course if you choose. And people tend to like the objective measure of their temperature, this gives them reassurance.

The method that I use is the Creighton Model Fertility Care System. This method relies solely on observations of cervical mucus. I LOVE it. I know that some people worry about relying only on one sign of fertility, but let me tell you, it WORKS. It does require a lot of training, and this one you cannot do online. You need to work with an instructor one-on-one, and this may or may not be available in your area. In my diocese, this is the main method taught, so that's how I found it. It's related to the Billings Ovulation Method, for those that may have heard of that. Because you need to spend so much time with an instructor, there is more up front cost with Creighton. However, they do use a sliding pay scale, and it's dependent upon your income. No one will be turned away from learning this method if they cannot pay the cost of the sessions. This will be TMI but I'll give you my personal plug: I've used this method to both avoid and achieve pregnancy for over 6 years, and nothing unexpected has ever happened. It's AWESOME. I'm so comfortable with the method now, that I barely see my wonderful instructor. She just sends me a new chart and cute coordinating stickers every 6 months. Total cost: $10-20 per year.

Another method gaining a lot of momentum lately is the Marquette Model. This method uses an ovulation prediction monitor as well as other observations, and the word on the street (which street, you ask? The ones I travel daily. Odd but true. :) This is what happens when you listen to Catholic podcasts every day) is that people absolutely love it. Like I said, many people prefer having an external tool on which to rely.

To find an NFP instructor near you, check out the USCCB's list for instructors in all major cities. It does not always indicate which method they teach, so you'll have to call and find out. Most are probably Sympto-Thermal. Wherever you see "FertilityCare" that will be Creighton.

At any rate, if you're interested (and this isn't just for Catholics; there are plenty of non-Catholics that use and love NFP as well) don't let the common scare tactics get you down. All methods of birth control have a failure rate, including artificial ones. With NFP, it's usually user error. Nothing but abstinence will prevent pregnancy 100% of the time. But NFP holds its own.

Relatedly, based on my pregnancy evaluation with my instructor yesterday, she thinks Baby CL will be arriving May 21st, plus or minus 3 days. So, that's from May 18th-24th. I originally thought the 24th. I definitely think it will be within this date range. Soon, we'll see!

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