*Please understand that I am not passing judgement on anyone by posting this…not on the women who choose the pill or the doctors who prescribe it. I am not here to debate the proper use of medical necessity for artificial hormones (the pill or otherwise). I am not here to educate you on the pros and cons of artificial methods. I am simply sharing our journey and the effects of the path we’ve traveled.
If you’re expecting an entire discourse about the pros and cons, medically speaking, of the birth control pill, then look elsewhere. This isn’t that post. Nor am I going to write that post. I am not a doctor and there are so many brilliant medical minds out there, I fully implore you to find one of those brilliant minds with their research and read that.
What I am going to tell you is how NOT taking the pill has affected my marriage, my health and my life.
When Daxson and I first met, I was on the pill. I had been on it since I was a teen, as an effort to stop heavy, miserable, painful periods. And it worked. Beautifully. I had short, pain-free, light periods during my pill years. I never questioned it. My doctor told me that the pill was my option to fix my woes. Never did I ask for an alternative. Nor did I ever stop to take into consideration what altering my hormones just might be doing to my teenaged, hormonal body. I just went with the cultural flow.
Then I met Daxson. The questioner of all things given. And he asked why and with what effects and to what purpose and compared to which alternative (what? there was an alternative?!), as well as a host of other questions. In essence, he made me think. He expressed concern for my health. He encouraged me to think about it. So I did. And after some heavy thinking and research, (yep, I read all the same articles you have about the detrimental side effects, both long-term and short-term, of the pill) I decided to stop taking the pill. I imagined the worst. Terrible, painful periods. Hormonal shifts. Acne. Weight fluctuation. In actuality, nothing happened except a few blips in what was once a clockwork-like cycle. A longer cycle here. A shorter cycle there. Life went on. And I felt good about my choice.
Until Daxson and I became engaged. Then suddenly, family planning became a thought in my mind. What if we weren’t quite ready for a baby right away? Or what if we had a baby right away and then we didn’t want another one right away? Was I destined to have a million kids? I’d have to start the pill again. Yes, that had to be the answer. Or we’d have to use some other form of contraception. Yikes! This was serious stuff. I was thinking physical.
Meanwhile, Daxson was thinking about moral responsibilities. He was thinking of long-term consequences of choosing artificial hormones such as the pill. He had a hard time rationalizing why it was okay for him to tell me to put something in my body to prevent a natural fertility cycle. He began to question the priest about ethical and moral family planning. We didn’t receive a very sound theological explanation. We were basically told that while artificial means of contracepting were not morally acceptable, the only option offered to us was this vague thing called natural family planning. Without further explanation, we assumed that meant the old rhythm method. We felt a little lost. And everyone we knew was riding along the cultural wave of artificial contraception. That world was beginning to look mighty fine to us except Daxson was still concerned that the pill wasn’t a safe choice for my health. So we waited and hoped something would lead us to the right answer. But our options looked bleak. The old rhythm method (which were were fairly convinced might not work out well since my cycle length seemed to vary) or the host of artificial choices.
Then we were given the option to attend an Engaged Encounter. So we did. And there was a brief session on family planning, which was basically a few short remarks and then the host left a DVD on the counter about Natural Family Planning for anyone to watch who was interested. One other couple lingered behind with us and the four of us sat down to watch the video. It was fascinating. There was an entire method for planning families. Not the old rhythm method. A real, scientific method to plan a family…naturally, morally and 99% effective. I had never heard of this before. NEVER. And I’d been going church since I was a wee infant. Let me re-emphasize…I had NEVER heard of this. Ever. EVER.
I went to visit our local family planning office, where someone taught me to use the Billings Method. But my cycles were now beginning to return to their original state…erratic, sometimes heavy, and very painful. Unfortunately, my cervical mucus wasn’t giving me the confidence that I needed and we were quickly approaching our wedding night. I needed something I felt confident about if we were going to embark on this unconventional method of family planning. I was really ready to dismiss the Church’s teaching and hop back on that cultural train headed to artificial hormone-ville.
And then someone, somewhere, mentioned these beautiful words to me: Sympto-Thermal. Huh? What’s that, I wondered. But the words just sounded like a whisper of hope to my disheartened heart. It’s a method of family planning that is just as effective as the pill and it uses a cross-check of three fertility signs (almost like a back-up for the back-up!). It’s based on charting your cervical mucus, your cervix, and your basal body waking temperature. I knew no one who used the method, so I invested $20 in a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility and I read that book cover to cover, multiple times. And I charted. It was amazing. I began to see correlations between my health and my hormones and my cycle. I could actually see the effects that stress and food and other things had on my cycle. All scientifically charted out.
Then I met my dear friend, Ann. And she introduced me to a deeper world of Sympto-Thermal. She introduced me to the moral responsibilities we carry in marriage (there is always beauty and truth in the Church’s teaching, if we just search enough to find the root of the teaching) as well as the world of nutrition in relation to my cycle. Suddenly, I could see why some of my symptoms were there and I found some simple nutritional fixes for those (other issues weren’t so easily fixed but I have learned that there are ALWAYS options other than the quick-fix that most doctors are ready to prescribe). Ann and her husband, Steve, used to teach for Couple to Couple League (they now teach for NFPI), so we took a series of classes and we were amazed at how incredibly brilliant the entire thing was. Not only did they teach the how of NFP, they taught the why. And I realized, with incredible hindsight, how truly blessed our marriage was because we had chosen Natural Family Planning, instead of an artificial method. I discovered the beauty in the Church’s stand against artificial contraception and for more reasons than meets the eye. It’s like the ten commandments…it’s not meant to place a burden on us, it’s meant to give us freedom…freedom that can only come from accepting God’s goodness, love and mercy.
So now you’re still left wondering…just how has NOT taking the pill affected my marriage, my health and my life? Let’s start with my marriage. It’s apparent in little ways. Like the underlying presence of respect. Daxson respects my body and my fertility. Did you get that? He respects my fertility. Not just my body. Lots of men respect women’s bodies, but their fertility? Most just want the pregnancy issue to disappear so that a healthy sex life remains. But seeing as how my fertility is what makes me a woman, it’s a pretty vital component to my core. A component that I don’t want to hide from nor do I want to feel like it’s anything less than the miracle it truly is. Never once did Daxson try to bury that part of who I am beneath artificial hormones. Instead we follow the rhythm of fertility, abstaining during times of fertility when we aren’t ready to conceive. Also, Daxson argued that if he didn’t want to put an artificial hormone in his body, why should I put one in mine? Considering that all of the 99% effective methods of artificial contraception use hormones (aside from vasectomy and tubal ligation, which would seriously hinder our family making ability!), that seems like a valid argument in and of itself. Also, in times of avoidance, it’s made us appreciate each other in different ways (yep, gentlemen, sex isn’t the only way to show your lady you love her). Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder…oh, wait, that’s supposed to be absence…well abstinence works just fine there, too. And of course, it’s made making babies a whole lot of fun.
As for my health? As already mentioned, charting has made some health issues clear. Charting has helped in various ways throughout the years. It helped us avoid while we tried to figure out the whole “we’re married, now how in the world do we live together?” time of our marriage. It was so simple to decide to conceive…no going off hormones, just a quick flip of the rules. It helped in the ambiguous time after I miscarried. It’s helped make the transition to being fertile while nursing. It’s helped us conceive. It’s helped us avoid. It’s given us peace of mind in ways that I think I take for granted…no worries about what I’m putting into my body, no worries about accidentally forgetting a pill. Recently, I battled with a lot of anxiety and panic related issues. My family doctor strongly encouraged me to take an anti-depressant. I firmly refused and showed him my chart and the clear correlation between my hormones and my anxiety. He suggested the pill as a choice and I chose to wait it out to see if maybe once I stopped nursing as often, perhaps things would settle down. But at least I know when to expect the anxiety and that helps me deal with it. I have confidence in where I am in my cycle and what that means for my fertility.
And as for my life? I have four amazing, PLANNED children. I have a husband that respects and loves me. I have my dignity. I am defined by my femininity and my fertility. In my little corner of the world, where my vocation is being a wife and a mother, it doesn’t get any better than that.