19 Jul FERTILITY AWARENESS & PRACTICES: Resources for Understanding Natural Conception & Contraception
By Dr. Claudia Welch
Fertility—practices around conception and contraception—profoundly affects almost everyone’s life. Knowing our own bodies, signs and rhythm, and how to cooperate with biology in order to navigate of conception or contraception has been too daunting a prospect for most men or women I know or have counseled.
I know two women– Francesca Naish and Jane Bennett–that have dedicated their lives to education in these matters and am so delighted that now their life work is organized so well that it can be readily available to anyone. By simply following the directions in their conception and contraception kits, we can learn so much about our bodies, that can liberate us for the fertile decades of our lives, from practices that have damaging side effects. Their fertility website and work deliver comprehensive information on natural and effective conception and contraception; it is dedicated to supporting reproductive health care for every stage of a woman’s life. I have followed their work for decades and this is a monumental effort, achievement and resource.
For more about this, including beginning to address skepticism around natural fertility management, here is an excerpt from Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life:
We are generally a culture that expects immediate or at least quick gratification of our desires without giving much forethought to the consequences. We expect to find a quick and easy solution to pregnancy prevention, one that does not involve having to learn about our own fertility cycles. The question of what is a truly safe and effective form of contraception is not an easy one, nor is it one we can necessarily trust that our health care educators are experts on. If we rule out synthetic hormonal contraception, the other commonly prescribed forms are diaphragms, cervical caps, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and condoms. But to trust diaphragms, condoms, and the spermicidal jellies and lubricants used with them or alone, we have to trust that the chemicals in those jellies and lubricants are harmless to the delicate reproductive tissues they bathe. There is not a great track record to assure us that the chemicals in these lubricants are not damaging to our delicate tissues. Consider that by 2004 the World Health Organization, the Joint United Nations Programme [sic] on HIV/AIDS, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control had all raised concerns about Nonoxynol-9 (N-9), then a common ingredient in condom lubricants and in a vaginal cream. This cream had been in use for fifty years before N-9 was found to deteriorate or irritate the cell linings of the rectum and vagina. Compromising this first line of defense in the reproductive system makes it easier for viruses or bacteria to invade.
Although IUDs do not rely on chemical jellies for their effectiveness, their use can lead to uterine discomfort, heavy cramping, and even ectopic pregnancy, all signs that Traditional Chinese Medicine interprets as indicators of stagnation of qi in the uterus. As we saw in Chapter 10 and will see in the next chapter as well, uterine stagnation is not desirable.
To learn about the various forms of birth control and the natural alternatives in detail, I recommend reading two highly informed and accessible books. The first is Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health by Toni Weschler, MPH, the book I mentioned on page 59. The second, Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope’s The Pill: Are You Sure It’s for You? is the first book I’ve come across that outlines the drawbacks of synthetic hormonal contraception so clearly. Both books, especially the former, explore effective pregnancy prevention through learning about and cooperating with your own fertility cycle. Weschler provides detailed directions, explanations, and illustrations to guide a woman to learning the fertility awareness method (FAM). There is a prevalent misconception that FAM or natural family planning (NFP) are ineffective forms of contraception. This misconception stems partly from people—including experts—mistakenly associating FAM or NFP with the infamous, imprecise, and inaccurate “rhythm method.” There is an old (and somewhat tired) joke: “What do you call a couple who practices the rhythm method?” The answer: “Parents.” While this may be an accurate description of users of the rhythm method, it does not do justice to the nature and practice of FAM or NFP. This unfortunate association, coupled with the misconceptions that FAM or NFP are difficult, time-consuming techniques that most women will not willingly learn and practice, gives them undeserved negative reputations. If learned well and practiced diligently, they can be effective forms of birth control, even if a woman’s cycle is irregular. They are both based on a woman’s learning her signs of fertility. The main difference between them is that NFP practitioners choose, often due to religious reasons, to abstain from sex during the woman’s fertile days, whereas a FAM practitioner may choose to use barrier methods of contraception during her fertile days. Either way, once a woman learns about her own fertility, she can use her knowledge either to prevent or support conception for the remainder of her fertile life. And she can do so without the inconvenient to tragic side effects of most other forms of birth control.
Katie first came to my office when she was twenty-two. She was looking for alternative forms of birth control. She had become sexually active at seventeen years old, but quickly found that she was allergic to the latex in condoms. She tried a diaphragm, but its spermicidal jelly unduly moistened her vaginal tract and the consistent dampness led to yeast infections. When Katie turned to birth control pills, she had to try one kind after another to find one she could tolerate. The first made her gain weight. The next gave her mood swings. The third, headaches. Because none of these methods had worked well for her, she wanted a natural solution to birth control. I put her in touch with a woman who specializes in helping women take charge of their own fertility. (See Appendix A.) Katie is now thirty-one and has been married for five years. Since she learned about her own cycles and used this knowledge to help prevent pregnancy, she has not used birth control devices or prescriptions and has not become pregnant.
What to do to prevent unwanted pregnancies is a question every woman has to answer for herself. But given the downside we saw with the use of synthetic hormones, chemical lubricants, spermicides, and IUDs, the solutions that make the most sense to me are NFP or FAM, with a minimal use of barrier forms of birth control, such as condoms. This minimizes tissue exposure to possibly damaging influences and increases self-awareness. It can be very empowering for a woman to know her own cycle and take responsibility for her actions and choices. Just as we do well to consider the consequences of indulging in fast food, we benefit from increasing our self-awareness and responsibility around sexual interaction.
Having said this, I leave ample room for the possibility that other forms of birth control may be more appropriate for certain women at certain stages of life. For example, if a woman is having sex with multiple partners or she is unlikely to take the time to effectively learn FAM, it may be more appropriate for her to use condoms, as they both help prevent the spread of AIDS and sexually transmitted dis- eases, and they don’t require her to take time to learn about her own physiology.