One More Reason FABMs are Different From (And So Much Better Than) Birth Control
When I first got into charting my cycles with Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FABM), I considered it a (fabulous and exciting) alternative to my birth-control pill. I may have even referred to charting as hormone-free birth control. Eight years later, I now cringe at that saying.
I’ll admit, phrases like natural birth control do get the point across of how effective Fertility Awareness-Based Methods are for avoiding pregnancy (even more effective than the Pill, in fact!), and for those just entering the world of cycle charting, it explains a lot. But the more I chart, the more I teach, and the more I write, I’m starting to think of Natural Family Planning (NFP) as being in a league of its own.
The more I chart, and the more I teach, the more I think of charting and “birth control” as apples and oranges. For example, with a Pill, condom, or IUD, a device or drug is preventing pregnancy while intercourse still occurs. But with charting, it is intercourse itself (and its timing) that determines whether or not pregnancy will occur.
I now believe Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness-Based Methods shouldn’t be lumped together along with the Pill, the IUD, and other pharmaceutical options. Natural Family Planning is a lifestyle—a completely different approach to planning your family. The outcome of a couple using NFP and a couple using other methods could be the same (pregnancy prevention and planning), but the means are entirely different.
Consider how all the other methods work. The Pill’s primary assignment* is to prevent an egg from being released in the first place. The IUD creates an inhospitable environment in the uterus for sperm. A barrier method prevents sperm from entering the vaginal canal altogether. But generally with all of these forms of contraception, intercourse still occurs regardless of what is going on in the body.
With Natural Family Planning,** it is intercourse itself, and its timing, that determines the outcome of pregnancy in a cycle. It puts in the hands of the couple a great responsibility. Cycle after cycle, couples must make a decision about what to do with their fertile window. The default is fertility, since every cycle, there is a natural window of fertility. If one chooses to vary from the default, it would be to avoid pregnancy. A couple’s decision to have intercourse, or not, is based on the fertile signs of that given day and their own family-planning wishes.
On the contrary, when a woman or couple is using pharmaceutical contraception or a barrier method, the default is avoiding pregnancy and the choice they have to make is whether to accept fertility (whenever they decide to stop taking the Pill, remove the IUD, or stop using the barrier method, and so on).
The Value of Intentionality
When a couple decides to use NFP, they decide to work in conjunction with their body’s natural function. Not only is there a learning curve to learn a method, there is the piece that a couple must decide day to day, week to week, what their family-planning wishes are. Family planning goals can be complicated; one partner might want a baby, but have health problems. Another might want it, but have past traumas from previous pregnancies. Another might not want a pregnancy, but feel pressure from a biological clock. In short, it’s complicated. And any couple charting their cycles becomes intimately aware of these nuances.
But this is a good thing.
Natural Family Planning forces couples to confront these critical life choices head-on; to discuss their fears and their hopes; to connect on a deeper level with themselves and their partners. I have found Natural Family Planning a completely enriching way to approach intimacy, procreation, and communication in my marriage. I see it working wonders in other couples, too.
I believe this is because NFP forces couples to be more intentional in their actions, and less passive. NFP is anything but set it and forget it. Every cycle, a woman has to decide what weighs more, the biological hunger for intimacy (thanks estrogen), or the desire to avoid pregnancy.
In the process, partners must confront the power of a woman’s body, and of their union, to create life. And what that means.
Now when I’m teaching about cycle charting and Natural Family Planning, I have shifted my language to be crystal clear, that NFP is a lifestyle, allowing us to plan our family. It isn’t quite the same thing as a form of contraception, even if it rivals the typical effectiveness rates of pharmaceuticals for avoiding pregnancy. We are choosing to accept fertility as a default and natural reality of being a woman in a sexual relationship—and the responsibility that comes along with that.
*The Pill has other hormonal mechanisms to prevent pregnancy, should an egg be released, but its main mechanism is suppressing ovulation.
**I always make a note that when couples use a barrier or alternative method during the fertile window, the efficacy is only as effective as the barrier or alternative method itself. The FABM effectiveness rates no longer apply if you vary from the method guidelines.