Did you that there are non-hormonal, peer-reviewed, evidence-based, ways to prevent (and achieve) pregnancy that are all about helping women know their bodies better, can also help to achieve pregnancy, and recognized by the CDC? In episode 12, I’m talking with Louise Boychuk, a registered nurse and instructor of the Marquette method of natural family planning. You can listen online here, or on any of your favorite podcast platforms.
This is NOT your grandmother’s rhythm method of old. This is a peer-reviewed, evidence-based, non-hormonal approach to avoiding (AND achieving) pregnancy. Natural Family Planning (NFP), also known as Fertility Based Awareness Methods (FABMs) in the scientific community, uses signs from a woman’s body to determine when she is fertile (and, also importantly, when she is most likely very not fertile). Methods can use a variety of different biological markers, from cervical mucous, to hormone levels in urine that can be tested at home, to body temperature, and more.
This is easily one of my favorite topics, most notably because I used to be ardently opposed to what I thought the Church taught on sex and marriage. As you’ll hear in the episode, up until my early 20s, I thought the church was kah-ray-zee when it came to its teaching on sexual ethics and not using contraception. I figured that anyone not contraception was probably either pregnant or immediately post-partum. My (wrong) understanding was that the Church just wanted women to be, as the old adage goes, “barefoot and pregnant”, forever and ever.
(FYI-To all of those who are currently in that scenario, I see you, I hear you, I get you, and I hope you’ll hang in there with me through this post and this episode.)
Enter a good friend, a lot of reading, holy priests, wonderful speakers, and a two-year stint as a Catholic missionary. I was led on a journey that started as me acting like an angry toddler as I realized I was very wrong, leading to joy at discovering the truth of how insanely awesome God’s design for sex and marriage is.
Here’s the TL;DR version of the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage: Sex is meant to be both unitive and procreative. Unitive meaning that it brings a man and woman closer together emotionally, physically, all the things. Procreative in that it’s open to life, so no barriers, either physical or chemical. Abstaining from sex during fertile times to avoid pregnancy for just reasons is still in line with the church’s teaching because there is no use of something to purposefully block fertility. Also in line with church teaching are situations where the couple physically could not get pregnant because of a myriad of other reasons, such as menopause or a hysterectomy. It is the intention that there is a total giving of oneself, saying “I accept all of you, even your fertility.” As Louise says in our episode, “Marquette method does not equal opposed to life, it just equals good science.” These teachings aren’t in place because the Church thinks sex is bad, it’s because the Church knows sex is so good, and sacred, and important- it needs to be treated as such!
Yes, using NFP to avoid pregnancy requires abstinence, the number of days depending on the individual woman and method, which can be difficult. Also, some women experience difficult-to-interpret fertility signs (which is one of the reasons I love Marquette- it’s very objective), and of course, there is always the chance of a surprise pregnancy. But! It also draws you so much closer to your spouse, and encourages challenging conversation, as you prayerfully discern each month. “Do we have a good reason to avoid pregnancy? Where are you at? Oh, you’ve been feeling anxious? You’re worried about our finances? I had no idea. Can we talk about that more?” And so on.
So how does this have to do with medicine? Well, in my search to learn more about NFP, I also found myself infuriated with the medical community and how it had so horribly abandoned women when it came to educating them on their bodies. After all, how many of us have been told to just, “Take the pill!” when we went in to talk to our doctors about an irregular period, horrible cramps, acne, anxiety, a broken toe, a slight cough, or a weird-looking mole? The pill has become some sort of magical cure-all, and I have had enough. Ladies, it is time we stand up and say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” when it comes to being told our little “lady problems” can all go away, all we have to do is load up our bodies with hormones.
Although many providers aren’t aware of the evidence (cue my eye roll when I read through my discharge paper work after having my baby and under the ‘Birth Control’ section, my OBGYN wrote ‘rhythm method’), the good news is that there is peer-reviewed evidence-based journal articles. As you’ll hear in the podcast, the information is slowly disseminating, and even the CDC updated their public information regarding FABMs to more accurately provide pregnancy prevention statistics. It’s our job as practitioners to get the news out there.
I hope you love this episode. I get all riled up when I talk NFP.
We chat about:
- The science behind NFP (specifically the Marquette Method)
- The effectiveness of various NFP methods at avoiding pregnancy
- How NFP fits in with Church teaching
- Joys and challenges of being an NFP instructor
- How to become a Marquette instructor (you have to be a healthcare professional, which is perfect for the listeners of this podcast!)
We reference (a lot):
- Louise’s website! There, you can learn more about the Marquette method, and get connected with Louise if you’d like to be taught!
- The FACTs (Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to teach the Science) webpage describes in great detail the different methods of fertility awareness based methods
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler, is a good book to understand more of how a woman’s body works and is an introduction to a fertility based method.
- This quiz is a great place to start when deciding what method if NFP is right for you.
- Check out Louise’s webpage at for peer-reviewed journal articles regarding Marquette effectiveness during regular cycles, breastfeeding, and perimenopause.
- This is the article Dr. Jo Stanford co-published that led the CDC to change their statement to stating that FABMs have a 2-24% pregnancy rate (Marquette is the 2%!)
For Healthcare Professionals:
- The FACTS group provides continuing education, resources, and even has opportunities for medical students including a clinical rotation.
- Interested in teaching the Marquette method of NFP? Here is a link to the Marquette webpage.
For learning more about Catholic teaching on sexual ethics:
- The Good News of Sex and Marriage, by Christopher West, is a GREAT place to start, and presents all the questions you’ve wanted to ask but were maybe too embarrassed to in an easy q&a format.
- Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love, by Edward Sri , is also an excellent place to start, a fast read, and provides insights from St. John Paul the Great’s Love and Responsibility (also a good read!).
- Life-Giving Love: Embracing God’s Beautiful Design for Marriage, by Kimberly Hahn, is a good second-step. Kimberly Hahn was a protestant who converted to the Catholic faith, and she describes her personal encounter with Church’s teachings on sex not as being a rigid list of rules we must follow, but made to help us be who we were made to be.
- Holy Sex! by Gregory Popcack, doesn’t dance around taboo topics, and answers the tough questions. It’s a great book for newlyweds!
For when NFP isn’t easy/for community:
- Off the Charts is an incredible, first-of-its-kind NFP community from Jenny Uebbing. You may know her from her popular blog Mama Needs Coffee (check out her sometimes hilarious, always inspiring blog entries here, or her writing featured in many publications. The online forum provides exclusive content from NFP instructors (if you loved this interview, Louise is also featured here!), access to the ‘Ask the Priest’ and ‘Ask the Instructor’ resources, teaching, and most of all- community (because NFP is not all sunshine and daisies!). The past few months have been amazing as members are continuing to flourish in their marriages and NFP even in the most stressful season ever! Check it out, as registration for July 2020 is opening up!
- The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, by Simcha Fisher, is a look at NFP with the rose-colored glasses off. For those who are struggling with NFP, it’s an honest look at the what being ‘open-to-life’ can look like, while at the same time being rooted in hope and confidence that despite the difficulties, NFP is still 100% better than any alternative.
- Women Speak For Themselves is an organization that empowers women with talking points and resources regarding the ways women are disadvantaged, especially in the realm of contraception and abortion.
**The usual boring disclaimer: The views expressed in this podcast by myself and my guests are our own and do not represent those of our employers. This podcast is not intended to be a substitute for medical care. Please see your healthcare provider for any medical needs.**
You guys rock!