NFP Guest Post At Carrots For Michaelmas!

I am really excited to tell you that today, I am featured with a guest post at Carrots for Michaelmas. I was so excited when Haley e-mailed to ask me to write a guest post about my experience using the Marquette Method of Natural Family Planning (NFP). Although, she may not realize just how excited I was since it took me about a month to get it to her! But she graciously accepted it when I sent it and today it is featured on her blog. Please go visit Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas and read about using Marquette Method of NFP!

My husband and I have used NFP to space and grow our family for almost 12 years. We have five children here with us, and one in heaven, but as I’ve written before, we don’t have a large family because NFP has ever failed us. The first NFP method my husband and I learned was the Sympto-Thermal Method (STM) as taught by Couple to Couple League at the time. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the way we were taught because they had some Theological “oomf” behind them. This appealed to our intellectual desire to understand the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality and not simply do NFP because we were told to do so. Understanding God’s plan for marriage and sexuality has kept us motivated and rooted in faith with regard to NFP over the years. Without the theological understanding, we might have given in to the frustrations and opted for something non-natural (like sterilization or contraception).

It’s easy to get sucked into “method wars” among NFP’ers. I try not to do that anymore. But early on, when I heard about the Marquette Method, it was often accompanied by a comment about how it’s not necessary to spend all that money on an ovulation monitor when you can just monitor your physical signs and get the same result. I found out 8 years after we started using NFP that the Marquette Method was actually a better fit for me, considering my body, my lifestyle and our family set-up. Read more here.
 

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"Curiouser and Curiouser!"

After I wrote my post the other day on how the Marquette Method works, I found myself wondering what the fuss was all about using a natural method of spacing babies anyway?  


I thought a little bit about how nervous I was to broach the subject with my husband 10+ years ago that we really ought to give this Natural Family Planning thing a shot.  Why was I so nervous?  It was probably due to my unfamiliarity with doing something that seemed like doing nothing. 


High school sex ed says “Natural Family Planning” equals “Rhythm Method” equals completely UNRELIABLE, therefore, it is scary to think about venturing into that unknown.  But really, with the science surrounding fertility and multiple NFP methods (Marquette, Sympto-Thermal, Creighton, Billings) NFP is anything BUT “doing nothing.”  Working with our bodies’ biorhythms instead of fighting or trying to squelch them makes so much more sense to me NOW.  But it didn’t before I gave it a whirl.


Further, presenting contraception as the only reliable way to space babies borders a bit on an outright falsehood.  Nothing is 100% effective, except abstinence, and that goes for married, un-married, teenager, 20-something…the only sure-fire way to know you’re not going to be pregnant is not to engage in sex. Raise your hand if you have ever met someone who was a result of a pill-popping failure?  The little insert that comes with the pills states that there is a chance for “breakthrough ovulation.”   


About a month ago, I read Rebecca’s post at Shoved to Them where she detailed how many times she was blessed as a result of contraceptive method failures.  Of course, she doesn’t see the children as failures at all…but when one experiences just about every contraceptive-failure possible (just about…not every of course), one might start to understand that a Natural Family Planning method is certainly just as reliable as all those other contraceptive methods, and honestly…a whole lot less of a pain in the butt.


Why is it that many doctors dismiss NFP and insist you must pump your body full of hormones through a pill, or a shot or an IUD?  One theory is that Big Pharma pushes it on doctors to keep those prescriptions coming.  I wouldn’t doubt it.  Another is that because medical school is full of education on medicine and how those medicines work (or don’t work), there’s not time to teach how NFP works and how it might benefit patients, as opposed to other methods.  


Ultimately, it is human beings’ need/desire to be in control.  What’s ironic is, they really are giving up an awful lot of control to birth control pills, shots, IUD’s…right?  I mean, they are trusting something that doesn’t have a brain and is designed to thwart a process that can, at any point in time, switch up because it is a force of nature a biological process that is unique and unpredictable (not every woman has 28 days cycles, and even if a woman does have 28 day cycles, one cycle might all of a sudden be 22 days…just because).  


I think that you either put your faith in your spouse and yourself, to monitor your biological signs and learn what they mean and trust your spouse and yourself to act according to your agreed upon course of action for that cycle (achieve or avoid)…


OR you put your faith in a pill that even when taken 100% correctly has that chance of allowing a “breakthrough ovulation”…


OR you put your faith in a shot of high-dose hormone that will give you headaches and may or may not keep you from getting pregnant (“breakthrough ovulations” here, too)…


OR you put your faith in an IUD, which actually has a very poor success rate at avoiding pregnancy, but a rather high success rate at ripping apart the inside of your uterus so a newly conceived child can’t implant…


OR you put your faith in some doctor to sterilize you…cut you up and make you into something you were not before (that’s an awful lot of faith if you ask me) and you might end up with some physical, mental or emotional baggage as a result.


You see…every couple makes a decision to put their faith somewhere.  


What perplexes me is the fact that so many lack faith in themselves.

Marquette – Not just a University in Wisconsin

There is a new website coming May 1st.  I’m really excited about it.  It’s iusenfp.com.  Katie at NFP and Me wrote this post a couple of months ago exploring what we could do to really promote NFP as the viable alternative it is to using artificial hormones or IUD’s or sterilization.  Around the same time, the hashtag, #IuseNFP began trending on Twitter and some of us were having a lot of fun tweeting out in 140 characters or less why #IuseNFP.  Then Katie started putting I use NFP buttons together using information from the #IuseNFP tweets.  And then, she and Kayla from Alluring World sprung the idea for iusenfp.com.  
And then, they started asking for help to get lots of info on the site and I offered to write a little bit about Marquette Method of NFP.  Here’s what I’ve got.  It gets to double as a post for me, so I’m all good with that.  🙂
Are you looking into Natural Family Planning (NFP) and curious about how it works?
Or…
Perhaps you’ve been doing NFP for awhile, and the method you have been using doesn’t seem to be working or it might be frustrating and you’re interested in learning a different method.
Or…
You might just be perfectly happy doing nothing and taking babies as they come at this point, but you’re curious about this NFP stuff and you wonder what all your “Fringe”-Catholic Mommy-Friends are doing.  (Leila always has the best posts!)
Or…
You want to participate in an argument about which NFP method is the best so you want to learn about a different method.
Or…
Maybe you’re one of those people who just SWEARS that NFP is the Rhythm Method and you’re here to bust it all up with your oh-so-intelligent-comments.  
Whatever your reason, I’m GLAD you’re here because I’m going to write a little how-to and a little how-do-I-like about the Marquette Method of NFP.
How did I learn about Marquette?
My husband and I used Sympto-Thermal Method (STM) for our first 8 years of our Authentic Catholic Marriage (that is…from about the time our oldest daughter was 6 months old).  We were okay with that method.  It had served its purpose.  We had followed all the rules (yup…every dang one of ’em!) and had avoided pregnancy when we’d discerned we should and achieved pregnancy when we’d discerned we should.  The biggest struggle had been the fact that my temperatures were unreliable because my temperature runs pretty low as it is and even when it shifted, it rarely gave us a good 0.4 degree shift like our method expected and needed in order to make our charts crystal clear.  A slighter struggle was with my erratic cycles…I never got a clear indicator that ovulation happened, and sometimes I had some spotting mid-cycle.
While pregnant with our 4th child in 2008, (yes, we actually tried to get pregnant with him, too), I heard about Marquette.  Well, I had heard about Marquette back in 2003, but I had completely poo-poo’ed it because, who wants to pay all that money for the stinkin’ monitor?  
I digress (and more on that monitor later).
At my post-partum checkup with my doctor after my dear baby boy was born, Doctor told me about how Marquette University was doing a study on the efficacy of Natural Family Planning and they had actually been granted GOVERNMENT money for their study.  Holy cow!  The pro-abortion, pro-contraception, anti-baby government was forking over some grant money for an efficacy study on Natural Family Planning?!?  Sign me up!  Anyway, if I participated in the study, I could get a ClearBlue Easy Ovulation Monitor as part of my payment.  ahem…did I say…Sign me up!
So, we joined the study…got slotted into the “monitor group” and received the monitor immediately as it was part of the study.  The catch of the study was that we could only chart the monitor readings and had to abide by them for avoiding pregnancy.  This was kind of scary for me because I’d been checking my mucous for 8 years…what if the monitor didn’t work?  But, I remembered that with STM, we had a similar question that went like this, “What if I mis-read my mucous or temperature shifts?”  And we leapt in faith into a new method of Natural Family Planning.
Well, sort of.  For 13 cycles, while we participated in the Marquette study, we used only the ClearBlue Easy Ovulation Monitor to alert us to whether we were in the fertile time or not.  As with most methods, the most conservative rule is to abstain for all the days until after ovulation is confirmed and adding three days (or PEAK + 3 days).  So, I faithfully used the monitor every cycle, testing each morning until I received the PEAK reading, then tacked on 3 days and we were certain we were in the clear.  
After 13 charted cycles using the monitor only, we were able to really practice the Marquette Method by recording mucous observations AND the ovulation monitor readings.  And due to that, we could use some of the less-conservative-but-still-pretty conservative rules for intercourse that didn’t involve so much abstinence (The best example is the “Last Dry Day Rule”).
 How does Marquette work?
Marquette Method utilizes the Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor …
…cross-checked with mucous observations to help a woman identify her fertile time. The monitor measures estrogen and then luteinizing hormone (LH) levels in your urine.  When using the Marquette method, the woman’s first order of business every morning from about day 6 until the day she ovulates is to test her first morning urine (FMU) using test sticks and the monitor.
When a woman’s body is gearing up to ovulate, often her estrogen levels rise.  when this happens, the monitor will detect it and record a HIGH reading (which is up to two bars in the picture above).  At the time that a follicle is ripe and ready to release from the ovary, there is an LH surge that can be detected in the urine.  When the monitor detects this LH surge, the monitor will yield a PEAK reading (or, like the picture above, three bars with an egg in the top bar).
Scientists have discovered that most women ovulate only one egg each cycle.  The egg lives for 24 hours and if it is not fertilized will die.  Additionally, sperm will die if they are in a hostile environment.  A woman’s body is actually a hostile environment most of the cycle.  But in the days and hours leading up to ovulation, the woman’s body provides a very welcome environment for sperm and therefore, in a healthy, hospitable environment, sperm can live up to 5-6 days.
After the monitor has detected the LH Surge and recorded a PEAK reading, no more tests are needed.  The monitor will automatically record a second day of PEAK, then an automatic reading of HIGH will occur the day after that and then the monitor will automatically move back to the LOW reading. 
One big thing to note…the monitor might still ask for a test the next morning after a PEAK was recorded, but no test is needed (save those sticks!)
When trying to avoid pregnancy, depending on the desire to avoid, a couple might abstain until they receive the PEAK reading and wait three days.  from PEAK + 3 going forward in that cycle, all days are infertile and for the avoiding couple, here is your “honeymoon.”  Anytime a couple has intercourse before a PEAK reading is recorded, there is a chance they might become pregnant, which is why I noted that it depends on the desire of the couple.  A couple with a very strong desire to avoid, would most likely always wait until a PEAK reading has occurred and wait the three days after.  
All the while, in the evenings, mucous recordings can be made.  The Marquette Website has online charting available with pictures that help show what LOW, HIGH and PEAK mucous might look like.  It’s up to an individual woman how she might take her mucous observations, whether external or internal, but this information can be logged on the chart along with the monitor readings.
The online chart has an algorithm installed that will help determine the start and end of fertile days based on cycle history and current cycle information.  For example, I have a history of ovulating day 18-22, so my algorithm starts my fertile phase on day 9 (as opposed to day 6 for someone who might have a regular ovulation on day 14-16).  Once a PEAK reading is noted on either the monitor or the mucous readings, the algorithm adds three days and closes out the fertile period on the chart.
Why do I like Marquette?
For avoiding pregnancy, I find the certainty of ovulation I get with the ClearBlue Easy Fertility Monitor to be the main reason I like Marquette Method and why I will most likely use this method for the duration of my fertile years if we are trying to avoid.  Because I have received this certainty, I am able to read my mucous much more clearly.  What I used to chart as PEAK mucous, I have found is not really PEAK.  And I don’t have to worry about my temperatures, at least for determining ovulation.  
I still treat my luteal phase defect with progesterone for 10 days every cycle.  But this is helped by the monitor because there is less chance that I begin to take the progesterone before ovulation, thereby suppressing ovulation.  (Go HERE for explanation of Luteal Phase Defect and how it can be treated.)
A search on the Marquette website and through the forums can give you a better idea of their breastfeeding protocol.  I cannot speak to that because I have not nursed the babies I have had since following Marquette.  According to my doctor, they have been doing another study on the efficacy of the breastfeeding protocol and there is something published somewhere (I didn’t have time to get a link from him yet) that Marquette Method provides a lesser amount of abstinence post-partum than other methods.  I can’t really speak to that because I do not breastfeed and, honestly, my husband and I are very conservative post-partum and even if we think it’s “safe” sometimes, we still abstain and pray about it some more.