Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Kathleen at Project M. I strongly encourage, even challenge, you to read this post. I was seriously moved by Kathleen’s honesty and candidness. But most of all I was inspired by her willingness to keep an open mind about a subject that flies in the face of what our culture teaches us all about sexuality. We’re different in a lot of ways, but Kathleen has certainly earned my deepest respect. Plus, she’s funny.
I am an educated, fancy-pants, trendy individual. I have two completely useless liberal-arts degrees to prove it. So of course, like other liberal-arts-educated and trendy individuals, I am drawn to the word “natural.” It makes us organic-eating tree-huggers think of healthy bodies, uncorrupted oceans and virginal rainforests.
But like other fancy-pants, artistic types, I’m less enthusiastic about the word “planning.” It makes us think of boring charts, legal documents and architectural blueprints. Who wants to plan? I prefer the idea of being able to spontaneously decide, “I would like to eat a bagel today,” or “I want to have a baby.” So I’ve always had mixed feelings about “natural family planning.” The first part makes me go “Yay!” and the last part makes me go “Boooooo.”
I’ve also never known much about natural family planning. I always just had this vague idea that it was this Catholic thing that was supposed to prevent unwanted pregnancies but didn’t work very well. That is, I believed this until I came across Engaged Marriage.
My Mind Opens
Not only was I incredibly impressed by the blog overall, but I was also intrigued by its informative coverage of NFP. It didn’t take long before I was thinking to myself, “I really need to rethink some of my opinions on natural family planning.” After reading everything Dustin had written on the subject, I began to go beyond his blog to do other internet searches and learn more. And I was continually impressed by what I learned. I started to feel that everyone needed to be exposed to this really cool but highly misunderstood phenomenon.
So I had Dustin tell me and my readers more about NFP. I grilled him with my most pressing questions about NFP, and even asked a couple of my friends for their questions, too.
Dustin kindly answered all my questions, and let me post them on my blog. I was incredibly pleased with everything he had to say. Here are a couple of my responses and reactions to what I learned from him.
(As a note, though, in case you are new to my writing, I am currently trying to get pregnant, so I’m not switching to NFP at the moment).
Some Candid Reactions to This NFP Thing
1. At first I was surprised (and a little skeptical) to hear that NFP has about a 99% success rate, but when I learned more about it I understood why it was so reliable. And I became a lot less scared of it. See, one reason I had never really considered NFP was because my menstrual cycles are so irregular. Like reeeeally irregular – completely unpredictable. My instinctive response was, “It sounds cool, but it won’t work for me because I’m a freak.” I thought it was only for “normal,” 28-day women. But not only did Dustin explain to me that it works for irregular cycles too, because it tracks your fertility through your bodily signs rather than by a calendar, but he explained that his wife was just as irregular as I am. And NFP worked for them! Phew! Maybe it can work for me, too.
And, anyways, I’ve come to learn that the Pill isn’t nearly as reliable as people think it is. We’re always told that the Pill is 99% effective. What we don’t hear is that the given number is only true if the woman taking it never makes any mistakes, and doesn’t take anything that interferes with its effectiveness.
I swear to you, I personally know three women who have gotten pregnant while on the Pill. I’m not sure if they missed a pill or took it too late one day or whatever, but they definitely have babies when they did not intend to have them. The point is, people make mistakes, and as a result the Pill often fails, too. The fact that NFP isn’t 100% effective shouldn’t make us any more nervous than the Pill does, because it also isn’t 100%. They’re very comparable. NFP is only ineffective if its practitioners don’t do it right . . . which is the same problem as with the Pill!
2. I’m not a Catholic, and I’m not sure how strongly I feel about the possibly-abortifacient nature of the Pill (I probably should feel stronger about it because I’m pro-life), but I am still pretty convinced, now, that NFP is the best birth control option out there.
Dustin pointed out that there are two other problems with the Pill, besides the commonly-identified religious ones. But I think they’re both very relevant to all spiritual people.
The first is health: I, like most Christians, believe that our bodies are our temples, and that we are responsible for taking the best care of them we can. If the Pill compromises our health, we should reconsider its merit.
The second is the environment: I believe God made us stewards of this earth, and we are responsible for its health, too. Polluting our water with artificial hormones (which in turn influences our health) and filling our landfills with condoms does not sound like responsible stewardship, especially if there are known alternatives like NFP.
A third reason I am beginning to protest against the Pill, though, is its cost. Again, this has to do with stewardship. God made me responsible for taking care of my material resources. And you’re telling me that there is an absolutely FREE method of birth control out there, but I’ve been paying for potentially-harmful pills to do the same thing for the last four years of my life? Man! How irresponsible of me! I could have been using that cash to make the world a better place. Think of all the money that we could all save if we stopped taking the Pill!
3. I thought Dustin made an excellent point when he said that the reason people don’t hear about NFP is because there’s no money in it. What a good friggin’ point! All of a sudden, the Pill has a sinister side to it that I never before acknowledged. Of course doctors and pharmacists are going to push the Pill: it’s profitable! NFP will never be profitable because there’s nothing to sell. Of course the people on top are not going to waste their time explaining to you that you could get the same thing for free.
If I had no other reason, I think I would still want to promote NFP at this point just to stick it to the Man. Down with Big Pharma! Down with greedy, corporate America! Viva la revolución! Who’s with me? Sorry, that was my liberal-arts education getting the best of me again.
4. Since learning about NFP from Dustin and others, I have had to start changing the question from “Why not take the Pill?” to “Why take the Pill?” And I am coming up short of good answers.
I think Brian Killian, from Nuptial Mystery, says it well when he says this: “Contraception was invented for a single purpose, to maximize the possibility of indulgence while minimizing the consequences.” How true. The Pill is essentially just designed as an easy way out. (You Catholic readers have probably heard all of this stuff already. But most of us Gen Y evangelicals have never given it a moment’s thought before).
So, then, why use the Pill? Because I want to be able to indulge every urge we have, whenever we want, without having to think about it? That sounds lazy and selfish. If I go off the Pill, that just means I have to start paying attention to my body, and communicating with my husband about my body, and deciding together with him what we want in life. If I stop using the Pill, my husband and I will have to talk about whether fulfilling a particular urge at a particular moment will bring us closer to getting the things we both want in life. These all sound like good things, not bad things. Why have I been avoiding them for the last four years?
Lastly: I’ve come to see that NFP actually allows you to be more spontaneous with your procreative choices. You can decide to go for it at any time, because NFP is easily reversible. With the Pill, on the other hand, you often have to wait several months to get the hormones out of your system. I wanted to use the Pill because I thought it gave me more control over my reproduction, but I have learned that it actually gives me less control. OK, this isn’t true for everybody: some lucky buggers [*ahem* - Dustin and his wife] can still get pregnant the second they go off the Pill [*sigh*]; but for the rest of us, saying No to the Pill from the get-go looks more like a blessing.
Am I Sold on Natural Family Planning?
OK, I have to admit, there are some really nice things about being on the Pill. The most important one for me is what it did for my skin. I am a rather vain person, and I have struggled with acne since I was eleven. So I was thrilled that Diane-35, which I used for both my acne and for contraceptive purposes, made it a lot better. Since going off of it, my skin has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. This makes me very sad. Honestly, I cry about it regularly. But like I said – it’s a matter of vanity, and I don’t think I ought to compromise my health and my integrity for my looks. But dang, it’s hard.
Second, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve always had crazy-irregular menstrual cycles. The Pill made it so much more regular. It was nice to be able to expect my period just by looking at how many pills I had left in the pack. But if it takes chemicals and foreign hormones to get that regularity, I don’t think it’s worth it. I’ll just have to learn about my body better so I can better identify the signs of oncoming menstruation, and be prepared for it at all times.
Ultimately, though, I think the bad things about the Pill outweigh the good, and the opposite is true for NFP. Someday, when I’m trying to not have kids again, I am going to very seriously consider NFP. Thanks, Dustin, for teaching me about it!Photo by jenny downing