***A WORD OF CAUTION: If you do not want to read about Natural Family Planning, or things that occur when you have a female body, then this post is not for you. With Natural Family Planning Awareness Week approaching (July 22-28), I wanted to tell my story, and why my husband and I chose NFP. So here it goes…
I was the second to last girl in our small eighth grade class to start menstruating. To be honest, after the sex education class we had just completed, I was hoping it would never come. I had issues from the beginning. I remember being really embarrassed to tell my mom after the Christmas program when I realized what had happened. Then it disappeared. For months. I played lots of sports and was really active, so it wasn’t that big of a deal but I did feel a twinge of envy that other girls I knew were not surprised to see their Aunt Flow when she showed up. I was always caught off guard, or it would come at the worst times: vacations, 8th grade trips… (But she never showed during swim week in P.E., oddly enough.) My gynecologist at the time told me if I was menstruating twice a year I was good, but told me I should probably go on birth control, and made sure to ask me repeatedly if I was sexually active (I was not). High school and college was more of the same. I was cycling 2-3 times a year, which was enough to satisfy my doctor. I was not concerned until some friends and I were talking about it our freshman year of college and I mentioned I had not had a period in 6 months. They looked horrified and one of them said “You should get that checked out.” When I was home on winter break, I did. I was asked if I was sexually active, I said no. They had my mom leave the room and asked again, and I said no. They administered a pregnancy test and tried to give me a PAP test with the non-virgin tool only to discover that *GASP* I was a virgin. The doctor did not address with me the possibilities as to why I might not be cycling, nor did she offer a solution unless I was willing to take hormonal contraception. The three gynecologists I saw while in college scoffed when I said I was not sexually active, tried to make me take birth control to “regulate” my cycles, and rolled their eyes when I refused, with not a single one of them offering me a possible reason or solution. My junior year, I gained 30 pounds quickly, with no lifestyle changes: I was eating healthy and exercising regularly. This gain made my cycle issues worse, but all medical professionals would recommend to me was birth control. As far as I knew, birth control was for people that were not Catholic and people that were having sex, not me. I thought NFP was also not for me because I was not married, and what was the point of knowing what NFP was about if I was not married or having sex? I was unhappy with my body and frustrated.
When my husband asked me to marry him, one of the first calls was to a priest friend. He told me that we would meet up a few times, but in the meantime I should check into an NFP class. As we attended a Catholic college, this was extremely easy. We signed up for a Couple to Couple League SymptoThermal Method course several months before the wedding date. I was excited to learn, but a little overwhelmed as well. There were many things to remember and I was having a hard time interpreting my chart. The course was three months long, and I had not completed a cycle. A few weeks before the course ended, I brought my charts to the instructors to get some feedback. They were not sure what to tell me, but said they would do some research and recommended that I contact a gynecologist. The next class, one of the instructors pulled me aside and said the best she could figure, was that I may have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). She reiterated that she was not a physician and couldn’t tell me for sure. I walked away feeling scared. I went home to look up what PCOS was and all the scary statistics to boot. I was worried and did not know where to begin in finding a new gynecologist in the area, so I put it off a few more months. My period finally came… on my wedding night. Par for the course, right?
When we came back to school to finish the year, I put off looking for a new doctor. After all, two cycles a year is all I needed, right? Things could change now that I was sexually active, right? It doesn’t matter if my body is a barren wasteland if I am happily married, right? It just was not meant to be for us, right? I told myself that God had other plans at first, but eventually I began to look up local doctors. On a whim, I searched for ‘STM doctor’. To my surprise there were doctors that were familiar with NFP. Doctors I could take my charts to and ask “What is wrong with me?” and they just might have an answer.
I felt really silly walking into Dr. H’s office with my chart binder. I did not know what to expect, but I was hoping for some answers and Dr. H was full of them. He told me all about PCOS and the ways to confirm the diagnosis, but that he had other suggestions versus confirming what we knew based on my charting: I was not ovulating and I had irregular cycles. He ordered some tests and I was given insulin resistant PCOS as a diagnosis. The treatment plan we decided on was truly a Godsend. In time, my weight began to drop and my cycles shortened. I was still having trouble ovulating, (not going to lie here: I had not lost ALL the weight) so we talked about our fertility options as well. He was a practicing Catholic also, and had no problem allowing me time to consult with my priest about treatments so that I knew for certain I was not participating in anything that was not Catho- approved. That treatment plan worked as well, but unfortunately, we lost our first child to a miscarriage eight weeks into the pregnancy. I was heartbroken. The little ball and heartbeat I had seen only a few weeks before on the first ultrasound was not there on the second. We were advised to wait 3 cycles and to try again. It was Christmas time and I was still just devastated. I miscarried at home, and mourned the loss of a life that was very much real.
The silver lining of that experience was that a switch was flipped. It was as though the pregnancy woke my body up. The next cycle we were pregnant again, and I knew it before any test could have told me so. I waited until I had a positive at home test. I immediately called my doctor so that he could confirm. This time we knew what to do. My son was born in November of 2009, about four years after my first visit with Dr. H. I have never been so grateful to a human being in my life. Dr. H renewed my faith in medical professionals by assuming that I was an expert on my own body; he just gave me the words I needed to describe what I had known all along.
I am blessed that my mom trusted me from the beginning. I was not forced to take birth control, and my PCOS is mild enough that I do not have many of the more difficult symptoms. I still am able to ovulate on my own, though it does not happen every cycle, and I know this because I use NFP. I chart. I know my body, and I know when things are not right, and when things are very right. I am thankful that God made me stubborn enough not to cave in to the four gynecologists that wanted me to treat symptoms instead of find the real diagnosis.
Why did I choose NFP? I chose NFP because I chose life. I did not want to live a marriage where I kept my fertility under lock and key until our method of birth control failed or until we were “ready”. ( I am not sure you can ever completely be ready for the life-changing experiences of parenthood, but people become parents all the same, I hear.) I wanted to live a marriage where we talked about children often and that it was always a part of the discussion. Why do I continue to use NFP? I continue to use NFP because I am the expert on my own body: I know when pregnancy is a possibility long before my period is late, and although I still have irregular cycles, I am now able to better determine when my cycles will begin. I find joy in the openness NFP has afforded us in our marriage. My experience with NFP has also prepared me as a mother who has a daughter. I am comfortable talking about how my body works, and I have knowledge to pass on so that she is also an expert on how her body works.
My experience with NFP has been extremely positive. It has allowed me to learn how my body and fertility work, and it has also shown me the ways that my body is different. I hear often from women that have irregular cycles that NFP would never work for them, and I am proud to inform them that is not the case.
In conclusion I would like to add that Natural Family Planning, in all its various forms and methods, IS NOT THE RYTHYM METHOD.
Check out this page: www.iusenfp for more information!