A woman’s fertility is a sacred thing- something about the ability to create and grow another human being makes us feel empowered, and is often viewed as the height of femininity. But many women often end up facing struggles with their own fertility, making them feel like less of a woman, though in actuality it does not mean any such thing. It can be devastating, regardless. There are many reasons why a woman might not be able to conceive. Sometimes it is the husband, but often it is an underlying health problem within the woman’s own body.
In 1978, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was introduced in Europe as the newest way of achieving pregnancy, reaching the US by 1981, and since then has grown to be a popular form of achieving pregnancy for infertile couples. The problem with IVF is that it bypasses any searching out of underlying causes. Up until 1978, much of the science related to fertility care was directed at researching and addressing underlying causes that correlated to infertility. But IVF created a shift in the focus of infertility and the approach that was once based on diagnosis and treatment became one based on the quickest possible fix.
Because IVF is such a popular choice in the world of infertility, it can be a daunting experience when a woman finds herself desiring a different route. My sister, Kate, is one such person. With the loss of one baby and one ovary, and with one successful natural pregnancy, problems with endometriosis and several surgeries under her belt, she faced a long six years of infertility after her son was born. Faced with the disappointment month after month, year after year of not becoming pregnant as she desperately wanted to, she began to doubt she would ever have another child. Unaware of the specific reasons behind her inability to become pregnant, she and her husband became hopeless. More than wanting to achieve pregnancy, they wanted to know the cause of her inability to do so, but found their options in finding a doctor with an open mind to be few.
Like Kate, many women- when approaching the fragile topic of infertility with their doctors- are often met with indifference to their emotional struggle and are made to feel as though they are just another number; another consumer paying money for a product. The fact that IVF is so popular plays a huge factor in the confusion and lack of understanding on the part of the doctor when a woman does not want to choose that route. But women have good reason to feel insecure with the process of IVF as it has many pitfalls to it. Not only does it not address underlying health issues that could be the cause of their infertility, it also presents many risks to the woman, it’s very costly (average cost per cycle is around $12,000 or more), the success rate is mostly less than 40%, it does not respect the marital relationship nor does it respect the life of the baby or babies produced when doctors join the eggs and sperm in a laboratory. Added to all of that, many couples admit to a decrease in the quality of both their sex life and their relationship when choosing IVF as an option to conceive.
Many couples are completely unaware of a fast-growing technology for achieving pregnancy called NaPro Technology. This innovative technology is an approach to fertility that adheres to the guidelines provided by a woman’s natural cycles. The Creighton Model of fertility care is the foundation for this approach, monitoring the bio-markers which showcase hormonal changes in a woman’s cycle. Coupled with natural supplements, and sometimes laparoscopic surgery, NaPro Technology has a very high success rate when used to achieve pregnancy. Because NaPro is a fertility-care based approach and not just a fertility-control approach, many women who achieve pregnancy through this method may find it to be less stressful, more inclusive and a better option overall in catering to the needs of their entire person- mind, body and soul.
The Science behind NaPro has been developing since the Creighton Model was first being studied, over 30 years ago. Because a woman’s body has specific tendencies and symptoms at each stage of her cycle which can be monitored by following this model, it is often easy to detect and diagnose an underlying problem by noticing a variance in the patterns of these symptoms. If nothing seems out of the ordinary, there are several other steps to take to help a woman determine the cause of her infertility. Kate, whom I mentioned above, spent an entire summer learning how to read her body’s signs and symptoms based on Creighton, and began recording her findings on charts. Her doctor read her charts and was able to determine that her body was actually doing what it should, suggesting they next test the actual levels of her hormones. Kate, filled with anxiety and still not pregnant, wanted to find out if her hormonal levels were the culprit so she went every other day to get blood drawn. When test results came back “normal” again and as she discussed pain and other symptoms she was experiencing in each cycle, her doctor suggested surgery as the next step, offering that many women became pregnant within six months of surgery.
Kate underwent surgery, finding out afterward that not only did she have endometriosis and scar tissue but that her tubes had blockages in them. Early one morning about two months later, Kate woke up and took a pregnancy test. She had taken them many, many times before over the previous six years. This one, however, did not read negative as all the others had. This one was different. Over the next few days, several more tests including a blood test reconfirmed what those double lines told her that morning, and Kate was thrilled to announce to our family that she was finally expecting! Thanks to the attention to her whole body through her doctors and NaPro Technology, she achieved her heart’s desire to have another baby.
It remains to be said that not all women will achieve pregnancy through NaPro, or any other means of aid. I’d like to reiterate that this is NOT to say that any woman who cannot conceive is any less of a woman. A woman is not just a woman because of the abilities of her reproductive parts, and not all women are called to be mothers to their own biological children. It is the innate care and nurturing with which women are created that define their femininity. The very idea that we wish to conceive a child, nurturing one throughout every moment of their existence, is just a small aspect of that. If you are struggling with infertility or know someone who is, I recommend researching NaPro as an option. You may just find the answers you are looking for.
To read the story of Kate’s infertility journey, click here.
I think it’s fair to say that this culture has issues when it comes to women’s bodies. For example, babies who are breastfed have lower risk of allergies, diarrhea, constipation, ear infections, upper respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, reflux, obesity, asthma, SIDS, multiple sclerosis, leukemia, and heart disease. The reaction that lots of people still have when seeing a woman breastfeeding? Treat her like she’s doing something shameful and give her the stink eye or ask her to go do that somewhere else. The soft porn that exists in every checkout line in every store, however, is a familiar constant. Of course there is the impossible standard of beauty that women are held to that no one can actually live up to as most every printed image of women is photo-manipulated. There’s the jokes and shame surrounding menstruation, and the overall disdain of the rather phenomenal ability that women possess to give life to another human person. I mean, when male doctors do this in the lab (albeit while costing thousands and thousands of dollars, and with the problematic discarding of large numbers of fertilized embryos and selective reductions) they get the Nobel Prize. When women’s bodies do it naturally and for free, we are treated as a liability and pressured by our doctors to disable this ability with contraceptives. Don’t get me started on the pressure women feel to “get their body back in shape” after they just went through something as epic and powerful as childbirth.
As a result, I think it’s likely that most women don’t experience awe in regards to their bodies. They self-objectify, seeing a collection of parts rather than a valuable person, or thinking they’re only worth something if they look like a supermodel. I worry about the ramifications to women’s spirits as well. I recently wrote about the relational cycle of women. I won’t repeat the whole thing here, but just to summarize, when women are menstruating, they have less energy and naturally feel more withdrawn and reflective. It is a good time for rest and reflection. After menstruation ends, their energy levels rise and their interest in being more social returns. This is a good time for proposing and planning. When a woman enters her fertile days, she is bursting with creative energy and is naturally nurturing, selfless, and giving. A few days before her menstruation begins again, women feel a desire to pull inward again. Their spirits are more vulnerable and people ought to respect her sensitivity.
So in this culture where ovulation is seen as a liability, and in which millions of women who don’t want to get pregnant choose to take drugs to inhibit ovulation, it gets me thinking. By robbing women of our natural cycles, I wonder what else are we being robbed of? If women take drugs to eradicate our cycles, we also don’t get the benefit of our whole relational cycle. When women are fertile, this is when they feel the most alive and energetic. When I’m in my fertile phase, six hours maximum is enough sleep for me. I’m ready to get out of bed and seize the day, even though I’m not known to be a morning person and I still nurse my baby during the night. Women in their fertile phase naturally feel very selfless, nurturing, and giving. They feel alive and creative. This is often when I do my best writing. This is also the time when a woman’s husband will be the most attracted to her. Multiple studies have shown that men find ovulating women more attractive. I personally have found that when my husband and I are avoiding pregnancy, if we can’t come together physically during my fertile phase, it seems we come together emotionally. Often our best conversations, the moments of our greatest relational intimacy coincides with my fertile time. Do women not want their creativity to be at its peak? Do men not want a partner that’s selfless, nurturing, and giving? Do women themselves not want to feel this way? Do women not want to feel more attractive? Do couples not want this strong emotional connection with one another? For although they may not realize it, they handicap all these things when they willingly choose to not ovulate.
Second-wave feminists fight for access to abortion and contraception so that we can be free from our femininity, seeing our bodies as an unfair burden from which modern science can help us escape. I think though, that if one is actually disdainful of what is feminine, that can’t be considered authentic feminism. This is why I celebrate the dawn of New Feminism, a feminism that upholds and honors the beauty and power of women. New Feminism recognizes that if discrimination exists in the culture on account of women’s bodies, it is not women’s bodies that need to change, but the discriminatory culture. I think it’s time to hold our heads high because let’s face it, women are extraordinary, just the way we are.
The topic of Natural Family Planning is a complex one that is as unique as the couples who choose to use it. For some it’s very simple, straightforward, and easy. For others it’s a challenge, needing detailed counseling from a trained professional. Regardless, we support and value those who put the time in to educate and care for one another in the NFP world. Not only is it an option for tending to ones family size while upholding the value and dignity of each and every human life but it can be an immensely valuable tool in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of medical conditions. This includes users of all types and needs ranging from the single woman with painful, irregular cycles, to the couple struggling with infertility and/or loss.
If you’ve ever been curious about Natural Family Planning, Fertility Awareness, Natural Birth Control etc, there is an upcoming event we hope you’ll check out.
On April 17th at 7pm CST Love Naturally NFP (@learnnfponline), IuseNFP (@iusenfp) and Living The Sacrament (@lvgthesacrament) will team up to answer questions and chat about all things NFP. Join in this twitter conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #nfpFAQ
This is also a great opportunity to share with your friends about NFP!
Participants will range from the just curious to our seasoned pros! Are you skeptical of NFP? Confused about the different methods? Lovin’ every minute and wanting to share the good news? All are welcome!
If you have never participated in a twitter party before here’s a little “how to” for you!
And if you are not a twitter savvy individual, don’t despair! Post your questions in the combox below! We’ll share your comments or questions with the panel and report back!
Last year the following NFP doctor “how to” was published by our friend Jess over at NFPworksblog. Since then I have received numerous requests on our NFP forum from young women needing further assistance finding a doctor in their area. As a result our tips have been updated! If you are searching for an NFP doctor or know someone who is we hope the following can be of use! – Kristin, Foundress of Living The Sacrament- NFP forum
One of the most common issues NFP users face is finding a doctor who “gets it”. In fact most women don’t even expect that. When it comes down to it we really just desire a doctor who will respect our decision to use NFP when postponing a pregnancy rather than whatever artificial pill, patch, or barrier samples were left behind by the last pharmaceutical rep. to enter the building. This is no tall order. This should be easy but often is not.
If you are struggling to find an NFP friendly doctor don’t lose hope! Try the following and with any luck you will find some great options in your area! Generally speaking as you are going down the list, the fewer steps it takes you to find a doctor, the more likely they will be not only NFP friendly, but possibly even trained in a specialty such as NaProTechnology.
- Creighton Fertility Care: Check out the Fertility Care Website and use the left hand index to “Find a Medical Consultant” (if looking specifically for a NaPro Doctor please e-mail fcco[at]popepaulvi.com for the most up-to-date information on your area.)
- One More Soul’s NFP Directory: Run a search for your area (Helpful, but not always 100% upt to date. No luck? See#3)
Contact your closest Catholic NFP Diocesan Coordinator. Let them know you are looking for an NFP friendly doctor in the area.
Seek out and call your local NFP instructors! More than likely they go to the doctor from time to time so see who they use!
Search for a Pro-Life OB/GYNS (AAPLOG) . While not all physicians identified as Pro-Life are NFP friendly, many are.
Consider calling a few of the local Midwives if you have any in your area. Though not all are supportive of NFP, many are, and might know of a doctor in your area who is as well!
I am sorry we haven’t been posting here in response to the chaos and insanity taking place all around us with the HHS Birth Control Mandate. It has been a month of trying to catch our breath and figure out what exactly many women’s groups are asking and demanding the American people support in the name of our health. First there was the Susan G. Koman/Planned Parenthood fiasco to dominate the women’s health headlines, and now this mandate that says all women must have access to free birth control or…..or what?……well, we’re not exactly sure.
We’ve honestly been scratching our heads and trying to figure out if they really are saying that without free birth control our society will fall apart? Well, yes. That does seem to be exactly what they are saying. And in not so public ways, they are also saying that women must in fact be pretty ignorant and undisciplined and that without certain organizations helping them, we would all end up with 17 children, barefoot and pregnant, and, gasp!, “wasting” our intellect and potential on raising the next generation.
There are so many blantantly false assumptions about women’s abilities and our strengths being thrown around in the media right now. I am actually afraid for our adolescent and teenage girls to watch anything on tv or hear anything in a health class about their supposed weakness of fertility. I just cannot accept that our daughters might be hearing this toxic nonsense about women’s abilities and coming to believe these things about themselves.
The “I have a say” campaign initiated by Planned Parenthood attempts to say that women are not being heard and that all women know and agree that “birth control is basic healthcare”. Well, I agree with Cecile Richards that not all women are being heard. But who is really not being heard in our media? Those of us who can see the negative side-effects of birth control and who refuse to accept the lie that we are incapable of understanding and managing our fertility naturally.
We are beautifully and wonderfully made. Our bodies are capable of conceiving, gestating, and nourishing other human beings. This is amazing! There is nothing wrong with us the way we naturally are! What is wrong is a society that refuses to see these parts of us as the gifts they are to humanity. It is very wrong to tell women that we are foolish to not expose ourselves to artificial hormones and suppress the abilities of our bodies. IT IS WRONG for groups like Planned Parenthood to further their own business agenda by belittling our intellect and claiming to speak on our behalf. They DO NOT speak for me.
In the coming days we want to represent the voices of women who choose knowledge of their fertility over suppression. We want to give a voice to those of you who appreciate your natural gift of fertility. We want to teach the world about New Feminists and show them that the days of conforming women to meet societal standards are over. It is time the world recognizes our abilities and honors us for our strengths.
Please feel free to comment here about the true needs of women, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll include your comments in an upcoming post.
A little while ago I was talking with a woman who teaches sex education in a public high school. Intrigued by what was being taught in teenage health classes and being a strong supporter of New Feminism, I asked if they spent much time teaching about the natural signs of female fertility and how to understand true women’s health. She quickly and rather sharply responded that yes, they DO spend time on this and that they actually give all the students, male and female, bracelets that help them understand and remember a typical woman’s menstrual cycle.
My initial response was “That’s great! I’m so glad they’re including this information for our youth at such an early age. That knowledge will really help them out later when they are trying to avoid or achieve pregnancy.” After all, knowing what a menstrual cycle typically looks like is great information for young people just learning about the natural rhythms and functions of the body, right?
I didn’t really think too much more about it at the time and it slipped from my memory. Until this last week when I was going through an old storage closet full of education materials at a health office I am interning at. I came across a box of “sex education” materials with a large Planned Parenthood sticker on the top. I presume that it has been used in outreach and education to teens as the graphics were very youth oriented. My curiosity goaded me to take a peek and see what passed as “education” on the very special act of sexual intimacy.
I saw the expected variety of condoms, but was honestly thrown a little aback by the emergency pregnancy tests, diaphragms, IUDs, patches, and spermicides. I was a little dismayed, but not really all that surprised that these things were being passed around health classes for teens to handle and become accustomed to. Instead of explaining that these items were all unneccessary adjuncts to a natural process, and that with a little self-control and communication these items can be completely obsolete, these things are now passed around as the “essentials” of sex education. These items that were outlawed less than a hundred years ago in our nation are now treated so casually and as a fundamental part of every teens sex education. But the biggest shock was yet to come…..
There at the bottom of the box was a brightly colored little ring of beads. At first is almost looked like a rosary. Perplexed, I picked it up and was shocked to see that it was a ring of CycleBeads. For those of you who have never heard of CycleBeads, they are a simple bracelet of colored beads meant to imitate the average menstrual cycle of a very regular woman. I had previously heard of them being used in third world countries to teach women about their bodies and used as a way to help them avoid pregnancy. These are the very beads that I now suspect the above mentioned health teacher was referring to when she proudly stated that YES, they were indeed teaching young women about the naturally occurring signs of their fertility. But here is where the problem with CycleBeads comes in.
As an educational tool to physically display the average menstrual cycle, I think CycleBeads can be helpful. But as a way to teach young women about their bodies’ naturally occurring signs of fertility, they are useless. As a method of family planning, they are really nothing more than the old Rhythm Method from the 1950s. Try as they may to dispute this fact, there is really no difference in how a woman is supposed to use these beads to avoid a pregnancy. Their purported success is based solely on a calculation of “standard days” of fertility, based on the belief that 80% of women have “standard cycles” of 28-32 days. They have named their method of family planning, The Standard Days Method. I had not realized prior to looking at their website that theyactually claim to be a method of family planning, or rather “natural birth control”, which should be a red flag for anyone promoting the counter approach of Natural Family Planning. There is a huge difference in ideology between ”natural birth control” and “Natural Family Planning”, but I digress. (I’ll save that for another post.)
The CycleBeads website says that using the beads is 95% effective for women who meet the criteria, but I am highly suspicious of these statistics and would like to see the actual studies asserting these findings. I am suspicious for many reasons but the primary reason being that this very elementary method does not take into account any variability in a woman’s cycle. Most of us know that a stressful month or an illness can throw off our fertility by several days. Sometimes for more than two or three weeks. CycleBeads as a method of family planning does not, and cannot take these fluctuations into account. It does not even try to track the naturally occurring signs of fertility. Without further knowledge of cervical mucus patterns, or temperature shifts, or softening of the cervix, a woman using CycleBeads is going to be completely at the mercy of the calendar and chance in whether or not she becomes pregnant. There is absolutely no actual education for women about how their body is working, except that it SHOULD follow this arbitrary schedule of beads that has been given to them with assurance of accuracy. Women are not taught to understand and respect the fluctuations of their individual bodies, but rather that they should fit into a norm established by researchers.
What in the world was Planned Parenthood doing giving out CycleBeads to teens? Why was this educational tool included in a box of contraceptives? Was it being touted as another method of birth control? Were teens being taught that this is what Natural Family Planning is all about? After looking on the Planned Parenthood website, I was shocked to find the beads actually for sale on their site as an alternative method of birth control. I was equally as shocked to see a recent addition to the CycleBeads page selling Planned Parenthood’s exclusive brand of Proper Atire condoms. There is a partnership between CycleBeads and Planned Parenthood that has nothing to do with actual sex education, rather the support of a business plan reaping its benefits from our ignorance.
CycleBeads were not being used for education, but for birth control. Why would Planned Parenthood choose THIS method of natural birth control and not a method that encourages women to look at their own bodies’ signs of fertility? Why not promote Creighton, or Billings, or Sympto-Thermal family planning methods? Methods with sound scientific research and very high rates of success? Why not choose a method that empowers women and teaches them to trust and honor and know their bodies?
I have my own theory about this and it has little to do with raising up a generation of young empowered women.
I suspect that Planned Parenthood has chosen to include the least effective and certainly least supported method of “natural birth control”, because it ends up causing many young women to fail in their attempt to use it, thus making them dependent upon the “solutions” offered at their clinics (Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in our country). Cyclebeads as a method of family planning will lead a young woman to believe that there must be something wrong with her body when she accidentally becomes pregnant while perfectly using this method. And that WILL happen the first time she experiences an exceptionally stressful or unusual month. She will never again trust that her body will not betray her and will choose a much more drastic method of family planning and take on the associated risks of that method. She will never know that there are methods of natural family planning that are just as effective as the contraceptives and pills she is using, but without any of the risks, because she has written off the possibility of natural methods working. I suspect that Planned Parenthood knows this.
I suspect that they chose the only method they could find that had some endorsement from religious groups so that the young woman raised in a faith-filled home would not shy away from THIS method of birth control. They found a “natural” method so that they could stand up to the criticisms of outside groups saying they were not providing alternatives to contraceptives. They found a method that is very simple and can be used all around the world, in countries traditionally opposed to contraception and abortion so that women, who evidentally are not smart enough to be taught real Natural Family Planning, would come in their doors for their CycleBeads. Planned Parenthood, in partnership with Cyclebeads is NOT the educational tool that I first applauded at my local high school. It is a continuation of the same old approach to women’s health and our fertility; we are not being given all the information that is available because we simply must not be able to know our crazy, broken bodies. Planned Parenthood doesn’t think women are capable of managing their fertility.
I had mistakenly thought that CycleBeads could be a good thing to give to our youth to help them learn about fertility and develop respect for women’s bodies. But given without the rest of the available statistics and facts about women’s fertility, they are simply setting up our youth for failure and dependence on groups like Planned Parenthood to get them out of their reproductive “messes”.
Why else would Planned Parenthood promote CycleBeads in the “sex education” curriculums of our high schools?