26 July 2013

NFP When There Are Cycle Issues: Still Pro-Woman

Given my personal history, I really don't know why I didn't address this in my previous post.  A comment on that post mentioned using the pill to treat PCOS, which reminded me of how often the pill is prescribed to treat gynaecological problems.  In fact, whenever a discussion of forgoing the pill arises, there are the inevitable comments of "but my doctor prescribed it to treat my x; I need it!"  I encounter this a lot in teaching NFP, actually.

Now, let me begin by stating that I am not a doctor.  I cannot give medical advice and am not intending to do so.  

Now that that's been said, let me share my own story.  It is my biggest regret that I allowed my doctor to just prescribe the pill at 17 when I complained of dysmenorrhea, menorraghia, and irregular cycles.  My doctor did perform an ultrasound and test hormone levels, and all was normal.  Narcotic pain medication was tried without success.  So she put me on the pill.  I stayed on it for the next 7 years, trying different formulations and always afraid to consider anything else because I didn't want the pain again.  Even the fact that my cholesterol was high whilst on the pill didn't dissuade me from using it.  I had no other choice, or so I thought.

Then I got married. I encountered the Billings Ovulation Method.  I knew I didn't want to be on the pill if there was an alternative.  During my engagement I'd asked my doctor (a different doctor by that time since I'd moved house) about alternatives, but she didn't want to try something different since the pill was "working".  She also suggested that I omit the sugar pills so I wouldn't have to worry about bleeding at all during my first year of marriage, which honestly freaked me out.  Discouraged, I just pushed the question aside, assuming there wasn't really much I could do.

But the question wouldn't go away, thankfully.  I searched online for alternatives.  I finally broke down and asked my uncle, an OB/GYN, if he knew of an alternative.  He did.  So I went to my doctor (a different one, again) and said I didn't want to take the pill any longer and I'd been told of this alternative medication.  She agreed to let me try it.  

That hurdle jumped, I sought out a Billings instructor and been charting.  For some women, it can take a year before fertility begins to return.  I was lucky and started noticing fertile signs within weeks.  When I started charting the mucus, I remembered that I'd noticed that before, before being put on the pill.  In fact, I'd mentioned that to my doctor, who dismissively told me "oh, that's normal" without telling me what it was or what it signified.  Within a month of being off the pill, my body ovulated, and I found the answer to my irregular cycles: I bled at ovulation and menstruation.  This is actually fairly common and is considered a normal variation. 

For years I'd thought the pill was helping me by taking care of the pain and heavy bleeding.  In looking back, it wasn't empowering me, but enslaving me.  It suppressed my fertility, and my knowledge of it.  I felt much more empowered once I started charting and could see what my body was doing and why.

Now, there are certainly hormonal conditions that may require hormonal treatments.  I am not saying all hormonal treatments are bad.  But I am saying that all women with concerns or gynaecological problems would benefit from charting to see exactly what is happening, and that hormonal treatments should be used more sparingly than they are. It doesn't strike me as pro-woman to suppress our knowledge of our bodies in this way (though, to be fair, I've found most of my doctors have been unaware of what one can learn from charting, so it would be great if more were trained in this).

24 July 2013

Pro-Woman: Natural Family Planning

We're in the midst of NFP Awareness Week, and the theme this year is "Pro-Woman, Pro-Man, Pro-Child, Natural Family Planning". I'd like to look at that a little.

Pro-Woman: Believe it or not, saying no to the pill doesn't enslave women, but is pro-woman.  Instead of treating her unique physiology as something to be suppressed or "fixed", NFP recognizes a woman's cyclic fertility as normal and seeks to identify the fertile times accurately.  Where contraception can only be used to try to avoid pregnancy, NFP can be used to postpone or achieve pregnancy, or simply to know your cycles or for health reasons.  It really is amazing what you can learn from a chart. For example, Dr James Brown's and Dr Henry Burger's work showing the close relationship between cervical mucus and hormones means that one can graph the oestrogen, progesterone, LH, and FSH patterns just by seeing a woman's chart. Maybe I'm just a geek, but that's amazing. Women should have this knowledge! Or at the least know they can know that easily enough if they choose to chart.

Charting also provides a more accurate due date than LMP or ultrasound (while ultrasound is useful for dating purposes, it can be off by quite a bit, I assume because of different methods of calculating gestational age; my ultrasounds have always been at least 6 days off).  Having an accurate due date means women are less likely to be induced unnecessarily.  I was irritated during my second pregnancy because the midwife was discussing induction.  The ultrasound had given a date a week ahead of when my chart did, so the midwife thought I was further along than I was. I was very glad when Charlotte was born at 39+6 (according to my chart; the midwife had me at 40+6) so that I didn't have to fight too much. 

Now, lest I make this sound like NFP is all rainbows and lollipops, I'll fully admit that it can be difficult and that I can get frustrated with charting at times.  But it is important to remember that charting rigorously isn't always necessary, and charting to avoid is only for when a couple has discerned that they have just cause to do so.  There are also methods that I suppose fall under the NFP umbrella though they aren't necessarily intended to suppress fertility and require no charting, such as ecological breastfeeding. Personally, I feed that way because I find it easy and best for both of us, not to suppress fertility although that is a "side effect".  When a couple do have jut cause to postpone pregnancy, NFP is effective.  While it can be difficult, so is anything that requires sacrifice.  To quote Dumbledore, "we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

I've written more than I intended on that, so perhaps I will leave discussion of how NFP is pro-man and pro-child for later.

23 July 2013

My New Slogan

When I teach NFP, Leo goes along with me (and, on rare occasions, one or both of the others also go).  My comments for this is that it shouldn't be a problem to have children be there as a reminder that it's natural family planning, not natural how-to-avoid-ever-having-a-family planning.  My friend said I need to use that line, so I think I will.

Really, though, I was thinking about how we perceive NFP.  When I told a mother of five that I teach NFP, she laughed that she obviously wasn't good at family planning.  But such a statement assumes that the right kind of planning means planning on not having children.  Isn't that rather backwards?

When we talk about the methods of NFP, a lot focus on "effectiveness".  Effectiveness at what? At avoiding children, of course! While it is good that modern methods of NFP are effective in that way for when it is needed, focusing on that aspect alone I think gets it backwards.  

And when I teach couples coming to me for their required NFP instruction during their engagement, I find myself needing to be reminded that it is used for conceiving as well.  All too often, the default mode seems to be one of avoiding pregnancy, when we aren't to use NFP for that purpose without a just cause.  Such just causes haven't been defined (wisely), so I cannot assume a couple's reasons, but neither should I approach their instruction under the assumption that they will be avoiding.  With the limited time for instruction, this seems to be what happens, but being aware of this hopefully I can amend my approach.  I should simply discuss how it is a tool, a tool that provides information on a couple's fertility and allows them to make decisions accordingly.  Even I sometimes need the reminder that "it's natural family planning, not natural how-to-avoid-ever-having-a-family planning".

21 July 2013

18 July 2013

Crafty Thursday

I feel I'm really making progress on this blanket! Because I hate sewing it up and working in ends, I'm doing that as I go. If I make another, I'll make five vertical strips and then graft them together when I pick up the side stitches, I think. 

16 July 2013

No Magic Number

Over the years, a lot of data have been collected on when babies and children master certain things (like walking) or start certain things (like eating solid food).  This data then show the average ages for mastering these things and can then be used to provide a comparison for babies and children.  So far, so good.

Sometimes, though, these averages are then taken as being some magic numbers for when these things should be done. When this happens, the fact that these numbers are averages, meaning that there were babies on either side of that number, is often ignored.  Instead of just giving a general comparison benchmark, it becomes a ruler by which a child must be measured and declared advanced, average, or behind.  To an extent this can be done well, such as if a child isn't just an outlier, but off the chart in one direction or another, but if it doesn't allow for variation, it is flawed.

At the infant stage this is perhaps most evident in the benchmarks for starting solids.  With the exception of BLW literature, most things I've seen have had a specific age at which solids should be introduced without considering developmental readiness.  The guidelines vary, but the idea of some specific age being ideal is usually present.  This becomes obvious at well checks, when parents are asked about solids but aren't asked about the child showing signs of developmental readiness in most cases. I do realise time is short at such appointments, but it doesn't take that long to quickly go over the signs of readiness instead of just saying "start solids at x months".

I suppose my point is that such charts of averages are helpful for the purpose of comparison, but they shouldn't be taken to mean there's some magic number for when a child should do x, y, or z.

15 July 2013

Book Nook: Saint George and the Dragon

As you may have noticed, Kieran is fond of dragons of late, due in large part to The Hobbit. Thus every trip to the library has meant searching for dragon books.  Lately I've taken to looking on the library catalogue before we go and placing the books on hold to make the search easier.  Doing this helped me to find Saint George and the Dragon retold by Margaret Hodges after Edmund Spencer's The Faerie Queen.  I'd hoped to come across a children's book with St George's story in it, so I was thrilled.  Hodges presents the story very well, and the illustrations are beautiful.

14 July 2013

Backwards Thinking

"Would you consider sitting in the back? Your children are distracting." 

I have, unfortunately, heard this a number of times after Mass. Such statements anger me, in large part because I think they reflect backward thinking about things.  (I should note here that I try not to get angry with the person who says it, for I know they aren't intending to be hurtful at all.  I should also note that I sit in the front so my children can see, on the advice of my former confessor, a very holy Benedictine monk.) 

Like I said, I sit in the front. It can be a challenge at times, as Leo is at an age where he wants to explore, especially now that he's walking.  He can sometimes get overly excited and let out a squeal (which would be very audible at any location in the sanctuary) and sometimes he has gallbladder attacks.  I get up with him if necessary, leaving the other two (I am always where I can see them).  Charlotte wants to follow me in those cases, but I try to get her to stay in the pew.  My husband is in the choir.  When I'm sitting in the pew, then both Kieran and Charlotte are usually joining in as they can, especially if we've gone over our expectations beforehand; Kieran of course can do as he should with or without me sitting there. I keep distractions to a minimum as much as possible, but some Masses go better than others in that regard. After all, they are young children who are sometimes tired or hungry or just having a hard time.

Now for why I think telling a family with young children to sit in the back to minimise distractions is a bit backward.  An adult or teen can, presumably, continue to focus on the Mass even with children near.  An adult or teen should know the Mass well enough to continue praying it even if he cannot hear everything.  After all, if that adult or teen were to attend a Tridentine Mass, he wouldn't hear every word by design, since many of the prayers are said by the priest alone in a soft voice.  I suppose an exception would be someone who is visiting or converting, but such a person is also capable of looking up the information and should, again, be able to ignore distractions for the most part.  When I was converting I usually sat in the back, where I could both observe other people and the altar, as I hadn't the benefit of knowing other Catholics with whom to attend Mass, and sitting in the back didnt impede my seeing the Mass.  I will admit that I was distracted by children at times, and even complained about them, but that was my problem and not the child's or his family's. 

A child, however, is still learning the Mass.  He also has less self-control and so is not as able to ignore distractions.  Sitting in the back would make it impossible for the child to see, thus making it more difficult to learn the Mass and increasing distractions for the child.  While one person doesn't trump another, I think being mindful of the impact these things can have is important.  Surely it is important to give the children the best start possible in their faith by accommodating them in this way.  Obviously I don't mean one should give in to their every whim and let them run wild, but accept that, in teaching them the proper behaviour, there will be blips and distractions.  

I suppose part of this is my parenting philosophy, too. I've no doubt I could get the kids to all be silent (or at least nearly so) and still(er) if I allowed toys and snacks, but I don't.  The only books I allow are prayer books or books about Mass or Mary or the like, though it is rare that we take even those to Mass.  I want them to learn that this is a special time and place, and that playing or looking at other books isn't really what we should do in Mass. Snacks would end up all over the place, and besides, our pastor has asked that we not have food in the sanctuary, so unless it is absolutely necessary I will not do that. I also try not to be overly harsh, so i do allow some leeway, in that they can move some in the pew, but not get out of the pew without permission, for example. 

 I know sitting in the back wouldn't ruin them, of course, but it does make it more difficult in my experience (I used to sit in the back until told by my confessor to move for the sake of the children).  I can already see fruit in this approach; it may not be for everyone, but for my family it is the best option. It certainly makes it easier on the children. 

5 July 2013

On Sheldon and Paula Deen

Most have, I think, heard of the controversy surrounding Paula Deen of late. I can't claim to know the entire story, but what I've read somehow reminds me of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.  Deen has admitted that she has used and heard racial slurs without considering it a problem, and has orchestrated events where she sought to evoke old plantations, including the slaves, by having an all-black waitstaff.  She maintains, though, that she isn't racist, and I can believe that she is not consciously racist, but these attitudes are, in fact, racist.

Compare that to Sheldon.  Sheldon is very sexist, without even recognizing that he is.  His use of sexist language got him in trouble, even though he had no idea that what he said was wrong, nor why.  This doesn't stop him from being, in fact, sexist.

In both cases, bigoted views are held subconsciously, and are not recognized for what they are.  When the person is reprimanded, the reprimand is met with disbelief and protestations of innocence.  It is true that the intention was not to be bigoted, and intention is indeed important, but the action itself remains bigoted. We all have our biases and prejudices, but hopefully we can learn to recognize them and therefore move past them and instead see others as God sees them.

4 July 2013

Crafty Thursday

Not much to report today - I've just been working on the monkey blanket. I really am leaning towards making one for each child, but we'll see.

2 July 2013

Ignoring Reality

Whenever I see comments about how parents should tag-team Mass I can't help but think how recommending that across the board ignores reality.  I especially think this when the suggestion is coupled with telling the mother to leave a baby at home with the father so she can go to Mass.  Now, of course there are times when tag-teaming or one parent staying home will happen, such as when a child is ill. I am not speaking of such times, but of doing this habitually.  (Before I continue, if you tag-team and it works for you, that's fine, you'll get no judgement from me; this is simply to address how that may not always be a feasible solution.) 

Why do I think it ignores reality? For one, we Catholics are known for having larger families in the eyes of the world.  If the parents must tag-team for as long as there is a baby or toddler, then there will be years where the family do not attend Mass as a family.  There's a family in my parish where the mother is currently pregnant with child number fourteen.  Telling them to tag-team or telling her to stay home to care for the youngest means they wouldn't have attended Mass as a family for roughly 20 years, which surely isn't ideal.  Instead, they are there daily - a beautiful sight. 

Tag-teaming also assumes there are multiple Masses accessible, and at times that are conducive to one parent driving home before the other leaves.  While that would be possible for us, it isn't for many. Even if it is possible time-wise, rising fuel costs could make that cost-prohibitive for many.  Also cost-prohibitive for many is hiring a sitter for Sundays, which also causes someone else to do unnecessary work on Sunday. 

Suggesting a mother can attend without her baby ignores the realities of breastfeeding and separation anxiety.  Breastfeeding is regulated by supply and demand, which requires feeding on cue instead of scheduling feeds.  While going a couple of hours might sound like a short time, if the child needs to nurse then he should be fed.  Using a bottle is not the answer, either, as it can interfere with the milk supply (some can successfully do this, but definitely not all).  Breastfeeding just isn't meant to work like that, though.  I know that few in Western society are truly familiar with the mechanics of breastfeeding, so I know the people suggesting this aren't aware of the effects such a suggestion could have.  

Even were these things feasible for my family, I personally wouldn't do it.  For me, it is important that we go to Mass as a family.  During the week the kids and I go daily whenever possible.  They may not be old enough to be required to attend yet, but they are learning (brag: Kieran sang "Tantum Ergo Sacramentum" at Benediction before Mass Friday).  Ok, so Leo rushes the altar whenever my attention is diverted, but he will learn.  And we all get graces, which helps me be a better mum.  I think we'll keep doing it as we are.

1 July 2013

Book Nook: The Loathsome Dragon

I can't promise to make this a weekly post again, but when I find a book my children and I love, I can't resist sharing.  Instead of just perusing the shelves at the library, I decided to take my cue from a friend who always puts the books on hold.

I therefore asked Kieran what kind of books he wanted, and one of his suggestions was a dragon book.  I searched the library catalogue and found The Loathsome Dragon by David Wiesner and Kim Kahng.  It's a fairy tale of sorts set in Bamburgh Castle.  Instead of being a typical tale of a ferocious dragon who must be defeated by the brave knight, the dragon is an enchanted beast who must be helped by the knight.  The story and illustrations are wonderful, and the children love the humorous ending.  I'd definitely recommend it.