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Catholic Natural Family Planning Perspectives
a Catholic Mom Column by Sara Fox Peterson

Archived Catholic Natural Family Planning Columns from Sara Fox Peterson:

Heroic Virtue
Not on the Same Page (Part II)
Not on the Same Page (Part I)
The People Who Actually Do This
Sweetness and Light
Freeing Our Consciences
What if It's Too Late?
What's the Difference
Medical Exceptions
Waiting
Fear Not - Five Resolutions for a New Year
An Open Question
Catholic Contraception?
Contraception, Lies and the Truth
Natural Family Planning - Why Not?

Sara can be contacted by email at sfp@thosepetersons.com - please indicate "NFP" in the subject line of your email.

What is NFP?

Every fertile woman experiences recurring signs of her fertility. Natural Family Planning (NFP) teaches a woman to recognize and record these signs so that spouses can identify the days in each cycle when conception can occur and plan the timing of their marital relations according to their desire either to avoid or achieve pregnancy.

Looking for more information on Natural Family Planning?  Visit our Natural Family Planning Resource Center.

Natural Family Planning Method Comparison - a comprehensive comparison of natural family planning methods 

For additional "cyber-support" you are also most welcome to join in the discussions in the Catholic Mom Community's NFP Forum

The Pill: Questions and Answers
by Sara Fox Peterson

The following questions are answered by Mary Martin, M.D., F.A.C.O.G. of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Dr. Martin is an OB/GYN. 

Q:  Is there ever a medical reason for using the Birth Control Pill?

There is always an alternative which may uncover the problem which caused the gynecologic disorder for which the pill was prescribed. There is always a reason why women don't ovulate normally, have intermenstrual bleeding, have pain or infertility. To prescribe the pill for these symptoms may delay or prevent a diagnosis.

Q:  Is it true that the Birth Control Pill's third action is to abort if a baby is conceived? 

Oral contraceptive pill (OCP) package inserts and the Physicians Desk Reference are two widely available sources which say explicitly that one of the mechanisms of action is to prevent implantation. When the potential abortifacient effect is argued, it is the definition of when life begins which is in dispute.  Physicians who consider themselves pro-life may continue to prescribe OCP's with the argument that ovulation is prevented or that life does not begin until implantation, but studies have shown that ovulation occurs far more often now on low dose pills than the ones first introduced in 1960. And the definition of life beginning at implantation allows the manufacturers of IUDs (Intrauterine Device), emergency contraceptives ("Morning after” pills) and progesterone-only shots and pills to proclaim that these products are not abortifacient.

Q:  Are all Birth Control Pills designed that way?    

Yes.

Q:  What if a woman has a serious medical reason for avoiding pregnancy what would you advise her?

God only gives us roughly 96 hours of shared fertility per month. Couples who should avoid pregnancy for medical reasons should be taught Natural Family Planning. There is no additional benefit to chemical contraceptives or sterilization on the contrary, there are many additional risks. NFP is as effective or more effective than chemical contraceptives, is inexpensive, side-effect free and does not rely on remembering to do something to prevent pregnancy. Rather, it relies on a couple choosing each and every cycle whether to use the gift of their fertility.

Q:  Why do physicians give the Birth Control Pill to regulate cycles? 

While this may sound rather arrogant, in my opinion, it is because they don't truly understand the endocrinology of the menstrual cycle. Even reproductive endocrinologists (fertility specialists) recite the same data that was published in the 1940s and 50s. Fortunately, research has revealed much about the cycle since then, but seems to be the domain of NFP researchers. Common knowledge says that women can't tell when they are fertile, which is untrue and has been since the "red flow" and the "white flow" was described by Aristotle centuries ago. A major medical journal published an article in January of 2003 claiming that women can ovulate more than once in a cycle. Simply not true. While waves of follicles (egg cells) are recruited every month, not all ovulate. Ovulation can occur only once in a cycle. How long it takes a follicle to ripen determines how long the menstrual cycle is. When OCPs were introduced in 1960 the statement that the average menstrual cycle is 28 days was introduced into the vernacular leading women to believe that anything more or less is "irregular" and needs to be "regulated." 

Q:  What is the rationale for giving the Birth Control Pill for irregular bleeding?  

See statement above. Pharmaceutical companies sponsor all of the medical research, medical education and the cost of writing textbooks. They are a tremendously powerful lobby. Promoting NFP and the research behind it is not only out of the mainstream but counterproductive for them. Since the medical field is taught by the same professors whose research is funded and published by pharmaceutical companies, we are not exposed to NFP or NFP research in training.

Q:  What kinds of side effects are common with using the Birth Control Pill?

High blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, especially in women who have migraine or a familial risk of blood clotting disorders, increased risk of deep venous thrombosis which may result in fatal pulmonary embolus, intermenstrual bleeding, pap smear abnormalities, and worsening of insulin resistance, which is a pre-diabetic disorder, depression and decreased sex drive, breast and cervical cancer, to name a few. 

Q:  What do you tell your patients who are looking for birth control? 

I offer to teach them the Billings Ovulation Method, which can easily be taught in a few minutes and am candid about the fact that prescribing artificial contraception is a moral and ethical dilemma for me as a faithful Catholic. Most seem to appreciate a physician who practices according to conscience and are amazed to find that detecting fertility is such a simple thing. For those who are seeking OCP's for medical reasons, I diagnose the gynecologic disorder. I don't win them all over, of course, but my job is to plant the seeds and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. My partners provide prescriptions for the 4 or 5 patients per month who are unconvinced. 

Q:  Why don't more physicians know about Natural Family Planning?  Isn't it taught in medical schools or are they ignoring it because it takes more time than writing out a prescription? 

Most text books have a simple line or two about "periodic abstinence" or "the Rhythm Method" and nothing about NFP and the exhaustive and currently ongoing research behind NFP. But remember who educates us. And remember, our culture teaches us that we should provide contraception as an essential human right.

  

As someone who has taken many of the classes a medical student takes (as a part of completing my master’s degree) I can verify Dr. Martin’s comment about the absence of accurate information about NFP received by the average physician. I attended a Catholic medical school and NFP was briefly mentioned during our physiology course, but only to inform us that while NFP could be effective if used consistently and correctly, the average couple had neither the intelligence nor the self-control to do this (something that is absolutely untrue as millions of successful NFP users around the world prove).

So what’s a Catholic Mom to do, then, when she encounters ignorance or resistance on the part of her physician? The first step is to realize that you may very well know more about this particular subject than your doctor does and to offer to send him or her more information on the science and methodology of NFP. One More Soul (www.omsoul.com) has a large selection of excellent resources and individual NFP teaching organizations should also be happy to provide you with information appropriate for physicians.

Secondly, pray for your doctor – especially if he or she is Catholic. There is tremendous marketing of all physicians by pharmaceutical companies (including those who manufacture and sell contraceptives) and because the pill, in particular, has been aggressively promoted as a quick, easy ‘fix’ for a large number of common gynecological complaints, many doctors cannot see how they could practice medicine without it even if they are uncomfortable with it morally or ethically. Other physicians would like to stop prescribing contraceptives, but are afraid of losing patients, losing the support and esteem of their colleagues and, ultimately, of being unable to support themselves. Catholic doctors are very much in need of prayer, encouragement and evangelization.

Finally, if you find that despite your clear insistence that you will not consider the use of contraceptives and offers to inform your doctor about NFP, he or she refuses to support you in this (or continues to make sarcastic or derogatory comments), find a new doctor. One More Soul maintains a directory of NFP-only physicians throughout the country and these doctors are worth their weight in gold. Many of you, like me, however, may live in areas where there are no NFP-only doctors within a reasonable distance and in that case, you simply need to find one who recognizes the value of NFP even if he or she does advocate or prescribe contraceptives as well. My experience has been that this is remarkably easy to do.

Saints Luke, Cosmas, Damian and Gianna Beretta Molla (the patrons of physicians), pray for us!

 

copyright 2005 Sara Fox Peterson

For additional "cyber-support" you are also most welcome to join in the discussions in the Catholic Mom Community's NFP Forum

Looking for more information on Natural Family Planning?  Visit our Natural Family Planning Resource Center.

 

Sara Fox Peterson is a stay-at-home mom and certified teacher of the Billings Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning.  She holds a BS in biology and an MS in human physiology, both from Georgetown University, and lives in Maryland with her husband and two sons.
 

 

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