These personal interviews were conducted in 2014. I have changed the individual’s names, except for the case of Dr. Reiff, for the sake of privacy.
John and Katie
The abortive nature of birth control was the ultimate reason why John did not want his soon-to-be-wife, Katie, on birth control in the first place. He explained to me, “I didn’t want her to be on the pill at all. In fact, I bought her a Taking Charge of Your Fertility book.” I must have raised my eyebrow or something, because he grinned and said, “I did! I really wanted her to be knowledgeable and educated, so I actually bought the book and read it before I gave it to her.” He laughed.
“I think I was just really focused on all the fun wedding plans,” Katie broke in. “We got engaged and it hit him like, ‘Oh, crap, this is what I’m signing up for.’ So while I was busy picking out flowers, he was reading this fertility book.” It was my turn to laugh. She looked lovingly at her husband and continued, her voice more serious. “Then he brings it to me one night and he’s like, ‘I need you to read this.’ And that’s when I realized I really needed to research this and we had to make a decision.”
When I asked them why they chose against birth control, John said, “I would say two reasons – the biggest was the abortive nature…”
“Can I clarify?” Katie interjected. “A lot of the research that I did gave evidence for oral contraceptives depleting the female reproductive system of the nutrients it needs to conceive. One of the articles I read likened it to making your uterus like a desert.” Even though the pill itself wouldn’t abort the egg, she explained, it could keep a “perfectly good fertilized egg” from implanting. “We felt like intentionally doing something to change the way God made my body was wrong.” Reason number two? Side effects.
“Did you feel supported in your choice?” I asked.
“I think my family was very supportive – I would even say glad,” John said. “My parents would even say, actually, they don’t think we should use condoms.”
Katie shook her head. “They want grandbabies – yesterday.”
“Hey, it’s being fruitful and multiplying,” he added lightheartedly.
Things were not so well received by Katie’s parents. “We actually had to have a sit down with them and say, no, we’re not going to the OBGYN to get birth control pills. And, no, we don’t need you to fund them – that’s not the issue.” She went on to explain that her mom wanted to try to set up an appointment for her. “I think there was a part of my mom [that] felt like we were in some way attacking a choice that she made, because she had been on birth control prior to having me…[she] had three kids and it didn’t ruin her body.” She continued with saying that her parents were also concerned about them getting pregnant so young and with little money. “I know that they had such good intentions in their heart, and once we really expressed our conviction and…some of the facts that we had, they were like, ‘All right, if that’s what you’re going to do, that’s what you’re going to do.’”
“It was almost expected that we would have a kid immediately.”
“Yeah,” Katie added, “My mom joked, ‘When you tell us you’re pregnant in August, we’ll be excited.’”
“We’ve been doing pretty good though – two years, and no baby yet. It works!”
How it worked for them is by predicting Katie’s ovulation through temperature. For the first year of marriage, she took her temperature with a Basal Thermometer by Emay, Clinical BBT Accurate 1/100th Degree, Basal Body Temperature Thermometer for Natural Family Planning (No Backlight)” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Basal Body Thermometer at 5:00 a.m. and recorded it in a notebook (“Nothing fancy”). Through charting her temperature, Katie knew when she would ovulate, and they would use condoms on the fertile days before and directly after ovulation. It may seem like a lot of work, but she said it gets easier with time. “I think a reason that a lot of women choose the pill is because they are…fearful of what all would go into not [taking it]. And I was fearful of that because it put a whole lot of responsibility on me to know what was going on in my body. But once I began, even after 3-4 months…it became like second nature.”
And knowing your body is a definite plus, according to this couple. John concluded with these thoughts: “Whatever you decide, just make sure that you know what you’re doing, whether its putting a pill into your body or using a condom or reading a book about fertility. Being knowledgeable is important and it’s going to help you make the best decision for your situation.”
But many women are not told that fertility awareness is even a viable option. Despite the fact that over the years, many kinds of birth control have been recalled for the adverse, and sometimes life-threatening side effects, it is still the most recommended method for preventing pregnancy. The pill is the most popular with about 14 million users in America alone, and the number will surely go up with the implementation of Obamacare.
Since this has been written, birth control stats have changed. IUDs and implantations have become increasingly popular, each with its own set of risks. If you are on birth control and would like to see a list of the risks, research it on the Physician’s Desk Reference. There’s a lot of information there, and it’s a little complicated to navigate, but you may want to see for yourself.
Not all women use birth control in order to prevent pregnancy. Some start using the pill for medical reasons. This was the case for my friend, Lindsay, who went on the pill during high school after having an irregularly heavy period. She had lost so much blood that she had to get two blood transfusions. In recounting the experience, she admitted, “I was anxious about it. I didn’t realize that could happen to someone my age.”
Unfortunately, the doctors did not help to ease her anxiety. “The doctor’s didn’t believe me that I wasn’t sexually active. They asked me several times and made my mom leave the room. They thought I might have miscarried or something…I felt kind of misjudged.” In any case, they recommended that she went on the pill. “I don’t remember them giving any other options.” When she got married in September of 2010, the pill served as an effective form of birth control. She uses it to this day.
When asked if she would consider getting off the pill, her freckled face broke into a grin. “Yes. We definitely plan on having kids at some point.” She was recommended by her gynecologist to go off of birth control three months before trying to conceive. “If I start trying to get pregnant right away, it might lead to a miscarriage.” She also mentioned that if she developed negative side effects to the pill, she would consider getting off of it, but so far, so good.
My good friend Autumn was not so fortunate. Autumn only used the Nuvaring for nine months before she decided to change methods. “I didn’t like the way it affected me,” she said. “It made me feel really anxious…I got headaches from it, and I definitely could feel it inside of me.” When she was originally deciding on birth control, she knew she wanted an alternative to the pill. When she asked her nurse practitioner, the woman suggested the Nuvaring. “I didn’t want to take a pill because I didn’t like the idea of putting chemicals into my body,” she said, “and that’s what the Nuvaring did anyway.” She shook her head and chuckled.
After discussing it with her husband, they decided to try the fertility awareness method. She purchased a fertility monitor/ovulation calculator, called the LadyComp, that she is very satisfied with, and she and her husband use condoms during the days she could get pregnant.
When Autumn informed her nurse practitioner she wanted to try fertility awareness as opposed to the Nuvaring, she was surprised. Ironically, the same nurse practitioner who recommended the Nuvaring to her admitted that she, too, had used fertility awareness. Autumn was shocked. “I thought she would say, ‘That’s probably not the best thing to do if you don’t want to have kids. Try the pill,’ or something like that. But she was totally like, ‘That’s cool.’”
When I asked Autumn if she was happy with her choice, she agreed whole-heartedly. “Condoms aren’t always the most exciting thing,” she admitted, “and it’s definitely more tempting to ‘do it’ without them, so it’s more of a risk at times.” But it also has enhanced her sexual relationship with her husband, Kyle, by improving communication and getting him involved. “It’s fifty-fifty now because he’s responsible for wearing condoms part of the time and I’m responsible for taking my temperature and communicating when we can and can’t [have unprotected sex].” The best part of all is that there are no side effects.
Autumn is far from the only one who has chosen to ditch birth control because of the side effects.
Sally stopped taking the pill when she wanted to have kids and discovered that the pills had significantly affected her sex drive. After getting pregnant, she and her husband decided to remain off of the pill and only use condoms. “Believe me, I have had my doctor try to talk me into [going back on] the pill for years because my periods are so frequent and heavy, but I always tell him, ‘No, thanks’.” For her, the convenience just isn’t worth it.
Donna had been using the Ortho Evera patch as a method of birth control, but stopped because she gained weight and was throwing up at the beginning of each cycle. She finally decided to follow the example of her two sisters and choose fertility awareness instead. “I was done with putting something unnatural in my body and it sounded very appealing when they described it to me.” Six years and one planned baby later, she is still using fertility awareness.
Some side effects are more severe. I asked Dr. Reiff, a chiropractor and natural medicine expert, about his experience with women who used hormonal birth control. “I have had couples and women come to me after they’ve been on birth control and they’ve lost their period. Now they want to get pregnant, and now they can’t get pregnant because their cycles are out of sync.” He said he can do some things with acupuncture and nutritional support to counteract the effects of birth control, but it doesn’t always work. “The body’s not designed to not be fruitful and multiply,” he said. “Man in his wisdom is trying to go against what we’re designed to do.” The consequences for tampering with the human body may be more significant than you think.
Cassie has seen that first-hand. This Colorado native has done a lot of work in the women’s health field. After graduating with her M.S. in Counseling, she worked as an employee for Life Choices Pregnancy Center.
Even outside her job, Cassie has been well acquainted with the negative effects of birth control. She fired off just a few stories about her good friends. One lost her sex drive completely while on the pill, another was advised to get off of birth control because of outrageous mood swings, and another couldn’t fit into her wedding dress because she gained so much weight from the pill. She also recounted the painful experience of a friend who miscarried while on the pill. “She had never wanted children, but [this miscarriage] really hurt her emotionally. Women don’t think of the emotional effects. It was something for her and her husband to work through, and it was a grief for them.” Her voice was sorrowful. Sources can make the side effects seem insignificant, she explained, but what women actually experience can be quite traumatic.
Cassie is as compassionate as she is straightforward. I knew that she would give me an honest and thorough perspective on birth control due to her experience in educating women about their options. She spent an entire year speaking in Colorado schools about sexuality and healthy relationships, particularly through raising awareness about holistic reasons for abstinence.
Cassie also served as a pregnancy counselor, discussing with women alternatives to abortion as well as methods of birth control. Her phone interview proved to be insightful.
Cassie unashamedly advocates for fertility awareness. “I think it is entirely effective, if done correctly.” She even believes it is as effective as taking birth control correctly. Any method could be used incorrectly, she explained, and when it is used incorrectly, the risk of pregnancy is obviously greater. “Several women who I gave pregnancy tests to…said, ‘I don’t understand why I’m pregnant – I was using birth control.’ So it still happens. The pill is only as effective as you are responsible. Even then, your body can reject it.” Fertility awareness, she continued, is a better choice because it works with a woman’s natural biology, eliminating side effects.
Fertility awareness has far more to offer than just freedom from side effects, though. Cassie spent the majority of the interview discussing the emotional and relational benefits. “A lot of women that I talk to have no idea how their bodies work. They know they get their period, and they don’t like it, but they don’t know why or what it really means.” Fertility awareness, she said, forces women to be aware of and responsible for their bodies and actions, which “is empowering for women.” It also promotes equality in the relationship. “[Fertility awareness] gives the man in the relationship some responsibility, too – it’s not just on the woman for taking a pill.”
When I asked her what advice she would give women who were contemplating fertility awareness, she was quick to respond: “Definitely do your research and make a decision based off of knowing your body and what you want for your health.” Without hesitation, she added, “Don’t trust your physician, per se. At least go to several physicians for a second opinion.” And, finally, “Actually look up the studies – see what the risk factors are. Don’t be swayed into doing something that could be potentially harmful for you.”
Soon, Cassie will be able to put her own advice and knowledge to good use, since she recently got engaged. When I asked about her plans for birth control, she was very frank. “I have discussed with David that I do not, under any circumstances, want to take hormonal birth control or use an IUD.” Her reasoning against the IUD is that it can cause spontaneous abortions or rupture through the uterus, the very thought of which makes me cringe.
Cassie is committed to fertility awareness. She explained that David is completely supportive and shows that he cares about her, her body, and her convictions. He has been an active participant in the whole process, and Cassie wants to keep it that way. “I want my husband to be part of the birth control process. I don’t think [it] should be a one-sided issue in marriage.” Ultimately, she said that the ongoing communication is important. “I think he knows me better, and I think it will benefit our sex life.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting points Cassie brought up is that fertility awareness fosters commitment in marriage. “[Family planning] requires communication, and it also demands self-control,” she explained. “In my opinion as a counselor, that is one of the number one reasons why marriages fail in America today – it’s a lack of self-control.” Selfishness, she added, is another reason. “I think that family planning cultivates selflessness and self-control.”
In her no-nonsense way, she told me, “David and I actually do not want to have children at all – ever – so the fact that we are still going to do family planning shows how much I believe in it and know that it can work.” I could hear her smile through the phone.