THE WONDERFUL SECRET OF NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING

by Kelly Warner (St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Marietta, GA)

(Editor's Note: This article stresses the effectiveness of Natural Family Planning because that is
the primary concern for most people evaluating birth control methods. We believe that using
Natural Family Planning and being exposed to others doing so will lead a couple to greater
appreciation of the gift of fertility and greater openness to children.)

I have come to believe that Natural Family Planning is one of the greatest discoveries - Ever! At
the same time, I have become extremely upset that I was never informed of this option prior to
discovering it "accidentally" on my own in the fall of 1998. I am angry at all the years I spent on
the Pill, enduring terrible side effects, because I just didn't know that I had any other good
option. I am angry for all of the millions of women who, like myself, are enduring awful side
effects from their contraceptives at this very moment. I wish that I could sit down with every
woman in the world and have a chat about the wonders of Natural Family Planning and what a
GREAT thing it has been for me and for my family. I want every woman to have the facts so
that she can make good decisions for herself - decisions based in truth and scientific fact - not
pharmaceutical company propaganda!

This is my testimony to the value and wonder of Natural Family Planning. I hope that it helps
you as much as it has helped me.

My Personal History:

I'd like to give you a little history about myself so that you'll understand where I'm coming from
and why I'm so excited about NFP.

For several years I was on the Birth Control Pill and suffered from many side effects, including
serious weight gain, depression, and mood swings. After many years on the Pill, I went off of
them in 1997 to try to conceive a child with my husband. I've been off the pill for 3 years now.
In all that time, I've had no trace of depression, mood swings, or further weight gain.

When my daughter was born in 1998, I chose to breastfeed her. I was concerned about the
effects hormonal birth control methods might have on her little developing body and mind. So, I
was doing serious research into all the 'reliable' birth control methods out there - specifically the
Pill, Norplant, and Depo-Provera. I came to that long list of side effects for the Pill, and I
noticed - maybe for the first time REALLY noticed - that huge list of side effects. I realized how
much the Pill had affected me negatively, and I decided that I would never again take Birth
Control Pills.

Incidentally, as bad as my side effects were with the Pill, the women I've personally known who
were on Depo-Provera or Norplant had much, much worse side effects. All of the women I
personally know who used these methods gained a minimum of 66 pounds in the first year of
use [One friend gained 110 pounds]. These women experienced NO periods for the duration of
their use. They also experienced severe and extreme mood swings and depression, much like
what I experienced on the Pill but even MORE so! I do not personally know anyone who used
either of these methods who didn't experience horrible and extreme side effects. Thus, I'd
NEVER recommend either of these to anyone under any circumstances.

I don't want anyone else to endure any of these side effects without having all the facts about
what is available in the way of reliable birth control.

How I discovered NFP:

I am a practicing Catholic, but like many American Catholics, I'd never even heard of NFP. I'd
heard rumors about the "Rhythm Method" [Whaddaya call people who use the rhythm method
for birth control? ... Parents!! Hahahaha!], but knew that it was highly ineffective and pretty
much useless. I'd never heard of Natural Family Planning - no Priest had ever mentioned it to
me, no Sunday School Teacher or Youth Minister or Marriage Preparation Course had ever
mentioned it. Certainly I'd never gotten any information on it from my OBGYN or Primary Care
Physician. I'd gotten lots of information on the Pill, the IUD [although the information in the IUD
didn't mention the fact that it works by causing constant early abortions of newly conceived
babies!], the Condom, and, more recently, Norplant and Depo-Provera. These were the only
options I'd ever heard of, and I had considered the Pill the best choice of these.

So, I was feeling pretty stumped in my search for an effective method of birth control that I could
use while breastfeeding and still be absolutely certain that it wouldn't affect either my baby or
my milk supply [or me!]. The "mini-pill" supposedly doesn't affect milk supply & has fewer side
effects, but it does allow ovulation on a fairly regular basis and then causes the uterus to abort
the newly conceived baby [something you don't hear about much, but its true. In my research, I
discovered that this also happens sometimes with regular birth control pills too, but even more
often with the 'mini-pill']. Which was totally unacceptable to me, so I didn't feel the "mini-pill"
was an option. In fact, for the first 4 months of my daughter's life, we didn't use any birth
control method because we couldn't find any option that we liked. [Luckily, I was breastfeeding
exclusively & on demand, which rendered me infertile for 11.5 months after her birth - but I didn't
know about that at the time either!]

Then, one day, I was attending a La Leche League meeting and I was browsing through the
library they have when I noticed a book titled Your Fertility Signals - how to use them to achieve
or avoid pregnancy
. With great interest, I checked the book out and took it home and read it
immediately. Could this book be right? Could I achieve a 99% effective means of birth control
simply by learning to understand my body and interpret its signals - avoiding intercourse when I
was fertile? I have to say, I was pretty skeptical. So, being the person that I am, I went out
and got every book I could find on the subject. I wanted to see facts, figures, and scientific
evidence!!! And you know what? I found all of that [and more].

The more I learned, the more I was amazed. Why hadn't anyone ever told me about this
before? Why hadn't anyone ever even told me the BASICS of how my body worked? Not only
was it really awesome to be able to use Natural Family Planning to very effectively avoid
conception, but it was really cool to finally understand all the things my body does every month.
Wow! The female body is amazing - and I never even had any idea of how mine actually worked.

After doing much research, I mentioned this to my husband. He was a little skeptical at first too
- not so certain he wanted to trust our birth control method to "Natural Family Planning", which
sounded kind of like "Hoo Doo" to him too at first. But, seeing how excited I was, he did the
reading too. [Though not the copious amount that I did!] As he learned, he, too, became
excited and enthusiastic about using NFP. We decided to take a Natural Family Planning
Class together and to try this neat new method out.

We discovered that we could take NFP classes through the Couple to Couple League. They
have Instructors world wide, and happened to have a Teaching Couple in our area. We signed
up for a series of classes at a Church nearby. It was a series that consisted of 4 classes
spaced one month apart. It was really fascinating and it was also very effective in teaching us
the method. We've used NFP ever since with great success!

So, what the heck is NFP?

Natural Family Planning is actually a very simple concept - by understanding when a women is
fertile, couples can avoid pregnancy by simply not having intercourse during her fertile time.
[The Fertile time is usually between 7-12 days per cycle, depending on the woman's individual
cycle variations].

There are two different methods of NFP that are most commonly used:

The first is called the "Sympto-thermal Method". There are two signs that this method
commonly uses to determine the woman's fertile time: her cervical mucus [or you can think of it
as "cervical fluid" if you are queasy about the word mucus!] and her basal temperature. By
taking 5 or so minutes each morning to take her "waking temperature" and by making simple
observations of her cervical fluid each day [which takes about 2 seconds] and charting these two
signs [another 2 or 3 seconds!], a woman gains a VERY accurate and clear indication of when
she is actually fertile and when she is definitely not. Some women also use the position and
condition of the cervix to gain an even more accurate picture of their fertile times.

The second commonly used method is the Ovulation or Billings Ovulation Method. This is a
somewhat more simple method that doesn't require taking the waking temperature. This method
relies more heavily on the cervical mucus as the primary sign of fertility. However, it is slightly
less effective.

The hardest part about getting started with NFP is that you have to understand the basics of
how the female body works - which is really fascinating. It may seem a little confusing at first
to some, but it is, in reality, amazingly easy. Anyone can do NFP successfully once they
understand the rules - and ANYONE can understand the rules with a bit of reading and/or
classroom training. After about 3 cycles of practice, it will be so easy for you that it will be
second nature and you'll wonder why you ever fooled with trying to remember to take a Pill every
morning or some other bothersome form of artificial contraception!

OK. All of this sounds great, but is it REALLY effective? Honestly?

YES!!! There have been several scientific studies using the Sympto-thermal method of NFP
[using both temperatures and mucus] and all of them have proven a 99% or higher rate of
effectiveness. Mother Theresa taught this method to poor, uneducated Muslims and Hindus in
Calcutta with a 99% effectiveness rate, so you don't need a PhD to use NFP effectively!! It is
really quite simple once you understand the basics. The Billings Ovulation Method has been
proven to be 97-99% effective - a very high rate as well.

I feel 100% confident in NFP as my sole source of birth control. It is AS EFFECTIVE as the Pill
[more so according to some studies] with no side effects. The only methods that are more
effective than NFP are sterilization, castration, removal of the ovaries, or abstinence. And I'd
like to point out that even sterilization isn't 100% effective.

If you are interested in NFP, I strongly encourage you to do the research yourself - you will be
amazed by the proof!!

The Other Benefits of NFP:

We've used NFP exclusively since the birth of our daughter. It has worked amazingly well for
us. It has lived up to our expectations 100%. However, there have been some unexpected
[but GREAT!] side effects that I'd like to share with you as well.

One of the neatest side effects from using NFP is an improvement in our marriage. Let me
state up front that my husband and I have always had what we consider to be an excellent
relationship. We love each other deeply, but more than that, we respect and admire each other
profoundly - each of us is proud to be married to the other and each of us feels that we are the
"lucky" one to have such a great partner. When I started reading more about NFP I kept
coming across testimonials from people who use it who kept talking about how much it had
helped their marriage. I kind of poo-pooed that, thinking "our marriage is great, there's no way it
could get any better!". Well, I was wrong! It did bring us even closer together. I can't really
explain why, I think maybe its something that you have to experience to really understand. But
we found a joy in our new method of family planning and our already good communication got
even better.

My husband is my full partner in this method of birth control [unlike most other methods that
saddle the woman with 100% of the responsibility - and 100% of the "blame" if it fails - as well
as 100% of the bad side effects]. My husband takes my temperature each morning and
records it. He knows exactly what is going on in my cycle, as well as I do, and we both are
able to make decisions based on that knowledge. [Many NFP courses are most commonly
taught to couples and the male partner is strongly encouraged to participate in this manner].

There is a 50% divorce rate among married couples in the USA today. However, there
is only a 4% divorce rate among couples who use NFP
- it is almost unheard of for NFP
couples to divorce! That made no sense to me when I first read it in several sources, but now I
can absolutely understand how that happens. So, not only is NFP a wonderful, reliable, and
safe birth control method, it could also be really great for your marriage. How's that for a side
effect you can live with? :)

I hesitate to mention this because some folks might think I'm nuts, but I've talked to other NFP
couples and they have had very similar experiences. So, here it is: NFP improved our sex
life
. Again, I was perfectly happy with our sex life before we began using NFP - I was quite
content in my feeling that we had a GREAT sex life. In fact, I worried quite a bit in the
beginning about how that abstinence for a week or so each cycle would affect us. Would we
feel angry or frustrated or cheated? Believe it or not, that is FAR from what happened! You've
heard that old saying "Absence makes the heart grow fonder?" Well, it is absolutely true for
NFP. Even though it is only a week or so each cycle that we abstain, it really makes us
appreciate sex and each other so much more. We enjoy each other more and we've
recaptured that youthful enthusiasm for sex that had kind of slipped away [unnoticed by me!]
over the years. It is sort of like being on an extended Honeymoon. :)

Another thing I really like about NFP personally is that I have learned so much about my body
and how it works. NFP really helps you come to understand what is normal for your
body
, and as a result, it also can help you detect health problems much earlier than you would
otherwise because you recognize immediately if something is out of kilter. I really like that. I
feel tremendously empowered - I feel like I understand and control my own body now; as
opposed to being at the mercy of mysterious drugs and medical professionals. I know exactly
what is going on with me and I don't have to rely on anyone else to examine me and make a
guess. I can't even describe how empowering that is to me! I just love it!

There are some other obvious good things about NFP - like the fact that it is free [once you get
your training and your $7 thermometer, you're set for life!] and ecologically sound [no
chemicals or other manufactured wastes to pollute the environment or your body]. And, though
I've already made this point I think, I just adore the fact that it is absolutely free of physical
side effects
.

My husband and I like it so much that we've decided to donate our time to teach the classes for
free. We are in the process of getting certified through the Couple to Couple League so that we
can teach others about this amazing method!

We also tell everyone we can about NFP. Some folks think we are nuts and totally disregard
what we say without doing any research, but some folks listen to us and we are getting very
positive feedback from the people who've started using NFP because of us! [What a GREAT
feeling!].

So, is there anything else I should know about NFP?

I'd like to add one more great side effect to the list of wonderful things about NFP; even though
this side effect isn't related to birth control at all. That is the fact that it is much easier for
couples who understand NFP to achieve pregnancy when they decide that they are
ready to have a baby!
Once you understand NFP, you have a great understanding of how the
reproductive system works [for both women and men actually]. And this knowledge tells you
exactly when to time intercourse to have the best chance at getting pregnant.

I've read a multitude of testimonials from supposedly infertile couples who have achieved
success once they discovered NFP. [I also have two close personal friends who were
supposedly infertile and then got pregnant very quickly using NFP]. You may be aware of the
rise in infertility rates in this country. While there are many reasons for this, I can't help but
suspect that one reason is just the fact that we don't understand how our fertility works! And
our medical community in general doesn't bother to tell us how our bodies work - they'd rather
rack up millions selling us fertility drugs and treatments. [It is quicker and easier to give a
woman a pill or a shot than to take the time to educate her on how her body works - in this age
of HMOs and 3-second doctor visits, that's just a fact of life]. Some forms of artificial birth
control can also render a woman infertile in some cases as well [like the IUD which can cause
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and uterine scarring]. This is frustrating to me and I want women
[and men] to know the TRUTH about their bodies and their fertility!!

What can YOU do about it?

You can get the facts! Please don't take my word for any of this - do your own research and
enlighten yourself! I'll recommend several books you can read to start with. I also highly
encourage you to take a class if you can if you are interested in getting started with NFP for
yourself. Its sort of like breastfeeding in that it takes a little while to get it down pat, but once
you know what you're doing it's the easiest thing in the world [MUCH easier than making
bottles in the middle of the night or dealing with side effects from artificial birth control!].

And, if you do decide to use NFP after all of your research, do me one favor - tell all of your
friends about it! [Even the ones that think you are crazy; because you may at least get them
thinking about it and one day they might actually decide that they are sick of the side effects
from their contraceptives and they may actually open their minds long enough to get the facts!].
Just think how great you'll feel knowing you helped your friend find a safe, effective means of
birth control that actually improved her marriage and her life! :) Its worth it, let me tell you!

What should I read?

There are several great books that are a good starting place for someone newly interested in
NFP. [I'm sure there are other wonderful NFP books that I'm not mentioning, but these are the
four that were most helpful to me personally].

Natural Family Planning by the Couple to Couple League. This book is written for couples
who are using NFP for religious reasons [with a strong Christian perspective]. However, it is
definitely worth reading whether you are a religious person or not, because it teaches the
Sympto-Thermal Method in minute detail. It goes into great scientific and biological detail on
NFP and how and why it works. You can't beat all the data they have in this book on studies
and scientific evidence.

Your Fertility Signals by Merryl Winstein. This is a good book too, and, as I mentioned, the
first one I picked up. It is written for a broad audience and is very easy to comprehend. It is a
little less thorough on the scientific end than the other two, but very simple to understand. It
might be a good starting point just to get the general idea of exactly how the methods work.
[She covers both the Sympto-Thermal method - 99% effective - and the Ovulation or Billings
method - 97-99% effective].

Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley. If you are a nursing mother or a
soon-to-be nursing mother, this book will be invaluable to you. It is a wonderful explanation of
how you can use Breastfeeding to space your children very effectively, following specific
guidelines.

Who can I contact for more information?

The Couple to Couple League is the organization that I have personal experience with. The other
organizations listed below also teach and promote NFP, but I can't give you a personal
recommendation on how good they are. There are many other NFP organizations as well - this
is not an inclusive list, but it is a great starting point!

The Couple to Couple League
PO Box 111184
Cincinnati, Ohio 45211-1184
Phone: 513/661-7612

Billings Ovulation Method Association - USA
316 North 7th Avenue
St. Cloud, Minnesota 56303-3633
Phone: 888/637-6371

American Academy of Natural Family Planning
615 South Ballas Road
St. Louis, Missouri 63141-7018
Phone: 314/569-6495

Pope Paul VI Institute
6901 Mercy Road
Omaha, Nebraska 68106-2604
Phone: 402/390-6600

Family of the Americas Foundation
PO Box 1170
Dunkirk, Maryland 20754-1170
Phone: 800/443-3395

I hope my story and the Resources listed here will help you in your own life and relationship.
Do the research and educate yourself - I doubt you'll be sorry! You have nothing to lose and
much to gain - Good luck!