The Week in Books 2008, No. 46

Oh yes, I am going there. For the past several weeks I’ve been working my way through two big books on natural ways to understand fertility and take a natural approach to it. Up front, let me just say that I don’t want this post (or the comments) to be about choices couples make regarding birth control methods, filling or capping quivers, or the like. I just want to review these two books in case the concepts sound interesting to you or if you just like to think about things from different perspectives. It’s always helpful to understand more about how your body works and what your options are, I think, even if you don’t choose to do anything about it.

The Art of Natural Family Planning is the second book I read, but, in my view, the more useful if you only have time for one book on the subject. It is written from a Christian perspective, and a great deal of the book is devoted to why Christians should consider natural family planning (NFP) rather than chemical or invasive birth control methods. Although the authors are Catholic, they make a big point of noting that NFP is used by and equally helpful for Protestants. For example, they use quotes from Calvin and Luther, not just Popes, and note that until 1930 no Protestant denominations thought artificial birth control was moral, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that conservative Protestant churches allowed for it. I found it interesting to follow the Catholic arguments for and against certain things, even though I disagreed with some of the theology because I don’t find Biblical basis for it and I don’t think the Catholic Church is an authority equal to the Bible. My disagreements were more limited to specific details of some of the rules and methods described, rather than to the NFP idea in general.

If you’re like most people, you probably erroneously think that NFP is the rhythm method, which it’s not. Unlike the rhythm method, which assumes everyone has a uniform cycle and ovulation schedule, NFP is a means of cross-checking physical signs and your daily temperature fluctuations to accurately pinpoint the week to ten days that you are actually fertile in a given cycle. If you follow the rules, which are fairly easy to understand, this is a highly accurate way to prevent or achieve pregnancy. It’s actually more effective than all but a few other methods, and other methods cite statistics that don’t take user error into account.

One strength of this book, aside from the easy to understand and reference descriptions of how NFP works, is the emphasis on carefully and prayerfully considering your attitudes toward God’s will, children, and our culture. The book rightly points out that Western nations have a big problem with materialism and selfishness, and that our culture’s acceptance of death and devaluing of children through abortion and other abortifacient birth control methods has had a huge impact on how even Christians view children (as blessings or liabilities) and how Christians assess the prudence of having children or not. I personally struggle with balancing God’s sovereignty, love, and provision for us with questions of prudence in planning or not planning family size. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to those questions, and I think God calls different families to different things. I think it’s wrong to attribute motives to other couples or presume to declare that all families must look the same way.

Aside from some objections I had, I found “The Art of Natural Family Planning” to be overall a quite helpful and thought provoking book. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the information contained therein, but as I said before, I think it’s always useful to understand your body and how it works more fully.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility
is a non-religious description of natural family planning, and thus is probably more popular among people who just want to avoid using chemicals and invasive birth control methods out of a general desire to live more naturally. As with “The Art of NFP” this book is helpful and easy to understand. It has a much more in-depth discussion of the differences between birth control methods, and a greater emphasis on achieving pregnancy if you’ve been trying to conceive unsuccessfully.

One point against the book is the sprinkling of hokey yuk-yuk humor and cartoons. I just don’t see why adults have to act like 7th graders about this topic, and it drove me crazy as I was reading the book. If you can skip those parts or skim them, the book is really useful.

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