7 Things Charting Taught Me c/o Cassie Wilson

Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Method are typically associated with married couples trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy…. but fertility awareness encompasses more than pregnancy achievement/avoidance. It’s a refreshing, holistic, reverent way to view the body of a woman and the way it is designed.

Cassie Wilson, a young adult Catholic, shares what she has learned through charting her cycles and diving deeper into the understanding of her feminine genius. Click here to read about what she learned.

You can follow her on twitter @cassiedrajw

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Is NFP Effective? by Ashlie Dill

Question 1: Does Natural Family Planning actually work to prevent pregnancy?

The short answer: yes.

The long answer: I understand why people may feel skeptical about the effectiveness of preventing pregnancy with NFP. Really, I do – because up until I started reading about it 2 years ago (and practicing it about 1 year ago), I thought NFP was just a lot of guesswork and rolling the dice. Since my cycles fluctuate in length, I thought this meant that I would not be able to use NFP.  I didn’t know that NFP did not rely on counting days (I was confusing NFP with the outdated Rhythm Method). I didn’t know that my body could produce consistent signs that would tell me if I was fertile or not. When I found out about fertile signs, I still was hesitant to believe that my body would actually give me readable clues to my fertility. I mean, come on. It does sound pretty crazy right? I also doubted my ability to understand the signs, even if they were there. Why?

With the rise of The Pill, we have received an increase of direct and indirect conditioning to believe that our bodies are not trustworthy; we’ve been told that our bodies do not possess a reliable capability to space out pregnancy without any chemicals or latex. Think about it. Think of all the messages you’ve received in health classes, from commercials, billboards, websites, the health center at your college: Use a condom. Be on the pill. You will get pregnant, so you NEED to practice “safe-sex.” Indirectly, these statements send a few messages –  one of which is that you are not capable of preventing pregnancy without these products. (And not to mention bigpharma companies are making a killing off of society’s dependency on their products.)

But it’s not true. You can prevent pregnancy with NFP and it’s highly effective. However, understanding and believing its efficacy depends on a thorough and accurate understanding of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Until you have a grasp of that, you will continue to possess doubts. After studying the menstrual cycle, you can learn how NFP works in conjunction with the natural fluctuations of a woman’s body in order to prevent or achieve pregnancy.

But don’t take my word for it. Before you launch into a comment-leaving rage, check out these other sites that discuss the effectiveness of NFP.

http://www.naturalfamilyplanning.ie/nfp-effectiveness/how-effective/

http://iusenfp.com/home/does-nfp-work/

http://www.lady-comp.com/en/page/effectiveness (this organization’s fertility monitor boasts a 99.3% effectiveness rate.)

Stay tuned for the next most frequent question on NFP.

Why do the Bishops and Other Catholics Oppose the HHS Mandate? by Ashlie Dill

On July 19th the Huffington Post published an article entitled Catholic Bishops Promote ‘Natural’ Family Planning Amid Battle Over Contraception Mandate.”  While I certainly have issues with the content of this article, I will choose to focus on the title because I believe that the title is misleading. It is true that the Bishops and many Catholic writers have taken the opportunity to write about and discuss Natural Family Planning (NFP). However, this is not simply a battle between NFP and contraception. While that conversation is one worth having, the Bishops’ (and other religious) opposition to the HHS Mandate goes far beyond the immorality contraception.

Targeting the Bishops’ stance on contraception is a way to distract Americans from the real problem that the Bishops have with the mandate. The true issue here is that our government is requiring that all employers provide health plans that include hormonal contraception, early abortifacient drugs and sterilization. These services must be provided by employers even if they have a religious objection to these services. Requiring that they provide these services violates their First Amendment right to the freedom of religion. Those who are opposed to the mandate are not trying to diminish existing access to contraception, even if they are morally opposed to the use of contraception.

In addition to having their religious liberty violated, the institutions that do not comply with the mandate will be subjected to heavy fines. These fines are not simply the coverage cost for birth control and other services, but an exorbitant amount. Here are the words directly from the CRS Report:

A group health plan that fails to comply with the pertinent requirements in the IRC may be subject to a tax of $100 for each day in the noncompliance period with respect to each individual to whom such failure relates. However, if failures are not corrected before a notice of examination for tax liability is sent to the employer, and these failures occur or continue during the period under examination, the penalty will not be less than $2,500. Where violations are considered to be more than de minimis, the amount will not be less than $15,000.

Yes. You read that right. That’s $100, per day per employee (from my understanding this only applies to women, since these “preventative services” are for women). That’s alot of money. Say you have 25 employees. Violation of the Mandate for just ONE day would cost $2,500. That’s not the end of it… There’s more in the press release from the Energy and Commerce Committee:

 Consequently, for example, if a self-insured religious charity or hospital with 100 employees chooses to exercise its religious rights instead of complying with the Obamacare mandate, it could be subject to a $3.65 million annual fine.

So, the reason the HHS department wants this Mandate is because they believe that a woman should have access to free birth control regardless of who her employer is. But if her employer chooses to exercise his/her religious freedom and does not comply with mandate, women (and men) will be losing their jobs because these institutions do not have the annual 3.65 million dollars to pay the government.  How is this really helping and protecting women? How is this bringing more jobs to the American economy?

Some people may say, “Well, women NEED birth control.” I disagree with such sentiments, but regardless of what I think on the subject the fact is that contraception is already widely available. State and federal governments devote hundreds of millions of dollars in annual funds to provide free or low-cost contraception to American women. 4,000 Title X clinics have provided contraceptives since 1970— 69% of clients fall below the poverty line. Over $300 million is annually given to PlannedParenthood and community health centers that provide contraceptives at low costs or free (Elise Kulik, presentation at the University of Michigan). Contraception is not scarce, and one who needs financial assistance can get it for very cheap, if not free. Why strip religious individuals and groups of their rights – rights that are supposed to be protected by the Constitution of the United States of America – to provide women these services that are easily accessible? In the video below, Representative Gowdy challenges Kathleen Sebelius (lady in charge of the Mandate) on whether she actually used the Constitutional Balance while drafting this Mandate and the ensuing “compromises” made for religious individuals and groups.

 

As the Bishops and others oppose the Mandate, please keep in mind that they are not necessarily seeking to reduce the access described above. They are not trying to make birth control illegal. They are begging the Administration to create an exemption that allows religious employers to act according to the beliefs of their faith – and in this case, that means not purchasing and providing birth control, abortifacient drugs, and sterilizations.

Many Catholics support universal healthcare, even some of the Bishops. But we cannot support this piece of it because it is in violation of our conscience and our Church’s teaching (a well known and well documented teaching, at that). When the government asks us to choose between our religion and the law, we will choose to obey God and the Church. Unfortunately, this likely means the closing of many Catholic and other religious charities, adoption agencies, hospitals and non-profit organizations. And as mentioned, this means the loss of jobs for both American men and women.

Please do more reading as I have only provided a very brief summary on this issue. Here are some links to helpful websites. Also, check out this video in which Helen Alvare addresses some of the issues regarding contraception, the government, religious liberty and the well-being of women.

Having a Minor Freak Out Moment by Ashlie Dill

Today is the day. The day that I have long awaited. It is the day (that the Lord has made and) that iusenfp.com launches! Give this site a look if you are at all interested in natural methods of family planning. And if you’re a little nervous about it, I think their information will help sooth your nerves.

This definitely ain’t your high school health class. The (awesome) stuff you can and should know about your cycle (or about your wife’s cycle) is explained throughout the website. Check out The Science of the Mucus for starters (and learn to love the word mucus. or fluid. take your pick). You can also find descriptions of the various types of fertility awareness and the science that goes behind it. They even have a quiz to help you figure out which method may be the best for you! Super sweet.

As you meander through the website, take some time to read the blog posts about people’s personal thoughts on NFP…including my absolute all-time most favorite piece by Simcha Fisher “How to Ruin Your Marriage with NFP” – and now you’re like whaaaaat? Ruin my marriage with NFP? Ashlie, I thought you said NFP is good for marriages? Read the article and find out what the heck Simcha is talkin bout…

Onto my favorite part: the store. I love the store because it has great products that promote environmentally friendly feminine hygiene and some awesome NFP tools (shopping + NFP = these are a few of my favorite things). I personally would love to invest in a LadyComp. Another plus about the store is that iusenfp.com will get 4% of the proceeds if you buy the products on their site (without raising the price for the buyer, mind you!). This money will go towards the mission and continuation of iusenfp.com. So you get cool stuff and support the site. Win-Win.

Follow @iusenfp on Twitter for updates.

1flesh.org Comments on Melinda Gates’ “No Controversy” Campaign

Photo Credit: 1flesh.org

Do yourself a favor and give yourself a tour of the 1flesh.org website, and while you’re at it, read up on the whole Melinda Gates issue. 1flesh gives a thorough response to why Melinda Gates’ campaign is ineffective – check it out by clicking on the photo! Also, give a looksy the video posted yesterday about why teaching people the Billings Method is better than handing out contraception.

Paragard: Hormone Free Does Not Mean No Side Effects by Elise Kulik

The ParaGard® has a plus. This particular intrauterine device (IUD), unlike the pill, the patch, the shot and a host of other contraceptives, is hormone-free. Wondering how a device could boast an effectiveness rate of 99% (typical use) without hormones, I looked into it.

I saw a mag ad for ParaGard a couple months ago and tore it out. I did so because I wanted to see how the company, Teva Women’s Health, says their product works…

On the website, on the “How it Works” page it reads: “ParaGard® works primarily by preventing the sperm from reaching and fertilizing the egg, making it one of the most effective forms of birth control, with or without hormones.”

We know this is not the full story, so I clicked on the “prescribing information” link in the bottom right corner, and after the document loaded sure enough I read: “CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY- The contraceptive effectiveness of ParaGard® is enhanced by copper continuously released into the uterine cavity. Possible mechanism(s) by which copper enhances contraceptive efficacy include interference with sperm transport or fertilization, and prevention of implantation.”

The makers of ParaGard do not advertise that one of the primary mechanisms of their device is to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. This is incredibly dishonest and misleading.

“Natural” would a step in the right direction. However, having an T-shaped copper device in your uterus for up to 10 years at a time, is by no means “natural”. Another tidbit worth noting: “Although uncommon, pregnancy while using ParaGard® can be life threatening and may result in loss of pregnancy or fertility.”

Do some research and you will find that IUDs aren’t as magical as this picture makes them seem…

NO HORMONES DOES NOT MEAN NO SIDE EFFECTS: “You may have other side effects with ParaGard®. For example, you may have anemia (low blood count), backache, pain during sex, menstrual cramps, allergic reaction, vaginal infection, vaginal discharge, faintness, or pain. This is not a complete list of possible side effects.” Others include, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), uterine perforation, difficult removals and expulsion of the device. Though uncommon, the risk for PID is one of the reasons the device is not recommended for women who “have current behavior that puts you at high risk of PID (for example, because you are having sex with several men, or your partner is having sex with other women).”

KEEP DOING YOUR RESEARCH and encourage others in your life to do the same. ParaGard prevents implantation, simple as that. This is hidden from the consumer and brushed up to be so wholesome by highlighting that it is “hormone free”.

“ParaGard®: the only reversible birth control that’s both highly effective and hormone free.”

We know that is blatantly false. Keep reppin’ that NFP.

Natural Family Planning: A Husband’s Perspective by Michael Hahn

This post is re-published with permish from Grace at camppatton.com (do yourself a favor and go read her blog. You’re welcome) and the author Michael Hahn.
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The Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception has been in the news a lot recently, leading a number of people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to take to public fora and offer their opinions on it, both for and against.

Especially in Catholic circles, but increasingly among Protestant Christians as well, discussions of this sort often trade on assumptions concerning the barbarism, or the beauty, of what is seen as the “Catholic alternative” to contraception, natural family planning (NFP).

Not being a moral theologian, I’m sure I can’t give a proper account of how exactly contraception and NFP differ from a moral standpoint—and thankfully, many others have weighed in on precisely this point. Nonetheless, as a husband, father, and sometime “practitioner” of NFP who takes seriously the reality of this difference (even if I can’t explain it), I’d like to think that there’s still something that I can add, based on my own experience of NFP, and its unique challenges and rewards. I know that everyone’s experience is different, so I don’t pretend to speak for others—neither for men in general, nor for married couples, nor even for my own wife, whose perspective as a woman remains irreducibly other than my own. Yet even if my experience isn’t at all universal, the standards of Christian living we should be aiming for are.

NFP: Promise vs. Reality

Right off the bat I should admit that I have generally had one of two ideas of what NFP looks like. The first is a bright, soft-focused mental picture of marital bliss, where husband and wife are in harmony with each other, with nature, and with God. There may be kids, too, and if so, they are always beautiful and well behaved. This is what the cover of pretty much any piece of NFP literature that I’ve seen will look like, and it’s certainly what I had in mind before getting married.

The second idea is more or less the exact opposite of the first: think dark and poorly lit, with husband and wife each feeling frustrated, resentful, and very much alone. Maybe they’re fighting again, or perhaps just sitting in a tense silence that is broken only by the baby’s cries from the other room. I’m not saying this is how things look like in our home, at least not exactly, but this is the sort of foreboding way that I’ve tended to regard NFP since getting married. Were I to state it in a quasi-mathematical form, my thinking could be summed up as: NFP = no sex = tension and disharmony.

I’ve of course read that NFP tracking methods can be used when a couple is trying to achieve pregnancy, which would undoubtedly alter my equation above. But since my own experience of it has been mainly in the context of pregnancy avoidance, and since a woman’s “signs” can often be more like “mixed signals,” I’m going to let the first part of it stand: NFP = no sex (for the most part).

As I see it, if there’s a problem with the math involved in my way of thinking about NFP, it’s most likely in the second part of my equation: no sex = tension and disharmony. And it’s on this point that I find the Catholic Church’s teaching especially helpful.

There’s a nice euphemism used for “no sex” in the various resources I’ve seen on the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, namely, “continence,” which is more or less just a fancy word for self-control. And in my experience, the tension and disharmony that I tend to equate with continence is due mainly to a lack of real self-control on my part—since it’s not a habit I’ve sufficiently cultivated, it usually feels pretty unnatural to me.

What’s So “Natural” About It, Anyway?

On the one hand, it makes sense that practicing continence might seem unnatural, since coming together as man and wife is an essential and natural part of the sacrament of marriage. On the other hand, there are many instances when prudence might dictate that my wife and I are not at a place where we can welcome new members of the family, and that we therefore shouldn’t “issue invitations” by engaging in an act that by its very nature is ordered toward procreation.

Continence or NFP isn’t “natural,” then, as if it were essential to marriage, and yet it is natural insofar as its exercise recognizes and affirms the divinely inscribed nature of sex between husband and wife. But damn if it isn’t still really hard.

Why is it so hard? Well for starters, there’s that basic problem of a lack of self-control that seems to plague most all of us since the fall of Adam and Eve. This makes it so that gaining virtues of self-control and relinquishing selfish attitudes is really hard work. And in the context of practicing NFP, this hard work usually includes a whole lot more of the communication, cooperation, and self-sacrifice that married life already requires.

But it’s precisely because continence is so linked to the tasks proper to marriage that I find these extra efforts to be worthwhile. See, the promise of NFP isn’t that it will automatically work wonders for your marriage or sex life. Rather, it’s that, when properly used, it can become a fruitful means of progress in the lifelong task of fulfilling our vows of complete mutual self-gift that we spouses make on our wedding days.

In short, for me as a husband, NFP serves as a reminder of what I signed up for when I said “I do.”

It’s a reminder that there are in fact many ways to love my wife with my body, and that sometimes this bodily love means not coming together sexually, but instead expressing my love for her by exercising self-control, channeling my affection instead toward acts of service, toward words of affirmation, toward praying for her, and toward speaking with her at greater length than we might otherwise be accustomed to. These expressions of love are different than making love, to be sure, but they need not be any less physical—or better, any less integral. These expressions are meant to communicate that, because our bodies are not our own, and because our bodily union is capable of producing new life, we are called to be attentive to where the other one is at the moment—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Overcoming Selfishness

Marriage is a work in progress, and the fact is that my wife and I every day fall far short of the total mutual self-gift in Christ that we vowed at our wedding. This falling short is, frankly, discouraging, and it can at times be a source of deep pain. But it never absolves us from our commitment to strive, each day, to love one another just a little bit more than we might feel like at the moment.

There are indeed times when the practice of NFP is the principal area of this struggle in our marriage, when it seems that all one (or both) of us can think about is how we feel like making love, but can’t, because we’ve previously come to the decision that we ought not invite new life into our home and family, whether for financial, physical, or emotional reasons. This is when the “bargaining” usually begins: “There’s not that high of a probability of conception, so maybe we can risk it, right?”

If there’s any truth to the suspicions of a “contraceptive mentality” for couples using NFP, I feel quite sure that you’ll find it here. And yet the mentality isn’t really “contraceptive” per se, but simply selfish. And it’s precisely this selfishness, in all its various forms, that God intends the sacrament of marriage to gradually uproot. Moreover, this selfishness can cut both ways: I can be selfish in my reasons for avoiding sex so that we can avoid pregnancy, but I can also be selfish in my reasons for having sex, and for that matter, in my reasons for trying to achieve pregnancy as well.

NFP is a challenge, then, not just because it means you can’t have sex whenever you want (though that can be a real downer). Even more, though, it’s a challenge because it’s part of a much larger set of commitments—both to God and to the wife and children he’s so generously given as a part of my specific vocation as a Christian. Thus, for me, the biggest challenge of NFP—but also its greatest promise—is that its proper practice means saying yes to God, to my wife, and to my children, which often means saying no to myself, at least for the moment.

Some Practical Advice

Whether it’s NFP, marriage, or the Christian life in general, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some may be called, at particular points in time, to practice continence for the sake of spacing children, and others may not. For those who do practice NFP, or are thinking of doing so, here are a few practical considerations that I have found helpful.

  • · Pray, both individually and as a couple. God is the one who has joined you and your spouse, and who desires your holiness and the wellbeing of your marriage and family. Frequent conversation with God in prayer is essential for discerning the concrete ways in which we are to respond to his call to love him and one another.
  • · Pick the right time to talk. Though spouses should talk openly (and frequently) about their goals and hopes and fears for the marriage and family, this should be done at a time when the two of you aren’t particularly inclined to be “in the mood,” since this will surely impact your deliberation about what God wants for your family at the present.
  • · Try to stay on the same page. A frequent complaint among men about NFP is that wives seem to use it as an excuse to withhold themselves from their husbands. Assuming that this is not actually the case, a husband can avoid cultivating unwarranted suspicions by remaining abreast of his wife’s signs and where she is in her cycle. This need not entail checking signs or charting together, but simply means maintaining mutual responsibility for fertility awareness.
  • · Stick to the plan, at least for now. When the two of you have come to a decision—whether it’s to pursue conception, avoid it, or just let the chips fall where they may—do your best to stick to it, together: It’s no good if a couple says that they’ve opted to avoid conception this cycle but then one (or both) of the spouses wants to start fooling around, since this does nothing but ratchet up the stress level (and perhaps set the stage for a new darling little one). If you and your spouse have come to a prudent decision previously, it is no doubt for good cause, and the prayer, conversation, and discernment that went into that decision shouldn’t simply be tossed out because one’s hormones have given you the sudden urge to “take a chance.” Likewise, if conception or a laissez-faire attitude are the chosen course, it isn’t good or helpful to return to sources of anxiety when an appropriate time has arisen for the two of you to be intimate. Unless some new piece of data has emerged that would have changed the original process of discussion and discernment, just stick with the plan, trusting in one another, and trusting in God.
  • · Stay chaste. Whether or not you and your spouse have opted to practice continence and to abstain from sex for the time being, remember that you are called to purity of intention and action, both individually and as a couple. Regardless of the frustrations that continence may involve, recourse to pornography and/or masturbation is never permissible, nor is it ok to pursue sexual pleasure with each other (frottage, heavy petting, oral sex, etc.) as a substitute for, or outside the context of, procreative sex. Moreover, even if certain other physical expressions of affection aren’t sinful, they may still prove to be imprudent or unhelpful to your present course of action (or inaction, as the case may be). Again, on this last point, communicating with each other is key.
  • · Remain flexible. Circumstances change, and what was the right decision for one month ago might not be the right decision for today. Keep an open heart to what God is asking of you and your spouse, and how you can best respond to his call to holiness and love.