Patty Knap calls herself a “born again” Catholic. She planned to be a wife and mother of four or five kids with several girls, but as life played out, she’s a single mom with two young adult boys. She counsels at a crisis pregnancy center, teaches CCD, takes online classes with the Avila Institute, and loves the beach, dalmatians, and America’s national parks. She also saves recipes in a pile until it gets big and then throws them out.
At a local pregnancy center, the young women I talk to are constantly stunned to learn that there's a scientifically proven way to plan or postpone children. When I mention that natural family planning is far better for their bodies, can even help detect various medical conditions early on (such as endometriosis), and is effective and completely risk- and expense-free, I get a blank look. They've simply never heard of it.
Most of them are casually using birth control pills or similar hormonal based contraceptives that have all sorts of health and psychological risks they know nothing about. Why didn't their doctors tell them? Often the doctors have no idea themselves.
Sadly plenty of doctors themselves prescribe birth control pills or other hormonal-based contraceptives without having read the research themselves. For the most part, that research isn't new; it's been known since the 1970s and only replicated around the world since then, with only worse reports since then. For example, a recent extensive study of Danish women found a correlation with hormonal contraceptives and depression.
One supporter of NFP is the Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science (www.FactsAboutFertility.org), a group of physicians and other health care professionals and educators working to educate the medical community as well as the public on natural or fertility awareness based methods (FABMs) of family planning.
A big reason a lot of child bearing aged women are completely unfamiliar with NFP is simply that no one is profiting from it. The birth control industry is a $6 billion a year business with a huge marketing campaign. Television, magazine, social media ads, brightly colored posters and brochures on college campuses, health centers, even high schools and middle school's bulletin boards and health offices, and doctor’s offices promote the birth control pill, patch, IUD, etc., with no mention of the risks. With no money to be made promoting NFP, it's remained low-profile.
The young women I speak to are exasperated when I tell them that the World Health Organization, not exactly a bastion of conservative or Catholic thought, classifies the birth control pill as a Class A carcinogen. They feel betrayed by a medical community and pharmaceutical companies that are suppressing the full truth about the ramifications of hormonal birth control.
Dr. Marguerite Duane, a family physician and director of FACTS, said in a Relevant Radio interview that part of the lack of awareness is that only about 6% of medical doctors are aware of the scientific research confirming the effectiveness and benefits of NFP, particularly the latest research. She highlights the Centers for Disease Control website which continues to have extremely outdated information on NFP that doesn't mention the newest most compelling and most accurate reports. For example, the CDC says that NFP has a 24% failure rate which is completely false; based on the most up-to-date and highest quality published medical research, the effectiveness rates of Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs) with correct use are between 95% and 99.5%. In fact, her organization is promoting a petition to the CDC which can be read here: http://petition.naturalwomanhood.org/cdc/script/.
“The Pill is the most widely used drug given to healthy people to suppress a normal physiologic function. [Yet] it exposes women to a myriad of side effects including blood clots, bleeding irregularities, breast tenderness, mood changes, and many others,” said Dr. Duane in an interview with Verily magazine. She pointed out that hormonal contraception introduces synthetic hormones, which modulates hormone production already occurring in the body. As noted in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association article, “External progestins, probably more than natural progesterone, increase levels of monoamine oxidase, which degrades serotonin concentrations and thus potentially produces depression and irritability.” Serotonin is a major neurotransmitter involved in the control of pain perception, the sleep cycle, and mood. It should come as no surprise, then, that hormonal contraceptives impact aspects of the body beyond the reproductive cycle.
Dr. Duane asks the commonsense question, “Why would we want to expose healthy women to serious or a substantial number of side effects under the guise of preventing pregnancy when there are other effective options available that pose no health risk?”
Fertility Awareness-Based Methods, or FABMs, for instance, are “a very effective method of family planning and are comparable to most artificial methods of birth control when it comes to avoiding pregnancy,” Dr. Duane says. And FABMs are natural, hormone-free, and free of side effects.
FABMs are not grandma’s rhythm method. Rather, they are based on decades of solid scientific research of a woman’s reproductive physiology. Dr. Duane shares that FABMs “allow a woman to work with her body rather than suppress her normal physiology.” In fact, Dr. Duane calls FABMs “the only true methods of family planning because couples can use them to both avoid and achieve pregnancy.”