Picking up my latest copy of Family Foundations magazine, I flipped through the pages and landed on an article written by family physician, Dr. John Littell, M.D. It started out:
“Some years ago, I listened intently to a presentation on cervical cancer at a conference on women’s health care held in Orlando, Fla. During the Q&A, I asked the expert physician why he did not comment on the increased risk of cervical cancer in women who are using oral contraceptives. His response? ‘Let’s keep that to ourselves.’”
I suppose that I should have been shocked to read that an expert in women’s health care was not only readily dismissing serious risks, but was going so far as to promote the suppression of information. I should have been shocked, but I wasn’t in the least because I’ve experienced this kind of dishonesty and blatant disregard for truth more than a few times while sitting in one of those fashionable paper gowns.
When I got married 23 years old, I took the Pill. It was just what you did, or so I thought. No one bothered to offer options or explain the serious risks I was accepting as a smoker. The daily nausea and monthly cry-fests (which were a great asset in a new bride) went un-addressed.
About two years in, when I was at my wit’s end, my husband agreed that I needed to ditch the Pill. Blissfully, I did, but then I discovered my cycles (which had been previously falsified by the synthetic hormones) were erratic (to say the least). I made an appointment with a female OB/GYN to find some answers. After explaining my dilemma to her, I was handed a blank temperature chart and told to record my temperature every day and return in a few months. That was it. No explanation, no advice.
It wasn’t until after the birth of my first baby that someone (a traditional midwife, as opposed to a medwife) clued me into the idea that my body had a readable cycle and I could utilize that information to achieve/postpone a pregnancy. Providentially, my next trip to the bookstore scored a Fertility Awareness manual on the discount rack and so began my journey into Natural Family Planning.
What’s that you ask? Well, I learned and now teach that every woman’s body has three readable signs that indicate impending fertility and completed ovulation. By simply observing cervical mucus, basal body temperature (that’s the temperature taken at the same time every morning upon waking), and cervical changes, a woman can predict with a high degree of accuracy when she is baby-ready or not. She and her spouse can decide together when they need to get their groove on or when they need to find non-sexual ways to temporarily express their love (there are three phases of the monthly cycle, one of which is fertile).
Armed with this knowledge, I felt empowered as a woman. It allowed me to effectively space my children and detect a few health problems along the way. Additionally, it required my husband’s participation and respect for my whole body which did wonders to heal the distorted image I had adopted as a teen.
In hindsight, I even diagnosed the problem which had landed me in the doctor’s office a few years earlier. Had she bothered to educate me before handing me that empty chart, I would have recognized that I was experiencing anovulatory cycles (extra long and without ovulating) which were most likely associated with my low weight (a problem I unfortunately no longer have). She could have also saved me a bucket of tears because I could have addressed the problem before spending over a year trying to conceive my first child.
Once I became fully entrenched in practicing NFP-only, I thought the days of misguided advice were behind me. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
After the birth of my planned 4th child, my medwife (someone who sacrifices traditional midwifery care for a standard medical model, similar to the expert mentioned in the beginning of this post) slid a chair beside my hospital bed (when I was just a few hours postpartum) and advised me to get on birth control post haste (as though I was going to be impregnated before I managed to step out of the hospital doors).
I mentioned my success with NFP and the Lactational Amenorrhea Method (extended infertility resulting from exclusive breast feeding), but she pressured me into stuffing a prescription for a progestin-only pill into my going home bag. What she didn’t mention was that progestin-only pills are less effective at preventing ovulation than the combination pills and so rely more heavily on the third mechanism of hormonal contraceptives: making the endometrium inhospitable for implantation. That means it (like all hormonal contraceptives but more than some) is abortifacient. She also failed to mention the cancer, blood clot, depression, lowered sexual drive, etc. risks (none of which are problems for NFP and LAM users).
Luckily, the pharmacy was out-of-stock for this contraceptive on the day I sheepishly drove up to the drive-through window. I took that as the sign I needed and regained my backbone for good. I tossed the doctor’s chicken-scratch note in the trash and never looked back again.
Of course, that’s not the end of my struggles with misinformation by any stretch of the imagination, but at least now I am wise enough to fact check all doctor’s room speeches. Too often, they are spewing the latest drug representative’s advertisement without really understanding the dangers or the safer alternatives.
I guess that’s another benefit of knowing my body, I’m no longer willing to load it down with toxins. Heck, what does it matter if I go green with my cleaning products, if I’m just going to load up my system with synthetic hormones (which follow the natural course of things we put into our bodies- they get flushed out into the very water system we’re trying to keep clean).
If you’re interested in discovering more on the beauty and strength of your own body’s reproductive system, take a class on one of the Fertility Awareness Methods (Sympto-Thermal Method, Creighton Model, Billings Method, and more), buy a book on the subject or schedule an appointment with one of Raleigh’s NFP-knowledgeable gynecologists.
Got questions or want to see the studies that prove that NFP methods are as reliable as the Pill and more reliable than some other contraceptives? Check out www.ccli.org or research the work of Dr. Thomas Hilgers, who is successfully aiding many less-fertile couples in their pursuit of having a family.
Remember also that planning a family shouldn’t be a woman’s job alone, so get your spouse involved. Talk about your body, about your mutual fertility and allow him to see the full gift that your body is. An added benefit of periodic abstinence for couples who are using NFP to postpone a pregnancy is known as the honeymoon effect. Occasionally, restraining your sexual desires can do wonders for increasing your joy (and satisfaction) in the bedroom when finally you get back together.
Whatever your method of planning your family, don’t sell out your health, your dignity or your relationship (did I mention that couples who practice NFP have a statistically significant reduction in rate of divorce?). Get informed and make educated decisions.