I've been anticipating this guest post for quite some time and I'm so happy that today is the day to share! Today, we're gonna talk about birth control options. Hooray! It's all the stuff you probably didn't learn in health class, but should have. I'll let Caitlin of Tales of the Elders do most of the explaining. She's the expert, a real joy and a fountain of wisdom when it comes to greening your birth control. Because truly, since many of us are striving to eat cleaner and reduce toxins in our life in only seems natural to roll those aspirations into our family planning.
Read on and enjoy Caitlin's words - she's entertaining and oh so informative, I promise you'll learn something!
So, I'm a geek. I'll put that out there from the very beginning. That's probably why my bachelors degree is in biology, I've worked as a lab-tech and CNA, and also probably why I married an engineer. Geekdom (aka Casa Elder) is where my daughters (and soon to be son) are growing up.
This is sincerely my most favorite picture of my oldest daughter.
My kids live in a world filled with observations and hypotheses.
Science intrigues me in the best possible way. Sci-fi, even more so. My girls own just as many Star Wars as Fancy Nancy books.
So, what if I told you that there's a way to avoid and achieve pregnancy that doesn't involve any pills, shots, patches, rings, condoms, diaphragms, any anything? And that it's something I totally geek out about?
Would you guess Science? or cry Sci-Fi?
Let me back up.
My husband and I are Roman Catholic. Just to get that out in the open too. When we (The Fantastic Geek Duo) decided to get married, (aw, we were so young!) one of the required courses for pre-marital counseling was a class in natural family planning. Good, rule-following Catholics that we are, we took the class with the expectation that, in the end, we'd just have to lovingly accept approximately a hundred babies into our family.
What we didn't expect was science. And research. And proof. And hope that we could space and possibly even forgo around 96 of those aforementioned babies.
But that's exactly what we got. Hard evidence and data, that, without changing anything else in my body (or his), we could lovingly plan our family (fancy that, natural family planning isn't a just a euphemism for HAVE ALL THE BABIES!).
There are many methods of Natural Family Planning out there. Andy and I have tried just about all of them at one point or another (because we're like that, and enjoy running experiments and collecting data and such): Billings, Marquette, Sympto-Thermal, and Creighton (just to name a few). But they all operate under the same premise: there are biological markers in a woman's body that a couple can observe (temperature, cervical mucus, oral electrolytes, and cervical position for example) and these observations can tell a woman, with a good amount of certainty, if she has ovulated or not. If you want to avoid pregnancy, don't have sex during ovulation time. If you want to achieve pregnancy, make love right around the time of ovulation.
That was, obviously, incredibly simplified. The nitty gritty of making and interpreting those observations is certainly more complicated, but definitely learnable. And this post is not meant to be a substitute for an actual family planning class or program.
There are many other bloggers out there who have already written very eloquently and succinctly about the various methods and aspects of natural family planning. Check out this fantastic series, Women Speak on NFP, from Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas for starters. Or this post from Birth Without Fear. If you're already a veteran NFPer, then you must buy Simcha Fisher's book, The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning. If you're NFP curious, and are looking for a secular resource, Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a good place to start.
This post is just meant to give you a little hope from my personal experience that you can extend the hippie/granola/natural/organic part of your being into that very personal part of your life called family planning, and to offer some insight into why we go au natural.
I am, myself, "fluorite" on the Crappy MOHS scale of Crunchy. We cloth diaper, co-sleep, non-bpa plastic, kleen-kanteen-it at Casa Elder. Our front yard is garden instead of lawn, and we own chickens. In the middle of Vancouver, WA. Yes, we are those people.
Considering the environmental problems associated with artificial hormones in most forms of birth control (we're talking weird stuff, like female eggs found in the testes of male fish), going green for birth control just made the most sense to us geeky-hippies.
I choose to treat some of our kids' various maladies with herbal concoctions from our garden instead of medications, so it probably goes without saying, I'm not a big fan of pills. Especially those considered by the World Health Organization to be a Group 1 Carcinogen or those with crazy side effects, like: lower sex drive, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and deep vein thrombosis, not to mention vaginal infections and irritation, vaginal secretion, headache, weight gain, and nausea. If I wanted that last set, I'd just be pregnant all the time. At least then I'd get a baby in addition to all that suffering (I jest! I jest!).
Anecdotally (which I know is not very scientific of me), I've met many women who just feel plain crazy when a pill takes over their reproductive hormones. So I say, why fix a system when it's not broken? In fact, I propose, that a woman's reproductive tract is the only body system we hijack and modify when there is nothing actually wrong with it.
Apart from the science, the environment, and the side effects, there's one other major reason artificial birth control was a no-go for us.
We're geeks, we're hippies, and we're also pro-life.
I'm a bit of a pacifist, so I don't want to start a fight, but here's what you need to know so we can have a meaningful conversation about this particular bullet point. I believe life begins at conception. Not at implantation. Not 22 days later when fetal heart tissue starts to beat. Not at the documented pain threshold of 20 weeks or even at that magic marker of viability at 24 weeks. I believe, from the moment of conception, that those rapidly dividing cells contain an individual, never-duplicable, dignity-worthy soul. If you don't believe the same thing, than this next statement probably won't sway you.
But if you do, read carefully: There's not a single type of hormonal birth control that doesn't work as an abortifacient.
And that truth is in the science of the "mechanism of action" that can be found in the prescribing information for any type of birth control. It has nothing to do with wish-washy feelings or convictions. It's science.
The primary mechanism of action for most hormonal birth controls is the prevention of ovulation. Fine. No ovulation, no conception. Secondary is generally the thickening of the cervical mucus, which prohibits sperm transport. Fine again, no sperm, no conception.
However, the tertiary mechanism of action is usually "changes in... the endometrium (which reduce the likelihood of implantation)." Taken straight from the prescribing information for the Nuvaring. Now, true, that's just one example. But all hormonal birth controls operate by altering a woman's natural levels of estrogen and progesterone, and those are the hormones responsible for first thickening the lining of the uterus (estrogen) and then causing the uterus to secrete a nutritious fluid that primes it for implantation (progesterone). Mess with either (or both) of those hormones, and a conceived baby won't be able to implant into the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) and will instead pass on through the woman's body.
Sure, it probably doesn't happen with every ovulation, but we all know someone who was conceived and born while their mom was on some sort of birth control. Right? Not a single form of contraception prevents break-through ovulations 100% of the time. That's why all birth controls have effectiveness studies (when looking at those studies, please do not equate FAM-Fertility Awareness Method with NFP. They are not the same thing. Instead, look at this effectiveness study done with Creighton Model users).
I've never once said to myself, well, it's ok to do [insert whatever action you want] because it might only sacrifice a baby. So, this reason trumps all others between Andy and I when discussing why we avoid hormonal birth control.
Like I said before, if you're not of a belief system that says life begins at conception, then probably this tidbit doesn't matter. But if you are, take a look at the prescribing instructions of your birth control. Find the "mechanism of action" and see if "changes to the endometrium" is one of them. And let me know if it's written there (or especially if it's not). I'm a data collector. I'm a scientist. I want to know these things.
Remember? I love science. Apparently, I always have.
So, from personal experience, the proof that NFP can be just as effective if not better at avoiding pregnancy than hormonal birth control appealed to the scientists in us. The lack of environmental impact and lack of side effects found in NFP called to the hippies in us. And the pro-life stance of natural methods sealed the deal.
We've been NFPers for more than 6 years, and in spite of the fact that I am Fertile Myrtle, we only have three kids, spaced 2 years apart. Just as we planned. Actually, our third is due on April 1st.
I know, I know. April Fools Baby, ha ha...ha.
I'm also so entirely convinced that natural family planning is an option for any woman (be you young or old, have you long cycles or short cycles, intentions to achieve or avoid pregnancy, fertile or infertile) I'm in the process of becoming a Creighton Model FertiliCare Practitioner (fancy way of saying a person who teaches the Creighton Model version of NFP to couples and works with NaPro physicians to help solve menstrual and fertility issues without artificial means). It takes a long time to complete: 13 months of a supervised internship, and many, many hours of class.
And also many, many more words to explain. So, stay tuned for my next installment, all about the Creighton Model. Buzz word: cervical mucus.
Now doesn't that sound like a party?
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