Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Natural Birth Control, the TCOYF Way

Shifting gears a little bit right now. I'm excited that today is the day that I finally get my little one back in her fluff after a month in sposies; this month has been riddled with bacterial infections, fungal rashes, and more painful procedures than I care to recount. I have an upcoming post planned about my NEW system for caring for cloth, but today I want to talk about something that's really important to me.

Since birds of a feather tend to flock together, as it were, I think that it's a pretty safe bet that a lot of us cloth parents may be concerned about choosing natural alternatives to the things that most of us do anyway. From using cloth diapers to changing the products we use to clean our homes...to birth control.

There is just so much about the scientific mechanics of birth control that I do not know the ins and outs of, and I will be quite honest with you. I won't pretend to know things that I do not know. But I DO know that taking hormonal birth control pumps your body with artificial, synthetic hormones day in and day out, often for years (depending on personal usage). How could we ever have thought that this was good for us?

Let me give you a little background, and then I'll get back to what I do know about hormonal birth control methods (e.g., the pill, the patch, nuva-ring, mirena IUD, etc.).

If you have never figured out from my references here, or checked out our family blog that I also author, I am a "soul'ed out," through and through Christian, and unwaveringly pro-life. When my husband and I were engaged and I began considering the prospect of employing birth control, I simply felt uneasy in my spirit at the thought of taking "the pill," but didn't really know why. Against my better intuition, I took it anyway, starting a few months before our wedding and continued to do so through the first 6 months of our marriage.

Let me just say it would be an understatement to say it made me crazy. In case you didn't know, Ob/Gyn nurses call Ortho-Tricyclen "Ortho-Try-Psycho" for a reason.

So I began reading and researching about Natural Family Planning. I was just looking for a better and more natural way, but the things I now KNOW about birth control really disturb me. This is the one thing that convinced me, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I will never pursue hormonal birth control methods again:

The birth control pill works in 1 primary way and 2 secondary ways: (1) prevents ovulation; (2) thickens cervical mucus to prevent sperm from passing through; and (3) alters the endometrium, aka the uterine lining, to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in case the first 2 methods fail.

(Go read this information firsthand from the Ortho-Tricyclen-Lo website, or the Ortho-Evra (patch) website. It's right there in the "how it works" sections.)

I believe that life begins at conception. If I am taking a birth control pill that could possibly "prevent the implantation of" (aka "abort") a fertilized egg, then this medication is in serious conflict with my beliefs on the sanctity of life.

Now, Dr. Husband's position on this issue is that you could never, ever verify that a "period" is a result of a failed implantation of a fertilized egg. But my position is that you could never verify that it wasn't, and I do not believe that it's worth the risk.

So, let's just get the most well-known NFP joke out of the way, shall we?

What do you call people who practice natural family planning? Parents.

Ha. Ha. Ha. ;o)

Seriously guys, there's a better way. It's not the archaic, ineffective rhythm method, and it's not a lot of work. It's called the Fertility Awareness Method, and you can learn all about it in this wonderful, easy-to-read, and often humorous book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.

The Fertility Awareness Method is an easy to learn system of charting both physical symptoms, such as cervical fluid and position (if you're so inclined, haha, pun very much intended), and your waking temperature.

Through utilizing FAM, you will learn how your body actually works, and no longer be mystified by the changes your hormonal fluctuations render on your body each month (and the resultant fluid variations most women undoubtedly already notice).

FAM, when practiced and applied correctly is around 98% effective at preventing or prolonging pregnancy, so it's comparable to most birth control pills, and actually MORE effective than barrier methods (such as condoms, diaphragms, etc.).

And when you're ready to begin or expand your family, FAM will help you to optimize the time in your cycle in which you are able to conceive, which will likely help to reduce the stress many couples feel when they trust in the erroneous notion that all women are supposed to have 28 day cycles and ovulate on day 14, when so many of us don't!! (And if you're trying and trying on days 12, 13, and 14, and then getting frustrated for the rest of the month...and you actually ovulate on day 19 or 20, what do you think your odds are of getting pregnant?)

In addition to shedding light on common issues, charting your symptoms may also help you to work alongside your Ob/Gyn to discover and diagnose problems, like a too-short luteal phase or even endometriosis. (I, for one, cried and cried when I read this book, and discovered that I don't have endo as I had feared; the biggest symptom that gave me great concern is actually so common that it happens to over half of women!)

Charting isn't a tremendous chore, but if you think you won't want to keep up with it, there's a free online help: Fertility Friend. There you can log all your information in, and it keeps track of it for you. Then, if you ever need or want to, you could just print out your charts and carry them into your Ob/Gyn's office for a consultation.

So, in addition to the issues that I encourage you to soberly consider regarding sanctity of life, let's recap on birth control pills vs. Fertility Awareness Method:

Birth Control: headaches, weight gain, nausea, depression, mood swings, chronic migraines, blood clots, heart attacks, breakthrough bleeding, and negative changes in sexual desire. For all this you pay between $2000 and $4000 out of pocket (after insurance, if you have any) over a 10-year span, and possibly face months of waiting to conceive after stopping the pill while you wait for your body to begin "working" again. And its efficacy of around 98% is only guaranteed if you take it at the exact same time every day.

Fertility Awareness Method: take about 1 minute each morning to take and record temperature, 5 to 10 seconds to check cervical fluid before using the restroom 2 or 3 times a day, 5 minutes to write everything down each day. For this you spend about $10 on a good basal body temperature thermometer, and incalculably negligible pennies a year on pencils and paper to keep track of your charts (or use the free Fertility Friend). Its efficacy of around 98% is guaranteed when you follow all rules and principles, and you are free from the "Am I?" worry and anxiety that panics women daily.

Hope this gives some new folks something to think about. I'd love to hear from you guys on this issue, but please, let's keep the comment discussions friendly!

**Update July 2010: Husband and I no longer personally employ the use of barrier methods of prevention during my fertile times. I am happy to talk to people about why if they are curious - just shoot me an email through my family blog. :)

** Updated: Friends, I am loving reading your comments and questions! Several have asked and wondered if FAM would be a good fit for them due to irregular cycles, or not seeing temp shifts after temping for one month. If you have a similar question, please read through the comments; both my friend Jessica and I have responded to these queries. FAM is an excellent tool for those of us with irregular cycles, and the book explains why so much more perfectly than I can, so I also encourage you to find this book! It's a really quick read, and it will truly open your eyes! :o)


Jessica said...

We *HEART* FAM! Worked so perfectly well for us in between John and Jeanine, and helped us to conceive Jeanine the first try! SO much better than the psycho pills I took before...and got pregnant on anyway :)

Monica Gee said...

I totally agree with you in many ways . . . my one problem is that FAM doesn't work for peoples whose bodies are unreliable. I tried the TCOYF method for getting pregnant, but never saw a temp spike. Ever. By God's grace, I got pregnant anyway - but that was on a 72-day cycle! So, I would be a little cautious about recommending this book across the board. You have to have a fairly reliable cycle for this method to work. Many of my friends have tried it and have found the same problem, no temp spikes even with extreme regularity in time the temp is taken. As an aside, I didn't have any of the other symptoms either that indicate ovulation. So, yes, read it, use it if possible - but TCOYF isn't the perfect fit for everyone. Sadly. I wish it was for me!

Marcie said...

You've got me wanting to consider it... especially since I am in between birth control methods right now. I just called yesterday to see if I could get a sample to use until my next visit in less than a month. Maybe instead of going to pick that up, I'll go pick up the book...

Thanks for the sharing the info!

Greta said...

You got another one here who is so completely irregular (possibly a side effect from being on the pill up until about 3 months before Sam was born), that temp. checking just doesn't work.

I'm convinced I have a super long cycle b/c I had some issues before getting pregnant this time (although I never got back on the pill after Sam).

I only WISH I was more regular!

All that to say, I have my own qualms about the pill now - in addition to the ones you have. I really do think it affected my body/cycle long term. Thankfully - it hasn't prevented me from getting pregnant at all.

Kristina said...

Very informative post Lauren. My mom firmly believes that taking birth control for too long can lead to ovarian and or breast cancer. There are lots of studies that indicate this as well.

I think the method you suggest would be ideal for a couple that is married. For me, however, I do not trust myself to be in charge of my own birth control because I am in no way ready to have a child, my relationship is not stable enough, and I am in school. My point is, I think most people would not opt for this method because of the fear.

Its just for me, i cant take the risk. But I definitely hate being on the pill and its WAY too expensive in the U.S. The same pill i use costs 6$ in Spain and 26$ in the U.S. *WITH INSURANCE*.

Very good information. gracias!

Kristina said...

fear of slipping up...... i meant.

Traci said...

Hi Lauren... this is Traci. We were in the same grade together in high school. I saw this link and just had to comment!

When marrying catholic, you are required to take a 4-session NFP course. My now-husband and I were complete naysayers. How does this work with irregular cycles???

Then I read about Toni's book and checked it out. It completely changed my life! FAM/NFP is so easy to incorporate into a daily routine and it's not that difficult to work around irregular cycles if you know what to look for and check for all the signs. I always thought I would be on birth control and FAM released me from the expensive and mood-changing hormones.

Thanks for this post. It's cool to see others out there using FAM!

ann.e said...

I loved this book! If anything, it really helped me learn about how everything works (besides helping me plan our daughter :)

When I went to Barnes+N to get a copy, the poor teenage kid at the info booth thought I had said Taking Charge of your VIRGINITY and looked for that title for a few minutes before I corrected him :) So awkward and funny :)

Jessica said...

This method is actually IDEAL for those with irregular cycles, and if you are unable to obtain accurate temperature recordings, there is most likely something wrong with your thermometer or the way you are temping. I was unable to get a good temp pattern with my ovulation spike (even when temping at exactly 6am every morning for 3 months)until I switched to vaginal temping. Kinda ooky to think about at first, but much stranger things have come in contact down there with no repurcussions, lol! Just don't switch your temping method mid-cycle or it will throw off your charting. Those with irregular cycles have so much MORE power and insight into their bodies, fertility, and conception when using FAM and tracking all 3 signs/symptoms of ovulation!

Ellen said...

i'm with you on the pill lauren. i took it when we were first married as well and actually had a stroke on it 3 months after our wedding...yikes!
i'm going to look into fam, but breastfeeding and hardcore irregularity may make it a challenge. for now we are stuck with barrier (is that tmi?) and i really hate it.

The Cloth Diaperin' Mama said...

Thank you so much to everyone who is commenting on this! It means a lot to me.

For those who have commented regarding concerns about irregular cycles and not seeing a temperature spike, I second what Jessica said about trying vaginal temping.

The other things to remember about temping are that (1) you're looking for any general "spiking" trend, so it helps to plot out your temps on a graph, and draw a coverline as Toni illustrates in the book, and not everyone's temp trend looks the same, so it's important to chart several cycles and see how they compare to one another, not to someone else's charts; and (2) a temp spike only tells you that have ALREADY ovulated! You will be able to discern by examining the fluctuations in your cervical mucus any UPCOMING ovulation. Big difference there, and not what most people think!! :o)

The Cloth Diaperin' Mama said...

Oh, and Ellen, not TMI. And I hate it too. Actually, getting more serious about our FAM has allowed us to back up with barrier far less often than we previously were - woohoo! ;o)

And FAM will help you to know when you are fertile again, even before you start getting monthly(ish) cycles again!

Krista said...

OK, too good not to comment...

I was on the pill for a LONG time before Addison was conceived. We were incredibly blessed; she was conceived the very first try. But, since she has been born, I have been very insistant about not going back to the pill. I just didn't like how I felt on it, if that makes sense. She is now almost 8 months old, and because I'm still nursing, I've only had 2 (very inconsistant) periods. I saw somewhere where you mentioned FAM on your other blog a while back, and I thought about looking into it, but never did. You've resparked my interest. You think it will be "trustable" enough for me though?! (not that I would be upset AT ALL if it didn't work, though) :o)

April said...

Great info. I have never been on a pill, but instead have always used an IUD and I love it. I get pregnant so incredibly easily, so I'm not sure I'd trust myself with this method! We'll be having 1 more baby next year then hubbs is getting snipped. IUD for maybe 8 more months then no more birth control....ever! YAY!!

Heath said...

Lauren- Thanks for the information! I can't take the pill because of migraines, terrible mood swings/being just plain crazy and having thyroid issues. I am also allergic to latex. (Don't I sound like a fun patient for my doctors? lol) I will be looking into this more!!

Alisha B said...

We used TCOYF to get pregnant with both of our precious babies! I even passed my book along to a dear friend. I'm no longer using HBC and we're using FAM right now until we decide what to do for the future. Thanks for the post!

Jenney said...

Thank you Thank you for this post. VERY helpful. I was on the patch (was VERY sick for months and no one put 2 and 2 together until one day in the ER a nurse did) and then the pill (and I was a witch let me tell you, a WITCH). I will never go back on hormonal anything, and this book I will be buying!

idnar82 said...

I have never heard of this book but am very interested in reading it after seeing this post! I have been married for about 6 years and have still not found a birth control I actually like or feel comfortable with. I thought maybe the "ring" would be my answer because I only had to deal with it twice a month, but alas, I am bad at that too and keep forgetting to "take it out" or "put it in." I think I'll get the book! After one miscarriage several years ago, I also feel very uncomfortable with the idea of my fertilized egg (my sweet baby) not being able to implant! Thanks for the info :-)

Natalie said...

Great post and so much info! I have one more wonderful way of preventing pregnancy: Nursing. I have not had a period for six years now. I have three kids but I pretty much knew when I was ovulating due to weaning. One crucial thing with nursing amnorea which I think some don't know, you nurse 100% (no snacks no water, nothing) and do not skip night feedings. Which is a great reason to sleep with babies in the bed.

I really want to encourage all to listen to your instincts!

Becky said...

One additional benefit of NFP/FAM: a dramatically lower divorce rate. Studies show that among those who use natural family planning, the divorce rate is 2%, compared to a divorce rate of 50% among the general population. Natural family planning is good for your marriage!

Kevin and Tara said...

We have done FAM for 7 years now (ever since we were married) and have loved it. I was on birthcontrol during college for heavy periods and it made me feel depressed and moody and at that point I got off of it but I'm thankful we never used it as a form of contraception.

Andrea @ The Train To Crazy said...

Thanks for this. I'm thinking about checking into the book. Sounds intriguing.

Jennifer said...

I read TCOYF because my mother had trouble conceiving my brother and I, and because I always had long, unpredictable cycles. My mother had to chart to determine the appropriate course of action for her (clomid), so I was looking for a book on charting and found TCOYF. I used it to chart and avoid pregnancy for one year while I finished my Master's, and then for 4 months to get pregnant. For me, fertility awareness has been a God send. While charting-to-avoid, I had a 100 day cycle. No ovulation for 90 days. You can imagine how many times I was asked "are you sure you are not pregnant?". Thanks to FAM, no worries about pregnant, miscarriage etc. Of course, I ovulated the day that I managed to get a blood work requisition to see what was up. With cycles like that, I felt pretty darned good about only needing 2 cycles to get pregnant, *and* knowing the conception date. That cycle, the difference between a due-date based on last-menstrual, and based on ovulation was 14 days. This is a big deal when you get bleeding at 4.5 weeks (or is it 6.5?) and the ultrasound tech can't find the egg sac ( at 4.5 weeks, there is nothing to see, but if they think that you are 6+ weeks, and they tell you that it is a failed or ectopic pregnancy).

I give the teen version of TCOYF to my teen cousins, because this would have been a huge help to me at that age. Just one note-there is a discussion on different viewpoints of what to do if you do get pregnant. On one page, it presents the perspective of girls that kept their children, gave them up for adoption, and chose to have an abortion. I think that it is presented fairly, and the book is excellent in every other aspect, so I would recommend it, even for a church-youth-group resource library.

One last note about ovulation. If you don't ovulate regularly, try to hang out with some ovulating women now and then. I am in gas turbine engineering, so my cycles stretch out if I don't hang out with my girlfriends often enough. A couple of them know that they are my "hormone donors".

Me! said...

Wow!This post and the comments has been an eye-opener to me. Thank you! I was on yasmin for 5 years not thinking anything of it and now I am trying to get pregnant. Some stories worry me and others give me hope. I think with everything said about birth control, it's always in God's hands. Give him your life and he will take care of you and give you the wisdom you need.

Jackie at 3littleones said...

I am so glad I found your blog today!! So much useful info here!! Thanks for this post - I am w/ you - I will no longer take hormonal bc b/c of the same reasons you mentioned. I am going to look for that book now - my only question is - can you do this method while still nursing?

elizabeth said...

Has anyone tried the 'standard days method' and cyclebeads??

Christine said...

You have so much wisdom in this post!