Isn’t that just the rhythm method?

For those of you who don’t know, my husband and I are Catholic. That means that we do not believe in the use of contraceptives for religious reasons. Part of our vows included being open to any and all children from God. Any use of condoms, hormonal birth control, IUDs, or any method that involves someone or something actively preventing conception from occurring is a violation of those vows. That being said, the Catholic church does endorse something that they call natural family planning (NFP). God understands that it’s not always possible to raise a child at a given time or in a given situation. Money might be an issue, or you’re just not ready. NFP is permitted because there are no barriers in place. If God truly wanted you to conceive a child, you could. The rest of the world calls this method the fertility awareness method (FAM). Let me be very clear right now: this is not the rhythm method.

How does one practice FAM?
First, get yourself a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility (TCOYF). I am still working my way through the depth of knowledge presented in this book. Also, get yourself a basal body thermometer and a fertility tracking app. The app I use is called Kindara, but there are plenty of other options. Every morning around the same time, you’re going to take your temperature. This needs to be done before you get out of bed. You should also try to get at least three consecutive hours of sleep before temping. But Amanda, you say, I have small children that wake me up randomly or a husband that snores or insomnia. Be not afraid — temping is not the only thing you’ll be doing. Once a day around the same time, you also need to track your cervical fluid, cervical position, whether your cervix is hard or soft, and whether your cervix is open or closed. It sounds like a lot, but I promise you it’s easy. I won’t go into details here in this post. You can find all the information regarding tracking these symptoms in TCOYF, as well as the knowledge base within the Kindara app.

I have been learning about this method for just over a year now. It is my honest opinion that all women, whether they are Catholic or not, should practice FAM. Let me tell you why.

It works, without any risks.
Next to abstinence, it is one of the most effective methods of birth control when practiced correctly. While using the symptothermal method, only 0.4% of women experienced an unexpected pregnancy within the first year of use. The best part of this method? There are absolutely no crazy side effects or risks. No increased chances of cancer, ectopic pregnancy, weight gain, acne, or unforeseen complications. Personally, I know two people who conceived while taking the pill. I know one person you conceived with an IUD in place, and unfortunately miscarried because of that IUD. Her doctor informed her that this happens fairly frequently with IUDs. Most women are never aware that they were pregnant, even if monthly bleeding begins later than expected. There’s a book I want to get my hands on called Sweetening the Pill. I think it’s amazing that women are realizing that being controlled with synthetic hormones is NOT empowering in any way. Learning to read the signs your body gives you every month is empowering. We don’t need to be controlled, so much as we need to be taught about our own reproductive health.

You will learn so much about your own body and reproductive health.
With every new cycle you track, you’ll start to see a pattern emerge. You’ll start to know how long your overall cycle is, how long your follicular phase is, when you typically ovulate, and how long your luteal phase it. For example, I now know that I have a 24 day cycle, not the standard 28. Did you know that if you have a short follicular phase or a short luteal phase, it could be indicative of a dietary deficiency or even an undiagnosed condition? You’ll know if your body doesn’t ovulate every month because you’ll be watching all the signs. If you have something like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), FAM can help you to conceive if & when you’re ready. Knowing what I do now, I cannot imagine using any other method.

The community of women involved with this method is fantastic. 
Anytime you struggle with something, just ask. There’s a community on Kindara where you can post your chart or any questions you may have. There are multiple Facebook groups, not only for FAM in general, but also for those trying to conceive (TTC) using FAM and those trying to avoid (TTA) pregnancy using FAM. Most of the women in these groups have been successfully practicing this method for years. Many of them have stories of their past use of other forms of birth control, some scarier and sadder than others. FAM cannot cause you to miscarry. It cannot cause cysts on your ovaries. It cannot lead to cancer. Sadly, some women learn these things too late. Listen to their stories and learn from their mistakes. If you’re truly interested in learning about FAM, please message me on Facebook and I will invite you to join the private groups I mentioned above.

It’s not just for Catholics.
Anyone can practice FAM. It has been scientifically proven to work. It is so much more than just the rhythm method. If you’re practicing for religious reasons and you’re TTA, then you would abstain for the time during your cycle when you’re most fertile (you’ll know exactly when this is based on all those symptoms you’ve been tracking). If you’re not practicing for religious reasons, this is when you would use another form of birth control (condom, withdraw, etc).

I sincerely wish that this method was taught in schools as young girls are learning about their own bodies. How many cases of endometriosis or PCOS would be diagnosed years sooner? So many women can benefit from this method. Any doctor will tell you that with the use of hormonal birth control for any extended period of time (5+ years), the risk of breast, cervical, and liver cancer increases. The good news is, studies have shown that when women stop taking the pill, their risk for these cancers decreases over time, eventually returning to pre-pill odds.

I will be teaching my future daughters how to interpret the signs their bodies give them every month. I will never encourage them to pump themselves full of synthetic hormones or to use something like an IUD. Our bodies are incredible pieces of machinery capable of so much more than we realize.

Love your bodies, ladies. Listen to them.

DISCLAIMER: I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that there are women out there who cannot strictly rely on FAM for medical reasons. Risk of ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer has been shown to decrease with the use of oral contraceptives. Painful and dangerous monthly ovarian cysts can be avoided with hormonal birth control. Women suffering from endometriosis may take the pill to stop unnecessary tissue growth. I am not a medical professional, nor have I ever claimed to be. I have relied on research-backed articles written by medical professionals when writing about my beliefs. I would encourage women to educate themselves and look at all the options available to them, not merely those presented by one doctor.  In the end, only a doctor can help you find the best course of treatment for your body. I am very lucky that I do not suffer from any hereditary cancer risks or other unfortunate medical conditions — for that I am beyond grateful. I will continue to pray for the women who live with these conditions on a daily basis.