NFP Awareness Week: Why It Matters

A day late and a dollar short, but don’t let anyone tell you I haven’t been thinking of you!

“Okay, Jo,” says the invisible voice of the assumed reader of this blog, “you’ve made me aware that NFP exists, and maybe I read enough or clicked on the links to acknowledge that yeah, okay, there’s some scientific merit to these methods, but it still sounds like work and I’m still not convinced I should, you know. Care.”

I’m not here to tell you that NFP is easy (though if you don’t have any health problems, the basics of charting should not escape you). I’m not even here to tell you to do NFP instead of FAM. I just want to encourage you to THINK about why, maybe, a rational human being would choose non-hormonal methods of family planning and why, maybe, the constant quest to ridicule and dismiss that choice is one from which you should dissociate yourself, if not actively seek to silence it.

’cause here’s the thing. The argument for birth control works on two levels, both of which are on display in this popular Buzzfeed article. The first is the “for my health” argument which, as I mentioned in my last post, is dubious at best. Birth control might manage or mask symptoms, but I have yet to find an example of birth hormonal control that treats the specific hormonal imbalances present in, say, PCOS. (If you have an example, please let me know!) Like I said, I could take the thyroid hormone by itself, or I could take a cocktail that would provide thyroid hormone but also other hormones and also keep my thyroid itself from functioning at all.

And while I don’t doubt that in many cases birth control is considered “the best” way to treat things, that’s because since the advent of birth control, research into other methods of treating things has pretty much evaporated. The Pill! Solves everything! And is totally not related to the breast cancer epidemic! Or rising infertility rates! (Even if it’s not related to the latter, there’s still the problem of “if you’re taking the Pill to control your acne, if you ever get OFF the Pill in order to have children, your acne is going to come back” with a healthy side of “also the cause of your acne may or may not point to hormonal imbalances that cause infertility so maybe you should get those under control without the Pill in order to have those children.”)

Anyway, as I’ve also mentioned, NFP also provides pathways into identifying health issues (especially if you have an instructor looking at your charts), and NFP-friendly practitioners will definitely work with you to find non-Pill ways to manage and treat reproductive health problems. So. Same goal there.

The second reason to use hormonal birth control is to avoid having babies. This comes from the current mindset that sex – babies = awesome but sex + babies = eeeeeeh okay for some people but not me not right now. Since this is what birth control is meant for, it at least makes sense to be taking it in this instance. NFP just says it’s possible to have sex – babies without turning the equation into sex + unnatural hormonal cocktail + cessation of natural bodily processes and therefore – babies = awesome assuming hormonal cocktail isn’t the kind that subtracts your libido.

I know that a lot of the backlash against NFP stems from a sense of fear, of having one’s access to birth control threatened (which is kind of laughable because access to birth control and the pharmaceutical lobby is far greater than the NFP movement, Hobby Lobby decisions aside, but I know that a lot of angry white guy talking heads can be pretty threatening). It stems from a lack of knowledge about what NFP really is, a fear that without birth control women are doomed to be shackled to the kitchen with a million children running around because there are SIMPLY NO ALTERNATIVES. With temporary sterility comes empowerment! And since NFP demolishes that “simply no alternatives” myth, it’s…a threat to the birth control monopoly. So it must be crushed? But why?

Two words: the patriarchy.

Now, I have no trouble identifying as a feminist. Don’t ask me which wave, or accuse me of hating men, or of hating women, or of thinking babies are evil, or of whatever awful thing the word “feminist” makes you think of. And don’t tell me the patriarchy doesn’t exist, either. As long as there are places in this world where men can walk freely and women cannot, the patriarchy is walking freely too. It’s merely one of many systems in place in this world (alongside economic classes and education-level classes, for example) that, rather than benefiting the rich or the business major, benefits men. Therefore, in order to “get ahead”–or even establish themselves, period in this world, women are expected to act like men. Except they’re punished for acting too “manly” but walked all over if they act “feminine” (and this goes beyond the business world–think about a girl trying to refuse a guy who’s hitting on her at a bar).

So, feminism first started to give women the right to establish themselves, to say hey, we’re here doing the work, respect us for it, please! Along the line, however, some strands of it fell prey to the same issues that have warped President Obama over the years, namely, some kind of thinking that if I act like them, somehow I’ll beat them.

Enter birth control. Now, women can CHOOSE when to get pregnant! Conversely, if a woman is pregnant, then she CHOSE to become so. It’s a personal choice for her to deal with. In a male-saturated business world, for example, most leaders do not CHOOSE to get pregnant because they are men and can’t get pregnant, so they see no need to cater to the needs of a woman who’s given in to that biological clock of hers. And thus we have terrible maternity leave laws and breastfeeding shaming and women being told they can’t have a family AND a career, they have to CHOOSE, because God forbid they exercise their natural ability to have children. A man exercises his natural ability to knock a woman up, and he’s either lauded or given a pass on all responsibility; a woman bears a child, and she has to work twice as hard to prove that her family doesn’t compromise her ability to work. And that’s not just in the corporate world; that’s in the world of working three different part-time jobs just to make ends come close to meeting.

(The abortion is thus her choice. The aftermath, too, she chose.)

NFP says, instead, that women have the ability to get pregnant and that this is a natural thing, even a good thing, a thing to be worked with instead of suppressed or denied. Women don’t have to have children, but neither do they have to feel ashamed of what their body does. Rather than forcing women to conform to male standards of fertility (namely, can have sex and never get pregnant), NFP lets women own their fertility, lets them say “hey, this is my body and here’s how it works, works, and I deserve to let it work.” NFP refuses the myth that women have to become like men in order to succeed. If a woman’s ability to bear a child is recognized as a good–or at the very least, a normal–then the patriarchy has to recognize that working women having children is normal and that a working woman having a child deserves actual support and respect within both those roles, instead of being mistreated at the one and ignored in the other.

NFP also generally works by forcing a conversation between sexual partners, which is inconvenient for one-night-stands–and if a girl gets pregnant on one of those, well, we can go on and on about society’s crappy, crappy double standards for boys and girls on the subject, about the crappy support for mothers (especially working mothers, see above)–and it’s linked into the concept of slut-shaming, yes, but there’s also that sense of “she could have been on the Pill,” or the excuse of “I thought she had it under control.” (“The condom broke, but I assumed she’d have a backup plan.”) Pregnancy is a woman’s choice, therefore, not a couple’s, and is thus seen as the woman’s fault, EVEN THOUGH IT TAKES TWO. NFP forces a recognition of this partnership, which is inconvenient for dudes just trying to get by, man. Her body, her choice, sure. His body, his ability to walk away from any choice-making at all.

Women want to have one-night stands too! you cry. Okay. Maybe. And maybe a life full of one-night stands is awesome, and maybe there’s no difference between men and women, and maybe a woman’s body just doin’ what it doin’ is something to be regulated and controlled, and maybe babies are evil, and maybe the only way to treat any number of differing issues with individual causes is to apply varying doses of the same hormones indiscriminately. And maybe without birth control women are doomed to be pregnant. Maybe the only way for a woman to control her life is to give that control over to a Pill.

Or maybe we should think, for a second, about what we’re doing to and with our bodies, about what our bodies are capable of, about finding ways to celebrate our bodies, about questioning our dependence on an industry that cares nothing for the health of our bodies and everything for profit, about demanding equal respect for the woman who has a child, about men and women working together instead of making assumptions.

Maybe. Think about it.

Categories: feminism, NFP | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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