by Dorothy Vining
I’m 86, I just got back from a Natural Family Planning course, and here I am, all excited all over again! I am, perhaps, not in the usual NFP demographic, but I never cease to be amazed at the wonders of the human body and I’ve been writing about the efficacy of NFP for years now.
I am also totally amazed that supposedly intelligent people, all green and natural, with their filtered water, their organic veggies, and their free ranging chickens, are willing to pollute their one and only body rather than – God forbid – abstain from sex every now and then. There is just no end to the variety of non-biological carcinogenic steroids that they are willing to ingest, insert, or apply as rings, things, pills and patches, rather than learn to understand their bodies and behave rationally.
Quite conveniently I have come across an old article of mine with a September, 1993, quote from the British Medical Journal authored by Dr. R.E.J. Ryder, Department of Endocrinology, Dudley Road Hospital in Birmingham, England. In it Dr. Ryder says that the Catholic church offers and approves a method of birth control which is “cheap, effective, without side-effects…and may be the family planning method of choice for the Third World.” His article provoked “unprecedented debate” in Great Britain and there was “enormous resistance” to its publication.
Dr. Ryder repeated the well-known facts that a woman’s egg has a lifespan of about 24 hours and is fertilizable for only part of that time. The sperm, however, may remain viable from four to seven days. “Thus a woman is potentially fertile for no more than six to eight days of her cycle, probably less in most cases.” Hormonal studies as well as ultrasound studies have confirmed that the clinical observations of changes in cervical mucus and body temperature as taught in Natural Family Planning can accurately identify the time of ovulation. He cited a World Health Organization study of 869 women of proven fertility in five centers (Auckland, Bangalore, Dublin, Manila, and San Miguel, El Salvador) showing that regardless of culture and education 93% of the women – even those who were illiterate — could recognize the mucus symptoms. “The probability of conception from intercourse outside the period of fertility defined by cervical mucus observation was 0.0004.”
Another study of 19,843 poor women of Calcutta found a failure rate for Natural Family Planning similar to that of the combined contraceptive pill (less than 2%). In closing his article Dr. Ryder wrote: “There is no doubt that it would be more efficient for the ongoing world debate on overpopulation, resources, environment, poverty and health to be conducted against a background of truth rather than fallacy. It is therefore important that the misconception that Catholicism is synonymous with ineffective birth control is laid to rest.”
One has only to Google any contraceptive medication to learn about their myriad complications and side-effects and realize they are all harmful to normal female functioning. (Dr. Herbert Ratner has called it chemical warfare against women!) A woman on the Pill can be a paying customer for 30 years. Doctor, pharmacist, and drug company all profit all that time. Unfortunately, nature has no lobby.
I went to this NFP meeting because I had heard that nowadays the NFP people have a new “one rule” which makes it easier to determine a woman’s fertile and infertile periods. Yes, there are still charts to keep (at least until you are well acquainted with how your particular body functions), temperatures to take, and mucus and cervical signs to record. The new rule is more about looking at the whole picture rather than any particular bodily indicator. For particulars, two resource sites might be helpful.
I was particularly intrigued by the wonders of cervical mucus. Who would have known? It turns out that there are various kinds of cervical mucus at various times during a woman’s cycle, some dense and unwelcoming, but there is a “slippery and stretchy mucus,” resembling raw egg white, in which the sperm can live for 2 to 3 days while waiting for a fertilized egg to arrive. Microscopically, it forms string-like channels and provides transport (‘swimming lanes’) for sperm cells. It produces a “wet, lubricative sensation at the vulva.”
I have read that the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order) have been able to teach effective natural birth control in India relying primarily on the mucus factor. As I recall, the instruction went something like this: Moisture makes babies grow; dryness prevents growth. (I don’t remember the exact words, but you get the idea.) There has been no more ardent advocate for natural family planning than Mother Teresa.
Who would think I would one day write a blog post on the marvels of mucus? Swimming channels for sperm in women’s cervical mucus! How much more accommodating could we get?
Surely, we are fearfully and wonderfully made!