Month: March 2014

Stay humble, be merciful, and keep family first.

The other day my husband told me that we’re “at that stage in our lives where every decision we make is the biggest decision we’ve ever made.” In our early/mid-twenties, newly married, with a home, changing families and friends, and fresh careers, he’s definitely right.

At the moment, we’re in a pretty stable place. But that could change quickly because, as young adults, we just never know what might come up. He’s waiting for the next step in his career to become available, and I’m settling into new and changing opportunities in my job. We’re trying to maintain friendships that are evolving as our lives are diverted, maintain close family ties while our traditions must change, prepare for the fact that our own little bundles are probably on the not-too-distant horizon, and doing what we can to start our married life the right way.

It still takes just a little perspective to make prioritize everything as they deserve to be.

My grandfather-in-law suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s for almost a decade. His wife met his every need unfailingly. When he lost the ability to hold a conversation, she never stopped telling him how much she loved him. When he lost the ability to speak at all, she spoke for him. When he couldn’t care for himself anymore, she barely blinked. She became not just his wife, but his nurse, his caregiver, and his lifeline. And she didn’t once complain.

Recently, his health took a serious turn for the worse. Bedridden, unable to eat, drink, or move, he was surrounded by his family within days. All three of their children—from opposite corners of the country—rushed to his side. My grandmother-in-law held his hand and kept him comfortable and told him stories.

He’d been suffering a long time. We all knew he was ready to go Home. And though the last five years, at least, had been far more work than she’d ever expected in her marriage, his wife still wept to see him on his way out. She still ached to keep him with her longer—to stay at his bedside.

As she told him stories, she laughed about the hard times they’d had as a young couple. She joked about the time she fled to her mother’s after an argument, convinced she couldn’t forgive him. The rest of us thought that sounded pretty serious, but she couldn’t even remember what the fight had been about. She giggled over the antics that had once driven her crazy. And in the quiet moments, when the somber mood overtook her, she explained how she could barely remember the bad times.

“They just don’t matter,” she said. “All I know now is how good it was.”

Half asleep and painfully exhausted, she alternated between staying by his side and fluttering around the house caring for her children and grandchildren. She rarely stopped smiling. And though you could see the hurt in her teary eyes, she told him it was okay to sleep. To rest. To go to Him. He did and, though she misses him dearly, she’s doing her very best to cope and know that he’s in a better place, waiting for her.

That’s what marriage is about: sharing the burden of strength in life’s darkest moments. Knowing your place as a servant to your spouse—no more and no less.

So, in the long run, career adjustments don’t mean much, do they? Neither do day-to-day arguments, annoying routines, or undone chores. We shouldn’t make them bigger than they are. We can only make the choices that are best for our family. There are bigger things in this life and the next. Stay humble, be merciful, and keep your family first. That’s all any of us can do.

DSCN2113

Altering my body isn’t essential for my health, and here’s why.

Essential: absolutely necessary or extremely important.

When you hear the phrase “essential for your health,” what comes to mind? Water? Exercise? Decent nutrition? Regular check-ups?

What about “Essential for men’s health?” Probably most of the same things, with some adjusted cancer screenings and precautions tailored to their risks. The same would go for women’s health, right?

“The health care law puts women and families in control of their health care by covering vital preventive care, like cancer screenings and birth control. … We believe this requirement is lawful and essential to women’s health.”

That’s a statement from the White House regarding the contraceptive requirement of the Affordable Care Act (emphases are mine).

Let’s step back and explore it for a minute.

As I mentioned in a previous post, hormonal birth control works by suppressing the female body’s natural cycles. It works to prevent ovulation, alter cervical mucus and the lining of the uterus, and change the way the cilia in a woman’s fallopian tubes move. It changes the way her body works by adding artificial hormones.

I’m not a doctor, but I can’t think of a single reason anyone in perfect health would find added hormones essential to their health. Is ovulation an illness? Is your reproductive cycle, which occurs on its own, naturally, without intervention, something to be cured, reversed, or stifled for the sake of “wellness”?

Does interfering with a natural bodily function equate to regular cancer screenings when it comes to monitoring my health?

There’s a growing movement to shed light on the use of artificial hormones on livestock raised for food production because a growing number of studies may indicate increased risk of health problems resulting from those hormones. But in the same moment a young woman might opt for organic beef, she’ll pop her birth control pill with a glass of hormone-free milk. What sense does that make? To me, it doesn’t make any sense at all. But she’s been taught to think it’s not just safe, but essential for her health.

Preventive care: measures taken to prevent disease or injury, rather than cure them or address their symptoms.

Hormonal birth control doesn’t cure disease—it disrupts a natural cycle and, in fact, can mask underlying problems. Though the medical community hasn’t come to a consensus on all of the below side effects, some studies show it also puts women at increased risk for a host of medical problems, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Blood clots
  • Certain types of cancer (including breast cancer)
  • Ectopic pregnancy (the number one cause of maternal death)
  • Uterine perforation (with an IUD)
  • Infertility
  • Aches and pains
  • Painful intercourse
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Diabetes (among women with increased risk)
  • Stroke
  • Cervical cancer (among women with HPV—which is, sadly, about one-third of women in their twenties)
  • Weight gain
  • Emotional problems (including depression) 

(Much of this information I learned in several places, but these two are particularly helpful: this blog post includes extensive citations and references, as well as further details; and this website, while geared toward a specific message, is also very thorough and insightful. Check them out to learn more.)

And, even if some of those risks are small and/or inconsistently displayed among women, is it worth potentially compromising our health at all when natural, risk-free alternatives exist? People make the same arguments against eating organic, unmodified foods — but a lot of us choose to err on the side of caution there, don’t we?

Additionally, artificial hormones suppress a woman’s natural hormone production and, therefore, overrule her natural cycle. That means any undiagnosed medical problems—such as endometriosis or anovulation—can go unnoticed and unaddressed until they’ve had a serious effect. She may not even realize these problems exist until she’s actively trying to get pregnant and can’t, or discontinues the birth control and finally notices symptoms.

Often, women take hormonal birth control to “restore hormonal balance” and treat unpleasant physical symptoms, like irregular cycles, PMS, or even acne. But taking birth control only masks the symptoms—it doesn’t get to the heart of them. Especially in girls and young women, cycles tend to be inconsistent for a while as the body matures and adjusts to adulthood. It’s a fact of life, and altering it artificially doesn’t change that. When she comes off the pill (or other method)—often years later—her body may still have a tough time normalizing itself after years of inhibited functioning.

There are natural ways to balance hormones. Something as simple as a diet change, vitamin supplements, and exercise can make a big difference. Of course, all of this should be discussed with a doctor. But the point is that there are other options, whether we hear about them in everyday conversation or not — so you don’t need to take hormonal birth control. There are also non-hormonal ways to treat things like acne and cramps.

So how are suppressing a natural function, potentially masking health issues, and increasing risk for other health problems essential for my health? How is that preventive care?

Women should be well-informed about how to meet their unique health needs safely and effectively, instead of being immediately given a script for birth control pills just because it’s the common or easy thing to do. What do we have to gain, as women, by denying our natural state and altering the way our bodies are made to function? I’ve asked it before, and I’ll ask it again: what message does that way of thinking send to our sisters, our daughters, and ourselves?

No Flaw

Handling the adjustments to newlywed life together.

There is a lot to love about being married. So many more things, I believe, than any husband or wife could even fully recognize—let alone count. It’s just a lovely way to live your life.

But marriage isn’t about easy or simple or hassle-free. It’s about commitment, partnership, and permanence. None of those are easy things to offer, and when it’s unfamiliar, it can be tough to wrangle a new way of life.

Erik and I were the first in our close circles of friends to marry, and among the firsts in our immediate families—so there have been a lot of adjustments requiring inexpert maneuvering and limited advice from peers. Based on that experience, the list below is a slightly unconventional look at the hard parts of being a newlywed.

If you’re a fiancée, fiancé, or newlywed, I hope you consider giving this a read. And if you love a newlywed (or a pair of them), it might give you some insight into the not-so-warm-or-fuzzy stuff, too.

  • Traditions.

Every holiday you’ve ever experienced has had a familiar cadence. But a new marriage means new traditions. And, unfortunately, starting new ones means breaking old ones.

That means Thanksgiving, Easter, and every event in between is going to be different. Own that. Longstanding traditions from two distinct histories are just hard to navigate. For some, that means one side of the family will opt for something new, and you can’t adhere because of conflicts with the other side. For others, it means you’ll have to be brave, offer to host, and start some traditions of your own. For everyone, it means respecting your in-laws’ and your spouse’s feelings, balancing that with your own family, and being true to yourself, too.

Amidst the madness, remember that your collective family is different post-wedding. Two have become one. Do everyone justice by being as accommodating as possible, but also by acknowledging the necessary change in your new beginning.

  • Distance.

This one’s a doozy. Sure, getting married means moving out and, possibly, moving away. But it’s almost worse to feel the emotional distance that a new life inevitably creates.

You cannot see your friends, your siblings, or your parents as much as you once did—no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise. Your spouse is your sole partner and, naturally, they deserve the majority of your time. That’s the way it should be.

Nevertheless, it’s never right to break away from the family that’s raised you and known you from birth. Work hard to help your relationships grow and evolve, and prevent them from suffering. Involve your spouse when you can. Give your friends and family the love they deserve. It takes practice, but find new ways to stay in touch—and never hesitate to reach out. It’s different, but it doesn’t have to be bad. Remember that, and commit to it.

  • Finances.

I am a firm believer in fully sharing finances with your spouse. It’s practical, it’s an act of trust, and it’s another way to commit yourself to your marriage. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful.

Money is among the most frequent drivers of divorce. But if you ask me, it’s rarely about the money. It’s about learning to share, be selfless, and stay sensible.

Do yourself a favor and tackle this from the beginning. Practice full disclosure. Agree to a large purchase threshold (at what dollar amount should any purchase be discussed before it’s made?) and stick to it. At the heart of it all, recognize that when you spend money as a married woman or man, you’re not just spending your own—you’re spending your spouse’s.

  • Pride.

Arrogance, stubbornness, and self-absorption—the three themes of pride—are a problem in any relationship. But, while a good marriage naturally propagates the positives of your partnership, the close proximity of wedded life simply makes it easier to see the negatives.

Everything in life is relevant to you as a couple. It’s not about you, them, who’s better, or who’s right. You spend your time together, endure every discomfort, and share everything. It is essential for you to let go of shame, because shame makes us closed off, pig-headed, and selfish—making pride a defense mechanism for it. Your marriage is a safe space, so allow yourself and your spouse to let go and level with one another in all things.

Additionally, most arguments are worsened (if not caused) by pride. If you know your spouse deeply and you’re properly prepared for marriage, the disagreements themselves aren’t what break your heart—it’s the way you fight over them. Give your spouse the respect they deserve. Make an effort to think before you speak, give 100% (because marriage is 100/100, not 50/50), understand there is no winning, and forgive readily.

  • Compromise.

Everyone says compromise is key, but it’s easy to forget how hard compromise can be until you’re in the middle of a disagreement. Sure, you both get some of what you want. But no one gets everything they want. After a few decades of individual living, that can be hard to swallow.

Your routine, pastimes, home, diet, and household duties won’t be everything you want them to be. It goes without saying that you must accept that. But I’d suggest you start liking it that way, too.

Logistically, choose to live your life as if your spouse needs you to do everything you physically can for them. They should do the same. That’s marriage. There’s no “meet in the middle” or “come halfway”—husband and wife must each give their all. Accept that, and you’ll be happier with what you give and receive. And for the non-logistics? Try new things. Be selfless. When you do it your spouse’s way, learn something about them. Take an interest and have conversations you haven’t had before. If you and your spouse do this for each other, neither of you will lose. You’ll each maintain your own interests, share them with the other, and learn to love some new pastimes. It’s a great way to continuously grow as individuals and as a couple, and the openness to new things will help you avoid a rut.

My young marriage isn’t perfect, and Erik and I still struggle with all of that tough stuff. But I am striving to be a better wife, and he’s striving to be a better husband. And we have our whole lives to get there.

Marriage Commitment

Does NFP work? (Or, how am I not pregnant?)

In my first post about natural family planning (NFP), I mentioned that almost everyone asks “Does it really work?” when I tell people that my husband and I practice it. Given that it’s been almost a year and a half since the wedding and I’m definitely not pregnant, it seems like a funny question. It sort of answers itself, doesn’t it? But regardless, it’s a valid question, so I’d like to address it.

To level-set, I’m no expert on this. I’m a user of the method and I’m an advocate for it, but I haven’t been trained to teach it to others and I can’t speak beyond the statistics and my own experience. I will say that, for our first year, we worked closely with a professional, certified practitioner to learn the method thoroughly and ensure we were doing it right.

I’d also like to point out that this post briefly mentions some signs of female fertility, so if you’re not interested in reading about that, you might want to stop now. Just a friendly heads up.

However, if you’re interested in learning more or trying NFP for yourself, I’d be more than happy to give you our teacher’s contact information. You can also check out this website to find a list of practitioners in your area, if you’re not around Chicago.

Alright, now, let’s get to the meaty stuff.

There are a number of methods that fall under the NFP umbrella. All of them track a woman’s hormonal cues to identify fertile and infertile days. Those cues include basal body temperature, cervical mucus, cervical position, and other physical readings.

Erik and I use the Creighton model. We chose it for a few reasons:

  • It doesn’t call for a basal body temperature (BBT) reading. BBT must be taken every day if it’s used to track fertility. It’s usually taken in the morning and requires a very consistent sleeping schedule, which I don’t have—so a BBT-dependent method wasn’t really going to work for us.
  • I’d been minimally exposed to it before. A friend in college experienced some feminine health issues, and her doctor helped her use this method to help track her physical cues, identify problems, and improve her treatment. Sounded like a great thing to me.
  • It’s incredibly easy. You just need to track one cue throughout the day, each time you go to the bathroom. Once you get the hang of it, it adds maybe five minutes—in total—from morning to night. No trouble at all.
  • It encourages involvement of both husband and wife, so both can understand their fertility and grow closer as a couple. It also encourages positive interactions—spiritual, physical, intellectual, communicative, and emotional—at every stage. It’s a great resource for working to keep your bond strong in unique ways every single day.
  •  It works. It’s been thoroughly studied and tracked, and it’s proven effective.

One of the great things about NFP is that it’s incredibly inexpensive. After your first year—when training is a good idea, since any kind of family planning only works if you do it right (including hormonal birth control)—all you require is the supplies. In our case, those consist of a paper chart and some stickers. Super easy.

NFP tracks your fertility by helping you understand what cues to look for. Your body knows when it’ll be ready to conceive during each cycle and prepares itself accordingly. For most women, the changes are noticeable and very easy to monitor.

When used perfectly (not a difficult feat, as I mentioned above), studies have shown that NFP is as effective as hormonal birth control, making it even more effective than physical contraceptives. But you don’t need to add artificial hormones to your body, you don’t need to suppress your natural cycles, and you don’t need a barrier between you and your husband.

NFP is not the rhythm method. Just as every other human science has advanced in the last few decades, natural family planning has, too. This isn’t about guessing when you’ll ovulate by counting days and averaging cycles among all women. It’s about following your individual fertility and wellness—as unique to you as your thumbprint. That’s why it’s so effective.

In addition to its efficacy at delaying pregnancy, NFP can also be used to help you conceive. Those same hormonal cues tell you when you’re at your peak during each cycle—so, when you and your husband are ready, you know the best time to try. That’s key to successful conception, because your egg can only be fertilized during a narrow 12-24 hour window of each cycle. That’s it. Knowing where that window is can help greatly increase your chances of conceiving early on.

So, does it work? The answer is yes. It works incredibly well for your family, your fertility, and your health. And it’s worth a try.

Creighton Photo