Friday, July 16, 2010

Let's Get Physical, Naturally

The Conscious Shopper apologizes to her husband, who is probably wishing she would give up blogging right about now...

A few months ago, Umbra Fisk's column answered a question about the greenest method of birth control, which was followed by a reader who commented, "In your most recent post, I thought there was a pretty big type of birth control missing: Fertility Awareness Method (FAM)...FAM is extremely "green" as it requires no rubbers or chemicals; it is also extremely empowering to women and supports personal health."

I found Umbra's response intriguing: "
According to Planned Parenthood, FAM is as effective a birth control method as condoms."

I had always heard that the natural method of birth control was extremely unreliable, ineffective, and unscientifically sound, and yet here was Umbra citing Planned Parenthood (a group that certainly does not want people choosing a poor birth control method) and saying that it's just as effective as condoms.

I had to find out more...

A short history of my personal birth control

Before I had my oldest, I was on the pill, and I hated, hated, hated it. I will never go back on the pill. N-E-V-E-R! Since his birth, my husband and I have used condoms as our birth control method of choice, but I've intended to look into getting an IUD for a couple of years now. Intending, but never actually doing. You see, I'm not completely sold on it. I know lots of you readers have gotten one and love it (because you've told me so), but it just didn't feel like the right choice for me. So condoms it has been.

But if we didn't have to use condoms...well that is worth looking into.

The Book

So I checked out The Book from the library: Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. The 500 page bible on fertility awareness. Weschler describes in great detail exactly how to understand and keep track of your own body's fertility signs so you can act accordingly: either abstaining from intercourse during your most fertile time if you don't want to get pregnant, or focusing your intimacy on your most fertile time so you do get pregnant.

As far as birth control methods go, I'm still not convinced that this one is right for me (and my husband is even less convinced). You have to be able to take your temperature every morning after three consecutive hours of sleep, and that's problematic for me because I totally suck at sleeping. I don't know that I ever get three consecutive hours of sleep at night. I think I'm still running on infant schedule, even though my last baby stopped nursing a year and a half ago.

Plus, during your fertile time, you either have to abstain from sex or use a barrier method (like a condom), and since I have a short cycle, we'd be using condoms almost as much as we do now.

And as my husband says, "If this method is so easy to use, why is the book so long?"

On the other hand, I think every woman should read this book. I think they should require classes on it in high school, or at the very least every mother should teach her daughter about fertility awareness. The more I read, the more excited and empowered I felt. To think that my body had been giving me these signals all along, if I had only known how to read them. As Weschler says:
Imagine growing up being told that your body is a marvel of biological beauty that will orchestrate amazing changes every cycle. Rather than thinking that you keep producing infectious discharges, you'd know to identify healthy cervical secretions as a reflection of the remarkable hormonal system working within. Imagine going to the doctor and feeling knowledgeable rather than vulnerable...

Imagine being able to utilize your body's own fertility signs to provide you with a completely natural, safe, and effective method of birth control that promotes shared responsibility and communication between you and your partner...And if by chance you or your partner really do have a fertility problem, picture a dialogue of truly informed participants. Imagine you, your partner, and your doctor using your own charts to find the least invasive strategy first...
Even if you have no intention of using fertility awareness as a birth control method, I encourage all of you, male and female readers alike, to check out this book and unlock the secrets of female fertility that they skipped in health class.

Have any of you tried the Fertility Awareness Method as birth control? How has your experience been?

19 comments:

Wendy said...

I use a (simple, copper, no hormone) IUD now, but there was a very long period in my life when I only used a knowledge of my cycles, and it was very effective, for me. To wit, when I was just charting my cycles and knowing when I wouldn't be ovulating - no babies. Then, I switched to the more reliable pill, but missed a day, and hello first born! It's like with too many other things our modern lives gives us - we're lulled into a false sense of security.

I'm glad to see a more natural birth control method is getting some exposure. I have three young daughters, and that book will, very likely, make it to my shelf ;).

Farmer's Daughter said...

I used FAM for the time inbetween going off the pill and getting pregnant. I figured what the heck, I want to get pregnant anyway, what's a couple months? I found it very easy to use once I read the book, and the nerd in me loved charting! When we decided to get pregnant, I continued to chart so I knew when I was fertile, and it only took 1 month of "trying" to get pregnant.

Since I don't want to decrease my milk supply, I'm using a combo of LAM (for breastfeeding moms) amd FAM, and will go back to FAM and charting when my cycle returns. People say it's unreliable, but I think most of them were not charting or were practicing the rhythem method which is not the same.

Scrappy_Lady said...

We've used NFP (Natural Family Planning), specifically Billings Ovulation Method for both avoiding and achieving pregnancy. I was independently interested, then sold on the idea when it was taught as part of our (Catholic) marriage prep course. Hubby and I attended one more class together and that was it. :) The charting is super-duper easy, requiring no morning temping. I recommend it to all!

suzannah @ so much shouting/laughter said...

i've not tried this, as i'm nursing and my cycle has not returned, but i've read lots of positive things online. i like the idea of no chemicals and no barriers, as i'm not a huge fan of either. and the idea of being my in tune with my body is worth the read i'm sure.

i didn't think you always has to take your temp, tho: after a bit, i thought you could just chart, um, other stuff...

angela jiniel said...

I just started FAM in May. I had a birth control implant (Implanon) removed because it was very wrong for me. I haven't quite gotten the hang of it all, but I don't think my body's quite back into it's own rhythm yet.

The book is so long because it covers general knowledge, using it get pregnant, using it to no get pregnant and covering a lot of "yeah but what ifs".

I agree, I think every woman should know what's in this book whether or not they choose to use FAM as birth control or not. It was very informative.

Rosa said...

I know enough women who got pregnant a second time while not having had a period after giving birth/still nursing fulltime, that I would never trust any form of NFP.

But, I don't trust any single form of birth control anyway; my favorite was always a sponge & condom combo, and now my partner's fixed.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@suzannah - Weschler recommends taking your temperature and charting cervical fluid/position every day, but she also describes a short cut method where you don't have to chart every day.

@Rosa - As Weschler emphasizes in the book, having or not having a period is not a good indication of fertility. The only indication is whether or not you have ovulated, which a woman can tell by the type of cervical fluid she's secreting and when her temperature rises for several days. FAM is all about charting - not assuming that you can't get pregnant because you're not having a period. Seriously, read the book. The female body is amazing!

Kelly Coyle DiNorcia said...

I have used this book to both get pregnant and *not* get pregnant, and have had 100% success on both counts (knocking on all the wood in the house right now!). It is easy once you get the hang of it, and it is definitely a good way to get to know your body better and keep track of what is going on. For example, I began ovulating before my cycle returned while I was still breastfeeding my second - good information to have. I highly, highly recommend the book, if not for family planning then general women's health.

Rosa said...

Erin, I charted for 3 years when we were trying to get pregnant. It worked great (my body doesn't like to sustain a pregnancy, but that's a separate issue.) I still find it really disturbing how much advocacy for FAM I see around, because any system that requires daily attention and a body that is behaving normally (including the pill, for some people) is going to fail when people are stressed, tired, distracted, depressed, or otherwise having a hard time - the exact wrong time to get pregnant, if there's such a thing as more and less bad times for unwanted pregnancy.

islandveggie said...

I used it for a year and it worked perfect until one drunken night where we slipped up...

~Brandy~ said...

I used this method VERY successfully for 5 years until we decided to let things just happen. I think if both you and your partner are responsible and are open about your bady, than this method can be VERY effective! I am currently pregnant with baby #2, and have every intention to continue with this method after I have the baby!

The Raven said...

This book is fabulous. It completely changed my life about twelve years ago--although I used the book to GET pregnant rather than not to. It is utterly empowering to know how your body works even if you do not choose to use the method for whatever reason. This book and Bill McKibben's Only One (about choosing to have only one child) were what brought me initially to the environmental movement, even though no one at the time would have said Weschler was green at all. Learning to be that self-reliant and natural made all the difference, though.

Julia (Color Me Green) said...

I agree that the book is very empowering and probably should be required reading. I also think it's interesting that most women don't learn about charting and what's going on in their body until they are trying to get pregnant even though the same principles can help you avoid pregnancy. I went off the pill 6 mo ago and have been using fam though I don't feel totally confident in it yet but I hope that will come with time and better understanding if my own patterns. We use condoms or pull out most of the month and go unprotected only at the beginning and end of month. I am a pretty diligent and careful person so I do worry that If I am not finding this very easy then half the population wouldn't really be able to handle it. So it's not fir everyone but it is a good option to learn about. Also as expected when I told my doctor I was using fam she was skeptical and all she had to say was "ok but understand it's not very reliable."

Anonymous said...

We've had good experiences with this also. The only health care professional we've had who was knowledgeable and supportive of this was our Catholic ob/gyn. I don't think it's taught in medical schools much at all and it's interesting that this is the first I've seen it mentioned on "green" website although I read them frequently. It's probably not discussed much because there's very little money to be made with it. But we found it very reliable and empowering.

brenna said...

I have never used FAM as birth control, but when birth control was an issue for me I didn't have the same faith and trust in my own body that I do now. I have to say that that book was amazing and I totally agree that all girls/women should read it for the information alone. Plus, it helped me get pregnant!

Melissa@HerGreenLife said...

I just requested Weschler's book -- thanks for the recommendation. My husband and I have talked about learning more about fertility awareness so that we can [perhaps] increase our condom-free days. Although I don't like the waste of the condoms, the environmental impact is minimal compared to adding another human with a United Statesian carbon footprint.

As far as "being as effective as condoms," like condoms or the pill, the effectiveness is based on the method being used absolutely correctly EVERY time.

Starving Student Survivor said...

Thanks for giving me something else to put on my library list! My husband and I have only ever used condoms. I don't think it's a coincidence that I've never been on any kind of hormonal birth control and also never had much trouble getting pregnant.

I think a big problem with the pill and other hormonal birth control is that the woman never gets to understand her body's own cycle. I can't imagine being so dependent on something external telling me when certain things would happen, and never learning how my body wanted to do things on its own.

I've known people who tracked their cycles so well it allowed them to choose their baby's gender. Do you think there's truth to that?

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

@starving student survivor - The book explains how to use FAM to choose your baby's gender but admits that it's not failproof. I know several people who swear by the method (one in particular who used it to finally got a girl after three boys).

Jessica Nichols said...

When I read that book in 2001, I was amazed. I actually didn't know very much about how my body worked up to that point. Amazed every time at the doctor's office when they insist on a 28-day cycle for every woman. It's insanity!

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