- Fertility & Reproductive Systems
Natural Family Planning with the Creighton Model FertilityCare System
Why I Started
Eight years ago, just before my husband and I got married, I chose to start birth control. Thinking back, I can't remember what kind it was other than that it was a daily pill that I took for 21 days and then was off 7 days for my period.
Everything was fine for about 2-3 years, when all of a sudden I started to notice some spotting right around the 10 day mark (of a 28 day cycle). At first I thought little of it, but as time went by the bleeding increased.
I went to see my doctor who suggested I try a different form of birth control pill. However, after going through a couple new types, the bleeding had not decreased.
After doing some research I decided to try Depo. Depo is a shot you get once every three months that not only provides birth control but also keeps you from having a period. I was never 100% comfortable with it, so after it was clearly not going to help with the bleeding I decided to quit.
At this point, I was pretty much jaded with hormonal birth controls, and non-hormonal birth controls were something that didn't interest me or my husband, so reluctantly we decided to go with a form of natural family planning. I say reluctantly because at the time - about 4 years into our marriage - I was not eager to get pregnant. I assumed hormonal birth controls were certainly more effective than non-hormonal birth controls.
I would consider natural family planning...
Thankfully, I didn't have far to look when it came to getting started. I had overheard a friend of mine earlier talking about how she did natural family planning so I sent her a Facebook message asking for more information. She was happy to share and it wasn't awkward at all.
When I asked her about it, I figured it was some method that she used that I could Google and then find the information I needed to use on my own. However, it turns out that she was using a system that comes from an organization, so she just told me about the local woman who she was working with and gave me the woman's phone number.
I called the woman and asked a few questions. I had been researching natural family planning methods previously, but I wasn't sure which one this one was, and it was actually one I had not found in my not too deep online "research". The name, as you may have guessed, is Creighton Model FertilityCare System.
The First Meeting
The first meeting was just over 3 years ago now, so it is hard to remember exactly how it went down. I do remember that we met at her home which I thought would be more awkward than it was.
We found out at this meeting that using the Creighton model is not something that you can just learn at one meeting but rather are trained in its use over a succession of meetings. Over time, as the skills become more ingrained, you and the teacher meet less and less often. However, at the beginning, you meet quite frequently to make sure you are charting correctly and to ask questions (of which you will have a lot).
I also remember that I brought my husband with me. This turned out to be important and helpful, since there is a lot of information to learn. It is also really important because the nature of natural family planning does put a lot of responsibility on the husband. Since abstaining is a necessary part of the method, it is important that there not be pressure on either end to engage in what they called "achieving behavior" (i.e. having sex during a fertile time) if you are trying to avoid pregnancy.
Another portion I remember is how much the woman emphasized how useful the Creighton Model is not only for planning a family but also keeping track of one's own health (if you are the woman of course). This turned out to be very true as I will explain in a bit more detail later.
The last important detail I remember, is that when starting to use the Creighton Model for natural family planning, you must abstain from sex for the first six weeks. I know, six weeks right? Sounds crazy. I just reminded my husband it would be good practice for when we had a baby- which would hopefully not be soon. The reasons for the six week wait are: to make sure your body has flushed out any remaining toxins from hormonal birth control, to help you get a feel for how to chart without the added work of dealing with sexual fluids (because they can appear very similar to mucus), and to make sure you don't accidentally get pregnant, if you are trying not to get pregnant, while you are learning what to do. There are probably other reasons but you'd have to ask a trainer about those.
How It Works (the really simplified version)
So, if you go to the Creighton Model website, they don't really tell you what you will be doing, so I thought this HubPage might serve well to fill in some gaps.
In general, there are three things that one does as part of natural family planning - charting, checking temperatures, and checking mucus.
Charting is just to keep track of the numbers you get for temperatures and mucus. Charting is useful because there is no way you can remember from month to month what was happening before. It also gives you a bigger picture of what your body is doing. Before my daughter was born, I was so regular that the way we found out we were pregnant was me saying "hmm... I should have started bleeding no later than yesterday" and then taking a pregnancy test. This aspect also really helps in the getting to know your body part.
So temperatures. Temperatures are you keeping track of your body temperature when you wake up each morning. I was not looking forward to this aspect. One, I didn't like the idea of having to do something right when I got up, especially something I had to keep track of. Two, in order to be accurate you must have been sleeping for the five hours previous to that. However, I wake up often in the night so odds are that most nights I will have not been asleep long enough to make the test valid. Thankfully, the Creighton Model does not use temperature monitoring in its system. Yay!
Mucus. Aww.. that gross mucus stuff. Its weird, its awkward, and it's really weird. I'm no doctor, so here goes the layman's version of how it works: when you ovulate, your body does everything it can to help you get pregnant. One of those things is that your cervix produces mucus. Its purpose is to move the semen to the egg. The more mucus, the closer you are to ovulation. By keeping track of how much and how stretchy your mucus is, you can achieve pregnancy by having sex at the right time or avoid pregnancy by avoiding sex.
Your teacher will talk to you all about how to do this. Yes, it does involve checking every time you use the bathroom. Yes, it does involve touching the mucus. You are supposed to check during your period too but I didn't because that was just too gross for me. You get used to the checking though and after a pretty short time it becomes normal.
As a side note, I remembered having mucus from before I started birth control and had always wanted to talk to my doctor about it because I thought something was wrong. Turns out it was my body doing what it was supposed to be doing.
There are further "rules" but you'll have to determine what you are using the system for: to avoid pregnancy or to achieve pregnancy. This will determine when you should or should not be having sex. But again, your teacher will go over this with you as well. To give you a general idea, when we are avoiding pregnancy, we have sex about 6-8 times a month.
Which Way is Most Reliable?
Birth Control Method
Reliability when used perfectly
Reliability when used imperfectly
Natural Family Planning
Reliability in Avoiding Pregnancy
In my opinion (or I guess, for me personally) there are two primary reasons people do not use a natural family planning method as a form of birth control. One, it does limit the amount of sex you can have. Of course, IUDs, birth control pills, etc. allow one to have sex at minimum 3 weeks a month, and sometimes more often if they keep you from having a period at all. Two, the reliability of natural family planning has been downplayed dramatically. The first website I looked up stated that the reliability rate was 86%. However, any form of birth control that isn't permanent is subject to user error. The actual success rate at avoiding pregnancy is much higher when the users are strict in using the program, just like every other system.
In our experience, we were successful at avoiding pregnancy for about 2 years. We attempted to achieve pregnancy for about four months (more on this later) and then when we did not succeed we decided to wait another year and went back to avoiding pregnancy. About three months later we got wonderful (but surprising) news: We were pregnant! If you were to take a look at our chart, it would be quite surprising. Our teacher even had trouble figuring out when exactly conception took place. We were pretty diligent about keeping to the system for those first two years, but I guess we slacked off a tiny bit after we tried to get pregnant. I must have figured that it wouldn't hurt if it actually happened since we wouldn't mind getting pregnant.
Here is my surprise pregnancy theory: One of the "rules" is that before your ovulation each month you are supposed to wait to have sex until just before bed (if you are avoiding pregnancy), to ensure that your body hasn't started the process of ovulation. Well, one day- seriously, it was just one day- we had sex in the afternoon instead of waiting until just before bed. Nine months later we welcomed our first daughter.
After her birth, I was nervous about going back to the natural family planning. I wasn't sure how my body would change, but I knew I didn't want to go back to anything hormonal, especially if I was going to be breast feeding. I was also nervous that since the breast feeding could keep me from having my period, that I could get pregnant again and not even know it.
After the six weeks were up, I started to check for mucus. However, I won't lie: at this point, despite my huge fear of getting pregnant again right away, I definitely have not been tracking myself as rigorously as before. You will learn how to track the color, stretchiness, and amount of mucus throughout your cycle. Now, I basically have a pattern of "I feel mucus, then we are not having sex." I pretty much have just gotten lazy and don't want to keep checking and keeping track of the numbers all the time. I had heard of women doing this once they got pretty comfortable with tracking but it can take a couple years. I was also nervous after the baby because i hadn't been tracking while I was pregnant so I thought I would be a bit rusty. It came back pretty easily for me though. Our daughter is now 16 months old and I have not gotten pregnant yet. However, there have been some months that I thought I was. Before my daughter was born, my cycles were very regular, down to the day pretty much. Now, my cycles can range anywhere from 28-40 days. I thought this might be a sign of a problem so I talked to my doctor about it but he doesn't seem that concerned. He said that it was pretty normal for cycles to range like this post pregnancy and as long as I was still having periods I don't have much to worry about.
So for me, I would say that this system has been extremely reliable in avoiding pregnancy. However, it definitely has to be something that you are your husband are willing to do because it requires more effort than just popping a pill every day for both partners. My husband has been super awesome with everything! I love him :)
Reliability in Achieving Pregnancy
It is hard for me to speak to this because this was not really what we were looking for when we moved to using the Creighton Model for natural family planning. According to the teachers and program, it is highly effective in helping couples who have had trouble getting pregnant. I have always assumed that this is just because it helps you to get to know your body, your patterns, and this helps ensure that you are timing everything right for the highest chance of getting pregnant.
Under this assumption, when my husband and I decided to start our family, we just made sure that we were having sex during my fertile times. I figured that since I knew my body so well that I would be able to get pregnant right away.
(Side Note: Trying to get pregnant is a complete mental shift when you are doing natural family planning. Every month I was somewhat worried I would get pregnant and was relieved when I started my period. When I was trying to get pregnant, I was scared at the end of every cycle that I would start bleeding, or even worse that I would be a couple days late and then start my period and that I would have lost a pregnancy).
So, four months later, we didn't get pregnant. I, and I'm sure you, have heard it said that it can take around a year to get pregnant but I figured that mostly applied to women who were not already so familiar with their cycles. I was worried a bit but I was much more disappointed because I thought it would be really easy.
Well, God had different plans and decided to bless us in His timing, not ours. And while that was hard to accept at the time, I am ever so glad that He does things His way and not mine. So three months after we switched back to avoiding pregnancy again, we found ourselves expecting our first little one.
The next time we start trying I am curious to see how quickly we get pregnant. Next time, we won't be stopping after four months. And even though we didn't get pregnant as quickly as I would have liked the first time, I am still really satisfied with the system. I never consulted my teacher about using the Creighton Model FertilityCare System to achieve pregnancy specifically, so if that is what you are trying to do I would recommend you speak with your teacher person about it.
Other Pre-Birth Topics:
- Natural Family Planning with the Creighton Model Fer...
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I had a tough time breast-feeding my first daughter; but I documented my difficulty so I could hopefully help other moms going through the same thing.