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When my husband and I got married, we opted not to go on the hormonal birth control (even though everyone we knew thought we were crazy). Instead we chose to practice Natural Family Planning (even though we're not Catholic). All our friends figured we'd be pregnant within months of our marriage, but more than two years later we haven’t had any pregnancies.
In my teens, many of my friends went on the pill and came out with clear skin. In my early twenties, a number of my friends got married and went on the pill for birth control. Some of them morphed into hormone-crazed people until they found the right pill, or went off it all together. Others went on the pill with no side effects, and are either still on it, or stopped it to have children.
In my late twenties, a friend called to cancel coffee because she had been hospitalized for a blood clot. Doctors would later say her pill caused the clot. Weeks later, a friend talked about her struggle to come to terms with her pregnancy—she thought being on the pill would prevent her from getting pregnant, but it did not. Afterwards, I wondered how I would make a decision about contraception when my turn came.
To be honest I didn’t feel like I would have many choices. At the time I thought the options were either: 1) go on the pill and control how many kids you have or 2) stay off the pill and become the mother of a dozen children. Neither alternative sounded like something that I wanted.
Not growing up around anyone who practiced Natural Family Planning (NFP), my concept of it involved the infamous rhythm method, and I’d heard enough to know how hit-and-miss that could be. One day I turned the TV on, and caught a show where a NFP Billings Practitioner and her husband talked about how they taught couples to determine their fertility and prevent or plan pregnancy through charting cervical mucous.
This sounded a little icky, but I liked that it didn’t involve hormones, required both partners to be involved in contraception and that they maintained it was 99% effective at preventing pregnancy if taught and practiced correctly. And perhaps most important for me – at the time – this couple had been married for a few years, practiced natural family planning, and didn’t have children.
So when I sat down with the man I was to marry to discuss children, I knew I had to bring up the fact that I didn’t want to go on any hormonal birth control. I told him I had been blessed with a healthy body, with regular cycles and no monthly complications. I explained that introducing hormones into my body, which might send everything haywire, didn’t make sense to me.
He asked what that would mean for us, and if there were any other alternatives to the pill. I spoke about how I didn’t want to do some rhythm method thing, and that I didn’t harbor secret desires about a minivan of children, but I’d heard about a natural family planning method (called the "Billings method" where I'm from) that could work just as well as hormonal forms of contraception. I told him I thought we should see if we could get trained in it. He told me if there was a way to plan our family without hormones we should find out more.
Which is how we found ourselves talking about my cervical mucous with a Billings practitioner in the months leading up to our marriage. I loved the lessons and I loved learning about my body. I discovered charting wasn’t as icky as I thought it would be, in fact it felt so empowering to discover all the fertility cues that occur each cycle.
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We learned about how women can fall pregnant for approximately 6 days each month and that these days could be determined by cervical mucous and/or body temperature. We discovered that sperm can live for 3-5 days in cervical mucous and how that affected our choice about when to have sex. We studied which signs to track if we wanted to fall pregnant and which were important if we wanted to avoid conception.
My husband and I were both virgins when we got married, both shy about the topic of sex and although this wasn’t the point of the Billings lessons, they taught us how to communicate about sexuality. Two years later, I’m still grateful that we learned to bring up uncomfortable topics about sex, talk them through, listen to each other, and together make a decision about what to do.
After we were married, my husband and I both felt that the Billings method – which requires meticulous recording – wasn’t working for us. A friend suggested we try the Lady-comp - a small electronic device that tracks basal body temperature and gives you a red, orange or green light depending where you are in the fertility cycle. We decided to invest in one and have been using it ever since.
I’m not a Natural Family Planning evangelist. I know for every positive story someone else will have a negative one. I understand it doesn’t work for everyone and that it requires 100% buy-in from husband and wife to work. But, for me and my husband, it has been a gift. I am well aware many of my friends claim the same about the pill. I’m also cognizant that circumstances change, and what works for us now might not work in a few years time. However, when I started the journey of looking for alternatives to hormonal birth control, I wished there were more women talking about the options, daring to say, “Everyone isn’t on the pill. Here is my story.”
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Wendy van Eyck is proudly South African and lives in Johannesburg where she runs a 24-hour Gospel Music Television channel that broadcasts to 47 African countries. Her website www.ilovedevotionals.com features devotionals that range from learning about God while doing laundry to discovering biblical truths while caring for her cancer fighting husband. Follow her on twitter: @wendyvaneyck or find her on Facebook.