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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