breastfeeding, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Marriage, mental health, NFP, Parenting, pregnancy, Sex, Theology of the Body

NFP: The methods and the madness

January 12, 2017

Never one to resist a pun.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but I wanted to have a few months (a year maybe, now?) under my belt before going and saying something crazy like “we found an NFP method that works great for us and it’s been a game changer.” Before we go any further, however, the necessary disclaimer that I am not a medical expert, that my opinions are not those of a trained healthcare practitioner, and that what works great for one couple may not be so hot for the next. Which is why we have a proliferation of methods at our disposal. Some friends who learned the Sympto-Thermal method alongside us while we were going through marriage prep are still happily using it. Other friends have gone through one method after another, landing in their doctor’s office doing bloodwork and figuring out all kinds of hormone imbalances and health issues.

So the big fat disclaimer to this all is: NFP is women’s healthcare. And we women and the men who love us should take it seriously, and treat it as such. Which means seeking out doctors and nurses and instructors who are trained in the various methods, when we’re struggling with finding something that works and with figuring out our unique fertility. Facebook groups are super helpful, books are great, and online resources can be a godsend, but sometimes you need a trained professional to help figure out the language your body is speaking.

This is where I tell you that we found such a professional to teach us a wonderful new method of NFP well suited to my body, and we lived happily ever after. But no, I self-taught using the sage counsel of a combination of Facebook groups and my patient little sister. So do as I say, not as I do! End disclaimer.

Where were we? Oh yes, 3 methods in 3 years. Or just about. We learned Sympto Thermal through the Couple to Couple League when we were engaged, but perhaps because we were excited to start our family right away, I wasn’t paying the greatest of attention to that daily temperature taking protocol. Once baby #1 came along and I was supposed to start waking up at a reasonably early hour and testing again, along with making mucus and cervical observations, I was done. Between the night wakings, the nurse-a-thons and the unusual mucus patterns, we never found our rhythm (ba dum ching) with CCL again, and so we moved on to Creighton.

Creighton was great in terms of helping me to understand where I was chronologically in my cycle. Numbers are really difficult for me, and Creighton was more hands on (I’m sorry I literally cannot help myself) and helped make our fertility a more concrete concept. However. While I am nursing, it was basically an endless yellow sticker party for months and months and months. (For the uninitiated, yellow stickers are when your instructor gives you the green light to go ahead and consider some days infertile, based on observations over a period of months, and agrees that the hormones related to breastfeeding are also totally obscuring the cyclical mucus patterns your body is supposed to show once you cycle returns postpartum, and that you probably haven’t actually been in Phase 2 for the past 13 weeks. In my case, that return to regular fertility typically begins about 10 months after baby, as long as I’m breastfeeding.

The psychological toll of the yellow stickers was tough on me though, because it always felt very “fertility roulette” and very much all on my subjective shoulders to make the right observations and then to give the correct classification. Call it a lack of self confidence or just a body really intent on getting pregnant again, but I pretty much felt like every month we practiced Creighton we were going to conceive, so long as I was nursing. Enter the weekly Dollar Tree pregnancy test taking ritual.

After Luke was born in 2015, our 4th sweet bundle of joy in 5 years, I was very anxious for a break, both mentally and physically. Creighton did not seem to be a good fit for our particular situation, at least during the nursing months (and they were all nursing months, back then) so we sought out yet another method, one that several of my girlfriends had tried and found success with.

One thing I want to note is that because the postpartum season is so exhausting and so overwhelming, it is the one time I have really found myself tempted by contraception. I totally get it. I get that it seems like a godsend, like an obvious solution, and like the only non-insane thing to do when you’re bleeding and sleep deprived and financially bereft and just barely hanging on.

And I think a lot more of us have been there than are willing to let on in polite company.

But in my heart of hearts, and in the heart of our marriage, I know that God would not hold something good just out of arm’s reach from us. And that if contraption were a true answer to our hardships, the Church who is a good and faithful Mother would extend it as the healing balm to our fertility woes.

But she hasn’t. Because it isn’t. It isn’t the answer when you’re 7 weeks postpartum and haven’t slept in 44 nights, or when you’re struggling to make the mortgage payment, or when you’re teetering on the precipice of menopause and really, really afraid of having a baby in your mid forties.

Contraception is either good for human love, or it isn’t. It either builds up and supports marriages, or it tears them down. And it’s either something God has asked us to yield to His will over our own on, or else it’s something that everybody can freely partake of, no matter the circumstances.

Human circumstances are rarely black and white, but God is. And His guidelines for our happiness and holiness are unwavering, however wobbly and wrecked I might be in any particular month.

So, back to the new method. We ordered up a Clear Blue monitor (this one from amazon, use my pal Bonnie’s affiliate link to shop there), which comes in a really fun box with “helps you get pregnant faster!” scrawled on all four sides of it, as do the monitor sticks, which inspired a ton of confidence in me when I opened the package, and which I really love seeing under my bathroom sink every morning.

Basically, the Marquette Method did an end-run around this ovulation predicting and pinpointing urine-testing monitor and figured out a way use the monitor and to co-opt it’s data to reveal to a woman the specific parameters of her fertile window (Phase 2). The monitor uses urine test sticks which measure detectable levels of lutenizing hormone (LH) and estrogen levels and can give a pretty accurate picture of when ovulation is occurring, and then gives you a count down back to “low” fertility after peak day. I like the objectivity of the method tremendously, because I can put all my faith into a tiny machine instead of my exhausted midnight brain, and that seems eminently more reasonable to me. I’m only joking the very littlest bit about that. Which maybe I need to talk to someone about. But seriously, having an objective standard by which I am measuring my fertility signs has been a huge weight off my shoulders.

The postpartum period was a little tricky with Marquette (and a little more expensive with the test sticks) but it was hugely freeing for me to feel like I had a good understanding of what my body was doing, and that even with the continuous mucus patterns during breastfeeding, the hormone levels my body was producing were low enough to reassure me that my cycle was not yet returning. I think it probably bought us literally months of useable days during the postpartum period with Luke. And now that I am in regular cycles again, it has been extremely helpful in corroborating other psychological and physiological changes that each cycle brings.

Learning Marquette with a Creighton background helped me to not trust the monitor overly much, too, I would say. Because I know have what I think is the most possible data at my disposal, short of blood testing, I can make truly educated decisions about my fertility using what I learned with each method, checking the hard data against the more subjective. (Not saying Creighton is not scientifically rigorous, just that it’s easier to be objective with a little computer than with a square of toilet paper.)

Also, it should be noted that for couples who are struggling to conceive, Creighton is something of a gold standard for many people.

I hope this was helpful? Informative? Not mind-numbing or totally repulsive? And I may write a more detailed Marquette “how to” post one of these days, if I can work up the enthusiasm.

41 Comments

  • Reply Annie January 12, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    Great post. I just started using the clearblue monitor a couple of months ago after my 2nd baby in 2 years. I would love a detailed “how to” Marquette post from you. I, like you, use google and facebook for the majority of my learning.

  • Reply CJ January 12, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    Actually, my understanding is that these fertility monitors are also sold for pregnancy avoidance (and marketed as such) in places like the UK, but are prohibited to by the FDA. Just because. There’s also a product called LadyComp that uses temps to chart fertility, but the thermometer is built right into the machine, which does all the analysis for you.

  • Reply Germaine January 12, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I’m postpartum and we’re considering the marquette method after having tried the other two you mentioned. I feel concerned that it may be forever till my husband and I can engage in marital intimacy on a regular basis, plus worry that I’m mischarting or reading the my discharge signs. That being said, I’ve learnt a lot with creighton (can’t say I paid too much attention to ccl either premarriage), but I think marquette will be better for our marriage.

  • Reply SS January 12, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    Amen, Sister! The Creighton model was just too much for me in the crazy postpartum phase, as a result we have two beautiful babes a mere 13 months apart! I’m now four months postpartum and I’ve been using the Clear Blue monitor in addition to making observations and it’s helped me keep my sanity. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  • Reply Rachel January 12, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    Not to ask too much information (is that possible with a post like this?), but trying to understand how this works…do you use the test (pee) strip daily to track your information? Or only on days when you think you are getting close to ovulation? After practicing NFP for a few years, some days are obviously “ok” if you are hoping to avoid pregnancy, but will this method only work if you use the strips every single day?

  • Reply Justine January 12, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! We were in a similar situation when we learned Creighton during marriage prep, but we are now 3 weeks away from 3 under 3 in our first 3 years of marriage, and for health reasons we pretty seriously need to slow down. We’re still planning on using Creighton, but we’re looking for another method to use at the same time as insurance (for a lack of better terms). Just because of the cost I was hesitant about Marquette but I might just take the plunge. 🙂

  • Reply Jenn January 12, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    I’m not sure, but I think cross checking with the monitor is called the Boston Cross Check method. Maybe?

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing January 12, 2017 at 6:50 pm

      Oh interesting!

    • Reply Kathryn January 13, 2017 at 6:57 am

      Yep- that’s what I use- the Archdiocese of Boston sympto-thermal cross check method. (So sympto-thermal plus clear blue. Cross check all three to be ultra sure!) Pre-baby though, I just did sympto-thermal because that was enough but now that I’m postpartum the clear blue has been so helpful!

  • Reply Karyn January 12, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Hey, what’s wrong with having babies in your mid-forties (asks the 41 year old who hopes to be blessed with at least one more little one 🙂 )? Before we stopped using NFP altogether, we used the Lady Comp, which was pretty awesome because it just gives you a red, green, or yellow light. You can get quite a few yellow days when breastfeeding but since my fertility has never returned before 10 months while nursing, I didn’t worry too much.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing January 12, 2017 at 6:51 pm

      Nothing, you’re right! My brother came when my mom was 43 🙂

      I have heard of the Lady Comp. Wasn’t sure how accurate temping could be with lots of night wakings and weird progesterone levels, though, so that was part of what drove us to Creighton and now to Marquette. Thanks for reading!!

  • Reply Tina January 12, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    Yeah, Marquette is great unless you only get one peak reading a year and end up spending lots of time and money holding a test strip in a cup of pee practically every day. And when you ask for help you’re told you must be doing it wrong. Finally ditched the method and went back to mucus observations. Much happier!

  • Reply Jean January 12, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    OK, so please educate this baffled grandma (and I’m not challenging or arguing with anyone’s decision on what or how they use their chosen method) but how is this “natural” when you’re using these machines and chemical sticks? Don’t they in and of themselves act as a barrier method even if outside sexual activity? I understand you make the choice to avoid intercourse if the machine or stick indicates probable fertility but I still don’t understand how an artificial third object is permissible?

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing January 12, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      Fair question! Definitely not a barrier method though. And completely in line with Church teaching (and approved in many dioceses for official marriage prep education). Basically you’re using modern science and medicine to give you the clearest possible picture (at this point in the scientific game) of what your body is doing, cycle wise. So it’s using the natural infertile periods at the beginning and end of each cycle for intercourse when trying to avoid a pregnancy, and only using the fertile middle of the cycle during ovulation if trying to achieve pregnancy. Definitely not contraceptive, though of course the intention is in each couple’s heart is always a matter of individual conscience. But even St. Teresa of Calcutta instructed the women in her care in a more low-tech (cost and geography prohibiting) method of Billings, so that they could learn to follow their bodies’ natural cycles and make choices about pregnancy that respect God’s law, the woman’s fundamental dignity, how our bodies actually work, and on top of everything else, provides a level of education tailored specifically to each woman’s body.

  • Reply Kari January 12, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    How does this work if you haven’t gotten your cycle back yet and have no “start day” to work with? Did you just test everyday?

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing January 12, 2017 at 6:49 pm

      yep. there’s a “10 day postpartum protocol” and you basically reset the monitor every 10 days and keep testing until you start getting highs, then you start abstaining till end of “cycle” (the 10 days). There’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist of the postpartum protocol. Also important to note that the newer monitor (the one I use) has 2 automatic lows built into the beginning of each testing cycle, so you can’t trust those lows if you retriever the monitor and see them. So there’s some abstinence involved for sure, but for us at least, it was significantly less than with Creighton. Maybe 50% less. The Marquette Facebook group has a lot of helpful documents on postpartum protocol archived, and if you go to the Marquette homepage, you can get connected with an instructor either virtual or irl.

      • Reply Lisa January 12, 2017 at 8:06 pm

        Wow, i need to look into that. My pp experience is pretty much exactly what you described and I really, really dislike feeling like I can’t make heads or tails of my charts for months! I’ve been doing CCL with the Clearblue monitor on the side but had no idea about restarting every 10 days. I’d switch methods in a ❤ beat but feel like my brain power to learn anything has been usurped by parenthood…

      • Reply Kari January 21, 2017 at 3:21 pm

        Thanks! When you say two automatic lows, are those on your FIRST 2 testing days (day 6&7) or day 4&5 before you test. If that makes sense?

        • Reply Lisa April 30, 2017 at 1:53 pm

          I’d like to second Kari’s question!! And I would LOVE to see you write a more detailed post on Marquette!

  • Reply Eva January 12, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    NFP just got better: the progesterone-tracking blood test is now available as an at-home urine test. Look up MFB Fertility, Inc. This adds one more layer of objective, scientific data to one’s monthly cycle to further define the fertile window.

  • Reply Alix January 12, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing Jenny! I tried Marquette and was wildly unsuccessful. After 100 days of highs I gave up and learned Billings. Unfortunately Marquette is not great with long or unpredictable cycles, but it works great for regular cycles!

  • Reply Jessica January 12, 2017 at 10:10 pm

    So helpful, thanks for posting! And I’d love a more detailed post about Marquette. We learned and used Creighton from engagement period and for 10 years. Felt generally confident with Creighton, until about 7 months ago, when I had a surprise positive test. We are excited for the new blessing to arrive in March, but even now can’t tell from my chart when it happened. We’ve been trying to decide what we want to do post-partum and for the future. A couple of years ago I bought an Ovacue monitor but didn’t feel like it was very helpful; I still always prioritized my Creighton chart info. Anyway, thanks for sharing! It’s not a common topic of covernsation amongst my friends so I appreciate the online community for comraderie on this one!

  • Reply Sashah January 13, 2017 at 5:53 am

    Your line saying, “Enter the weekly Dollar Tree pregnancy test taking ritual” really struck a bell with me. But I have to share that I found tests cheaper than at the dollar tree, for anyone who still hasn’t found their method that works, or for those like me who think using the sticks postpartum when you want to conceive again is a great waste of money. The pregnancy tests just tell me when to stop eating sushi. 🙂 Thanks for the great post. We were fortunate to be taught the Marquette method right away but hesitated buying the monitor and sticks until after the first baby.

    Anyway here is the Amazon link to the cheapest tests I’ve found. https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B007VT2OQG/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awdb_EYmEybZXCD3MH

  • Reply Ari January 13, 2017 at 8:13 am

    I, too, ditched sympto-thermal (learned in marriage prep) for Marquette (self-taught). I had off-the-charts low body temperature (thermal part didn’t work well for me), and I take allergy meds daily, which supress mucus of all types…ahem…sorry TMI… (sympto part didn’t work well for me). That was very frustrating, so I started Marquette by learning on my own, which has been an improvement for at least recognizing a peak at times. But, 1/3 (at least) of the time, I don’t get a peak day reading at all. I don’t know if it means I’m not ovulating, or if it’s faulty sticks, or what. That is costly and frustrating, but using my sympto-thermal knowledge, I will sometimes disregard the monitor when it’s funky like that because I can read other signs, even if barely there. Or, we err on the side of caution when trying to avoid pregnancy.

  • Reply Annie January 13, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Thank you for writing about Marquette! My story is very similar to yours. We have successfully been using Marquette for 5 years and are so happy!

  • Reply Fiona January 13, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Thank you for this post! I have Graves disease and am a thyroid cancer survivor so NFP is always a struggle. The disease messes with every chartable sign. It is really important for us to be accurate because getting pregnant when the disease is in an unstable phase would be quite dangerous. Talk about stressful, my husband has the patience of a saint! We will definitely look more into Marquette and the monitor for some added sanity in our lives.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing January 13, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      I have hypothyroidism that is pretty well controlled by meds and diet, but yeah, I think that’s a big factor in the observable signs being such a struggle with the other methods we’d used. I hope Marquette can be helpful to you and your husband! So many autoimmune patients are just offered birth control which is not only less effective than well-applied NFP, but when it’s the hormonal contraceptives, it’s hell on an already struggling immune system. Really blows my mind how little some doctor’s know about this stuff, or think about the broader ramifications on women’s overall health.

  • Reply Karen January 13, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    We use this method as well. It has also been very helpful after my thyroidectomy to see how my cycles are changing and whether I’m even ovulating. I also use the Wondfo strips.

  • Reply Tori January 13, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    I don’t know if you’ve seen, but there is a progesterone test strip in manufacturing right now, too! I got some samples of the first batch of tests and it is really awesome to have that confirmation of yes, I did indeed ovulate already. That is always a problem area for me, figuring out the end of phase 2 and beginning of phase 3. I think you might still be able to pre-order strips on their crowdfunding page https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/at-home-ovulation-double-check-test#/

  • Reply Jennifer January 13, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    We use Marquette. Self taught on their website and I use the online charts. It does have an associated cost, but I do feel confident that I know for sure the fertile window. Post Partum was a bit expensive, but after I got into regular cycles I only use about 9 tests a month. Thanks for talking about this subject.

  • Reply Elizabeth January 13, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Oh please post more! I just gave birth three months ago to baby 4 while my husband was and still is in Afghanistan. It is always a struggle for me post partum. I really want to feel more confident about knowing what is going on with my body when my husband returns in the spring. I have never used the Marquette method but it sounds like it might be a good fit!

  • Reply Steffi January 13, 2017 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks for this awesome post! My husband and I just ordered the clear blue and are waiting for the strips to arrive. I’m three months postpartum after my first. We’d love to hear more details from you about how you use the Marquette method. Look forward to reading it!

  • Reply Malia January 13, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    We just started Marquette! It’s only my second cycle with it but I finally feel like it gives me the confidence I needed to really feel like we are going to succeed at NFP for the long haul. I struggled like crazy with checking my temps, and with breastfeeding they were so inconsistent and frustrating. I completely relate to your sentiments on the matter. I’m glad I finally got over spending money on the Clearblue monitor and just bought it!

  • Reply Rachel January 14, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    I would love for you to write more about Marquette! Baby #6 is 9 months and for the first time in our marriage I need to really learn a method and stick to it! I have been thinking about Marquette for awhile so any more information would be great!

  • Reply jeanette January 14, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    All of you women are admirable in wanting to really understand how your body functions. Isn’t it totally amazing that the medical profession, the feminist mindset, the politicians, and the sex ed taught in schools fails to acknowledge that there is a body of knowledge out there about our fertility that could easily be shared with women so that they can learn to understand how their body functions. You all really shouldn’t have to go to such great lengths to be educated at this point in your life. All of this should have been routinely taught and shared from the beginning. A glaring omission for our society to correct. To be truly “pro-woman” and all of the other professed concern for women’s health would automatically include all of this, would it not?

    Jenny, you touched on the subject of the temptation to use contraception. So, I wanted to share about my mother’s experience on that subject. It goes again to the medical profession and their treatment of women.

    When I was a young girl I began to really notice the fact that my parents always took us to Sunday mass but never received communion. So, one day I asked my mom why. She became very angry. She had 9 pregnancies, one was a miscarriage, one a tubal pregnancy and 7 live births. On the birth of her seventh child, the doctor (who had only been her doctor for this delivery) told her that if she had any more children she would die and she needed to use birth control pills. Likely that was an outright lie from that doctor, just a judgement against women having large families. In any case, she believed him and went to a priest to discuss it. The priest said she could not receive communion if she used the pill. So she did not. But she also became an angry Catholic. Such a sad situation. She was a convert to the faith and did not have the benefit of a grounding in the Humanae Vitae teaching on birth control, which actually had not quite yet been released. I am thankful that even though my parents did not receive communion during that time in life, they continued to make mass a priority for themselves and their family. I can imagine it was probably humiliating to refrain from receiving communion. It must also have been frustrating to feel you HAD to do something morally problematic because the doctor scared you into it. My mother never really healed from that spiritual wound.

    Later on, in my own adult life, I experienced a gynecological problem and sought medical help. The very first thing the NP told me, without knowing anything whatsoever about me or my situation, was that she wanted to put me on the pill “as a test”. I told her no. She thought I was really stupid. My refusal didn’t make any sense to her because of her favorable contraceptive mindset. The next appointment I went to, with an OB/GYN, she tried to get me to use Depo Provera, thinking I was ignorant about what it was and would therefore comply. Again, I said no and was ridiculed by her. Then I went to another doctor. He tried to get me to use the pill, citing all of the benefits. I told him no. He said I might experience severe bleeding and end up in the emergency room. That was fine with me. In my opinion, if that was the outcome, I was prepared to face it. But I seriously doubted it would be the outcome. It was just more scare tactics. I did know that the pill manufacturer did NOT recommend the pill for my condition. So it was a false form of treatment being offered to me.

    Bottom line, the temptation to contracept can come in many forms. It is harmful to succumb to it, regardless of the pressures either from without or from within. You are so very right on this point, Jenny. Always resist the temptation and seek support in that decision!

  • Reply Dixie January 15, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    We use Marquette, too, and have been happy with it, especially postpartum.

    Regarding the costs: if you have an HSA, you can pay for the sticks and monitor with HSA funds (or at least you can with ours). My husband looked into it extensively. So that helps a bit if that is your situation!

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing January 17, 2017 at 1:17 pm

      Good call on the HSA! And, it’s worth looking into your individual plan to see what is covered by your insurance. Our plan allowed us to (eventually) be reimbursed 100% for the cost of the monitor, which passed muster with HR as a valid form of “family planning” after a few phone calls and emails.

  • Reply Erin January 19, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    I have to say, this post came at the perfect time! I am 5 weeks postpartum and was starting to worry about returning to the sympto-thermal tracking… I feel very unprepared! I started researxhung Marquette as soon as I read your post! I would love to know how soon I could start using this method to track my fertility. I have found maybe conflicting information in terms of when you can use it…after you start your period again? Or sooner? I assume I will get the go-ahead to resume marital relations from my doctor next week at my 6 week follow-up and I am anxious to know my fertility!

    Thanks in advance for any insight!

    • Reply Erin January 19, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      *researching

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing January 19, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      Yes, definitely before return of fertility! There’s a whole Marquette postpartum protocol that involves retriggering the monitor every 10 days and testing daily until return of normal cycles. It’s a little bit pricey to go through all those test sticks, but it’s worth it’s weight in gold from where I’m standing, for peace of mind and effectiveness at accurately measuring fertility. If you join the Marquette Method FB group there are a bunch of pinned documents that go into detail about the postpartum protocol. You can also probably find a Marquette instructor on there who could work with you one on one. Congrats on your new little one!

      • Reply Erin January 19, 2017 at 2:26 pm

        Thanks so much, Jenny!

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