One claim I often come across in the fertility charting world is that "natural family planning benefits marriages". But if you know anything about natural family planning (NFP), you know that it involves *gasp* abstinence. How on earth can a practice that prescribes periodically staying away from each other possibly help your relationship? I'm glad you asked.
In my time training, teaching, and networking with other NFP users and professionals, I've come across many examples of how NFP can benefit relationships. Here are just a few:
1. Increases communication
In order for NFP to be effective (whether you are preventing or achieving pregnancy), it's essential for the couple communicate well about a number of intimate issues. Not only will they be discussing a woman's fertility observations (i.e., mucus!), but it's important for them to be able to talk about their desires, frustrations, shared goals, concerns, and dreams. Whether you are pros at communication, or need to improve in that area, practicing NFP is a great way to get in the habit of discussing important, intimate issues on a consistent basis.
2. Promotes understanding
Women are cyclical creatures, meaning our hormones rise and fall according to a unique monthly pattern. Unfortunately, society has done its best to shroud the female cycle in mystery, which is bad news for husbands everywhere. When a couple tracks a woman's cycle, they can better understand the woman's changing moods, energy levels and desires, making it a lot easier to get along. You may actually find you appreciate the cycle!
3. Supports emotional health
Women have long known that hormonal birth control messes with our moods and lowers libido. Now, a recent study shows that contraceptives are linked to depression. Thankfully, a couple wishing to avoid pregnancy can avoid the Pill and use NFP instead.
4. Encourages courtship
When a couple is avoiding pregnancy, natural family planning requires abstinence during a woman's brief fertile window every month. For a couple used to unlimited sex this might take some adjustment - however, many couples find that periodic abstinence builds a 'courtship and honeymoon' aspect into each cycle. After a week or so without sex, the end of the fertile window is often a time of renewed excitement and romance.
5. Builds intimacy
In addition to the creating an atmosphere of courtship in a relationship, using NFP means that a couple never has to use condoms or any other barrier methods. In addition, there is a special closeness that comes from the teamwork and cooperation that NFP relies on, which brings us to the next point.
6. Shared responsibility
NFP is unique as a form of pregnancy prevention because it requires both the man and the woman to assume responsibility. In order for NFP to be effective, both people have to understand the meaning of the woman's fertility chart and agree to follow the guidelines. It's a method of cooperation in every aspect: if the couple decided to have sex on a 'risky' day (still in the woman's fertile window), it's a mutual decision with both parties accepting the possibility of pregnancy.
While periodic abstinence can have it's own frustrations, natural family planning has the potential to be a wonderful, relationship building practice. Find out how to learn to chart your own cycle today!
Originally published by the Guiding Star Project.
Trauma is something none of us likes to think about, but is tragically common. The road to healing can be long and winding, and as unique as the person walking it. The following is not a prescription for everyone, it is simply my story.
As an abuse survivor, I have had a complicated relationship with my body from an early age. See, besides the hurt, shame, and fear that the abuse caused, it also sent me some pretty clear messages.
Abuse told me:
My body is not my own.
My body exists to be used and abused by others.
My feelings don’t matter.
My body has betrayed me before, and will betray me again.
My body is a tool used to hurt me.
I am voiceless.
Some of these messages were easily identifiable; others are subtle and have taken me years to chip away. They are messages deeply ingrained and seemingly confirmed by repeated experiences. I have lived these lies. They have shaped me. It makes sense that truth must be experienced in a similar way before it begins to make an impact on a wounded heart and psyche.
Engaging in healthy relationships has been one way I’ve experienced healing and truth. Participating in support groups and having an active prayer life are others. But perhaps the most unexpected balm of healing on my journey has been practicing natural family planning.
Sound strange? Stay with me, I’ll explain.
Natural family planning is the practice of avoiding or achieving pregnancy using knowledge of a woman’s cycle. It involves learning to observe and chart a woman’s signs of fertility in order to identify the short window of time in each month when it’s possible for pregnancy to occur. A couple can then use this knowledge to either abstain or come together during the fertile time, depending on their family planning intention. NFP is quite simple, but it’s not always easy. It requires communication, unity, cooperation, trust, self-control, delayed gratification, teamwork, and a desire to honor the other person.
Contrary to abuse, the practice of natural family planning has taught me:
My body is my own, a gift to lovingly give and a means to lovingly receive.
My body exists to honor God, myself and others.
My feelings are of vital importance.
My body is trustworthy.
My body is beautiful, a vessel of life and love, and a part of my being.
I have a voice, and my voice is both heard and respected.
NFP has gently guided me as I learn to appreciate my body. Now when I give of myself, I feel empowered and loving, not used and depleted. I feel connected with my created design. This has spread to areas of my life beyond sexuality, as I learn to speak my heart with confidence, and to tenderly and gladly serve others.
Healing is a journey, and probably one that will never be complete in this lifetime. But I am deeply grateful to have come this far. Other than healthy relationships and deep faith, I think that natural family planning has helped me more than anything else. I share this in hopes that someone will find NFP to be the graceful balm and patient teacher that it has been to me.
Natural family planning (NFP) is using knowledge of a woman's cyclical fertility to avoid or achieve pregnancy. By identifying a woman's brief fertile window each month, a couple can choose to either unite or abstain during this time, depending on their family planning intention. It's a safe, highly effective method that can have many positive benefits.
Sounds great, right? Now you may be wondering, how do I start?
Though learning to observe and chart a woman's fertility signs isn't difficult, it is an unfamiliar skill that must be carefully learned. Thankfully, there are a variety of paths one might take to become a confident NFP user. Here is a brief overview of 3 different ways to learn.
Pros: There are many resources available such as books, websites and online forums that make learning NFP on your own possible. This can be a great method for someone who is self-motivated, detail oriented and resourceful.
Cons: When you are on your own, there is no one available to review your charts or answer your questions. Different resources may teach slightly varying guidelines and rules, which can cause confusion. This can be especially challenging for those who are postpartum, coming off the Pill, or have difficult or irregular cycles. Learning on one's own can be isolating.
2. In-person instruction
Pros: An instructor has real life experience and professional training, can personally evaluate your charts and answer any questions that might arise. They can thoroughly explain new concepts, and help to guide you through any tricky cycles or unusual circumstances. Classes are often held in small groups that allow for community building and discussion.
Cons: May be logistically tough for those with small children or busy schedules. Someone who is shy may dislike a classroom setting. You might not have an instructor in your community.
3. Online instruction
Pros: Online instruction is often a self-paced course featuring the support of a trained instructor. This can be the best of both worlds for someone looking for flexibility and guided learning.
Cons: No group discussion or community support, instructor may have a lack of knowledge of local resources.
We are blessed to live in such an exciting time when use of NFP is becoming more common, meaning that there are multiple resources and methods available. So if you're interested in learning, a little bit of research can help you find the perfect fit for you. Feel free to contact me to sign up for an online class or for help finding a local instructor in your community!
photo by freedigitalphotos/everydayplus
Notice I didn't say 'everyone'. There will always be someone who plain just doesn't like natural family planning, for whatever reason. Maybe they can't get their spouse on board. Maybe they dislike paying attention to their body. Maybe they simply aren't interested, and that's okay.
However, NFP can be for anyone. The ability to plan your family by charting your cycle and modifying behavior is not limited to a select few. I hear people say they don't think they can use NFP because:
They aren't Catholic.
They aren't 'crunchy'.
They are too lazy.
They are too busy.
They have irregular cycles (or no cycles!)
They are breastfeeding.
They really really don't want to get pregnant.
If any of this sounds familiar, you might be interested to know that natural family planning can absolutely work for you, and you may even surprised at how well it fits into your lifestyle.
Let me address some of these right off the bat.
When charting your cycle and tracking your fertility, one of the most important signs you can observe is your cervical mucus. This is because the quality and quantity of your mucus will change throughout the cycle, directly affected by your changing hormones. Fertile cervical mucus is what keeps sperm alive long enough to reach an egg, which is only released once per cycle. Because of this, mucus is one of the best and clearest ways to determine when your fertile window begins and ends, which is vital both for family planning purposes as well as learning about your health.
Pretty amazing, right?
But how exactly does one observe this mucus? Is it hard? Is it gross? It's natural to be a bit intimidated at the thought of tracking this sign, but it's actually fairly simple and easy to add it to your daily routine. Here are some tips to get you started.
Natural family planning is a skill that, once learned, quickly becomes a daily habit. But what happens when you take an extended break? Pregnancy is a classic example, but you may take time off for personal or relational reasons as well. So what happens when your skills get rusty?
I am now a few months postpartum myself so I am experiencing this very thing. Even though I'm an NFP teacher and I'm very familiar with the theory, I'm out of practice with the application aspect. Here are five tips that helped me to get back into the groove of using NFP on a daily basis.
1. Get your spouse involved
Having a second person around to help remind you to check and chart your fertility signs is extremely helpful. But equally important is having good discussions about your family planning intentions. Are you avoiding pregnancy? Actively trying to get pregnant? Just waiting to see what happens? If you just had a child, are you hoping for a certain spacing before the next one? Or do you feel done having children all together? It's vital to have open communication about your family planning intentions with your spouse. Not only is partner involvement essential for effective use of NFP, but it's also important for a healthy relationship. You may not necessarily be exactly on the same page, but at least be aware of how the other feels.
2. Employ visible reminders
I normally keep my chart on my bedside table, so I can easily write down the day's observations at the end of the night. But I'm not going to lie; the first day I tried to get back to charting, I walked into my bedroom just before bed, spotted my chart, and said, "Oops." I had completely forgotten to observe my fertility signs (after all, I hadn't done it in over ten months!)
So try keeping your chart somewhere more visible. Or if you are worried about privacy, use other reminders; a sticker on the bathroom mirror, a special bracelet, a note on the fridge, etc. Do whatever you have to do to remind yourself to pay attention to your body. You probably won't have to do this long; pretty soon, you'll naturally be in the habit of checking your fertility signs again.
In my experience, most of us women who don’t know much more about how our bodies function other than the fact that we get periods once a month and that those periods have something to do with baby-making.
Part of the reason I am so passionate about fertility education is that I believe that all women deserve to know how their bodies really work. As women, we need the complete picture, not just snippets of information we picked up in school or on the internet. Here are some of the most common myths and misconceptions about our bodies; I hope reading this will leave you feeling a little more enlightened and hungry for more knowledge!
1. Women should get a period every 28 days.
I thought I’d start with this one since it’s the most common myth that I come across. While it is true that many women have regular, 28 day menstrual cycles, that is not the only cycle length that is considered healthy. In fact, typical menstrual cycles can be between 23-40 days long. It’s also normal for an individual woman’s cycle to vary month to month by as much as 10 days. As such, cycle length alone normally doesn’t tell a woman if her cycle is normal or healthy. The best way to do that is for a woman to learn to chart her fertility signs, which are her body's physical symptoms of fertility.
2. Women can get pregnant any time.
Unless you’ve done any research into trying to conceive, you may be surprised to discover that it’s not actually possible to get pregnant any time you engage in intercourse. Men are always fertile, but a woman’s fertility is cyclical. This means at a specific time during her menstrual cycle she is able to conceive, and at other times, she is not. Whether she is fertile or not depends on many factors, such as hormone levels, the presence of an egg, the quality of her cervical mucus, and more. When it comes to pregnancy, timing is very important. A woman can identify her fertile window by learning to chart her fertility signs and practicing natural family planning (NFP)
In the past, I cared very little about health and wellness. However, since becoming a wife and mother, my attitude has changed. Being responsible for the well-being of a house full of precious souls has suddenly made living a natural, healthier lifestyle very important.
But where to start? It can feel overwhelming to consider transitioning to more natural living, so my best advice is to do a little bit at a time. Take baby steps, and don't try to do everything at once. Here are some areas in which you can start to slowly change your lifestyle. If you take it in small pieces, you'll soon gain confidence as you build new habits.
1. Get rid of harsh cleaning chemicals
Most mainstream household cleaners are pretty nasty. They are filled with harsh chemicals and artificial scents designed to give that 'clean' smell. Often without thinking, we spray these chemicals into the air, wash our clothes with them, and wipe them on our kitchen and bathroom surfaces. These substances can be especially harsh on small children and their growing bodies.
Now, don't feel like you have to raid your closets and throw away hundreds of dollars in product! Simply replace your cleaners with safer versions as you run out. There are many great cleaning products available that are non-toxic and chemical free. Another option would be to make your own. Here is a wonderful article on cleaning your house using simple ingredients like baking soda and vinegar.
2. Change up your beauty routine
Another source of toxins and chemicals in our homes is our beauty products. Makeup, soaps, hair products, deodorants and lotions are often full of harmful substances. Xenoestrogens (estrogen-mimicking chemicals) are especially concerning, since they can disrupt our normal hormones and body processes. Putting these in direct contact with our largest organ, our skin, is certainly not a good idea.
Much like with the cleaning supplies, you can replace your beauty products one item at a time. There are an increasing number of natural cosmetics available, try looking in natural food stores or on the internet. Or, go without. I've personally stopped wearing makeup all together and I find my skin is healthier, not to mention it's better for my budget!
Another option is to try to make your own beauty and skin care products. The internet is full of fun ideas and tutorials on how to make safe and delightful products with ingredients such as shea butter, coconut oil, and essential oils.
I am a fertility educator and natural family planning (NFP) instructor. Looking back, I never would have imagined developing such a passion for women’s menstrual cycles. It’s kind of a strange thing to be interested in, much less to devote so much time and energy to. On nearly a daily basis I am either writing or talking to someone about their periods, cervical mucus, or sexual behavior. So how did I get here?
It started when I was 20 years old and got engaged to my husband. We didn’t want kids right away but I was afraid of the side effects of hormonal contraception, so we decided we’d better try to learn a natural method before getting married. I read as many books on fertility awareness as I could get my hands on, and we took a class together at a local Catholic church. From the very beginning we were impressed by the ease and logic of natural family planning, as well as the extensive research behind it. We had no doubt that we’d be successful at both preventing and achieving pregnancy when we desired, and we were right!
Inspired by our success, I became determined to share my knowledge with others. I couldn’t believe that more people weren’t using this method, and that there was so much misinformation out there about NFP. I trained through Northwest Family Services’ SymptoPro certification program, and shortly afterwards I started Wellspring Fertility Education. I’ve been teaching women and couples how to use NFP ever since.
So what exactly is it about NFP that I find so incredible?
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