WARNING: this will be a rather TMI post. If reading about my most recent birth story was too much for you, then this post probably will be too. But if you’re into natural birth stories and female empowerment stuff, then you might get a kick out of this post. Either way, read at your own risk and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
I’m going to talk about how I don’t use hormonal birth control and why.
Can you handle that? Ok, read on. 🙂
I’ve mentioned this fact once briefly in my post about being a half-crunchy mom. So this isn’t totally out of left field. And it’s apparently also “Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week” so that’s exactly what I’m doing here: spreading awareness. NFP may not be for you and if not, that’s totally cool with me – I’m just throwing this out there into the world wide web that it’s something I practice and that it’s really not so weird. So there. Now you’re aware. I’ve done my part. 🙂
(note: there are some affiliate Amazon links below, meaning that if you click and buy something, I get a super tiny percentage. I hope that’s ok. You don’t have to click if you don’t want to.)
First point: NFP is NOT the “RHYTHM METHOD”. Let me say that a bazillion more times for emphasis: NFP IS NOT THE “RHYTHM METHOD”. The Rhythm Method, for those unaware, is the infamously unreliable method that thinks every woman has the exact same predictable menstrual cycle every month and will therefore tell you which days to, ahem, “be intimate” (I use less obtuse words as this post goes on, just fyi) so as to both achieve and/or avoid pregnancy.
I am a poster child of irregular cycles. The Rhythm Method would never have worked for me.
NFP is NOT the Rhythm Method.
Second point: I’m not going to go all off on a huge tangent here, but…well, hormonal birth control is really not all that wonderful to a women’s body. I mean, yeah, it seems wonderful for the freedom from the responsibly of pregnancy it provides, but eek, seriously, the hormones can be awful stuff for your body. I’m not here to outright bash birth control, just provide AWARENESS of another way of doing things – but I do believe that it’s worth educating yourself about the adverse side effects of hormonal birth control.
I say all this from personal experience. Over the years I’ve used many kinds of birth control and put many kinds of supposedly harmless hormones into my body, and I’ve seen effects in my own body. So for me, I’ve personally now sworn off all artificial hormones.
Again, I don’t want to go off on a tangent, so I’ll leave with this: It’s common for people to be concerned about using BFA-free products, and eating only organic, pesticide-free and hormone-free food, yet they completely gloss over the realization that they are likely consuming higher levels of hormones through birth control than they are avoiding by avoiding those products. If you’re legitimately concerned about hormones in your food, it’s probably also worth being concerned about the hormones in your birth control.
Third point: Pardon me while I do something atypical and get all female empowerment here for a moment. But I like being a woman and I think that it’s pretty amazing how women’s bodies were designed to work. There’s something extremely pro-female in embracing the intrinsic femininity of a woman’s reproductive cycle, rather than suppressing it or treating it like a disease that must be controlled. Learning how my body works, and how to tune into its natural fertility cues, has been extremely enlightening to me. I encourage all women to consider learning how to chart their cycles; I think it’s extremely valuable information to know about yourself.
Have I convinced you that I’m stark raving mad yet? 🙂
No? You’re still with me? Oh awesome! Ok, let’s then continue with some basic questions many have:
What is Natural Family Planning (NFP?)
Also called Fertility Charting or Fertility Awareness Method, NFP is about learning how to read the subtle changes within your body in order to discover the patterns of your menstrual cycle. It’s mostly used to know which days you are most fertile (typically ~3-5 days/month) and which days you are most likely not fertile.
NFP is also great at helping you learn other things about your body. Do you have irregular cycles? Noticing and charting the fine changes in your body can help point to underlying issues that need to be treated, or if you’re even ovulating at all.
I should note, if you didn’t already pick up on this, that NFP is really only for monogamous long-term relationships, i.e. married couples. I’m assuming that most people reading my blog are married or at least marriage-minded, but if you’re not in that stage of life currently, well, now you know about NFP anyway. I still advocate for learning about your body as a single woman, but realistically, I know that most NFP stuff mostly applies to marriage.
How does someone “do” NFP?
This is kind of a complicated question, because there are several different methods you can use to track your cycles and you can use a combo of methods or only one or two. But basically the gist is this: using several clues in your body, you learn to tell when your body is gearing up to ovulate and then you either avoid intercourse during your fertile days if you’re wanting to prevent pregnancy – or engage in intercourse if you’re wanting to achieve pregnancy.
That’s really it.
How do I know when I’m fertile or not fertile?
This is not a question for me to answer for you in this small blog post, ha ha! 🙂 I strongly suggest the book
Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It will teach you all you need to know. Another option is to sign up for an online charting app/website/program.
Here are few to check out:
Glow *phone app
OvaView *phone app
Or, if you prefer live instruction, the Couple-to-Couple League holds in-person and virtual classes you can sign up for here: http://ccli.org/learn.
[EDITED TO ADD: I just found this helpful NFP website that I wanted to throw in here too: IUseNFP.com]
But to quickly summarize, there are many ways to tell when you’re ovulating. You can use one method or many methods in combination. It’s a good idea to use several in conjunction when you’re first learning your body, and then you can stick to your most reliable sign(s) as you become accustomed to your cycles. The methods include:
Basal body temperature: this involves taking your temperature first thing every morning and recording it on a graph. Your basal (resting) temp will rise the day after you ovulate and confirm ovulation. You will need to buy a digital basal thermometer that can measure to the hundredths place, but they aren’t too expensive (<$15-20).
Cervical mucus/fluid: Changes in your discharge indicate your fertility status (this sounds gross, I know, but it’s actually a rather reliable indication).
Cervical position: Did you know that your cervix moves “into position” when you’re fertile in order to help facilitate conception?
LH rise/ovulation predictor kit (OPK): 12-24 hrs before you ovulate the hormone LH surges in your body and signals the release of the mature egg from your ovary. You can pee on a test (kind of like a pregnancy test, but an OPK measures LH, not the pregnancy hormone HCG) – these are the super cheap opks I buy online.
Ferning test: I have never tried this, but supposedly the pattern of your saliva under a microscope changes as you near ovulation.
There are also things like the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor and the OvaCue Fertility Monitor, but these monitors are just devices that assist some women in reading the above signs. You’re welcome to use these monitors, but they are expensive ($200+), and I’ve personally found that it’s much easier and natural to watch for my fertile signs myself. I do however regularly purchase and use OPKs, but I buy them as tiny test strips in bulk for super cheap on Amazon (about 20c each).
Can I do NFP if my cycles are irregular?
Yes. It’s a common myth that you can’t do NFP if your cycles are irregular, but this is the big difference between NFP and the old rhythm (or “calendar”) method. NFP allows you to learn your OWN body’s signs for when ovulation is approaching – it doesn’t tell you when it thinks you should ovulate based on ‘textbook’ cycles. Having irregular cycles might take you a bit more time at the beginning to learn, as your fertile signs might not be as obvious or regular, but it absolutely can be done and is not difficult.
And actually, learning to chart with irregular cycles can help you pinpoint the parts of your cycle are the most unusual and help you discover underlying conditions causing your irregularity. Birth control to “regulate” irregular cycles often only masks what’s really going on in your body. Finding and treating underlying issues can often be much more successful and better for you in the long run.
If I’m avoiding pregnancy, do I have to abstain completely during my fertile times, or can I use a backup barrier method?
Well…this is a question for you to decide, not me. 🙂 However, from a hormonal perspective, yes, a barrier method such as condoms or a diaphragm are a good option for you during your fertile times if you are wanting to avoid pregnancy. However, if you’re not a fan of condoms or don’t want to deal with the hassle of obtaining a diaphragm – um, well, and I’m blushing as I’m typing this, but there is actually something to be said for the semi-fun, yet semi-frustrating, desire that is created during this time that you and your spouse later get to make up for. If you know what I mean. 😉 Of course, with this route, you do kind of have to be somewhat open to the ‘accidental’ possibility of life if you find yourself more tempted than you originally thought you’d be – but like I said, *you* have to be the one to decide for yourself how to handle your fertile days.
I’m just here to raise awareness for the no-hormonal, get-in-touch-with-your-inner-woman method and that it’s really not as crazy as it first sounds. 🙂