A different mindset on reproductive health

by Joy Antonio

My reproductive system reproduces.

Say whaaaaaaat?

My reproductive system, given the right conditions, reproduces the species amazingly. I can prove it!

Proof #1:

That’s my first offspring, a female. Here’s proof #2:

That’s our second, a male this time. He’s punching the man who’s half-responsible for this reproduction thing.

Aiming for health

So… what’s all this fuss about reproduction?

First, let me tell you one thing that’s changed ever since my husband and I successfully reproduced: our health suddenly felt so important. It should be important to everybody, but having little humans dependent on us made that so glaringly obvious. We need to be healthy not just for our own sakes; our kids need us and we have to be as healthy as possible so we can take care of them well.

There are many facets to health: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional… they all need attention so that one could mature and thrive as a whole person. And with physical health, there are also many things to think of — as many as there are components in the human body. Reproductive health is but one of them. And my reproductive system is in good working order.

I feel compelled to show more proof.

Those cheeks!

Sorry to digress.

I bring up this topic because there are many products and procedures out there that are placed under the banner of “reproductive health,” even if their aim is to make the reproductive system malfunction. Women, especially, have a plethora of drugs, barriers, and surgeries to choose from in order to hijack what a reproductive system should be able to do.

You may disagree with me, but that’s not what I’d call “health.” It’s certainly not what I’d want for myself and for my family. I want to keep my reproductive system in good working order, thank you. There are other parts of my body that aren’t working properly and those are the ones that require medical intervention.

Spacing children

But rest assured that my husband and I don’t breed like rabbits. Our offspring are human. Let me show you more proof.

Cute li’l humans.

We’d like to have more, God willing, but for the sake of our overall health, we need to space births. And yes, it’s possible to do that without contraceptives. We’ve seriously been looking into modern NFP methods ever since we had #2.

Not contraception

Natural Family Planning (NFP) is famous for being the Catholic Church’s counterpart to artificial contraceptives. The problem is, that’s not what it is. NFP helps in conceiving and avoiding conception — planning a family, not just planning to not have children.

That NFP isn’t merely “natural contraception” is an idea that I thought was simple enough to grasp. But the more I looked into it, the more I realized how much I had to get rid of the paradigm that the prevalence of contraception has implanted (ironic pun alert) in my subconscious. And from what I’ve read, it seems it’s crucial that one have a proper mindset for NFP, or else it ain’t gonna work.

I hope the following list of things I learned will help some of you out there, should you ever choose to get into NFP.

A frame of mind for NFP

Avoiding pregnancy using NFP involves abstinence , but only periodically.

I’ve met people who think absolute abstinence from sex = NFP. While it is “natural” in the sense that there are no artificial contraceptives in use, it isn’t natural for a man and a woman to unite in marriage and not unite in intercourse. In most cases, absolute abstinence is unnecessary in a marriage and can be quite destructive.

Assuming good health, men are always fertile. Women are fertile sometimes. This means that intercourse during a woman’s fertile period will likely lead to a pregnancy, and intercourse outside of that will not. For a woman whose cycles are typical, that fertile period is only about 1/3 of the month. A couple avoiding pregnancy will only have to abstain during that time.

How about expressing love, then? If a couple is TTA (trying to avoid), then periodic abstinence also becomes a way of expressing love: one that involves respect, self-sacrifice, and creativity. There are many other ways to express love! Give compliments, cook dinner, bring home ice cream, clean the garage, have a good conversation… a marriage needs a lot of these simple things too!

There are many NFP methods, not just Rhythm/Calendar.

I’ve encountered many Filipina mothers who think that NFP is a farce. Why? Because they’d been taught “NFP” by their OB/GYN and it failed on them.

They were likely taught the Rhythm or another calendar-based method. While that might work for some women most of the time, there are aberrations, like stress or a nutrient deficiency, which could cause a change in a woman’s cycle. Tell me, how often do mothers get stressed these days? ? NFP falls into disrepute because it’s been equated with an outdated method. The DOH itself states that the Rhythm method is not a modern method.

There are many, many modern NFP methods. I’ll name only the ones I hear of the most. You can look each of them up through search: the Billings Ovulation Method (BOM), the Creighton Model (CrMS), the Symptothermal Method (STM), and the Marquette Model. There are also two breastfeeding-based methods, namely the Lactational Amenhorrea Method (LAM), and Ecological Breastfeeding. These methods don’t require a woman to have a normal, unchanging cycle.

A woman’s body shows signs of fertility and infertility.

A number of modern NFP methods are about reading one or more of those signs. The typical signs of fertility that NFP methods track are cervical mucus, cervical position, and basal body temperature. There are monitor-based methods like Marquette that measure a woman’s hormone levels through a urine sample.

These signs allow the couple to identify where a woman is in her cycle: phase 1 (infertility), phase 2 (fertility), or phase 3 (infertility).

NFP needs to be learned — not swallowed, injected, implanted, or surgically done.

Because NFP is largely about understanding the human body, it primarily involves studying. There are teachers, books, courses. It’s not about going to a health center to get pills or implants. It’s closer to studying Biology than it is to pharma-based contraception.

So, if you truly want to use NFP, be prepared to study. Your resources (time, money) will go to classes and to course materials. And hopefully, more local OB/GYNs study these methods so that they can teach their patients modern NFP in place of the Rhythm method.

NFP can help identify reproductive health issues.

NFP methods like BOM, Creighton, and STM involve charting a woman’s fertility signs. It’s like the woman is doing long-term research on her own reproductive system. Through the data she gathers, knowledgeable doctors may find and treat the causes of repeated miscarriage, infertility, or PCOS. NaProTECHNOLOGY offers various types of treatment and relies on the Creighton Model.

Family planning is teamwork.

Let’s face it: most contraception is targeted at the woman’s body. The norm is to prevent the sperm and the egg from meeting or a zygote from implanting inside a woman’s womb. I’ve encountered many a woman suffering from this one-sidedness: the couple (or the man) wants to be able to have sex anytime, so the woman’s body takes the beating.

NFP, on the other hand, involves spouses deciding when to and when not to have intercourse. It’s a mutual decision — and isn’t that the nature of marital decision-making? If spouses don’t communicate well enough to make such decisions, there are bigger reforms to make. That and NFP could potentially help them to communicate better.

Students once again

I met my husband in a classroom back in college. We were freshmen in the same block, and I recall first thinking of him as a “pudgy boy at the corner.” Never would I have thought that that pudgy boy would become my loving husband and that we’d be studying together again. But here we are, back to being students, enjoying each other’s company — with the added joy of being with the fruits of our love.

The human body, with its sex, and its masculinity and femininity seen in the very mystery of creation, is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order. It includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and—by means of this gift—fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.

– Pope St. John Paul II, General Audience, 16 January 1980






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