Friday, September 28, 2007

Alternative Pathway

In light of my recent post, I thought I would spend some time reflecting on a few available alternatives to Hormonal Birth Control. My husband and I have used all 4 methods to varying degrees and have settled on 1 that we find appropriate for us. Some are more precise and effective than others, but all 4 honour a woman's body by working with her natural rhythms. And there is great potential for self-education in each charting method. The umbrella term is "Natural Family Planning" and I will break it down into four types of NFP.

Some folks confuse the term "NFP" with "The Rhythm Method" or "The Calendar Method" which I find misleading and inaccurate. The "rhythm" and "calendar" methods are typically hit and miss and revolve around a woman approximating her windows of infertility and fertility based on the numbers on a calendar, rather than on evidence obtained from personal signs and symptoms.


My husband and I started out with this method. I learned a great deal about my body and cycle and found it a good place to start. The book that supports this method is called
Taking Charge Of Your Fertility. The author, Toni Weschler, has a Master's degree in Public Health, and does a great job of highlighting the basic elements of NFP. She goes into detail about the harmful effects of hormonal birth control and educates the reader about ways to use FAM with or without barrier contaceptives (condoms, foams, gels, diaphragms etc). It is widely used by people who are making the decision toward NFP for health, rather than religious, reasons.

I do have one main concern about this method. Charting revolves around three physical signs: basal body tempature, cervical fluid changes, and cervical position changes. FAM encourages the use of all three signs. Personally, as a nurse doing night shifts, and as a newlywed on my honeymoon, I found the tempature very hard to monitor consistently. Basal Body Tempature needs to be measured at approximately the same time each morning for it to be accurate. Also, it is a more concrete sign than cervical fluid changes, and many couples rely on the tempature aspect of the chart above cervical fluid. Cervical fluid changes are always more accurate than tempature alone.

Some users really like having all three signs to check against, but they must use all three consistently, with no sign taken above another. And if the signs are in conflict, accurate cervical fluid changes should always take precedence.


When we were first learning the ropes of FAM and engaged to be married, we took a course on the Sympto-Thermal Method with a Serena-using couple. It is similiar to FAM in that it incorporates all three physical signs. The terminology is different. For example, they use "cervical mucous" instead of "cervical fluid". Personally, I feel more comfortable with the FAM terminology. The Serena charts are slightly different, but overall, we found it is very similiar to FAM.


The book that supports this method is called The Billings Method - using the body's natural signal of fertility to achieve or avoid pregnancy by Dr. Evelyn Billings & Ann Westmore.

This method is based around cervical fluid changes and awareness of physical sensation changes at different times during a woman's monthly cycle. It is a more simple method and very user- friendly. As with any method, it is important to buy the book and learn from an instructor in your local area who can give clear, specific information and guidance in the early months of learning NFP.

I have been very impressed with the effectiveness of the Billings Ovulation Method in third world countries. Mother Theresa taught women in India with great success. And Billings has been used in China (with a 99% success rate!) to educate women about their bodies and to empower them to have more control against the forced abortion laws.

Here's a little blurb from their site:

"The Billings Method is the most modern natural way to achieve or avoid becoming pregnant. Once four commonsense guidelines are learned it is applicable whether a woman has short or long cycles. It can be used by a woman who is breastfeeding, approaching menopause, recovering from stress or coming off contraceptive medication.
It teaches women to recognise their own individual pattern of fertility and infertility and to understand that they are infertile more often than fertile throughout their reproductive years.
They learn to recognise the fertile phase of their menstrual cycles, when conception may occur. It also gives valuable information to the couple so that they can make decisions about their joint fertility. "

This method includes biomarkers (cervical fluid and sensation changes) similiar to the Billings Ovulation Method but is more scientific, thorough and slightly more complicated. It doesn't use basal body tempature at all. The observation and charting system is very precise and thorough, which takes some getting used to. But it is the most accurate approach to observation and provides users with a sense of security in knowing no sign is missed.

We have chosen it as our method of choice. It requires dedication, but is very effective and satisfying once you get the hang of it. Learning the method is costly at first. But once you have learned with the help of a practitioner, you are prepared for the rest of your child-bearing life. And the initial fee is good for years of support from a qualified instructor.

Here's a little blurb from their site:

"The CrMS is not a contraceptive system. It is a system of true family planning The information obtained for monitoring the phases of fertility and infertility can be used to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. Users of the CrMS know their fertility status on any particular day and are given the freedom to utilize that information as they so choose."

Those are some of my thoughts about what is out there. I welcome any comments or questions, or personal stories about what has worked for you


melissa said...

Thank you for this is definately the most thorough 'conversation' I've had wrt NFP. Were both of your children planned in the traditional sense of the word? I'm gun shy as I got pregnant on my honeymoon while using diaphragm & spermicide, and resumed my cycles within 6 weeks of the birth of my child (while exclusively breastfeeding every 1.5 to 3 hours around the clock). Not that babies are negative! But I'm afraid.

melissa said...

p.s. I think babies are wonderful blessings but I don't want more than four. And we want to adopt 2, so that makes for two pregnancies and 2 adoptions. An extra would be okay, but I think it would stretch me pretty thin.

Mama Monk said...

Hi Melissa--

Our daughter (now 4) was a special gift from our time using FAM and allowing tempature to have precedence over the cervical fluid sign. Our boy (now 17 months) was planned exactly while we were using Creighton. I would recommend Creighton and I know of a practitioner in the area if you are interested. I can email you directly with details if you want--

I think your plan to adopt is awesome! Do you have a specific country in your plan?

churchmouse said...

Hi Kelley,

thanks so much for this post. I recently had a friend asking me about NFP and I will refer her here. I'm sure it will be helpful.

We have had a great time with the Creighton Model, which we began learning before we were married.

We used it to avoid pregnancy successfully for three years, after which time we (without fully realizing it at the time) became more open to the idea of getting pregnant and started "slacking off" on our observations.

John Samuel came to us as a welcome surprise, whose timing felt providential.

He is now six and a half months and starting solids and we're getting back into the swing of charting again.

Dawn said...

I can't believe the amazing timeliness of your post. Having just turned 29, my husband and I are thinking more seriously of starting a family. We are not using any contraceptive but have not been charting anything either. My sister in-law charts her basal temperature and they're really "trying," while we're just sort of "seeing what happens." Although, I've been feeling like we need to stop being so lackadaisical about it. So, I bought a basal thermometer last night and planned on doing some research. I cannot believe all the information you provided right at my fingertips, neatly organized in one post. Thank you! I appreciate your wisdom and passion on the topic. I'm inspired to check out the books that you recommended and see what we can do for a more proactive approach to family planning. Thanks, Kelley!

melissa said...

Hey Kelley~my email is
I'd welcome details. I wasn't clear in my comment that we have already adopted one, from Thailand. We plan to have another bio and another adopted, also from Thailand, for a total of four...we all know how fluid 'plans' can be, but that is the structure of them for now. Pix of my sweeties are on my blog.
p.s. I have to say that I have been a lurker for several months...and my favourite post of yours was when you went to the Grand Canyon and tied your wanderer to a tree for safety! I still giggle when I think of it...very ingenious! My oldest was an escape artist so I can relate.

Aaron & Ralina said...

This is a much deeper subject than I was aware of...thanks for the enlightenment and now I am off to do some research too! =)

Talina said...

I was searching for NFP instructors in Flagstaff, AZ and found your blog... Have any idea where I can find myself an instructor? :-)