Last week, an interesting and nearly-refreshing piece appeared on Gizmodo, talking about a great new app that helps women track their fertility without relying on synthetic birth control options.
I say “nearly refreshing” because the author, who concludes ultimately to stay on the pill instead of opting for the app, takes the all-too-common, overly-simplified route to the handling of fertility and ends up missing the mark on a lot of really simple aspects of non-chemical birth control.
To be sure, the fact that a secular, popular, and mainstream website like Gizmodo (and by extension, its siblings Gawker & Deadspin) are giving even a sniff to a natural form of fertility awareness is pretty awesome. I also really appreciated that the author gave such a good, hard look at the app’s research, and even tried it out for a little while as well.
Still, the reason I’m writing this is because not only is there SO much more to Natural Family Planning (NFP) that our doubly ignorant (they don’t know that they don’t know) society isn’t aware of, but that gap in knowledge is unfortunately filled with the mindset that NFP really means “the rhythm method” and that anyone who uses it is doing nothing more than leaving solely up to chance whether or not they get pregnant.
There’s just a lot more to the story than what’s generally understood about it.
The author started her article by saying, “I don’t need to tell you there’s no great birth control option right now.” I’ve rarely read an article where so early on I reacted like this:
I scoffed because, as Stephen Colbert would say, there’s only two ways to classify NFP in my book: a great method, or the GREATEST method.
Between the different programs (Sympto-Thermal, Billings Model, Creighton Model, etc.) that one could choose from, the real failure rate of tried and true methods of NFP–when correctly used–is far, far, less than the mentioned 25% failure rate, particularly because that statistic misleadingly lumps in those women who wanted to get pregnant with the ones who unintentionally achieved pregnancy. I should back up a little as well — no one appears to distinguish between which “natural method” is used, meaning the ones I mentioned above, which all contribute to a less-than-1% failure rate and a remarkably low divorce rate (between 2 and 5%), are categorized together with irresponsible and chance “natural methods” like withdrawal or nothing at all.
Not your great-grandmother’s NFP
NFP, believe it or not, isn’t as “old-school” as the author thinks it to be, either. The teacher of the NFP classes my wife and I took before our wedding, before saying anything else, said, “This is not the rhythm method. Comparing the rhythm method to what we’ll be teaching you is literally like comparing a horse and buggy to a brand new, four wheel drive pickup.”
Today’s NFP methods of fertility awareness take advantage of the multiple natural signs that a women’s body and cycle follow. For example, a woman on a 28-day cycle will only be fertile on about 6 of those days (give or take), and through NFP she (and ideally her spouse) learn to track bodily signs in order to pinpoint when those fertile days and infertile days take place.
NFP programs today typically track one or more of these three things:
- Basal body temperature – A “resting” temperature that’s taken before doing anything–even talking to someone–first thing in the morning)
- Cervical mucous – The consistency, amount, and sensation change from day to day and indicates a “fertile day” or “infertile day”, or whether or not conception is likely
- Cervical signs – Depending on the day in a woman’s cycle, the cervix itself exhibits multiple signs that directly indicate a fertile or infertile day
Though it may seem complicated, tracking these things is really very simple. Sure, it may require discipline and intention, but no more than is required, for example, by taking a pill every day at the same time or stopping everything to put on a condom. In fact, in our classes, our teacher even showed us how they’re able to teach illiterate women in third-world nations how to properly and accurately use NFP–using diagrams related to natural processes of the earth as analogies.
What’s the coolest part about being able to track your cycle to the day? You can use it to conceive children. Not only that, but you usually hit the jackpot on the first try. Another one of my wife and I’s teachers has 6 kids, and she told us that each one of them was (first) planned, and (second) already growing in the first cycle she and her husband began trying. Some friends of my wife and I had a little girl last year, and they planned and could pinpoint the very day when their daughter was conceived thanks to NFP.
Since it’s possible today to track a woman’s cycle accurately using pen & paper, using an app as a supplement is definitely possible. Note the word “supplement”.
The author ultimately decided against using the app (aside from the fact that she never went off the pill to test it 100%) because the extremely high statistics seemed, to her, a little too good to be true when banking on just her temperature to prevent a pregnancy. Frankly, I don’t blame her, because when it comes to fertility awareness, using technology to replace your own knowledge of your own body is the worst way to go. Ironic, isn’t it?
That brings me to the last section of this little NFP ditty (get it?).
NFP is good for everyone
To move away for a minute from the fertility tracking reasons to use NFP, when my wife and I took our NFP classes, we were blown away by the benefits a non-chemical method brings back to the woman, as well as to the couple. The first among those is that a woman gets her body back, so to speak. Without a mountain of artificial hormones coursing through her body, a woman using NFP is finally allowing all of her body’s natural processes to work as they were intended to work.
Our teacher mentioned this in our first class, that it’s baffling we find it okay to purposefully cause one bodily system (the reproductive system) to work counter to its intent, but we’d never in a million years do that intentionally to literally any other system (say, our digestive system or the ability to smell or hear or taste). With NFP, a woman (and ideally her spouse) work with her natural cycle instead of thwarting it.
True women’s reproductive health means taking care of one’s body by getting to know it better and better as it exists on its own, not by taking a pill to (apparently) magically make all the “problems” go away–like the ability to conceive a child. Instead of instant gratification found through artificial contraception, the delayed gratification of using NFP helps a woman become more in tune with herself, with her spouse (now or in the future, if she’s not married), and ultimately with God, who created our bodies to operate in a specific way.
When used in the context of marriage, NFP can be incredibly beneficial to a couple’s relationship, and even to their individual growth as a husband or as a wife. Having the possibility of procreating every time a couple comes together in the marital act helps both people grow in responsibility–to each other and to their family, whether they have 5 children or no children. It also requires them to discern the act itself, and thus grow in discipline with how they conduct themselves and how they view each other.
It’s substantially more difficult to view the person to whom you’ve committed your life as a whole person when they’re using artificial birth control, and it’s substantially easier when using NFP. The opposite is also true: It’s easier to see your spouse as the object of your gratification with artificial birth control, while that desire is substantially frustrated with NFP.
Honestly, NFP (with or without an app) is even good for your kids (present or future). It helps you to become better parents by reminding (and maybe sometimes even teaching) you the following things:
- There is such a thing as right and wrong
- Discipline is good.
- Using others, especially those closest to you, to gratify your own desires is bad
- Decisions have consequences. Those consequences can be good or bad, depending on your decision.
- Serving another person by seeing them as a son or daughter of God is good for your soul, and helps you get to Heaven
- Delaying immediate gratification by enduring a little discomfort will always result in a greater gratification later, especially when it’s done for those around you
If you think NFP might be worth looking into for you, you’d be right (even if you’re not married, or even if you aren’t dating anyone yet!).
There are NFP teachers and programs literally all over the country and the globe, so you can possibly start by calling your local Catholic Church and asking about NFP classes, or checking out national organizations like the Couple to Couple League.
Some hospitals also do classes, like the one here in Spokane (which is awesome, by the way).
NFP, with a concerted, honest effort, can really change your life, change your perceptions (or misperceptions) you thought you knew, and can truly make you healthier and happier.
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