I've been on almost every form of birth control there is: both the pill and patch, the NuvaRing for a brief period in college senior year, and currently the IUD. I'm reaching the end of my Mirena's usefulness (it gets replaced every five years) and I have to make the decision on what to do next. Even though birth control is cheaper than ever and more varieties are available, if you're going with a hormone method, there's all type of potential risks to consider.
So what's a Mama to do when she wants some reliable birth control that's cheap, easy to use, and won't have too many unpleasant side effects?
Well, fertility awareness methods (FAM), for one. You may know it by it's other name—"natural family planning," a method that was surprisingly overlooked in my high school's sex education classes. Fertility awareness methods involve charting your body's natural signs of ovulation—increased temperature, cervical mucus, or length and regularity of your menstrual period. Once you know when you're ovulating, you then know which days of the month you can get pregnant, which should help you either plan a pregnancy or avoid it altogether.
Planned Parenthood ranks its effectiveness at 76%, lower only than spermicide (used alone). But it is careful to add that with perfect use (meaning abstaining from sex during your fertile period), effectiveness increases dramatically, closer to that of the birth control pill.
Advocates for FAM (it is heavily promoted in the certain religious communities) tout the method as an all-natural way to avoid pregnancy for women who have experienced negative side effects on hormonal methods. Plus, there is little to no cost associated with it.
Elizabeth Frisch, a mother of two, has been using fertility awareness methods as birth control for the past 20 years and says she has been happy to have an all-natural method to rely on.
"My husband was disappointed that we couldn’t use the pill as that seemed easier to him," Frisch said. "That said, it gave me horrible migraines and so he was supportive of me not destroying my health over birth control."
Mari Moss, also a mother of two, said she enjoyed using the fertility awareness methods but it didn't work for her long-term.
"When my husband and I were dating he was for it; now that we are married and have two daughters he is supportive of methods that I am comfortable with," she said. "Although he would like to have more children, the natural method only seemed to work for us for about two years."
But for many women, marking off a specific window when they can't have sex (regardless of what's going on in your life) might cause a few bumps in the road. Some couples choose to go ahead and have sex during a woman's fertile period, using condoms or other birth control measures, but that increases the likelihood of conception.
"I feel blessed that I did have a supportive husband as that really does make a difference," Frisch said. "Many of my friends had to quit NFP because they became the traffic cop and their husbands got resentful."
Moss agreed. "The problem is when your husband wants to have sex, you can not just say, 'Well dear, I can't because I am naturally trying not to get pregnant.' It is just more convenient to use contraceptive despite the hormonal aspect of things."
While I fit in the category of those who are most suited for the fertility awareness method (in a monogamous relationship, between 21-40, with fairly regular periods), I'm still not sure if I'll use this method once it's time to have my IUD removed, but I'm glad this option is out here!
For those looking to learn more about the fertility awareness method of birth control, try these resources:
What do you think? Would you be willing to try a non-hormonal method of birth control or do you want the convenience of a hormonal method?
Tara Pringle Jefferson is the founder of TheYoungMommyLife.com and the author of Make It Happen: The Young Mommy Guide To Creating The Career You Crave. Follow her on Twitter or check out her blog for her insights on what it means to be a mom, wife, student, writer, and about three other labels she’s too tired to remember.