Sex is a party and my hormones ARE invited
“Planning your family naturally. It sounds nice, but unrealistic right? Aren’t there easier options out there?” These thoughts have gone through my head time and time again, and honestly, sometimes they still do. Why bother? My husband and I started using natural family planning out of respect for my body and what sex was. Here are the challenges we faced and why, today, I can say it was all worth it.
When we really felt the need for planning
After college I got married and because we wanted kids right away, I wasn’t concerned with learning any particular method of birth control. Not surprisingly, daughter number one was born a month after our first wedding anniversary. I was in love with my new life: wife and mom. Since I was exclusively breastfeeding on demand, I figured I had at least six months to figure out a birth control plan. And after all, this baby was so precious and I wanted more kids anyway.
But by the time my daughter was 4 1/2 months, the “baby high” had totally worn off. Reality was hitting us hard. This parenting thing was no joke. We were starting to understand the appeal of spacing kids, and decided one night that it was time to learn a method of doing so. The very next morning I found out I was pregnant.
By the end of my second pregnancy, I was so done. Pregnancy was not the blissful experience I expected, especially not with an infant. I know some people love being pregnant. I am not one of those people. My pre-mom-self agreed to natural family planning because it was a way to naturally plan our family, while still keeping options for babies open. Now, mom-of-two-babies-me was much less “open” to the idea. I did NOT want to get pregnant. My husband and I were scared; we obviously didn’t get the breastfeeding freebie year like others we had heard of.
Why we chose a natural way
As a teen, I heard a little bit about natural family planning and as I got older I picked up on some details about how it works from family members. In college, I took an embryology class where we learned about a woman’s menstrual cycle in more detail than I thought possible.
I had strong objections to hormonal birth control methods like the pill, particularly the back-up abortifacient effect, but also because I didn’t like the idea of tricking my body with artificial hormones. My husband would have been okay with other methods of contraception, like condoms, which keep the sperm from meeting the egg all together, and honestly, I considered this as a temporary solution, but while I was in college I heard a silly analogy that I couldn’t get out of my head.
It was basically that using contraceptives would be like someone planning a party for you and then you not inviting them. Our body, including our hormones, is the party planner and sex is the party. The body is designed so that the party will deepen the bond between a couple and possibly create life. But when we change our body and highjack our hormones in order to avoid creating life at any cost, we actively and intentionally altering the biology of sex. Ultimately, we decided we would not be the ones saying, “We’re grateful for this great party, but we are going to go ahead and do it our way…our natural body’s way is inconvenient and no good.”
My fertility does not need to be fixed, it needs to be understood.
Learning a method and initial challenges
I researched different natural methods while in my third trimester. We concluded that the Creighton Model was the most scientific and effective. The first problem we encountered was finding someone near us to teach it. In fact, we had a hard time finding a teacher for any natural method.
Finally, we came across someone who would send us the materials and teach us via Skype. We paid about $200, but were pleasantly surprised with the amount of information, details (okay some were pretty gross…there were lots of pictures) and science behind this method. [Note: this particular method notes specific changes in cervical mucus. Sorry I said mucus. If you think of it as your body clearly signaling to you, and you approach it like a scientist, it becomes less gross.] The Skype sessions were hard because we had two babies fighting for our attention, but we managed, we learned, we started charting. Things seemed to be going well.
The learning phase required more abstinence than we expected, but we were more than willing to do what was recommended, especially in the beginning when we weren’t confident in our interpretation of the signs. The hardest part was getting into a routine. Once we got in the swing of things, it became easier, almost second nature.
During the time we were working with an instructor my cycle never came back after childbirth. I charted for months and months with no significant changes. We actually canceled sessions with her because there was nothing to discuss. Although we had been taught what to look for, I was showing no signs of ovulation; we were just abstaining anytime I noted a change.
I was breastfeeding two babies and my hormones were all off kilter, so when in doubt, we abstained. I actually didn’t mind. Like I said, I had two breastfeeding babies and at the end of the day, that was enough people touching my body for me, thanks. Still, we were hoping my cycle would return because even though I would be fertile again, we would be able to start recognizing a pattern on the chart.
When it all comes together
About 10 months after our second child was born, I started having regular cycles again (this time around I did get the nearly year-long freebie . . . figures). I was able to accurately predict the beginning of the first period, within a few days. We reviewed what we had learned and were optimistic.
We successfully charted for another six months, but I found I was starting to care less and less about accuracy. The idea of another baby actually made me smile. Three months later I was pregnant, but miscarried. Three months after that I was pregnant again, and our third daughter was born in March of this year.
While breastfeeding and not having a local instructor created a challenge, one of our more frustrating challenges was trying to explain to friends and/or medical professionals what the heck we were doing. I had two babies super close together, so when people heard I use a fertility awareness method, they assumed it had failed, and that it will fail again (not true! It worked exactly when we wanted it to!).
The average person tends to equate natural methods with the old rhythm method, which is outdated and based only on dates, not observations and signs. Friends and peers think, “Why? That sounds like too much work.” From my doctors, I typically get one of two looks: the sympathy look “How sad; she is so naïve,” or the “You’re not thinking clearly ” look. Well, that may be true sometimes. But naive? No, I’m pretty sure I know more about my cycle than you do, Doc. I promise I’m good.
Finding the purpose in natural family planning
Those 16 months that we were charting were not easy. Sometimes we abstained when we didn’t want to. Sometimes we had to take advantage of a moment even though I wasn’t really feeling it. Sometimes we could be spontaneous, sometimes we couldn’t.
But these 16 months were also a great joy for us. A new partnership within our relationship emerged. I made the observations, he put the stickers on the chart. It also initiated more conversations about our sex life; important conversations. Even when we were abstaining, we were bonding. We were growing together. When I was weak, he was strong, and vice versa.
One of my favorite parts was the shared responsibility. If I got pregnant it wasn’t because I messed up with my pill, or he put the condom on wrong, etc… We both knew what the chart said and what it meant, we both knew what the probability of getting pregnant was on any particular day, and if we wanted to throw the chart out the window and risk it, that was on both of us. If we didn’t want to chance it, we knew we weren’t just denying one another. We were in this together. It wasn’t just about me or my body as I had previously thought, it was about our united sexuality and fertility.
Another way might have been easier, but nothing else would be as fulfilling.
My youngest is now 4 months old, and charting has begun.