Natural Family Planning (NFP) is growing in popularity, but certainly not as mainstream as more common family planning options. As many as 65% of women use birth control according to the CDC in 2018. So, it is likely that some of the women reading this post are using some type of hormonal birth control. There are a variety of types of birth control ranging from “the pill” and vaginal rings, IUDs, and hormonal implants. Each of these types of birth control relies on synthetic hormonal ingredients that prevent ovulation or change the lining of a woman’s uterus so an embryo is unlikely to attach.
I ditched birth control a long time ago, for MANY reasons. First of all, I HATED how I felt when I was taking it. I could not consistently take it because I had terrible side effects (nausea, headaches, and weight issues, to name a few). I also read some stats about the risk of fertility challenges and even cancer which made me worry. I just decided it was not for me. Later in life, I converted to Catholicism. During that journey, I learned much about why the Catholic Church teaches that sex is meant to be the gift of your full self to your spouse, without any barrier, physical or chemical, between you and your spouse. In those classes, we learned about Natural Family Planning (NFP). I had never heard of NFP before. At the time I knew I did not want to be on birth control because it always caused unwanted side effects and because it was not in line with my faith anymore, but I also knew my fiance and I did not want to immediately have children either. So, we listened attentively in those classes.
As I explored NFP, I learned so much about my body and how it was designed to work, things I wish I had learned as a middle schooler first starting my period. I learned about cervical mucus, the cervix, the purpose of each part of the female reproductive system, how to look for signs of fertility, signs of something wrong with my body, and much more. I was inspired at how amazing the female body was. I felt empowered to be able to identify fertile days and infertile days. More importantly, I was able to make decisions about family planning with ZERO side effects using NFP rather than birth control.
There are numerous methods out there: Sympto Thermal Method (STM), Marquette Model, and Creighton Model, to name a few. Each method does involve specific training so that the user understands the science behind each method so the method works properly. These methods are 99.6% effective when used properly, which is actually on par with birth control effectiveness rates (also, when used correctly). Learn more about the many methods of NFP here.
We currently use the Marquette Model of NFP, which requires the use of a Clear Blue Monitor in conjunction with a method developed by medical researchers and backed up by peer-reviewed scientific studies. Using the monitor to measure my estrogen levels and monthly LH (luteinizing hormone) surge. This helps me pinpoint when ovulation occurs. Each month, I use my personal monitor readings and the rules of the method to determine the fertile period for that month. We abstain during that time frame if we are looking to avoid a pregnancy that month, but it can also be used to attempt to conceive. I use an app to record my monitor readings and other physical signs of fertility. I am a member of a support group on Facebook where I can ask questions should I encounter something unfamiliar with my cycle or if I have questions about the NFP method protocols.
We have been practicing Natural Family Planning for over 10 years now. Even if I was not Catholic, I know I would never go back to hormonal birth control. Taking something that tricks my body or masks its natural process just does not resonate with me anymore. My cycle is not something I need to control or alter with medication in order to avoid pregnancy. NFP allows me to work with my body’s natural process to avoid or attain pregnancy.
But I will be real with you, this method does require abstinence. Yes, I said it…the word you learned as a kid that conjures up memories of purity rings and the Jonas Brothers. I know abstinence is not popular in a culture that constantly bombards us with getting what we want when we want it. I mean who can wait longer than 3 minutes in a drive through line? Waiting is not “American.” Desire is a powerful feeling, especially in the bedroom. BUT, that “wait” has lots of positive benefits too.
During fertile times in your cycle, it is necessary to find more creative ways to bond. Holding hands, a date, reading a book together, just making yourselves have a conversation, even cleaning house…these are real things my husband and I do often, BUT when you are abstaining they become more purposeful and even help us bond (who knew cleaning house could do this?). This not only strengthens our relationship, it also builds desire in a healthy way that makes us even more thankful for one another when the abstinence is over. Is it easy? Ummmmm, no. But for us at least, it is worth it. NFP has not always been easy in our relationship – my husband can attest to that – but he also advocates it as equally as I do because it allows us to manage our family size in a way that does not impede our health and aligns with our faith. And just to put this in perspective: we only have one child. We have used this method to prayerfully avoid pregnancy successfully for ten years, so if used properly, the method is reliable.
I have been called one of those “crazy Catholics” because of my use of NFP, and that is okay with me. I know NFP is not something every woman wants to do, sees herself as able to do, or even thinks is a viable practice. Some people have commented to me that religion has no place in the bedroom, however, religious convictions are not the only reasons many women have been ditching the pill. The use of NFP is growing as many American women seek natural alternatives to managing their family size. As people search for organic foods, hormone free meats, strive for cleaner diets, and safer cosmetic and cleaning products, it is no wonder women also seek to find more natural ways to avoid pregnancy that don’t render unwanted side effects. I strive for all of those things! So, I guess maybe this makes me a “crazy, crunchy, hippy, Catholic.” I’m ok with it.