Wellness

The Healthiest Habit of the Happiest People

There are some very chipper people in the world who just radiate joy. You know them when you meet them: they’re smiling, kind, and content. They’re sure of the goodness in their lives, and the goodness in you—even if you’re still a stranger. And they just don’t seem to see the gloom that simply must be around them.

Sometimes we see these people and envy them. How can anyone be so positive all the time? How can life feel so easy to them? Why can’t I feel like that?

We’ve all heard (and maybe told) the anti-sunshine-and-rainbows jokes. Because the fact is that, much of the time, life isn’t pretty. And that might make us think that viewing the world “with rose-colored glasses” is rarely the best idea.

But this tendency is, in fact, a very positive quality. Studies find that people who foster a positive outlook on life (in a realistic way, of course) are happier, more successful, and even healthier.

Gratitude as a Virtue

Anecdotally, every one of those joyful people I’ve met in life have one thing in common: thankfulness. Simple gratitude goes a long way, it seems, in building a happier, healthier mindset; a more meaningful spiritual life; and a more positive outlook with which to enjoy the good things in our world.

For me, gratitude is a habit. It’s the best habit, because it works on your heart in so many ways. Gratitude forces us to recognize the wonderful things around us. It encourages us to hold onto our respect for others, and to speak positively to them. It fosters a consistent, positive prayer life. It humbles us. And it inspires us to be better people.

Though not listed among the Cardinal or theological virtues by Catholicism, the concept of thankfulness has been top-of-mind for many of our saints, and it is all over Scripture. Christ Himself gave thanks to God many times, often during some of the most pre-eminent miracles and moments of the Gospels.

Gratitude is part and parcel of many of our cardinal virtues. It is woven into justice, in that it acknowledges and rewards the rightness and generosity of others; it is a part of prudence, in that it requires mindfulness, care, and wisdom in practice; it is supportive of temperance, in that it shows us how to be selfless; and it is rewarded by fortitude, in that a thankful person is often a courageous and strong person.

And what better way can we supplement our practice of the theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity—but by expressing gratefulness to God for those gifts, and to our neighbors for practicing them along with us?

The Wisdom of Giving Thanks

What makes thankfulness so important to us, as humans? We are responsible for so much in life, and yet so little. We are gifted with so much in life, and yet deserve so little of it. The least we must do is acknowledge this generosity and show our thanks for it. We must take nothing for granted, lest we learn the hard way how fragile our lives truly are.

Here are some bits of wisdom I love:

“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” – St. Ambrose

 “Remember the past with gratitude. Live the present with enthusiasm. Look forward to the future with confidence.” – Pope St. John Paul II

“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” – St. Gianna Beretta Molla

“Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve You as You deserve.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola 

How to Be More Thankful

I have met so many beautiful people whose positivity is unwavering. Their secret, I think, is that they always find something to be thankful for. They always choose to acknowledge and lift up the good that surrounds them, rather than focusing on their struggles. They know that, in the end, we can control very little—but we can be grateful for very much.

In learning from them and from my own experience, here are five ways I try to make thankfulness a habit in my life:

  1. Always acknowledge the little things. When you come across your favorite number by happenstance, give a little thanks for the small smile it brings. When someone holds the door for you, always thank them out loud and with a smile. Upon learning to recognize the tiny moments of every day for which we can say “Thank you,” we become much more grateful for the bigger moments, too.
  2. Pray with proper order. There are several key elements to prayer, and thankfulness is one of them. It should come before we make requests to God. Remember ACTS when you pray: Adoration, Contrition, Thankfulness, and Supplication. My humility and penchant for gratitude improves greatly when I keep prayer in perspective this way.
  3. Share your gratitude with people you love. Regularly telling your family and friends about what you’re grateful for in life can help you and them be more thankful day to day—but do it humbly, and not to brag. For example, try going around the dinner table to have everyone share one thing they’re grateful for more frequently than just once a year at Thanksgiving.
  4. Hold yourself accountable to say thanks. I recently heard a lovely suggestion that’s specific to marriage: each night before bed, thank your spouse for at least one thing they did for you that day—something that made you feel more loved. It might also help to keep a gratitude journal, or to fill up a jar throughout the year with notes on what you’re thankful for each day, week, or month. The important thing is to set a goal and be consistent. It’s excellent for your mental health!
  5. Resist gossip. I find that gossip and judgmental thinking tend to become habitual—and that’s really too bad. The way we think and speak of others is influenced by paradigms. If my automatic reaction is to say, “Boy, that barista was sloooow today,” I might not even notice that the person behind me paid for a stranger’s drink while I was waiting just as a random act of kindness. I’d be too busy dwelling on my coffee’s delay.

There’s Always Something

Although certainly there are some trials in life that, when we emerge from them, remind us in no uncertain terms that we have a lot to be thankful for. Perhaps you’ve survived a horrific car crash. Perhaps your loved one beat cancer. Perhaps you got the job that makes providing for your family straightforward instead of stressful.

But if gratitude is truly a habit, then it’s the in-between times that call us to be most thankful—the times when no apparent miracle has occurred, but the simple pleasure of a 70-degree day in March left you feeling just a little warmer (inside and out). That’s something to be thankful for.

Top Five Reasons Marital Sex is the Only Sex You Need

Pop culture makes casual sex look easy and expected. When you’re watching a romantic comedy, the turning point in a couple’s budding relationship is usually their first sexual encounter. It isn’t them getting to know each other, learning what they have in common, or just plain deciding to “go steady.” It’s getting into bed—as if that proves something.

But sex was designed to be something meaningful and productive between a close, committed husband and wife. It was designed to be at least as much about giving as it is about receiving; as much about pleasing as it is about being pleased; and much more about love than it is about lust.

Instead of recognizing the true beauty of it, we’ve decided, as a society, to focus on its primal side. The thing is, lust and animalism don’t make us human. Love does.

You are more than a hook-up—more than “that girl” or “that guy” from college, the bar, or spring break. You are the girl or the guy your future spouse is looking for. And you deserve real, one-of-a-kind, wouldn’t-trade-it intimacy with that person who will love you more than anything else in the world.

So here are my top five (though, of course, there are many more) reasons for keeping sex in marriage.

5. Security trumps safety every time.

Safety: The condition of being protected from danger or injury.

Security: The state of being free from danger or threat.

One of those is reactive, and the other is proactive. Safety means shielding oneself from danger; security means never encountering danger in the first place.

Marriage is all about security, and marital sex is no different. A man and woman who are fully committed to one another and practice the virtues of true marriage will not put each other in any kind of sexual danger. If both spouses have been faithful all along, STDs become a moot point. Because they share the height of trust, they learn each other’s likes and dislikes, and would never be hurtful. Pregnancy—which can be easily delayed, if they choose—is not a scare in a healthy marriage; it’s a blessing. There will be no heartbreak or loneliness because neither spouse can break the union. There is no fear of judgment.

In short, sex in a healthy, happy marriage is free from risk. It is secure in every way.

4. We all deserve to be someone’s other half—not just one of any number of “partners.”

Neither men nor women are toys to be played with and forgotten, or vessels to be filled and emptied. We are all worthy of finding and clinging to someone who values us as a life partner. You are worth much more than someone else’s pleasure. You are worth devotion, commitment, fidelity, and years and years of happiness.

Even long-term relationships are subject to that “-term.” That’s not permanence or forever. That’s “for now.” Even if it adds up to many years of your life, some part of you—and the people around you—questions when it might end. I don’t mean to say those years aren’t valuable—they can be some of the most meaningful of your life. The eight years my husband and I were together before marriage were wonderful. The difference is that those were years of my life. These are years of our life. Our wedding day started a new forever for us.

If you take marriage seriously and practice it accordingly, there is nothing comparable to the union of husband and wife. Marriage is more than a new chapter: it is a change in your identity. It is a full gift of self and a full reception of your spouse. The years you spent together beforehand were temporary. The years afterward are forever.

3. Your body is a temple. And you both know it.

Sex is pleasurable for a reason. There’s nothing sinful about that. It is meant to be that way. The beautiful thing about marital sex is that you already know the unrelenting love is there; you both give and receive it all the time, day and night. When you know that to be true, sex is natural, easygoing, and unashamed.

There is this awful assumption that sex in marriage must be boring. How sad for those couples, and for the people who think it’s going to be that way and so waste their time sleeping around.

Sharing this part of you with just one person means constant respect and continuous learning. There is infinite opportunity to try new things, understand each other’s preferences, and make it all feel easy. You never need to feel self-conscious or ashamed, and neither does your spouse. There’s nothing dull about that.

2. It isn’t everything.

Some days you want to wear sweats and not wash your hair. Sometimes you put off doing the laundry for too long, and you’ve got nothing left but your ugly underwear. Sometimes you’re just not in the mood. We all have busy, off, stressful, or uncomfortable days.

No matter the reason, a comfortable, loving marriage means neither of you feels obligated to perform, impress, or make yourself available. You have your whole lives to enjoy each other. So when sex isn’t on the menu, a good cuddle, a game, or a meaningful conversation will do the trick, too.

1. It is everything.

Marital sex is a full giving of self, a full receiving of your spouse, a chance to let go, a chance to act, a reason to relax, a reason to excite. It’s not about impressing someone, seeking satisfaction, making a good story for your friends, proving your love, or hoping the object of your desire will return your affection. It isn’t about winning, it’s never a loss, and it’s always shared equally.

There aren’t words to express what two people share through sex. Marriage makes that a wonderful thing; not a risky, confusing, or potentially regrettable one. Marital sex never becomes a wedge that drives you apart, or breaks your heart. It makes your relationship stronger, not weirder, and brings you closer.

Above all, we define marriage as a sacred and sacramental union, and marital sex is the closest we can get to physically understanding what that means.

 

You deserve to be loved and respected in the most meaningful way, because you are worthy of that recognition and dedication. When people say, “If they love you, they’ll wait,” it’s true. They mean it. Because sex isn’t just for fun, it’s not everything, and it won’t get you the respect or attention you deserve on its own.

It is a gift of self that can’t be taken back, and it will be the most precious gift you can give to your future spouse—your soulmate. You are a unique gift all your own, and the recipient of another. Stay true to that. Don’t give yourself up.

Wedding Rings II

Battling Shame to Promote a Culture of Love and Life

I have never been a feminist. I believe in equality, not superiority. Of course, I’m well aware that most feminists out there feel the same way I do: that men and women should be treated equally, paid equally, and given the same opportunities. But I don’t consider that to be “feminism” so much as general human rights, if I’m being honest.

That said, there are two prevalent issues that never fail to spark some kind of feministy flame in my belly: the culture of shame, and abortion. I believe with my whole heart that those are the injustices that are really waging the so-called “war on women.”

To see what I mean, stop and consider what’s happening to virtually every girl and woman experiencing day-to-day pop culture and media right now.

Slut shaming. Virgin shaming. Skinny shaming. Fat shaming. Pretty shaming. Ugly shaming. Online shaming. In-person shaming. Smart shaming. Stupid shaming.

And do you know who’s often perpetuating that shame?

Women.

We mock each other for eating, speaking, praying, exercising, socializing, dating, having sex, studying, and partying too much or too little. We judge one another mercilessly and aren’t afraid to share those judgments with others. We gossip. We bully. We pick fights and wage battles over boys we barely know.

That’s incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking to see, but the thing to remember is that this lack of mercy does not define us. Inside every one of us is a beautiful, powerful heart made of love, not stone. So why don’t we let it shine? Why do we lock it up?

It’s because we constantly engage in something almost as bad as shaming each other: we shame ourselves.

It’s a vicious cycle, really. We compare ourselves to airbrushed fantasies, think of ourselves as sexual objects, and consider ourselves lucky when we capture the frisky attention of a male counterpart. In our weakness, we point out the faults in our peers to make our “positive” attributes stand out. We adhere to pop culture’s definitions of beauty and femininity and know that we don’t always fit them (because we can’t), but neither do our peers (because they can’t), and so we place the attention on them to avoid letting it fall on ourselves. And they do it right back. So on and on the cycle goes.

Without question, much of that shaming comes from standards that were set by men seeking the impossibly “perfect” woman. But it is neither empowering nor honest to say that they are solely responsible for that; we set the same—sometimes worse—standards of “perfection” and continue to demean ourselves into thinking they’re reality.

In the same way, even if we look in a mirror and make the sincere decision to love our bodies’ appearance, popping a pill so we can enjoy a man’s body—and be enjoyed by it—is not empowering, either. It’s debasing and objectifying. It’s telling us that, by taking a magic pill to suppress the bodies we claim to love, we can use our sexuality to physically enjoy ourselves “trouble-free,” and be the experience that man wants for his Saturday night.

Taking that a few steps further, it’s not empowering to be able to abort a pregnancy created by that Saturday night—it’s the opposite. As mothers, we bear the burden of telling that man about an unwanted pregnancy. That sharing role should be a blessing, not a curse; we should be able to joyfully tell the men we’ll always love, and who’ll always love us, that our children are on the way. But an unplanned pregnancy out of wedlock robs us of that; instead, we must face a near-stranger with life-changing news or, worse, must face a man we thought we loved as he reacts with disdain. We are blamed for not taking a pill on time or reminding him to use a condom. And we are told, “Go to a clinic and get this taken care of.” That is an unjust shame.

Even if that man offers to be “supportive,” we must take the pills that make us cramp and bleed for hours, or lie down and open up for a doctor who will violate our most private space with steel instruments and tubes that literally cut and suck the life out of us.

There is nothing empowering about abortion. For some women, it is forced upon them by a “partner” who refuses to support a pregnancy. Others feel forced by economic circumstances, uncaring families, or their own doctors. Regardless of the reason, women often feel isolated and panicked—neither of which will help them make a decision they’re truly, lastingly comfortable with.

Sometimes it’s selfishness, yes—and that’s a reason for another blog post. But more often than we’d like to think, women get abortions because they feel they have no choice at all.

If you’re concerned about equality in the workplace but don’t see inequality in a woman saying “I can’t stay pregnant because of my career,” you’re missing something important. To be sure, being a parent will infringe on the amount of time you can commit to your career. But pregnancy doesn’t require parenthood—adoption is always a compassionate and merciful option—so that’s not really the argument here. The point is that, if employers aren’t offering sufficient prenatal care and accommodations to their female employees, we have a problem.

And speaking of adoption, there’s some kind of stigma around that, too, isn’t there? Adoption is an honorable, selfless thing. Abortion is violent and degrading. Though certainly not as severe a stigma as it once was, no woman should be embarrassed to say she’s given up a baby for adoption. Is it painful? Of course. But she accepted the consequences of her actions, took care of her baby while she could, and chose to give him or her the best life possible—not to mention giving two people desperate to be parents a family of their own. It’s hard to find a greater gift than that, and there should be no shame in such generosity of heart. How anyone could ever argue that a child will be worse off with a happy, loving family than they would be never being born at all is beyond me.

As women, we have so many unique gifts to give and share with the people we love. Instead of focusing on how we can or should look or what we should and shouldn’t do, we are capable of using those gifts to make this world a better place. Shame, violence, and stigma aren’t going to help us do that.

Love must come first. Not shame, pain, convenience, or ignorance. Only love.

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

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

Why I don’t use hormonal birth control.

When I tell people I don’t believe in using artificial birth control, they often think I’m one of three things: a hippie, a nut, or an overly religious, old-fashioned conservative.

I can tell you I’m a religious, old-fashioned, and fairly conservative young woman. But I’m not crazy and I’m not into conspiracy theories.

My husband and I chose to save the ultimate union for our wedding night, largely because it’s what we believed was morally, physically, and spiritually right. But we were also scared. Scared of getting caught, scared of getting pregnant, scared of regretting it later. No matter the reason, it was the best decision we could’ve made.

For that reason, I didn’t need to think about birth control until a few years ago. I had irregular cycles and acne as a teenager, but I never wanted to ask for birth control pills to address those things. I didn’t want to give my family the wrong idea, and I didn’t, frankly, want to tempt myself.

As Erik and I matured and began planning our marriage, we did a little more digging into church teachings about family planning. We knew the church taught against artificial birth control, but we didn’t know why. Was it just outdated, like everyone said? Was there an alternative that wasn’t just plain risky? Were we prepared to have a busload of kids?

So we looked into it. When we read that the pill—which seemed like the easiest option—could serve as an abortifacient form of birth control, we decided to do even more research.

I’ll get into why we don’t use physical methods of birth control in another post. First, I want to talk about the pill. I don’t think women know enough about it, simply because we’re never taught enough about the way it works. So I hope this is helpful.

In sex ed, everyone tells you the pill works by tricking your body into thinking it’s already pregnant. In fact, people still tell me that if I ask them how it works today. The thing is, it’s not really that simple. It adds hormones to your body in a similar way that a pregnancy would, sure. But that’s not all it does.

Hormonal birth control—i.e., the pill, as well as most patches, IUDs, injections, and other chemical forms—works in four ways:

  • Suppressing ovulation to prevent your ovaries from releasing an egg during each cycle
  • Altering your cervical mucus so it’s more difficult for sperm to navigate
  • Disrupting the way the cilia in your fallopian tubes move to reduce the chances of a fertilized egg reaching the uterus for implantation
  • Inhibiting the growth of your uterine lining (the endometrium) so any fertilized egg could not attach properly
  • In some cases, the “mini-Pill” (a progesterin-only option) may not prevent ovulation or conception (those first two tactics) at all.

Two of those effects are designed to prevent conception. But the last two prevent implantation—meaning your body hasn’t been tricked, knows you’re not pregnant, and has ovulated as it naturally would. Your cervical mucus wasn’t thick enough to keep sperm from traveling through you. So an egg is fertilized, and pregnancy has begun.

The pill doesn’t give up, though. The third effect prevents the body from moving your fertilized egg to the uterus, where implantation would take place and the embryo would receive the nutrients necessary for development. The fourth effect changes the environment of your uterus and prevents that viable zygote from taking its place in your womb and growing. That zygote—though very tiny—has its own DNA. It is individual of the woman’s body, in that her DNA and her partner’s—two human parents—have joined to create a third entity. Science has proven that conception is the moment a new individual (and, therefore, a pregnancy) begins—not implantation. The DNA is human. Given the simple resources a pregnant mother provides (a warm, safe place, nutrition, and oxygen), that individual will grow into an infant who, in just a few months, can be held and tickled and nursed in its mother’s arms.

Occurring about a week later, implantation is simply the end of the embryo’s journey down the fallopian tubes. It settles into the uterus by attaching to the endometrium, which provides the nutrients it needs to grow and develop. That little individual—with new DNA and a separate makeup from its mother—has already existed for several days. When the lining of the uterus has been altered by the pill, the implantation factors of the lining—key chemicals, as well as special molecules known as integrins—are damaged and unable to perform their job. So imagine that zygote is a plane led by a pilot, and the uterine lining is the airport. If the crew at the airport can’t communicate with the pilot flying the plane, the plane can’t find a safe place to land. And if the plane can’t land, the pilot won’t survive long.

The “morning after pill” works this way, too. It’s just a high dose of the hormones that will alter the endometrium, with the hope that the uterine lining will be compromised before the embryo reaches it. The plain old pill just does it a little slower.

So, anything that works to prevent conception can be called contraceptive. But anything that fails to prevent contraception can’t share the same term. Conception has already happened. At that point, your pill becomes abortifacient. That is the scientific word for anything that stops a pregnancy after conception has already occurred.

That said, even if the birth control industry came out with a pill that didn’t have an abortifacient effect, I still wouldn’t take it. Aside from the health risks (which I’ll also address in another post), I don’t think it empowers women. In fact, it literally—by which I mean physiologically—suppresses the women who take it.

What message are we sending our future daughters when we say that taking the pill—effectively turning off a natural function of our bodies, and altering the way our biology works—is the only way to gain control over our love lives, our families, and our sex lives? That’s the opposite of support. It conceals a woman’s natural, complex biology so she can become an object of pleasure. It’s repression. And I don’t buy it.

Our bodies do amazing things each month. That’s part of our feminine identity—it’s the magic only we can make happen. And it’s not just about the fact that we can carry children. Sadly, some of us can’t. In every case, understanding the way our natural cycles affect our day-to-day wellbeing gives us greater insight into our health and physical selves. It’s about knowing yourself, truly. It’s about taking ownership of the complex, profound woman you were literally made to be. It shouldn’t be about stamping out your nature because you were never taught how to handle it on your own, or that it was worth protecting. We’re capable of so much more than that. All of us.

Respected and Beloved