Birth Control

I’m Not a Feminist, But…

I am anti-abortion. I am also pro-life.

So when I hear politicians, super PACs, and activists say things like “women need access to abortion” or see blog posts like “10 Reasons to Have an Abortion – Illustrated by Adorable Cats,” I get sick to my stomach worrying about the value we place on healthy, happy, well-informed women.

The groups sharing those opinions often fight against informed consent laws that are designed to teach women in a vulnerable, emotional position the science behind their pregnancy. (A 14-year-old girl who’s frightened out of her wits—and uneducated on both pregnancy and the procedure of abortion—shouldn’t be denied a guaranteed opportunity to learn more about them before she decides to abort. Still, in many states, she is. If that’s not backing young women into a corner, I don’t know what is.)

Similar groups also fight against notification laws that are designed not just to protect young women from rash decisions and protect parents from losing influence over their children’s lives, but also to protect victims of rape and incest from continued abuse. They say they want abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare,” but they virtually never support initiatives that would make that last one true—and, in fact, they fight actively against those efforts. More than 3,000 abortions take place every day in the United States alone. The number of abortions that have occurred in America since 1973 exceeds the number of U.S. military deaths in every war we’ve ever fought combined. There’s nothing rare about that.

The most outrageous among them claim that pregnancy is an “unnatural” or “unhealthy” state, which is a direct insult to the biology of the feminine genius. To suggest that our anatomy makes us “unnatural” or “unhealthy” is the most perversely anti-feminist thing I’ve ever heard.

The fight for abortion uses the same shaming I’ve mentioned before: it forces women to feel their ability to open themselves to the physical intervention of scalpels, suction, and chemicals is what will protect their health and independence, and help them avoid social judgment. It makes pregnancy shameful and pushes women to make them fit society’s opinions of who and what and how they should be. The argument that “women need access to abortion” seeks to force women’s opinions with perceived normalcy and education. It pretends to be the smarter, more forward-thinking majority. It says: “Trust us when we say you need a reactive way to ‘solve’ your problem—and it is your problem, since you’re the one who’s pregnant. We’re here to tell you what’s best for you now that you’ve gotten here, because you can’t be responsible for proactive options, and you shouldn’t have to think of anyone but yourself. It’s not selfishness; it’s independence.”

I won’t even get into how much this hurts the men involved, who have played an equal role in starting a pregnancy—with total consent from both sides, the vast majority of the time—and yet have no weight in the argument over whether that pregnancy can continue. Removing fathers from the equation hurts women, too. It puts those women into a very lonely place, wherein one of the most impactful decisions of their lives must be made alone because society tells each of them that the man’s opinion doesn’t matter, and this must be her choice and hers alone. That makes it her ‘problem’ to solve, as if she’s solely responsible for both its creation and “cleanup.” It is isolating, terrifying, and unfair for her to endure that struggle on her own.

Those are the insults to womanhood that make me feel like a feminist. Those are the claims that devalue me as a female member of society, fully capable of understanding my body, controlling my impulses, and sharing my life.

We should be teaching each other to understand the way our bodies work. We should be encouraging each other to make the safest, healthiest decisions to protect our wellness and accomplish our goals. When unplanned circumstances come our way—even when they’re by our own actions—we should be supporting each other the whole way through, not shaming each other for the decisions that have gotten us there.

The vast majority of the time, women seeking abortions are healthfully pregnant by their own—and the father’s—shared choices. We are too smart to be telling each other that’s not the case. We all know that sex is a procreative act. We all know that birth control fails. So to say, “I consented to sex, but I didn’t consent to pregnancy” is a fallacy and an example of profound ignorance. And we are too smart to tell each other that abortion doesn’t end a life, or that its graphic violence is ever our best or only option.

We are all called to love and respect one another and ourselves. So why can’t we do a better job of helping each other do just that? Pro-lifers should support mothers and babies, as the sincere ones do, both before and after a decision is made. Even if a tragedy occurs, we should be there to hope for and help support healing. And advocates for abortion should welcome conversation, equal education, and support into the equation before a decision is made.

Women need each other as much as they need the men in their lives and as much as those men need women. We are social beings and should not isolate ourselves or each other. That’s not how we were made to be. Instead of subjecting ourselves to shame, objectification, violence, and ignorance, we should stand hand-in-hand in our toughest moments. Those are the moments of history that people remember, and that inspire us to be better. We must make a decision to support our most frightened, most vulnerable, and most unprotected—whatever that looks like.

Thank you, Supreme Court.

In one of the year’s most-watched cases, the Supreme Court ruled this week that for-profit companies can opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate on the grounds of religious beliefs.

Believe me when I tell you I did a little dance for joy at work when I read that headline. I think my heart actually skipped a beat.

I—like many of my like-minded peers—have been waiting on baited breath for that ruling for months. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe in artificial birth control for a multitude of reasons. Building on those beliefs (and scientific facts), I believe this week’s decision could mean lives saved—young as they may be—and certainly means consciences cleared.

But beyond what I’ve already said about my thoughts on birth control, I truly believe this ruling is a victory for religious freedom in this country. For months, it has baffled me how people in this debate have argued, in essence, over the autonomy of a corporation—offering no thought at all for the people who run those corporations.

Of course companies don’t hold religious beliefs of their own. For me, that was never the argument. The fact is that the people who build, maintain, own, and fund those companies do. For business owners who hold steadfast to their beliefs, there can be no separation of “professional” and “spiritual” behavior. Both of those realms are a part of their identity, and must be kept in harmony with one another.

So, here’s my question: who are we to force faithful business owners, on the heels of the incredibly hard work they’ve poured into building their companies, to ignore their souls once they’ve made it? Is the cold, detached “spirit” of a corporation worth more than the religious freedom of a real person? The answer should be a resounding no—and I’m extremely grateful the Supreme Court agreed. Frankly, I’m not sure how a culture with increasing discomfort regarding an unquestioning adherence to capitalism can even suggest otherwise.

It’s important to note that the ruling specified that it should affect only the birth control mandate of the healthcare law. The judges did not intend to suggest or support any idea that such objections could be justified for things like blood transfusions and vaccinations. Plenty of uninformed and/or misguided critics call that discriminatory against other faiths that object to various medical treatments and procedures. But the difference here should be obvious: whereas a blood transfusion or a vaccination are intended—and often medically necessary—to save lives, birth control is not. As a contraceptive, it is not essential for women’s health, but rather an optional method for preventing pregnancy. There are innumerable other ways to do that.

Of course all of us have the right to choose if and when we will have children. But we don’t have the right to demand that our employers pay for prescription-based methods when there are other, drug-free options that require just a little more discipline and self-control.

Do you think my insurance company paid for my training and materials for NFP? They sure didn’t—despite the fact that NFP delays pregnancy with similar efficacy without risking the complications that may accompany the artificial hormones in those little pills, patches, shots, and IUDs.

Business owners are people, too. The profits of those businesses rightfully belong to those owners, and no one—from evangelical entrepreneurs to Catholic moms and pops—should be forced to fund behaviors that go against their deeply held religious beliefs.

This country has always been founded on the assumption that freedom comes first. Why wouldn’t we keep it that way?

 

Supreme Court

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

My husband and I practice NFP. Now you know.

Pop quiz: What’s number one on the list of FAQs encountered by virtually every newlywed couple ever?

“So, are you planning on having kids?”

Bingo. All of us hear it. Even though it can get irksome from time to time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our families asking about it. For some of them, it’s something akin to “Are we there yet?” They’re excited to hear the pitter-patter of little feet and see a little bundle at the next family gathering. Who isn’t?

Plus, it gives me hope. The fact that building a family of happy, well-loved children is still foundational to marriage—and the logical next step—is encouraging. Because that means family still matters.

Like anyone, Erik and I do our best to answer this question honestly, discreetly, and without awkwardness. Our children, after all, will be neighbors, friends, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren to these people. It takes a village.

But there’s something tricky about our answer that, if I’m honest, I could do a better job of addressing. And when I say “tricky,” I don’t mean “crazy” or “questionable.” I mean “misunderstood” and, often, “looked down upon.”

Natural family planning is hard for me to talk about. That’s partly because it’s hard to make people understand. Frankly, though, it’s also because I always expect to be judged. And the more I think about that, the more it bothers me—because, in my heart of hearts, I know there’s nothing crazy or questionable about it, and I know the people asking won’t react that way.

Typically, I’ll only barely discuss it with immediate family and virtually no one else. The conversation usually goes something like this:

Relative: “So, are you and Erik planning on having kids anytime soon?”

Me: “We definitely plan to have a family, but not right away. For now, we’re happy just enjoying each other as husband and wife.”

Erik and I are not shy about practicing our faith, nor are we shy about our efforts to adhere to the Church’s teachings. Maybe for that reason, I often get a really specific follow-up right about now. It’s typically accompanied by a skeptical look and mild concern.

Relative: “Well, are you doing anything to prevent it?”

And there’s the kicker. This is when I have to decide how deep I’m willing to get into the topic in that moment. Ultimately, I take one of two (very weak) approaches: vagueness or avoidance.

Me: “Yes, we’re being purposeful about it”  or “Yes, but nothing artificial.”

That’s the phrase I always use: “Nothing artificial.” And, usually, the relative will nod quietly and change the subject, or ask me a follow-up or two. (Examples: Does it work? Isn’t that rhythm method way out of style? Doesn’t that mean you can’t have sex?)

I’m a little ashamed to tell you that the conversation has never gotten much farther than that, unless I’m discussing it with someone I know is also practicing NFP, or at least in agreement with it. That’s because I’m afraid of judgment. And that shame is on me—not on the person who’s asking.

I should be excited to tell them how well it’s working for Erik and me, how close it keeps us, and how effectively it has helped us keep our lines of communication open. I should tell them how much better I understand my femininity and my fertility because of it. I should readily bring up all of the statistics I know by heart, all of the evidence, and the science behind the methodology we use. And, above all, I shouldn’t hesitate to bring my catechism into the conversation and talk about the most important question of all: why we do it. But I’m not that brave, and I am nervous.

For me, it’s pretty easy to be married. It’s easy to practice what I believe in private, with the support and close partnership of my husband. But sometimes it’s hard to bring that into the full light of day. And it’s hard not to worry about what other people will think.

So I’ll consider this my “debut” as an NFP user and advocate—even if it’s only in my circle of friends and family. I’ll keep talking about here, and I’ll try to be better in one-on-one conversations, too. Ask me about it. And don’t let me avoid giving you a genuine answer.

nfp-pro family