Back in November, #thxbirthcontrol was trending all over social media. There were many stories about how birth control has treated women with health problems or helped them in other ways, and birth control was celebrated as a key factor for achieving gender equality.
As both a Catholic and feminist, I think it is unwise how much we praise birth control. First consider that NFP may actually be more effective at helping to achieve gender equality. Secondly, with regards to women’s health, birth control is often prescribed in place of providing better care to uncover the true source of health issues specific to women (and there are medical doctors who agree).
I liked being in control of my cycle.
I used birth control for about three and a half years. I started it because I didn’t want to get my period while I was on a huge backpacking trip where I would have very limited access to running water. I kept using it even though I wasn’t sexually active because I liked being in control of my cycle. Right after I got diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I learned about some of the risks of birth control and stopped using it. Interestingly enough, my depression improved and my formerly low thyroid values became normal by my next check-up. That year, I started learning how to chart my fertility cycle as part of my marriage prep. Though NFP has been challenging at times, I am also incredibly grateful for this tool. Like those women who are thanking birth control, I want to share why NFP is important to me.
But before I get into five reasons I want to say #thxNFP, I want to add two disclaimers. First, I am not trying to shame women who use birth control. I respect there are a lot of underlying factors I have no way of knowing; I just want to present a lesser-known alternative. Second, I am not a medical professional. These are just my perspectives and experiences.
Without further ado, here’s why this Catholic feminist is grateful for NFP.
1) It works.
As a type 1 diabetic, being pregnant poses risks both for myself and my unborn child. However, if I conceive when my diabetes is better controlled, the risk for my child becomes the same as it would for a child with a healthier mother, and my risk is reduced. The stakes are high, but using the Creighton Model has helped me avoid conception for a year and a half. And, when my health is better and it is safer for me to conceive, I know that I have a much higher chance of conceiving.
2) Knowledge is power.
There are so many jokes about how women are a mystery, but our fertility cycles shouldn’t be part of that. Very few women fit the “typical” cycle. By charting, we can see how our cycle is being affected by different factors. For example, if I’m having a stressful month, I don’t get the added stress when my period is late, because I already know I ovulated later than normal. Charting has also allowed me to better understand how hormonal fluctuations affect my health. Which leads me to my next point...
Very few women fit the “typical” cycle.
3) As someone with multiple chronic illnesses, more information about my body is helpful.
I’m an engineer so I love data, and NFP gives me a wealth of it. I appreciate how charting my cycle helps me understand how different parts of my fertility cycle impact my blood sugar. There are so many different factors that affect my blood sugar, so knowing what is going on with my hormones helps me eliminate one cause of the fluctuations. For example, I know when I have my period, I will have stubbornly high blood sugar. I know when I’m ovulating, I will have slightly elevated blood sugar. And I know that early in my cycle, my blood sugar will drop. Having this information helps me keep tighter control on my blood sugar levels, which benefits my overall health. I’ve also been able to better understand how the changes in my hormones will impact my IBS and my mental health issues.
4) There are no side effects from NFP.
Simply put, there are a ton of scary side effects from hormonal contraception. There also isn’t a lot of information about how not having a period can affect your health long term, but the information out there should at least raise some concerns. Like any drug, there are medical risks and benefits. Even if I became an atheist, I still wouldn’t want to put my body at risk for the side effects of birth control. For me, the benefit of having sex whenever my husband and I want isn’t worth nausea, depression, increased risk of some forms of cancer, potential for blood clots, risk of infertility, and more. NFP has given me the same outcome - not conceiving - while preventing any side effects and actually giving me health benefits.
5) It sanctifies my husband and I.
As much as I appreciate NFP, I’d be lying if I said it was easy. As Katie Prejean McGrady says “NFP can be hard and challenging, a little confusing, sometimes disheartening and frustrating, occasionally a romance zapper, but in the end, worth it.” These challenges bring graces to our lives. They help us grow in virtue. They help us grow together as a couple. They push us to trust God’s will. Our Vocation as a married couple is to see our spouse get to Heaven, and though there are so many other ways that we will experience (and do experience), NFP is a tangible way we grow together right now.
Challenges bring graces to our lives.
Let’s be real: NFP is a lot harder than taking a pill. Your doctor will question you. Your mom will be surprised that she still isn’t a grandmother yet. You and your husband will sigh in frustration when it is only one day after peak. You will never look at the word “stretchy” in the same way again.
But it is worth it.
Thank you NFP for empowering me to know about my body.
Thank you NFP for helping me avoid dangerous side effects and helping me better manage some chronic health conditions.
Thank you NFP for sanctifying Ben and I.