Several years ago, while an eager graduate student, I was tasked to write an in-depth article about something that I was passionate about. I chose to write about fertility awareness and birth control.
I conducted interviews, put out an informal survey, and researched and wrote and revised until it resulted in a 6,000 word essay that I thought nobody would read.
But the reality is, there’s still not much out there about Fertility Awareness or Natural Family Planning. After writing the piece, which was well-received by my professor and skeptical peers, I published it on my hobby blog. I only promoted it to the women who helped me by filling out the survey, and the post has gotten over 1,600 views (which isn’t a huge number, to some, but outrageous to me).
I decided to update and revise it to include here in parts. When I did, I noticed some of the information I had quoted directly from sources has changed in 4 years. I believe this is because of biases in media shifting the way information about birth control is presented, which I find actually pretty scary. I decided to keep some of the old information there, so you can see the shifts for yourself. Brand new information is italicized.
I totally believe that women have the right to know about their bodies and be correctly informed. That’s why I wrote this article in the first place, and that’s why I’m including it here. Spoiler alert: I believe that life begins at conception. If you’re still interested, grab a cup of coffee and read on.
FERTILITY AWARENESS: THE BEST BIRTH CONTROL YOU’RE NOT USING
Two months into our engagement, I was confronted with a delicate question: “What are you doing for birth control?” To my eager friend Marjorie, a counseling major, there were no personal questions.
Up until that point, Kevin and I had been practicing abstinence, a flawlessly successful method of preventing pregnancy. No sex, no babies. I knew that in a few fleeting months, the sex part would change — thank God — but we were nowhere near ready to be parents. So I responded with what I thought I should say: “I’m not sure. Go on the pill, I guess.”
It seemed like the right answer. The pill was easy, convenient, and effective. My mom used the pill. My friends used the pill. My family members used the pill. It’s what sexually active people did. Something about ingesting hormones in order to control my body did seem a bit unsettling, but if everyone else was doing it, it had to be ok.
Little did I know.
The Beginning of My Journey
Marjorie confronted me with a bounty of controversial information about hormonal birth control, things I had never heard before, like, “It can cause spontaneous abortions,” and “The risks far outweigh the benefits,” and “You can prevent pregnancy without having to regulate your body with hormones.”
After Marjorie finished, I stared at her, overwhelmed and slightly irritated. My stomach lurched at the thought of the pill being abortive. Why would she go there? Ignorance is bliss. Conviction can be torture. She smiled empathetically as she gave her final exhortation: “Just look into it, Kristin. Research it and see for yourself. It’s a big deal. I don’t want you to make a choice you would regret.”
So I did. I researched until I thought my eyes would burn out of my head, keeping a binder of all the articles I read and annotated. Because I wanted to be informed about my options, I investigated multiple perspectives on the issue. I asked women questions about their experience with birth control. I kept anticipating that moment when my research would lead me to a peaceful conclusion that hormonal birth control did not conflict with my values.
But that never happened. While birth control has not been scientifically proven to cause spontaneous abortions, the logic supporting the argument was too convincing. Because I believe life begins at conception, the convenience of hormonal birth control could not offset my conviction. So Kevin and I decided, with fear and trepidation, that we were going to use fertility awareness, also called natural family planning, as our method of birth control.
Since the decision was a difficult one – I cried for a week about it – I was hoping for some quality moral support. That didn’t happen. When I told my parents, my father declared, “That is the stupidest decision you could ever make,” and insisted that we would be pregnant within a year. When I told my OBGYN, she responded with, “I thought you didn’t want to get pregnant.” She then launched into a lengthy list of reasons why I should change my mind. She even went as far to say it would ruin our sex life. “No one wants to be in the moment and then shout out, ‘Oh honey, let me get a condom real quick.’” She insisted that it was healthy for my body to go on the pill. When I sheepishly told her I was more concerned about my potential unborn children than my body, she frowned again and sent me home with a free trial pack. “Just try it,” she insisted. “I’ll see you back in a month so we can change it if it doesn’t work for you.”
I remember sitting in my car after that incident, holding that pack of tiny pink pills in my hand, the internal conflict churning within. Should I try it? Or should I throw it out the window? I opted for calling Kevin. “Kristin,” he said, “don’t let other people tell you what you think you should do. If you feel convicted about it, don’t try it.”
A week later, I returned the pack to the doctor’s office unopened.
And guess what. For three years, we had a sex-filled marriage and were happy, healthy, and childfree. Don’t get me wrong – there were moments where I was terrified that I was pregnant (particularly when a condom broke at prime baby-making time — that was not a good night). But the short, infrequent bouts of pregnancy anxiety are a minor downside to an otherwise fabulous method of birth control.
When we were ready to conceive, I knew my body and cycle so intimately that it literally took us one try to make a baby. Fertility Awareness had proven not only to be effective as preventing pregnancy, but also for achieving it.
So why do so few women use it?
The Results are In
My curiosity prompted me to send out an informal survey about women’s experience with, and knowledge of, birth control. Their answers both excited and inspired me. More women were using non-hormonal contraception than I thought, and most of the women who didn’t weren’t well educated about other options.
The more I read the women’s responses, however, the more my excitement was replaced by shock. Not only were women uneducated about alternatives to birth control — they were also uneducated about what was going on in their own bodies. None of the women that were currently using birth control were able to accurately describe how it works. Now, let me clarify. Most women had a generally right idea about how hormonal birth control works, but their answers were incomplete. Here is the fascinating part: of the eight women who answered the question correctly, four had never used hormonal birth control, and the other four had decided to get off of it. The women who were educated about birth control chose against it.
I wonder, then, how many more would change their minds about hormonal birth control if they knew the truth. Women want to be, and deserve to be, accurately informed, but the information most of us have been given is incomplete or incorrect.
Still interested? Read on about birth control and its influence on reproduction here.