Learning the hard way about the great benefits of NFP

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Jennifer Brinker
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Tonight, as I was nursing my three-month-old son, I came across another writer taking yet another swipe at the Church and its position on the HHS health care mandate business.

Just the week before, I also had seen an image, courtesy Planned Parenthood, which pictured five religious leaders, all men, as they testified before Congress against the mandate. The caption? "What's wrong with this picture?" as it went on to lambast "anti-birth control lawmakers" for disallowing women a voice in sharing how birth control should have a role in women's health.

As a Catholic woman, I've had it with these weak arguments in favor of birth control (including the false argument that 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control in their lifetime), and the insinuation that women want -- even need -- birth control.

My fellow Catholic sisters, you should be fed up, too.

As the Church continues its fight against the mandate on the grounds of religious liberty (Oh, and by the way, the Lutherans, Southern Baptists and others have joined us, too) there's been an interesting parallel discussion going on about artificial contraception and why women "need" it. The birth control issue, it seems, has gone from the elephant in the room to front and center.

Somehow, women have been conned into thinking that the pill helps them take control of their fertility. And why should we believe otherwise? For exactly 28 days, each pill, meticulously delivering the exact amount of hormones, presents a perfect cycle, from start to finish. Have sex, don't worry about producing babies until you're ready. What could be better, right?

Problem is, it's just placing a mask on top of a woman's true fertility.

And I had to learn that the hard way.

Like many other young women in college these days (and many high school girls, too), I went on the birth control pill right before I got married. In a way, it was a rite of passage. I told my OB/GYN at the time my husband-to-be and I didn't want to have kids right away, so she offered me a prescription for the pill. It was a no-brainer.

I should have known then what havoc it would wreak on my body. I remember right after my first dose, I began experiencing horrible cramping. Totally normal, my OB/GYN instructed. It will take your body a little while to get used to the change in hormones.

Several years of wedded bliss passed, and my husband and I decided we were finally ready to welcome children into our lives. I went off the pill. But as I quickly discovered, my cycles were not normal anymore.

It started with the brown bleeding. Then the irregular bleeding at various points in my cycle. I was confused. This wasn't what I remembered my cycles to be before I went on the pill. It was then that I realized I never really was in control of my own fertility while I was on the pill.

After more than six months of trying to conceive, I finally went back to my doctor. I told her, "I don't think this brown bleeding is right." She wrote it off as normal. At my urging, we tested my progesterone level; it was low, but good enough to conceive, she said. Something didn't quite settle with me, though. I started reading everything I could about fertility and charting my own cycles.

Out of desperation, I emailed Diane Daly, director of the archdiocesan Office of Natural Family Planning. I had befriended her through my work as a reporter for the Review and told her my whole story. I admit, I was embarrassed at the time. For years, I had been writing about the good work that her office did with NFP, but at the time, I told myself that personally, NFP wasn't for me.

Diane didn't bat an eyelash. She said, "Come see me."

For the following months, we got down to the work of charting my cycles using the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. Not only did we discover that my low progesterone was a problem -- in that it had the ability to hinder my chances of carrying a baby to term -- but also that potential fibroids and endometriosis, based on the irregular bleeding, were potentially contributing to my infertility.

That, my friends, was empowering.

I could have been devastated by the news; but instead I took it as an opportunity to understand more about how my body works. Diane referred me to Dr. Brian Gosser, a Catholic OB/GYN who specializes in NFP. He looked over my charting history and immediately scheduled me for a laproscopy to see what was causing the irregular bleeding. The result: confirmed endometriosis and low progesterone, which were treated with a removal of the endometriosis and the addition of a natural progesterone compound to boost that hormone.

A month after surgery, I became pregnant.

We lost our first baby to miscarriage, but after several more months of trying, my husband and I conceived again. Our first born was a healthy baby girl, Lauren Julia. We just had our second baby, a boy, Evan Joseph, last fall.

So for those who say the fight against the birth control mandate is merely being fueled by a bunch of old, celibate guys in pointy hats, trying to tell women what to do with their bodies, you're wrong. This woman has control over her body, and she doesn't need a pill to make it happen. And there are many more women like me who are out there.

Ladies, this is the time for us to start sharing our stories. And start taking back our natural fertility.

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