I Wish I Had Known About Natural Family Planning Sooner

I always thought I’d have a big family.

I come from a family of seven, and most of my cousins come from families of five to eight. My mom and dad had seven and nine siblings respectively. I loved having a big family, especially being so close to my sister, only seventeen months younger than me.

Now, at the age of 28, with one child who was a long time coming and now battling secondary infertility, I’m wrestling to come to terms with the fact that I will not likely have a lot of kids.

And I keep coming back to this: I just wish I had known about natural family planning (NFP) earlier.

* * *

Growing up between the crossroads of Mennonite and Evangelical culture, of course I learned the One Rule of Sex: Don’t Do it Until You’re Married.

That was basically the extent of my sex education from a faith perspective. Beyond that, there was little guidance offered. Once you’re married, enjoy! Sex is God’s wedding gift to you, et cetera.

Then there was my sex education from the secular perspective: have sex responsibly – use contraception. And my faith community shrugged and said, “Yup – good idea. If you don’t want too many babies (and you definitely don’t want them within the first year!), use contraception. Within marriage, of course.”

In fact, at my church’s marriage preparation retreat, when one girl asked about contraception, the pastor’s wife told her, “Well, the Pill works well. Condoms too. We’ve used both.” The End.

There was no mention of a safe, natural, and effective alternative. No one ever suggested that contraception might be problematic in regards to one’s physical, marital, or spiritual health.

When it came to my menstrual cycle, I was taught that once a month you bled and felt like crap. My mom taught me how to use disposable pads and which medications were best for treating cramps.Menstruation was a 5-7 day event involving bleeding, bloating, and misery. It was our curse. It sucked, but there was no way around it.

With this knowledge, once I got engaged I did what any self-respecting Western woman would do: I went on the Pill. I was still in school; I didn’t want to have babies. Not yet. I had some medical coverage through the university, which covered most of the cost, so that wasn’t an issue. Besides, I’d always struggled with acne. A lot of women found that their acne improved when they went on the Pill. Win-win. In fact, there were even more perks to it: on the Pill, my menstrual cramps got less severe and my double-A-sized boobs got bigger. So, win-win-win-win.

Finally, five years later, I was ready to start having babies. I was 25 years old. I was ready to becoming a mother, and I wanted it with all that was in me.

I did what any normal Western woman would do: I stopped taking the Pill. And I waited.

And waited.

A year went by. A tumultuous, frightening, heartbreaking year. No babies. I took pregnancy test after pregnancy test. Nothing. I had no idea what was wrong, or what was wrong with my body.

Meanwhile, my skin erupted in acne worse than anything I’d seen since puberty. It covered my face, neck, back, and chest. I wore turtlenecks throughout the summer and avoided swimming. My cramps came back with a vengeance – they were so debilitating, I had to take a day or two off work each month to just lay on the couch and moan.

My friends started having babies. For them, it happened the minute they even began considering having babies – for many, much sooner.

I sank into intense depression. I felt helpless and alone, and I hated my body.

Then, by the grace of God, I got to know a few Catholic bloggers online. And they were going on about this great thing called natural family planning (NFP). They said it was so awesome because it strengthened their marriage; was natural and healthy; it affirmed and celebrated female fertility; and it could be used to avoid OR achieve pregnancy.

I was captivated. I had to learn about this.

I learned and I learned and I learned.

I found out that the menstruation is not an event; rather, it’s part of a month-long cycle. I learned that a woman was typically only fertile for a couple of days a month, and you could pinpoint those days and time sex accordingly if you wanted to avoid or achieve pregnancy. Huh.

I learned the disturbing history of the Pill, and that it wasn’t simply an innocuous tool that enabled you to control your destiny. It was, in fact, a Group-I carcinogen that wreaked havoc on your hormones (and thus your overall health). It didn’t cure acne or cramps — it acted as a band-aid to cover up symptoms so you could forget about the underlying causes.

I learned about my own body. I started charting, and I learned how to read the signs and determined that I was low in progesterone – a common consequence of taking oral contraceptives. My body had probably been leached of B-vitamins from all those years on the Pill, crippling my body’s ability to regulate hormone levels on its own.

More months went by. I learned about NaPro Technology – a scientific but Catholic-based approach to addressing fertility problems – one that worked with the information that NFP charting provided.

Aided by all this information, almost two years after I first decided I wanted to become a mother, I finally got pregnant.

* * *

My miracle baby is now well over two years old. I’m getting closer to thirty. We’ve been trying for a second baby for over a year without luck. Thanks to my charts, I can see that I’m dealing with the same problems I was dealing with the first time around. If I ever do get pregnant again, it won’t be happening any time soon.

I always said I wanted at least four kids, and I wanted them to be close in age. I now know that I will be very lucky if I manage to have two, and they definitely won’t be close in age.

I wish I could have known all these things about my body from the start.

I wish I’d never gone on the Pill. There’s a good chance the Pill was at least partly responsible for my two years of infertility. If not that, it certainly prevented me from being aware of the problems so that I could address them much sooner.

I wish I could have started having babies as soon as I’d graduated from university. Then I wouldn’t be so anxious about the fact that it’s taking a little longer than expected for the second one. I’d have plenty of time.

Life as a stay-at-home mom is blowing my mind every day. I’ve finally found my calling. I discovered myself in motherhood. I wish I had started this life sooner.

If I would have known about NFP from the start, by the time I was emotionally ready to have kids I would already have known whether my body needed treatment. I wouldn’t have lost those precious years to turmoil and confusion.

I regret those years of needless ignorance, bewilderment, and grief.

Of course, regretting the past is useless. I love my life — even with only one delightful child — and I’ve been blessed with an amazing little family. The only way to move is forward.

I want to use my experience to improve other women’s lives. I want girls to know from the beginning how their beautiful bodies work. I want them to get the whole picture – not just one tiny segment of it.

I want girls and women to be able to appreciate and honour their bodies, and not feel like their bodies are diseased, that their fertility must be suppressed and managed with drugs. I want women to be aware of all the options available to them when they get involved in sexual relationships.

I want to start with my own daughter. As she gets older, I intend to explain how her body works, and give her the whole story: how her body will acquire a cyclical rhythm, like the cycle of the moon. Every month her body will prepare to create new life, full of abundance; and if the time for new life hasn’t arrived, then her body will release old energy and make space for what is to come. Every phase is important and beautiful and good.

Her body is beautifully and wonderfully made.

I wish I had known this from the start.

Photos by Doug8888 via Flickr.
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  1. Amen, sister! Everything you just said… I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  2. Very well written, thank you for this article. I´m just about to visit doctor next week, because I´m not satisfied with my IUC device, it has several side effects and I hate it is inside of my body. I won´t be taking any contraception then. Luckily I´ve never taken the Pill, cause I´ve seen what it did to my mother (thrombosis). Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Zuzka from Czech rep.

  3. Thank you for sharing this and for the inspiration. I only have one child, a son, right now, but I want him to know the beautiful truth about women’s bodies and the corresponding truth about men’s bodies. I’m using a non-hormonal copper IUD and am happy with it currently, but I’m fascinated by Taking Charge of Your Fertility (http://www.tcoyf.com/) and it’s on my reading list for the near future. I need to know my body better so I can teach my child(ren)!

    To pull out your brief comments about sex education and focus on those: I very much wish I’d had a more compassionate and holistic education in sex and romantic relationships. All the adults who talked to me about it were either grossed out about bodies in general or alarmed by the idea of their children/the young people in their care growing up and eventually becoming sexually active. I was initially afraid of and grossed out by sex, and later didn’t understand my own interests, attractions, urges, feelings, and body well enough to navigate any sexual activity (solo or partnered, everything from first kiss on up) in an emotionally safe and truly satisfying way. It’s hard to be open, vulnerable, and intimate with another person when the very act of getting close to them is something you’ve been told your whole life is bad and shameful – that attitude can’t vanish overnight. It’s also hard to truly experience sexual pleasure if you’re still struggling with that conditioning. As you pointed out, there’s far more nuance than “Don’t do it until you’re married and use contraception.” I think teens need tons of loving guidance to navigate all this!

    Any thoughts on how to be sex positive with your kids without being permissive?

  4. Totally agree. It always amazes me how many women get on the Pill as if there were no other option. I took it for the first month we were married and had horrible headaches every single day. Since then I’ve learned of a million other reasons why women shouldn’t take it. Though, our first try at NFP was not very successful, I gave birth to our son just two weeks before our first anniversary. We’re giving it another go currently after much more charting and learning. Not sure if I’ve ever commented before but I’m enjoying your blog over the last couple months. Started the ‘no poo’ method this week. No difference whatsoever in my hair so I’d call it a success.

  5. I should mention that in hindsight I’m glad NFP wasn’t successful. Being a mom is definitely one of the best things to ever happen to me. Didn’t want that to sound negative…
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  6. I was fortunate to have a mother who used NFP so I was a bit aware of it before getting married. My mom wanted to tech me but I was uncomfortable with that and refused. Unfortunately, despite that, I had been put on the pill (against my will) by that same mother when I was a teenager because I ha irregular menstrual cycles at 15 and the doctor told we if I didn’t get on the pill then, I wouldn’t be able to have kids later. Ironic huh? The NaPro doctor I saw who helped us to conceive our daughter said that research since has shown that putting teenagers on the pill is the time it is most damaging to future fertility.

    If your issue is low progesterone, can you supplant? My NaPro doctor ha me supplementing progesterone from the time of confirmed ovulation until 13dpo. At that time I was to take a pregnancy test and if it was negative discontinue the supplementing but if it was positive, to continue. You need a prescription for the levels he had me taking, but you could try natural progesterone cream on your own for a bit to see if it helps your LP. Taking a good quality B-complex is supposed to help. Those are the things I did this time anyway.
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    • Michele: interesting you should mention those things, because I actually JUST STARTED using over-the-counter natural progesterone cream (actually, oil. This one, by Progestelle). I’m starting with a low dose for now to see how it goes and working up from there. I’m also starting Optivite again (which is high in B-vitamins) — it’s what I was taking when I finally got pregnant with Lydia. (And also vitex.) We’ll see ow it goes.

      You were put on the Pill because otherwise you “wouldn’t be able to get pregnant later”? Ironic indeed!! I can imagine that it’s most harmful for teenagers!

      PS — Are you pregnant again?!?!?! Is that what you mean by “this time”?? I know you were hoping to be soon . . .

      • I was just coming back to say that I hope my suggestions didn’t seem calloused or hurtful. I know you probably have already done all the research and know about vitamins and progesterone cream (I use emerita btw). Because of my issues I started the B-complex and progesterone cream as soon as I got my first PP charted ovulation. I wanted to give us the best chance I could this time TTCing. Still, after just over three months of no pregnancy I felt myself slipping back into the infertility mindset and worried our daughter would never get to be a sister. (It doesn’t help that she started asking for a baby around that time and I turned 32 shortly after).

        Anyhow, I wanted to say that I’m sorry if my comment came off poorly. I know that, especially had I already been trying those things, I would have been offended by comments like that last time.

        As for your question, well that was poor word choice but… I’ll be posting hopefully in the next week or two.
        Michele recently posted..Night Weaning – The Key to Sleep?My Profile

  7. Oh Kathleen. This is such an important piece. I sympathize with so much of it. Particularly, why didn’t anyone TELL me?! I was on the Pill for awhile and by the grace of God, stop taking after 18 months because of physical side effects and then quickly became pregnant with our oldest and realized that, as you said, I had finally found myself in motherhood. At times, it is difficult for me not to be angry that all this information about my body was kept from me. I haven’t carried the sorrow of infertility as you have and I can only imagine how much more difficult that makes all these emotions. I am so sorry you are experiencing difficulty in having another baby. Many prayers for your family!

  8. You are so right, this information should be widespread, both to girls and boys. I do remember most of this from our Biology high school lessons… we went through the cycle in detail.
    I never took the pill because I distrusted any hormonal disruption…
    I really hope your new baby will come to your lives soon, I will be praying for you.
    As for the progesterone, can you talk to your ob-gyn about it? My luteal phase was supposedly OK, but, as part of treatment (and just to be sure I guess) I was supplemented with progesterone vaginal suppositories (kind of uncomfortable, but not worse than putting in a tampon) for the last 2 weeks of the cycle. It did make my cycle longer, even if I had ovulated earlier (at day 10 or 11).
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  9. Thank you for this beautiful post. I appreciate your experience and wanted to tell you that you have already helped to improve my life by sharing it. A year and a half ago, I found the post you wrote about NFP at Engaged Marriage, and then I found the post you wrote about it on Project M, which is how I finally found Becoming Peculiar. Those two initial posts helped get me interested in NFP, and ultimately bring it to my husband-to-be. We got married at age 21 while he had one semester of school left and I had one year left. By all worldly standards, it would’ve made sense to go on the Pill and wait to have a baby, but we decided to practice NFP instead. We weren’t perfect in our execution of NFP, and we did conceive early and have a daughter in June, but we cannot imagine life without her and we know that this was God’s plan for us. So, thank you for being so candid and sharing your journey. I stand with you in educating my daughter about the whole picture of her fertility and teaching her to embrace it.

  10. Hi Kathleen, I started reading your blog a couple of months ago & am enjoying it a lot. Thank you so much for this post; I’m sharing it with my daughters & posting the link on my FB page. There are so many people who need to read this; my daughters are always telling me about their peers who go on the pill almost as soon as they start having a period and by the time they’re in high school there are only a few girls who aren’t on it. I’m so sorry for the difficulty you’re experiencing in having another baby…I’m praying you’ll be pregnant soon!

  11. Your pastor’s wife’s response to the question about birth control astounds me. Better to admit you don’t know much about the options than imply your choice good ’nuff, end of story.

    I thought the way you put the faith community’s response to the secular commendation of birth control was spot on. I went reading JPII’s “Theology of the Body” (lay people version) at about 25 and it was the first time I’d ever heard *anything* about ramifications of choices (within marriage) about sex and contraception that affect your marriage, mindset, spirit (or body for that matter).
    Sometimes it worries me that people in churches seem just as nervous to question the status quo (e.g saying the Pill is bad for your health) as the general population and start glancing around nervously and taking teeny steps away if you bring these ideas up. It’s disappointing, like we’ve totally bought into the convenience/pharmaceutical gospel and nothing bodily/sexual matters except that you don’t have premarital sex. Where’s the *positive* vision of bodies?

    Now that you point it out, yes, it is very strange that all we learned about was the “pain-in-the-neck” week of bleeding, and nothing about the rest of the cycle, or that we are cyclical at all! Your daughter will be lucky to be told.

    Thanks for sharing your journey.

  12. I so know what you mean. I was put on the pill but thankfully did not stay on it long, only about wight months. Unfortunately, five years later I’m still no more pregnant. Hopefully some new information on my medical background should give us some insight to why. I’m lactose intolerant and due to that my working mother put me on soy formula when she went back to work. My nutritionist thinks it’s very likely my body doesn’t produce estrogen correctly and probably never has. I’m on some Chinese herbs and teas to kickstart production. It’s also likely I’m low on progesterone as well so I’m looking into the OTC creams. If I had known about NFP sooner maybe five years wouldn’t have passes before I felt like there is hope.
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  13. Thanks for speaking up about this issue! After getting married I went on the Pill as well because I thought it was the only guaranteed way not to get pregnant. I was on it for 2 years before I started researching other options and that is actually how I found your blog. I was still very scared to stop taking the Pill but some of your posts really helped me take that leap and lo and behold its been over 3 years, no surprises yet and I am so glad to be off the Pill.

    I’m so sorry that you are struggling with infertility yet again. It must be so difficult :( I’m sure you’ve done tons of research and have looked at every option and I’m really hoping this doesn’t come off as insulting, but have you had your husband checked out? I only ask because I have a sister who is in her mid-thirties who was struggling to get pregnant. We all kind of thought her age might be a factor, but they had her husband, who is several years younger than her, tested and he apparently had some major blockage that was really easily fixed through a minor surgery. Shortly after the surgery they got pregnant. I feel like it’s so easy to forget that it’s not just the female’s fertility that matters and that any infertilty in the male can definitely make things worse.

    I definitely hear you about fears of getting older and not being able to have all of the children you’d like. I’m 27 and we’re still planning on waiting a couple more years to have kids, and I often worry that we might have trouble getting pregnant when we want to. I put my mind at ease however, by thinking of a family friend who was 35 when she got married and since then has had 6 children. I know fertility declines as you get older, but perhaps that window isn’t always quite as narrow as we imagine. Anything is possible and I wish you the best of luck in getting pregnant again. I’ll be praying for you.

  14. For me I just wish I had known the joys of having kids sooner – I doubt I would have married sooner, but at 30 I’m wishing I had been able to start earlier.

  15. I sit, reading this, on day 33 of my cycle, trying not to reach for one of the cheap pregnancy tests I purchased online recently. It’s been 20 months since my daughter was born and I am disheartened and have given up charting for a while because it’s just too much of a reminder that we are having difficulty TTC yet again. But then again, my daughter gives me more joy than I even knew was possible, so I suppose (if I’m lucky) one more would be more of a blessing than I could have even imagined. The desire to expand our family and be a mother to another one is incredibly strong.
    But yes, it is such a shame to know I spent so many years of my fertile life not understanding what was really happening with my body and why. I feel like I’ve been cheated out of years of awareness (I’m 31 now). I now know that, when the time comes, I will be able to give my daughter a better understanding of her body and not perpetuate the loathing and confusion that has accompanied my cycle through the years past. Nor will sex and intimacy be a subject to avoid, as it was in my household.
    Thank you for writing this, Kathleen.

  16. Well said. I’m so sorry for all the pain you’ve passed through on this journey and the frustration you still feel. I’m very grateful I heard about NFP before I got married at 24 and especially that I found that little pink book about fertility and nutrition years before we were TTC. I always try to bring it up with young couples I know who are planning to marry, even if it is an awkward conversation. What I especially love about NFP is that it releases us (at least those of us neurotics) from the need to feel we have control over our reproduction. Control is a myth, no matter what method you use. Health is the best thing we can aim for, and NFP supports wholistic health.

    We successfully used NFP to avoid pregnancy for four years, then successfully used it to conceive twice now. But I am confident that because of other health issues I have it would have been a terrible battle if I had ever gone on the Pill. Thank God for Marilyn Shannon! And Optivite! And the Professional Prenatal Vitamins she recommends (also high in B, and more balanced in other nutrients like folic acid for pregnancy)! I needed them more than ever the second time around, not just to achieve the pregnancy I desired, but to replenish my health after two years of nursing, which is a (good and natural) drain.

    I continue to pray that your mourning will be turned into joy, and soon.

  17. I found out that I had Endometriosis as a teenager, severe enough to require multiple surgeries and then recommended monthly shots of Depo-provera for pain management. Told that because of the damage done, I was infertile and because I could find no other options available, I chose to have the shots for several years. A few years into our marriage, with an unable to conceive written in the medical portion of our adoption paperwork, I began taking progestrone in order to breastfeed our adopted baby. Three miracle babies later (with a loss between each) and a great toll on my body for those babies, I often wonder how different it would be if I had known better how my body and fertility worked in my teenage years so that I could have chose different treatment than I did. Would I have been able to conceive earlier? Would I have had the same hormonal imbalances that resulted in miscarriage? Would I be able to have more children as I desire?
    Anyways, I’m babbling but I just so clearly remember (and still experience) the pain of infertility and walk with friends on their journey that I can so empathize with your pain and working through all of this. Not that it will guarantee my daughters to have perfect fertility but I so want them to understand their bodies, fertility, and health. It’s just so important.
    BTW, I have used Progestelle postpartum and it helped with my hormone levels sooo much!
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  18. Kathleen, my dear new friend, I hesitate to comment at all because I have never in my life struggled with infertility. Not once. I am that friend who gets pregnant on the first try, and I’m as baffled as anyone why I have it so easy when others struggle so much. I wish I could offer empathy, but I don’t want to say anything that will be insensitive or hurtful or dumb…. so I will just say: thanks for sharing your heart. I love, love, love your writing and your beautiful soul that you have bared here. Thank-you. (And, I also <3 NFP).
    Much love,
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  19. Tears for you, sweet Kathleen, and prayers that Lydia will get a sibling soon.

    And you’re right. This information is so important. My doctor put me on one pill when I was 19 saying it would help with my headaches, and it turned me into a crazy person. I went on a different pill when I got married and didn’t have the same emotional side effects, but had some sexual ones that I think are still affecting our marriage, even though I quit after just a few months. Luckily no lasting fertility impacts so far as I can tell (I don’t actually do NFP, though I’m looking into it more), but still. I can’t believe we’re at the point of messing with our bodies this way for no good reason and without ever warning women about the possible consequences.

  20. I’m so grateful that I’ve discovered information on NFP and such before I get married! I was put on the Pill several years ago to help with some period issues. The doctor told me a couple things that could potentially be causing the problems and then said, ‘but to know for sure would require some testing. Whatever it is, the solution would be to put you on birth control so we’ll do that and see if it helps.’ I did it because I felt like I needed to do something, but the attitude of treating symptoms without even caring about the root cause really irritated me, and I felt uncomfortable taking it everyday without understanding what it was doing to my body. I did some research and didn’t renew my prescription when the year was up. It baffles me how commonplace it is to prescribe it for every complaint and how accepting people are of that without really caring to understand it. I first started learning more about NFP through the series Carrots for Michaelmas did last spring and started charting so that I could learn more about how my body works and it has been fascinating! Now as I plan on getting married next year, I’m so glad that I’ve learned all this and have a good start on charting!

    Thank you for sharing your story so that others like myself can learn from it! I’ll keep you in my prayers as you seek to have a second child!
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  21. Thanks for sharing, a well written article and a heartbreaking story.
    I have many friends who have had problems after using the pill. When I was a teenager my doctor put me on the pill to regulate my periods, but I hated how I felt and stopped after about a year. When I was preparing to get married I did tons of research because I really didn’t want to take the pill again. It was so discouraging! And so many options have horrible longterm side effects. I ended up stumbling across natural family planning and found a little machine called Lady Comp. Its a device that takes you basal temperature first thing in the morning and calculates your cycle and fertility. So far it has worked great and I am much more aware of what my body is doing. Its a bit expensive but is supposed to last 5-10 years so it pays off in the long run. We haven’t tried having kids yet so I don’t know how taking the pill as a teenager has messed with my fertility.

  22. I agree. I started the pill when I got married, because I didn’t know of any other options. I told my mom a little while ago that we were trying fam, and she said something like she had done that for a while too. Wish it was easier to talk with her about that and that it was something she could have shared with me earlier. *sigh* Man, sex is so awkward to talk about with family. I hope when my girls grow up I will be able to talk more openly with them, and them with me.

  23. By the way, are you self-taught? I have read the book you mention. But I am also a member of a facebook group, and they seem to put a lot of emphasis on finding an instructor. I’m a newbie at this, so I’m thinking maybe it would be helpful to find someone to talk with about it. On the other hand, I don’t really know what they could tell me that wasn’t answered in the book. Just wondering what your process was to learn about this. Thanks!

    • Hi Karen! I’m mostly self-taught, though I’ve gone to a Billings class, and I’ve also gotten one-on-one instruction in the Creighton model to help pinpoint my fertility problems. I’m in a somewhat unique position that I’ve only known about NFP in the years that I’ve been TRYING for babies, so it’s different for me — I don’t have to know how to use it perfectly, since I WANT to get pregnant! It’s hard to screw that up! :) If I wanted to use it to avoid pregnancy (and I will probably be at that stage at some point in my life), I would probably want to work more extensively with an instructor.

  24. You’ve written this post nicely! I know how regretful you feel but I really admire your humility. What’s important is that, you recognized where you went wrong.

  25. I took birth control for years, until I realized that ingesting those hormones month after month after month probably wasn’t a great thing for my body. I wish doctors were less quick to throw you a prescription for something, and more quick to talk alternatives to meds.
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