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Natural Birth Control: Safe, Effective and Little Known

A couple of weeks ago I had my final postpartum visit with my OB, during which he mentioned that my husband and I should begin considering family planning options. (‘Family planning‘ being a polite euphemism for birth control, but I like the sound of ‘family planning’ much more.) I immediately felt anxious, as I’ve never met a method of birth control that has agreed with me. There are many methods of birth control for women, and yet none of them are entirely safe or healthy, and all of them have adverse side effects (weight gain, increased risk of stroke, more severe/painful menstrual cycles and general craziness, just to name a few).

The saddest fact is that conception is possible with every method, and many of the children that are conceived on birth control are miscarried as a result.

The idea of miscarrying a child as a result of our choice in birth control, as opposed to an act of nature (both of which are devastating), has haunted me, and it’s that truth that has the greatest impact on our decision. Combine that looming consideration with my desire not to mess with my hormones or cervical integrity, and there didn’t appear to be any suitable methods of ‘family planning.’ Fortunately, it was during a discussion of family planning methods with my mom’s group that a new, natural method was revealed to me. I’m surprised that I had never heard of it before, and after reading about it, I’m shocked that I knew so very little about my body and my fertility. Unfortunately, I’m almost certain I’m not alone in my ignorance, which is why I’ve taken the time to discuss what I’ve learned.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility

The natural method that my mom’s group shared with me is called the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), and the book I would recommend reading is called “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.” Before I go any further, I want to make the distinction between the Fertility Awareness Method and the “Rhythm Method.” FAM is not the Rhythm Method, and there’s a whole section of the book that talks about how they are different, how FAM is reliable and how, as we all know, the Rhythm Method is not. (“What do they call people who practice the Rhythm Method?” “Parents.” Yuk yuk.) My goal here is not to talk about the Rhythm Method, nor explain FAM in detail; I would highly recommend reading “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” if you want more specific information.

Something I didn’t know about women: we’re only fertile for a few days a month,

unlike men who are fertile 365 days a year (with exceptions, of course). The Fertility Awareness Method allows women to determine when they are fertile, that way they can choose to use a barrier method of contraceptive during that time, or abstain from intercourse entirely. Conversely, a couple trying to conceive can use FAM to determine their window of fertility, eliminating the frustration and disappointment of making countless attempts that are doomed from the start.

Finally, family planning aside, every woman should read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” as it does a better job of explaining female anatomy and the amazing details of the menstrual cycle than any sex-ed class I was given in elementary school, junior high, high school or Cosmopolitan magazine. As a method of tracking one’s cycle, I’ve found FAM to be empowering and surprisingly fascinating. Without going into clinical detail, I feel comforted in knowing the wide range of variation from woman to woman in how we experience our cycles. For example, because my cycle is typically much longer than the “normal” 28 days (which is a total myth, by the way), I’ve always been told there is something wrong with me, but no doctor could ever go into detail about what exactly was wrong, or how to fix it. Long story short, after reading “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” I’ve realized I’m just fine, “normal” in fact, and so are countless other women who have walked around carrying similar anxieties for so long. Bonus: practicing FAM can help you discover gynecological problems before their “normal” symptoms are ever felt, saving you valuable time in diagnosis and treatment.

As a method of birth control, FAM is simple and effective; when used consistently and correctly,

FAM is found to be 99% effective, the same as oral contraceptives.

When used by a couple who are trying to conceive, FAM is effective on the first attempt between 67% and 81% of the time. Practicing the Fertility Awareness Method is certainly more enjoyable than ingesting hormones every day and living with the side effects, and it can save couples that are looking to conceive the stress and cost of fertility treatments. And like I said, though it’s possible to conceive while using any method of birth control, there’s no way that FAM will be the cause of a miscarriage, which is my main source of anxiety.

It’s my hope that if you read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility,” one of three things will happen: some of you will become more educated about your bodies, some of you will finally conceive a child, and maybe some of you can stop ingesting unnecessary hormones, any of which will greatly enhance your life. That all being said, you’re free to do what you want with the information. It’s just healthier and more empowering to make an informed decision, you know?

Are you or someone you know using the Fertility Awareness Method? Do you absolutely swear by a different method of family planning? I didn’t learn anything until I had the “awkward” conversation with a bunch of other moms, which turned out not to be awkward at all. In the spirit of helping each other learn and grow, feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

Also, I’m giving away one copy of “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” to a random commenter. If you would not like to receive a copy of the book, please say so in your comment, that way I can draw someone else. (I’m using random.org to choose the winner, just so you know.) The drawing will take place Friday, October 1st 2010. Good luck!

(Also, here’s a good article from Slate about another woman’s research and experience with the Fertility Awareness Method.)

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23 Comments

  1. Jessica Lynn

     /  September 27, 2010

    That is amazing! I’ve never heard of that and it’s just crazy.. I was going to go next week to look into birth controls. I think i’ll wait it out and try the book instead 🙂 I wanna win! Otherwise I will have to go and buy it because now I don’t want to go on birth control haha.

    Reply
  2. Emily Maltby

     /  September 27, 2010

    This book and it’s information couldn’t have come at a better time for me! If I don’t win, then I will definitely will be picking it up!

    Reply
  3. Actually, this method isn’t that new–in the Catholic Church, it’s known as Natural Family Planning, and I’ve also heard it called the sympto-thermal method. My husband and I practice NFP and we love it. By limiting intercourse to a certain time of month, we are encouraged to be sexual and intimate in a wide variety of ways throughout the month. It throws out the notion of everything but intercourse being “foreplay”: leading up to intercourse. I write about NFP a lot on my blog (among many other things!) and I’m always up for telling others more about it, if you’re interested or have specific questions!

    Reply
  4. Amanda

     /  September 27, 2010

    I have been on the same search for a safe and natural method of birth control! Currently I am using birth control pills and I find the hormones have caused weight gain and sometimes even give me a headache. What a relief to know there is something else out there! Thanks so much!!!!

    Reply
  5. I have been hearing about this book a lot and had it on my ‘to read’ list. Thanks for your lovely and informative blog!

    Reply
  6. Jasmine

     /  September 27, 2010

    Thanks for sharing! I definitely think that’s it’s important to know about our own bodies and how it works. I appreciate the time you take to tell us about these things =]

    Reply
  7. Thank you so much for this lovely information! I am currently on the pill, before I started taking the pill i was getting the 3month shot. I HATED THE SHOT With a passion, I wasn’t myself at all =[ and needless to say I very much dislike the pill as well. I plan on reading this book to inform myself about FAM in hopes of getting off the pill.
    Again, THANK YOU SO MUCH !!

    -Marlaina Jade

    Reply
  8. Tressa

     /  September 27, 2010

    Hello MJ,

    I enjoyed your video today and would find this book interesting to read. I am alergic to contraception pills as is my daughter. My daughter recently got married and needs to find another option for birth control. Note: don’t feel shy about sharing if someone is not honestly interested they should be watching other videos. This information IS valuable and should be shared. Thanks again!

    Reply
  9. Gosh, your new videos are so thought provoking. A few thoughts…
    I do not deny that FAM is a legitimate method of BC, especially for women who are in a place where pregnancy is an option. However, there is a lot of research that disputes the idea that miscarriages are caused by hormonal BC. I actually think that is a somewhat risky statement to make, especially in the chance that an uneducated young adult might watch the video and decide contraceptives (even other methods like condoms) aren’t necessary.

    A few links from sites I always refer to:
    http://www.scarleteen.com/article/advice/is_birth_control_safe_are_certain_brands_best
    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/birth-control-pill/WO00098
    http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/birth-control-effectiveness-chart-22710.htm

    Reply
  10. Tiffany

     /  September 28, 2010

    I would LOVE a copy of this book. Since I’ve started the “you know what” back when I was twelve, I’ve always had a painful and traumatic experience with all that jazz. In fact, I kept telling my husband I’m worried I’m not fertile because we’ve already tried to conceive ALOT before and nothing happened. Then, my cycle got really out of whack again so I felt the need to resort back to birth control pills to lighten my cycle. These pills are SERIOUSLY causing me to be moody off and on throughout each week at some point or another which in turn, upsets my husband and then upsets me even more. I’ve got that weight gain thing going on. I’m not fat at all, but I’m a little on the pudgy side & my husband is pushing me to eat within a more restricted diet due to all this.
    We aren’t ready for kids which is another reason we resorted to birth control pills (yes, we changed our minds) and if I could just find another way to manage my body without the drugs, my moods wouldn’t be so chaotic like they are right now.

    I feel like I know nothing and no matter how much research I do online, I kid you not the research is making matters worse on me- results like this: “you may have endometriosis…” blah blah blah…

    Of course, I stay in touch with my doc as much as too much you’d probably say and there’s obviously nothing wrong with me so they say.

    This is driving me nuts!

    Reply
  11. wende

     /  September 28, 2010

    i would love to have a copy of this book. doctors have been trying to pump me full of pills since i was 16 and i’ve had problems with that because of your same concerns (my future children). i’d love to read this book! thanks for the information and thanks for the inspiration in your videos!

    God bless you and your family!

    ps. you have quite possibly one of the cutest babies i’ve ever laid eyes on! such a blessing, i’m sure 🙂

    thanks again for the information!

    Reply
  12. Katherine

     /  September 28, 2010

    Thanks for the info! This book looks great and I never would have known about it if you didn’t make a video. Birth Control has definitely thrown my system out of whack and it would be nice to read about other options.

    Reply
  13. I would love a copy of the book!

    Thanks for giving such great information on this topic.

    Reply
  14. John

     /  September 29, 2010

    Hey MJ,
    I have followed your youtube blog for quite some time, while I don’t always agree with all of your positions, I do appreciate your straight forward approach and that, what you have to say is thoughtful and thought provoking. As per your Natural Family planning post, I realize not all women know about this, and not all doctors talk about it, as they are “pushing the pill”. Yet this stuff seem like common sense me that women should know what exactly is going on with their reproductive system. Then again the teacher I had in high school biology had strong convictions against the “pill” and chemical/ hormonal BC in general, so natural family planning was something he drilled in to us when ever he got the chance. Thank you for bringing this up, it is something that all women should know about. Chemical birth-control is carries far to many side effects and is my opinion down right scary; something I have yet to convince my two sisters of; despite both of them being in the medical field (though who wants to talk BC with their younger brother… honestly). Though I had not heard of this book before, I think I just figured out what I’m getting my each of my sisters for Christmas. Thanks MJ
    John

    Reply
  15. Bianca

     /  November 1, 2010

    I think it’s great that you wrote about FAM and put a video up. There is much misinformation about this out there, mainly because doctors themselves seem uneducated in this area, and it’s jut plain easier to prescribe a pill and get the sponsorship from the pharmaceutical company too! I have suffered a lot under various forms of family planning, such as pills, IUD and my latest failure, the nuva ring. I am happy to be healthy again. However, my man doesn’t trust it, which is very sad, but only shows what the general public believe is regarding FAM. Also, the particular book you mention isn’t written by an actual doctor, which I personally dislike. Maybe check out the book by the Austrian doctor called Roetzer. He has rules that, at least to me, make more sense and have been tested in a long term study. Weschler’s method has not, plus her style of writing is a bit too un-scientific for me.

    Reply
  16. Lynette

     /  December 4, 2010

    I was always very regular till after my 2nd child. Then my cycles went nuts(that is after they returned) Well then unrelated I started having neck issues. So I went to the chiropractor for that. After 2 adjustment my cycles come like clockwork. I told my chiro about it and she said she hears that all the time. Google Chiropractic and fertility. Also it made my cramps a lot lighter. Rasberry tea helps that too. I tried the pill many yrs ago(when I first got married). Didn’t like it. So we have done condoms for yrs. I have a few friends that use the method in this bk. It’s one of those bks I on my to read list.

    Reply
  17. Abbi

     /  September 28, 2011

    WOW! Great informaiton! I would love to get a free copy of that book! I stumbled upon your blog because I am stopping my birth control and I am researching the above method. I have found a site that provides PDF charts free of charge to help one track day to day. http://www.tcoyf.com/content/MasterCharts.aspx

    Reply
  18. Charney (char-knee)

     /  November 3, 2011

    Oh my gosh. You are great. I just found your video today but is rocks. I have really been looking in to the natural family planning thing recently because of some smaller issues I have been experiencing with my BC and the more I look the more I see that All BC has the same side effects. My husband at one point had asked me to get off the patch because of those commercial s about the wrongful death lawsuits but we just looked for a different BC type, not method. We have one Beautiful daughter who was not planned while I was on BC. I was not good at it.(period). Anyway keep it up sharing. I am going to try and find a class or something so the husband and I can go and be on the same page but I do not want a Catholic class. He will fight that. And I don’t think he will fight NFP if the Christian part isn’t there. We are God fearing people just not missionaries if you get my drift. Thank you for what you do. And you have a Beautiful kiddo.

    Reply
    • Aww, thanks so much Charney! I’m so glad that the info I found could help someone else! I had a hard time finding a non-religious class in our area. Unfortunately, most women I talk to about it have never even heard about it before, so I guess it has a long way to go before it’s considered mainstream. :/ Good luck!

      Reply
    • My husband and I took an “Advanced” one-time class through Couple-to-Couple League because I had read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and felt I had a good handle on the basics. We were very glad we didn’t go through the whole 6- or 8-week program, whichever it is, because we didn’t need it. Honestly, I probably could have just gotten The Art of Natural Family Planning (book) instead of doing the class at all and been fine. It does have information on Catholic teaching in it but you can skip over those parts; I just find their charting method to be the easiest. We’ve been doing NFP for 2 1/2 years now with no problems, so I don’t think a class is 100% necessary. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  19. Thank you for sharing this message! It too often gets lumped into a ‘just for crazy Catholics’ thing and that’s so not the case. Knowledge and health are for everyone! 🙂

    Reply
  20. Melissa

     /  July 13, 2012

    Friend of mine was following this method, really charting conscientiously, and using condoms during fertile window, and she just told me a couple weeks ago that she’s pregnant – complete surprise. She is the most organized, detail-oriented person I know, so makes me a little nervous…..I agree with the risks of hormone-based BC, I chose a diaphragm as my “back-up method” – we rely on condoms for the majority of the time, unless it’s CLEARCUT that it’s not a possibility, and then use diaphragm – people forget about that option sometimes – worked great for me – but at least condoms have an extremely high prevention rate (when used correctly)….I’m of the better safe than sorry mindset – we have a beautiful little boy we love but were very planful before getting pregnant with him and plan to be very careful for another year or so 🙂

    Reply
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