Green Your Birth Control

I’ve been anticipating this guest post for quite some time and I’m so happy that today is the day to share! Today, we’re gonna talk about birth control options. Hooray! It’s all the stuff you probably didn’t learn in health class, but should have. I’ll let Caitlin of Tales of the Elders do most of the explaining. She’s the expert, a real joy and a fountain of wisdom when it comes to greening your birth control. Because truly, since many of us are striving to eat cleaner and reduce toxins in our life in only seems natural to roll those aspirations into our family planning.

Read on and enjoy Caitlin’s words – she’s entertaining and oh so informative, I promise you’ll learn something!
So, I’m a geek. I’ll put that out there from the very beginning. That’s probably why my bachelors degree is in biology, I’ve worked as a lab-tech and CNA, and also probably why I married an engineer. Geekdom (aka Casa Elder) is where my daughters (and soon to be son) are growing up.
This is sincerely my most favorite picture of my oldest daughter.
My kids live in a world filled with observations and hypotheses.
Science intrigues me in the best possible way. Sci-fi, even more so. My girls own just as many Star Wars as Fancy Nancy books.
So, what if I told you that there’s a way to avoid and achieve pregnancy that doesn’t involve any pills, shots, patches, rings, condoms, diaphragms, any anything? And that it’s something I totally geek out about?
Would you guess Science? or cry Sci-Fi?
Let me back up.
My husband and I are Roman Catholic. Just to get that out in the open too. When we (The Fantastic Geek Duo) decided to get married, (aw, we were so young!) one of the required courses for pre-marital counseling was a class in natural family planning. Good, rule-following Catholics that we are, we took the class with the expectation that, in the end, we’d just have to lovingly accept approximately a hundred babies into our family.
What we didn’t expect was science. And research. And proof. And hope that we could space and possibly even forgo around 96 of those aforementioned babies.
But that’s exactly what we got. Hard evidence and data, that, without changing anything else in my body (or his), we could lovingly plan our family (fancy that, natural family planning isn’t a just a euphemism for HAVE ALL THE BABIES!).
There are many methods of Natural Family Planning out there. Andy and I have tried just about all of them at one point or another (because we’re like that, and enjoy running  experiments and collecting data and such): BillingsMarquetteSympto-Thermal, and Creighton (just to name a few). But they all operate under the same premise: there are biological markers in a woman’s body that a couple can observe (temperature, cervical mucus, oral electrolytes, and cervical position for example) and these observations can tell a woman, with a good amount of certainty, if she has ovulated or not. If you want to avoid pregnancy, don’t have sex during ovulation time. If you want to achieve pregnancy, make love right around the time of ovulation.
That was, obviously, incredibly simplified. The nitty gritty of making and interpreting those observations is certainly more complicated, but definitely learnable. And this post is not meant to be a substitute for an actual family planning class or program.
There are many other bloggers out there who have already written very eloquently and succinctly about the various methods and aspects of natural family planning. Check out this fantastic series, Women Speak on NFP, from Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas for starters. Or this post from Birth Without Fear. If you’re already a veteran NFPer, then you must buy Simcha Fisher’s book,  The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning. If you’re NFP curious, and are looking for a secular resource, Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a good place to start.
This post is just meant to give you a little hope from my personal experience that you can extend the hippie/granola/natural/organic part of your being into that very personal part of your life called family planning, and to offer some insight into why we go au natural.
I am, myself, “fluorite” on the Crappy MOHS scale of Crunchy. We cloth diaper, co-sleep, non-bpa plastic, kleen-kanteen-it at Casa Elder. Our front yard is garden instead of lawn, and we own chickens. In the middle of Vancouver, WA. Yes, we are those people.
Considering the environmental problems associated with artificial hormones in most forms of birth control (we’re talking weird stuff, like female eggs found in the testes of male fish), going green for birth control just made the most sense to us geeky-hippies.
I choose to treat some of our kids’ various maladies with herbal concoctions from our garden instead of medications, so it probably goes without saying, I’m not a big fan of pills. Especially those considered by the World Health Organization to be a Group 1 Carcinogen or those with crazy side effects, like: lower sex drive, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and deep vein thrombosis, not to mention vaginal infections and irritation, vaginal secretion, headache, weight gain, and nausea. If I wanted that last set, I’d just be pregnant all the time. At least then I’d get a baby in addition to all that suffering (I jest! I jest!).
Anecdotally (which I know is not very scientific of me), I’ve met many women who just feel plain crazy when a pill takes over their reproductive hormones. So I say, why fix a system when it’s not broken? In fact, I propose, that a woman’s reproductive tract is the only body system we hijack and modify when there is nothing actually wrong with it.
Apart from the science, the environment, and the side effects, there’s one other major reason artificial birth control was a no-go for us.
We’re geeks, we’re hippies, and we’re also pro-life.
I’m a bit of a pacifist, so I don’t want to start a fight, but here’s what you need to know so we can have a meaningful conversation about this particular bullet point. I believe life begins at conception. Not at implantation. Not 22 days later when fetal heart tissue starts to beat. Not at the documented pain threshold of 20 weeks or even at that magic marker of viability at 24 weeks. I believe, from the moment of conception, that those rapidly dividing cells contain an individual, never-duplicable, dignity-worthy soul. If you don’t believe the same thing, than this next statement probably won’t sway you.
But if you do, read carefully: There’s not a single type of hormonal birth control that doesn’t work as an abortifacient.
And that truth is in the science of the “mechanism of action” that can be found in the prescribing information for any type of birth control. It has nothing to do with wish-washy feelings or convictions. It’s science.
The primary mechanism of action for most hormonal birth controls is the prevention of ovulation. Fine. No ovulation, no conception. Secondary is generally the thickening of the cervical mucus, which prohibits sperm transport. Fine again, no sperm, no conception.
However, the tertiary mechanism of action is usually “changes in… the endometrium (which reduce the likelihood of implantation).” Taken straight from the prescribing information for the Nuvaring. Now, true, that’s just one example. But all hormonal birth controls operate by altering a woman’s natural levels of estrogen and progesterone, and those are the hormones responsible for first thickening the lining of the uterus (estrogen) and then causing the uterus to secrete a nutritious fluid that primes it for implantation (progesterone). Mess with either (or both) of those hormones, and a conceived baby won’t be able to implant into the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) and will instead pass on through the woman’s body.
Sure, it probably doesn’t happen with every ovulation, but we all know someone who was conceived and born while their mom was on some sort of birth control. Right? Not a single form of contraception prevents break-through ovulations 100% of the time. That’s why all birth controls have effectiveness studies (when looking at those studies, please do not equate FAM-Fertility Awareness Method with NFP. They are not the same thing. Instead, look at this effectiveness study done with Creighton Model users).
I’ve never once said to myself, well, it’s ok to do [insert whatever action you want] because it might only sacrifice a baby. So, this reason trumps all others between Andy and I when discussing why we avoid hormonal birth control.
Like I said before, if you’re not of a belief system that says life begins at conception, then probably this tidbit doesn’t matter. But if you are, take a look at the prescribing instructions of your birth control. Find the “mechanism of action” and see if “changes to the endometrium” is one of them. And let me know if it’s written there (or especially if it’s not). I’m a data collector. I’m a scientist. I want to know these things.

Remember? I love science. Apparently, I always have.
So, from personal experience, the proof that NFP can be just as effective if not better at avoiding pregnancy than hormonal birth control appealed to the scientists in us. The lack of environmental impact and lack of side effects found in NFP called to the hippies in us. And the pro-life stance of natural methods sealed the deal.
We’ve been NFPers for more than 6 years, and in spite of the fact that I am Fertile Myrtle, we only have three kids, spaced 2 years apart. Just as we planned. Actually, our third is due on April 1st.
I know, I know. April Fools Baby, ha ha…ha.
I’m also so entirely convinced that natural family planning is an option for any woman (be you young or old, have you long cycles or short cycles, intentions to achieve or avoid pregnancy, fertile or infertile) I’m in the process of becoming a Creighton Model FertiliCare Practitioner (fancy way of saying a person who teaches the Creighton Model version of NFP to couples and works with NaPro physicians to help solve menstrual and fertility issues without artificial means). It takes a long time to complete: 13 months of a supervised internship, and many, many hours of class.
And also many, many more words to explain. So, stay tuned for my next installment, all about the Creighton Model. Buzz word: cervical mucus.
Now doesn’t that sound like a party?

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  1. says

    I've been pretty interested in NFP because I hate the thought of putting artificial hormones in my body… and the side effects just aren't worth it for me. The only thing I'm worried about is that my cycles are ALWAYS irregular. 1 week early or 1 week late… I feel like it would be difficult to work around because I'm always guessing when it's going to come.

  2. says

    I wish more people were as bold as you are about the ramifications of using hormonal birth control. I used it for the first two years of our marriage and had absolutely no idea what it as doing to my body, or to my potential babies. Absolutely heartbreaking. We have since been informed as a couple and have committed to never using hormonal birth control(including non hormonal IUD's), ever again. I really appreciated this post.

  3. Brittany Sprague says

    Loved this post. We've been doing NFP for going on three years now and think its AMAZING. It worked when we were preventing pregnancy and working towards pregnancy (we've had our daughter last year.) After having major issues with my emotions when on it, it was a relief to be told about NFP, Thanks for speaking plainly about it. Its a legitimate option for so many!

  4. says

    Miranda, there's science to explain why your cycles are irregular (fancy that)! And believe me when I say there's nothing abnormal about being irregular. Your body is responding to outside influences (light, stress, diet exercise) and it's a good thing. Where are you? I'm happy to link you up with a Creighton Model practitioner, who would be SO MUCH help in explaining your cycles and showing you how to look for the signs of ovulation. I know many women who use NFP with irregular cycles, so if you're really interested in using it, I have complete faith that you could do it!

  5. says

    That's a good point about IUDs Courtney. Their PRIMARY mode of operation is the prevention of implantation (by irritating the endometrium. In what other circumstance do we induce inflammation in an organ? None that I know of.)! There are so many details I wanted to include in this post, but it would have been even more ridiculously long! Thanks for bringing that up, and for your kind comments!

  6. says

    Yay! Good to hear that you use it and love it. It's certainly not the easiest to use, but absolutely worth not being crazy, right?

  7. says

    I'm in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles! I would really like to learn more about it :)

  8. says

    Love this post! We have used NFP for our whole marriage, and have managed to space our 4 children just as we desired, even though I really didn't know the facts about it until more recently. I just never felt right about taking hormones, and instead went with my body's cues–luckily it seems to be working for us!

  9. Leigh C says

    I'm in Vancouver, WA and would love to get some help with this. I'm expecting my 2nd child in May and we are not planning on having more children. I really don't want to go back to the pill, but can't convince my husband to get snipped. Further info would be much appreciated!

  10. says

    Hi Leigh! Email me at creightonwithcaitlin [at] gmail [dot] com and we can set up an introductory session (the first step to charting with the Creighton Model). Now is a great time to learn how to chart, so that you can start with confidence postpartum.

  11. Lauren says

    This is wonderful information Caitlin. Chris and I struggled with infertility for 7 years before adopting our two kids. I only know the google/doctor guestimated version of "whats wrong" with my body, but hold out hope that with God, a natural-born baby vould be in our future providing its in His plans. I'm definately going to be looking into NFP. Thanks for a little bit of hope. :)

  12. says

    Lauren, thank you for sharing your story. Your faith is truly inspiring! I'm already on the Creighton Model bandwagon, and I really invite you to hop on. It's amazing the types of diagnoses that can be made by a NaPro physician (a doctor who understands and reads Creighton charting) once she/he can has a couple good cycles of charting to look at. Check out this website for more hope: <a href="<br />Sometimes a "fix" is as easy as supplemental (bioidentical) progesterone or as complicated as minor surgery. But I know clients couples who have found great peace in just having a diagnosis! Don't hesitate to contact me if you have any other questions creightonwithcaitlin [at] gmail [dot] com.

  13. says

    Lauren, for some reason my first reply isn't showing up. So I'll try again! Thank you for sharing your story and your faith! I really encourage you to google NaPro Technology (physicians who work with people charting Creighton style). I think it could offer you even more hope! I'm already firmly on the Creighton Model bandwagon, and invite you to hop on too! I know client couples who have found great solace in a diagnosis.

  14. says

    Yay Carey! Thank you for sharing your experience. It's heartening to hear about other couples who are using NFP as well! And 4? Man, I need your email so I can ask you how the heck you did 3 kiddos…

  15. says

    I love this post. I would love more information about this because after we have our third, we are done, at least for a while, but my cycle has been irregular pre pregnancy so it makes it difficult to gauge it.

  16. veiledlady says

    Great post, I have been using FAM (we're not Catholic, so barriers work well for us) to first avoid pregnancy and then achieve it – nursing my 11 week old now :) I switched off hormonal birth control largely after doing more research on the health impacts and environmental impacts. I do have a note to offer on your last point – the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists reviewed the available research and concluded that combined oral contraceptives did *not* impact implantation: found that very reassuring.

  17. says

    Ooh! I'll be sure to look into the link! Thanks for posting!

  18. says

    Miranda! I haven't forgotten about you. It looks like the closest Practitioner to you is about a 1/2 hr away. Her email is Katrina.fcp[at]gmail[dot]com. Hopefully she can help you have confidence in knowing your body and its cycle! Good luck! And you can always message me with questions too!