About six years ago, my husband and I discovered what most people mistakenly think of as the “rhythm method.” Some call it natural family planning, others fertility awareness, others refer to it as natural contraception or organic birth control. We first heard about it when my husband returned to the Catholic faith. I’m not Catholic, but as we investigated, we discovered it was much more than “what the Church wants you to do” or “a way to get Catholics to have van loads of kids.”
The first thing I realized was that I actually knew one of these methods. I had used it in 1992 to conceive our daughter. The book “How to Choose the Sex of your Baby” taught me the use of the ovulation charting method in order to know exactly when I ovulated and to time intercourse accordingly. It worked exactly as it was supposed to. But though I came to know exactly which days of any month it was possible or me to get pregnant, it never occurred to me that I could use the same method for avoiding pregnancy. Like most American women, I had swallowed the line that contraceptives were a necessity of life.
That’s why three years ago my husband, Gérard, and I realized that fertility awareness methods and their benefits were far-too-well-kept secret and started Natural Womanhood as a nonprofit organization in San Antonio. That’s why on July 21 we’re launching our original documentary, “Natural Love Stories,” about the dangers of contraceptives and the amazing option that fertility awareness offers. It’s a step to opening the conversation about these options in San Antonio and beyond.
A Q&A will follow the free screening at Alamo Drafthouse Park North with San Antonio Dr. Steven Pilkington of obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) and special guest Karen Langhart, who is flying in from Phoenix for this occasion. “Natural Love Stories” is dedicated in memory of Langhart’s daughter, Erika.
Karen and Rick Langhart lost their daughter at age 24 to a fatal double massive pulmonary embolism on Thanksgiving Day in 2011. Erika was a successful, passionate young woman who had graduated magna cum laude from American University and was looking forward to law school. NuvaRing, a hormonal contraceptive manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant Merck, was cited as the cause of her death. The Langharts turned down their part of a $100 million settlement from Merck to a group of 3,800 plaintiffs for damages from NuvaRing. They continue to campaign for greater transparency about the risks of hormonal contraceptives.
Despite the blind eye of medical institutions, which continue to promote them as safe, these drugs are making headlines for the risks and the casualties they cause.
The formulation of the new generations of pills such as Yaz and Yasmin include a form of estrogen that increases the risk of dangerous blood clot. Their manufacturer Bayer, had to pay $1.6 billion to thousands of families who suffered harmed or death by these drugs. Such is the cost of doing business for these manufacturers.
Combined oral contraceptives have been classified as a Class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization, along with asbestos and tobacco. While hormonal contraceptive may reduce the risk of rare cancers like ovarian cancer (which risk is equally reduced by pregnancy), they are clearly linked to an increase in breast cancer, which is 10 times more likely to happen to women than ovarian cancer.
Few women are aware that effective, natural alternatives exist. That is Natural Womanhood’s mission: to raise that awareness. We are the David against the millions in the marketing budgets of Goliath pharmaceuticals companies.
“We had an alternative, but no one ever told us,” said a young doctor whose wife suffered a permanently debilitating stroke as a result of her hormonal birth control at age 35.*
Many women are increasingly questioning the use of hormonal contraception, especially those women who are conscientious about natural health and the environment. In the 20-plus years since I first encountered these methods, a movement has risen up to inform women of these options, beginning with Toni Weschler’s “Taking Charge of your Fertility” in 1995, to more recently Holly Grigg Spall’s “Sweetening the Pill,” a best seller now being made into a documentary by Ricki Lake.
The new fertility awareness methods are the result of 80 years of scientific advancement over the old “rhythm method” and offer effectiveness rates rivaling or surpassing other contraceptive options.**
Digital apps like Kindara, Clue or Glow are proliferating on the market and facilitating their use. Apple has included fertility markers as part of its new health app iOS9. These methods are used successfully throughout the world and are essentially free for life—the only thing for sale is knowledge.
Our documentary was produced on a tiny budget, funded by individual local donors. “Natural Love Stories” tells the stories of three couples who, after experiencing various health problems with hormonal birth control, switch to natural fertility awareness based methods. Dr. Pilkington and Dr. Joan Meaney of San Antonio, and Dr. Kathryn A. Karges and Dr. Brooke Jemelka of Houston also contribute their expertise about the dangers of contraceptives and the benefits of natural methods.
This project responds to two needs: to provide knowledge of an effective alternative to hormonal contraceptives and to bring health literacy to women. A 2014 Yale study shows that 40-60% of American women have “complete misconceptions” about basic reproductive facts. Because of the side-effect of contraceptives, 67% of women who start on the pill quit after a year. But many have no clue of a better solution. According to 2010 CDC data, 60% of women of reproductive age have relied on withdrawal as birth control, and 18% have used other ineffective methods such as the antiquated “rhythm method.”
San Antonio women need better information about their own biology and about their options, especially women who have other risk factors that make hormonal contraceptives especially dangerous (obesity, diabetes, smoking). We need better ways to address teen pregnancy than subjecting teens to the risks of long-acting reversible contraceptives, for which the City of San Antonio allocated federal funding last year.
Natural alternatives to birth control is the topic of a growing conversation worldwide. Eight months ago we launched Natural Womanhood’s new website and a blog. Since then, we have had 30,000 unduplicated visitors on our site, and we have published 40 blog posts. About 18% of our website’s visitors come from 132 countries outside the US.
We hope all those interested in joining this conversation will come to the premiere of the documentary. It’s free and open to the public. The documentary will premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse Park North at 6 p.m. Tickets are available on Eventbrite. For more information, got to Natural Womanhood’s website or email email@example.com.
*Serious and fatal side effects of hormonal contraceptives are quite rare, according to the Mayo Clinic, but they increase with age and other factors like smoking.
**While contraceptive implants have a 99.5% effectiveness rate, fertility awareness is at 76% and climbing, according to the CDC. The CDC, however, includes all natural methods in this category, including the obsolete rhythm method.
Featured/top image: A woman advocates for the use of fertility awareness based-methods for birth control. Photo via Facebook.
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