Friday, August 20, 2010

About NFP: Why I Use It

I don't really mean to get up on my soapbox, but I was asked about the form of birth planning I use, and I thought I would do this right and explain my reasons first, and then get into he specifics on how Natural Family Planning works in a later post. If you're uninterested, no offense taken. Otherwise, bear with me because I want to explain NFP properly.

More info on the Couple-to-Couple League's form of the Sympto-Thermal Method can be found here.

Natural Family Planning is the concept of using the woman's body's signals to space children without the interference of artificial birth control methods such as the birth control pill, IUDs, depo-provera (the shot), condoms, sponges, et cetera. The method I use is called the Sympto-thermal method and takes into account the body's rhythm, mucus discharge, temperature, and cervix positioning. I am using the Couple-to-couple league's workbook and aid. The cost for the workbook, supplies, and the included year's membership (with free consultation) is $120. D and I decided to order the home study course and intend to attend the classes in person as soon as possible (included in the membership cost).

Our decision to switch to Natural Family Planning was made after we learned more about the hormonal birth control pill we were using as a form of family planning. We learned that hormonal birth control, nearly across the board, works by doing one of two things: first, it sends a signal to your body telling it that you are already pregnant, to which your body responds by not ovulating. Second, it weakens the endometrium, or uterine lining, resulting in any 'breakthrough' eggs to be flushed rather than to attach to the uterine wall. In other words, the initial function is to keep your egg from dropping, but in the case that your egg does drop and fertilization (conception) does occur, the fertilized embryo is then prevented from attaching to the uterine lining. It is starved and flushed from the uterus.

My personal reaction to this news was complex. I felt ignorant, guilty, sorrowful, and humbled. In my arrogance, I had believed that I could make a decision which directly countered a basic principle of my faith (Roman Catholic) based on very minimal research or understanding of the actual functions of birth control. In doing so, I had altered my body chemistry and quite possibly caused the miscarriage I had experienced a year prior.

While its reckless approach to life was the biggest reason for my turn from hormonal birth control (HBC), understanding the functions of HBC helped me to realize unadvertised negative side effects. When your body releases an egg from its follicle, the empty follicle (called corpus leteum), then begins to produce progesterone. Progesterone causes the pituitary gland to suppress ovulation. Psychiatric effects of progesterone include depression, mood swings, emotional instability, aggression, abnormal crying, insomnia, forgetfulness, sleep disorders. Sound familiar? Progesterone is basically the PMS hormone. Not surprisingly, progesterone levels remain high pretty much throughout pregnancy.

HBC works by combining varying levels of estrogen and progestin (a synthetic form of progesterone). Essentially, HBC constantly increases the amount of progesterone in your system, telling your body that you are pregnant 3 weeks out of each month. The week of "pink [placebo] pills" is included to allow withdrawal bleeding (basically, it flushes your system). So in other words, on HBC, you're either constantly PMS-ing (hormonally speaking) or else you are on your period.

Although these alone are substantial arguments in favor of NFP, there are a number of other benefits to using a more natural approach to birth spacing.

It is well-known that nearly half of all marriages in the US end in divorce. According to enrichment journal on the divorce rate in America:
The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%
The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%
The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%

So it's incredibly heartening to look at the divorce rates for NFP-practicing couples. According to a study by the Family of the Americas Foundation, divorce rates in NFP-practicing couples is only 0.2%! "Jottings" by John Kipley of the Couple-to-couple league, cites multiple informal studies placing the divorce rates of NFP-practicing couples between 1 and 5 %.

Natural Family Planning works by educating a couple about how fertility works. What signs indicate increased fertility, when to expect ovulation, and when to expect menstruation. Without artificially controlling these things. This can be a boon not only in understanding one's body, but also in the future should the couple ever desire to conceive again.

One of my concerns when approaching the Natural Family Planning debate was effectiveness. However, this chart describes the effectiveness rate of different pregnancy prevention methods.

No birth control method 20%
Calendar Rythm (Ognio-Knaus) 87%
Withdrawl 91%
Ovulation (or Billings) method 96%
Diaphragm with spermicide 97%
Foam 97%
LAM (Breastfeeding) (first 6 months) 98%
Condom 99%
IUD 99%
Pill 99.7%
Sympto-Thermal Method 99.8%
Tubal Ligation 99.6%
Vasectomy 99.85%
Castration, removal of ovaries, abstinenct: 100%

This data was reported by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and various respected medical journals.

Artificial forms of birth control intentionally separate the act of sex from the act of creation. Therefore, when a couple practicing artificial forms of birth control gets pregnant as a result of "protected" sex, the resultant life is seen as burdensome, rather than as a blessing. The child is a surprise, and it is easy to see that life as an unwelcomed surprise. Practicing NFP, however, serves to constantly remind the couple that the act of sex is, in fact, a life-giving act. As such, an unexpected pregnancy can still be a welcomed surprise, because after all, sex causes babies.

3 Responses to “About NFP: Why I Use It”

thewindhover said...

Oh my friend, I can't begin to tell you how much reading your thoughts and decisions on this issue resonated with me! Only three months ago my husband and I decided to switch to NFP - I started taking the pill without knowing anything about it after a doctor suggested it was the best way to treat my irregular, heavy periods. Since I had checked for all other causes of this and was deemed healthy the pill was presented as a the easiest solution - little did I know how it would expect my moods, my body and later my personal life with my husband. Like many others the pill is prescribed not just for contraception but for skin problems and mensural irregularities. When it came time for me to marry my husband and I just decided for me to stay on the pill but never felt quite right about it. About six months into our marriage I started doing my own research about it and was shocked with what I found... Also I was determined that there had to be a healthy, natural way to plan families that honored God's design for us not blocked it out. I was lent a book from a friend from my church on NFP and not long after we decided to switch. I have now been pill free for my third month! I have felt so
much better in mind, body and spirit. I have also found myself telling
friends and family about my experience and conviction and lent them books and articles about the health (and emotional) implications of the pill. One friend decided with her husband to come off the pill a month ago for similar reasons as me. Praise God! I will continue to tell my story.
My relationship with my husband has strengthed and deepened as well. Since our decision to live with total faith and devotion - we have had a renewed desire to pray for God's grace and calling on our family.

Also I love that with NFP you actually learn to read and understand your body (and how complex and beautifully made it is) and in doing so the best times to try for a baby,

I pray that you and your family will continually be blessed as you follow the Lord's leading, and for myself that we might have a little one growing soon xx

M Hastings said...

Praise God, windhover! It's so great to hear stories of people's hearts changing! My relationship with my husband was never so good as it has become since using NFP, either XD

M Hastings said...

Also, I'm adding my prayers to yours for good news soon! :)

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