When my husband and I were engaged, we learned the Sympto-Thermal Method of NFP. My reasons for choosing this method were purely practical; of the various options that would meet the Archdiocese of Denver’s marriage prep requirements, the classes taught by Couple to Couple League were the cheapest and the best fit in the busy months leading up to our wedding. At the time, I had heard much about NFP in theory – theological arguments for it, its high effectiveness rate, etc. – but knew very little about how it actually functioned. I had heard the names of a few different methods but assumed that they were essentially all the same.
For over three years, Sympto-Thermal worked perfectly for our needs. We were able to postpone pregnancy when we needed to and to conceive when we were ready. During this time, I connected with many women online and in real life who used NFP and became more aware of the various methods and the differences between them. However, our current method was still working for us, so I foresaw no reason to ever change.
Then our second pregnancy ended in miscarriage. When we conceived again, I sought out a NaPro (Natural Procreative Technology) doctor to check my progesterone levels. Low progesterone is believed to be a cause of miscarriage; I suspected that my progesterone levels were low because my luteal phases were short after fertility returned following the birth of my daughter. My progesterone was indeed low and we began supplementing with progesterone injections, but that pregnancy too ended in miscarriage. At that point, my doctor suggested I learn Creighton (NaProTechnology is built upon the Creighton method of NFP) so that we could figure out any health issues before the next pregnancy in order to be proactive in treating them. Of course, I wanted to give any future children we conceived the best chance of survival, so I found a Creighton instructor right away.
Our needs changed so our method changed as well. When we needed a method to conceive and postpone pregnancy, STM worked for us. But once we needed NFP to diagnose underlying issues, we switched to a method that was a bit more detailed. Other than the short luteal phases, my cycles looked like “textbook” STM cycles. But once I switched to Creighton, a mucus-only method in which mucus observation is much more detailed, I started noticing cycle abnormalities that pointed to possible underlying health problems. We’re still too early in the process to have pinpointed my medical issues, but my charts have already pointed to a few issues that my doctor and I are exploring through further testing.
Was switching difficult? No, not at all. Having used one method of NFP prepared me for learning another because all forms of NFP are based on the same thing: a woman’s reproductive cycle. Having basic knowledge of how a woman’s cycle works (or should work if all is healthy) and how pregnancy occurs is something that makes transfer to another method fairly smooth. Different methods measure different fertility signs, but I believe the hardest part of NFP is simply understanding that women do have fertility signs and why. Learning to measure a different fertility sign and following a different set of rules is more of just a matter of repetition and memorization once the underlying thought process of NFP is acquired. STM to Creighton was particularly easy because I was already familiar with checking cervical mucus, I just needed to learn the new “vocabulary” of Creighton to describe what I was already seeing. And I got to throw out my thermometer, which was my least favorite part of STM!
If you are new to NFP and you’re struggling to pick a method, I want you to know that this is not a make it or break it decision. You can change your mind later. I promise. I did it. I know many other women who did it. It’s probably not as rare as you think.
I often hear of individuals who are reluctant to change methods or who give up on NFP altogether when a specific method doesn’t seem to work for them. I find this attitude a bit perplexing. I took hormonal birth control for roughly ten years from the time I was 13 until the time I got engaged to treat “heavy, irregular periods” and during that time, I probably tried 10 different types – shots, several brands of pills, the ring, patches, etc. This is not uncommon – most women I know have tried many forms of contraception before they find their “perfect fit”. So why do we expect that any and all NFP methods will work equally for all women?
If your current NFP method isn’t meeting your needs, then there may be another one that will. But first you have to know your needs. Are you using NFP to conceive or to avoid pregnancy? Do you want to use it to monitor your health? Do you have special considerations that may make one method preferable, such as infertility, PCOS, or breastfeeding? Once you know what your needs are, find the method that will meet them. And then continue evaluating whether it’s still working for you. And please, whatever you do, do not buy into the “method wars”. All methods may be valid and good, but they are not all the same. Each method has its individual strengths and weaknesses and you aren’t betraying anyone by changing methods.
When we used STM, it worked great for us. I am a huge proponent of STM. But now we have a reason to use Creighton instead and so far we’re happy with it. I’m also a huge proponent of Creighton. If our needs change down the road and they no longer match up with Creighton, we’ll change again. Maybe we’ll go back to STM. Or maybe we’ll move on to a new one. But the one thing that will never change is that I will always be my own best advocate and will continually evaluate my method to make sure that it is best serving my health, my marriage, and my family.
Mandi is a contributor at Blessed Is She (http://blessedisshe.net), Faith in All Times (www.faithinalltimes.com), and Catholic Exchange. She’s been married four years (and been using NFP for just as long). She lives in North Carolina with her husband and two-year-old daughter.