Each time I wrap up an appointment at my ob-gyn's office, she consults her computerized chart and inquires, "What method of birth control are you using? Do you need a prescription?" And I smile and say, "None, no thanks!" She's always friendly about it, but I can tell she thinks I'm nuts for it. Although if I'm being totally forthcoming, I actually have a method of birth control, but it's not called birth control, per se. I practice what is referred to as Natural Family Planning.
Inevitably, when someone hears that we use natural family planning, or NFP, they roll their eyes and say, "The rhythm method?" and then have a little chuckle. No, NFP is not the rhythm method. I wonder if those who bring it up even know the details of the rhythm method, to be honest. Other people, including my own doctor, react with disbelief, knowing for certain that NFP will inevitably fail us, and that it's basically just begging to become pregnant.
I had taken birth control pills during college to help deal with ovarian cysts and found that while they helped with the cysts, they also made me feel irritable and overly emotional. Additionally, barrier methods seemed to be more than just barriers against conceiving but also got in the way, so to speak. Now I rely on NFP, fully realizing that not everyone will understand my decision.
Practicing NFP means that I first took a course in tracking my fertility. While there are many different methods of NFP available, the one that worked best for me is called the sympto-thermal method. Each morning, I take my temperature at the same time and record it in my phone on an app designed for this purpose. (Before smartphones, it went on an actual chart that I stashed in my nightstand. The phone is much easier.) Additionally, I note any physical symptoms related to fertility. This includes when I am on my period as well as details about cervical fluids. The entire process takes about 30 seconds of my morning routine and over time has become second nature.
I've noticed that people have a difficult time believing in NFP's effectiveness. I can sympathize. It can definitely feel like Russian roulette when you don't have some physical manifestation like a condom or diaphragm.
Still, I know the numbers and have decided I'm comfortable with them. While male condoms have a failure rate of 18 percent and female condoms have a failure rate of 21 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control, the NFP method failure rate is only slightly higher at 24 percent. Also, last year, the New York Times released a chart regarding the failure of birth control methods as practiced over a 10-year span. It indicated that 61 women out of 100 will have an unplanned pregnancy within 10 years of typical pill use, and 86 of 100 using condom users will experience an unplanned pregnancy. While 94 in 100 using fertility-awareness methods will experience one in 10 years, I believe we've already gotten that out of the way with our third child, whose conception I attribute to a clerical error on my chart. She was certainly a surprise, but after the initial shock wore off, we welcomed her happily, and I became more diligent in my record keeping.
Using NFP means that there are times during my cycle that sexual contact is not allowed. While this may sound restrictive, the only negative to me is that biology is a bit stacked against me, as I happen to crave sex most when I am ovulating. On the other hand, taking my temperature every day as well as noting physiological signs of my fertility not only empowers me to remain aware of my body, but if I ever feel as though something is off, I can look back and track any patterns in my symptoms that might assist my doctor.
Although we don't plan on having any more children (we currently have four), the more permanent options of tubal ligation or vasectomy haven't appealed to us, probably because of how permanent they are combined with the invasiveness of such procedures. For now, we are comfortable with our plan to continue practicing natural family planning because we might change our minds at some point and wish to add more children to our family. Having reversal surgeries for either of the aforementioned procedures is costly and hard on the body.
Do we worry about method failure? Of course. Like every other woman on the planet, I have a fear of this. There is no foolproof method of birth control outside of either total abstinence or maybe menopause. My ob-gyn might not believe it's the best choice, but I've been happy with NFP so far and am still sticking with it.
From: The Mix
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.