Yep, there is natural birth control out there. Most importantly, it is reliable. And free. Maybe that is why it hasn’t taken off. Really the only investment you have to make is in a $9 thermometer and then you’re done. Hard for any company to really mass market that type of birth control, therefore they don’t.
I’m talking about Natural Family Planning, specifically Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. Before you stop reading I am not talking about the rhythm method or pull-out method which should really be called the pull-and-pray method.
TCOYF is completely natural and completely without side effects because you’re not taking anything and you’re not permanenlty inserting anything inside you either. TCOYF is about monitoring your fertility and understanding your body and your cycles in order to reliably and predictably prevent or achieve pregnancy. It has about a 90% effectiveness rate when used properly which is the same rate of the male condom. For comparison rate the birth control pill has an effectiveness rate of 97% (keep in mind that assumes you take the pill every day at the same time each day and follow any other instructions set forth in the manufacturer’s pamphlet). So, yes its effectiveness rate is lower compared to birth control pills but you also don’t have any exposure to the known risks of birth controll pills as well as any of the unknown risks.
So what exactly is involved with Natural Family Planning? Using TCOYF you monitor your basal body temperature, cervical fluid and cervical position (monitoring c.p. is optional).
- Monitoring Basal Body Temperature: This is achieved by taking your temperature at the same time each morning with at least 3 consecutive hours of sleep. With my toddler I had a hard time making sure I was taking my temp at the same time each morning when I woke up since she wakes up anytime from 6am-8am. So instead, I set an alarm on my phone for 4 in the morning. When my alarm goes off I stick the digital thermometer in my mouth. Hold it there for one minute until it beeps at me and then toss it back to the floor when it beeps its “all done” beep. My thermometer has a memory function so I don’t need to worry about writing it down right away.
- Monitoring Cervical Fluid: Your Cervical fluid is the secretions produced by your body throughout the month that help to identify your window of fertility. It typically follows a pattern of dry/sticky (with this being infertile fluid) to increasingly wet/lotiony until reaching its peak fertility at stretchy/lubricative and then returning back to a dry/sticky non-fertile secretion after ovulation. In lamens terms you will be monitoring the fluid that is typically on your underwear. Did you know that stuff has a purpose? I didn’t until I read Toni’s book and then I was completely frustrated that this type of information isn’t taught to us as young women going through puberty. You can check your fluid at your vaginal opening after peeing with toilet paper or your fingers. If you are like me and don’t have much cervical fluid then you will need to check at your cervical opening. Some of you might be squeemishly wriggling in your chairs now. Relax. It’s your body. You should know what is going on inside of it. You should be the authority on what your body is doing and why. Besides, if you check your cervical fluid in the bathroom no one has to know and you can wash your hands afterward. Trust me, it’s worth it to understand your body and to reconnect with your cycles.
- Monitoring Cervical Position: Monitoring Cervical Position is an optional but very helpful step. It is just one additional factor to confirm the status of your fertility. It will take some practice and a few cycles to get the hang of but is worth the time. Typically, your cervix moves from a low and closed position when you are infertile to an open and high position when you are at the peak of your fertility (right before ovulation). After ovulation your cervical position will begin to lower and close again. I decided to monitor all 3 things when using FAM. It took me a few weeks to understand the process but after a few cycles I was very familiar with my cervix and what it did during my cycles. To check your cervix you insert a clean finger (probably index or middle) while sitting on the toilet or standing with one leg elevated. You will want to check your cervix in the same position every time. I found it was necessary for me to pee first before checking my cervix otherwise my bladder pushed it out of place.
- Putting It All Together: You then track your temperature, cervical fluid and cervical position on a chart. You can do this on the pre-made forms that you can find in the book (if you don’t want to buy the book, borrow it from your local library and photocopy the charts). You could also make your own charts or easiest of all you can use the software that TCOYF provides for $30 (it has a 15 day free trial). The software is awesome and makes the whole process exceptionally simple. It also provides you with an excellent online support group of women using the method for either birth control or for achieving pregnancy. You will wind up making a coverline for your daily temperature. By drawing this coverline and monitoring your cervical fluid (and cervical position) you will be able to determine what days you are infertile (capable of having unprotected intercourse without risk of pregnancy) what days you are likely infertile but must be cautious (can have intercourse but should use a barrier method – condom) and what days you are fertile (either abstain from intercourse or use a barrier method). You will also be able to pinpoint the day that you ovulated and you will also know how long your luteal phase and complete cycle are. And no, not all women have a 28 day cycle and not all women ovulate on day 14 – those are misconceptions.
I suppose I could go on and on about Natural Family Planning. I love it. Since I’ve read the book and began implementing the method I have become much more knowledgeable and aware of my own body. I feel empowered. I feel happy to know that I am not messing with how my body was intended to work by stuffing it with chemicals designed to alter it’s natural course of fertility. I feel happier not having an artificial device stuck into my uterus to prevent pregnancy. I have been using Natural Family Planning for 9 months now with success. I was on birth control for about 6 years before learning about Natural Family Planning and was very happy to find something natural I could switch to. The only times we have had any pregnancy “scares” is when we have lazily had intercourse during my fertile days without taking the precautions we knew we were supposed to take. This is because we are only lazily preventing pregnancy and would be happy with a new addition to our family.
TCOYF is also a wonderful method to use for achieving pregnancy. It helps you to zone in on the days that you are most fertile and also helps you to identify if you may encounter difficulties in getting pregnant because of irregular cycles or short luteal phases. By knowing the day that you ovulate you can also experiment with gender selection methods.
Either way it is a wondeful thing to learn. It is a wonderful knowledge and tool to pass down to our daughter and to their daughters. To take back the understanding of our bodies and to release the need for drugs or other invasive tools in designing our families.
UPDATE: Once we were ready to grow our family we switched from using Natural Family Planning as a preventative and used it to our advantage to achieve pregnancy. We got pregnant the 2nd month of trying. Unfortunately, that pregnancy ended in miscarriage because of an emergency appendectomy. However, we were able to get pregnant again within the first month of trying for another baby. It is wonderful to know the exact day that I conceived and to know exactly how far along I was. I had an ultrasound and the u/s tech was shocked when I told her I’d be 10 weeks 5 days and I was measuring exactly that! :) We are now 16 1/2 weeks along.