If there’s one thing being an NFP instructor in my diocese has taught me, it’s that, while it is good to require NFP as a part of marriage prep, the real education about NFP needs to be earlier.
But wait, you say, why should we start earlier if they don’t need to be planning a family before marriage? Good question. True, NFP in its entirety involves following certain rules to achieve or avoid pregnancy, but at its core NFP is about tracking a woman’s health, and that is something that all women need whether they’re planning marriage or not.
Now, some may be surprised to hear that it tracks a woman’s health, since the focus is so often on just determining when a woman is ovulating. A woman’s cycle, though, can tell her a lot about her overall health. For example, a woman who tracks her cycle can be alerted to possible endometriosis, possible thyroid issues, low progesterone, possible PCOS, even possible cervical cancer! Her chart can be used in conjunction with other medical tests to better diagnose issues (thankfully more doctors are becoming aware of the value of cycle tracking and are able to glean this information from a woman’s chart).
That’s amazing, you say! But maybe you still aren’t sold on the value of teaching this to teens and college students. That’s when my personal experience comes into play. Like a good number of the women who come to me during marriage prep, I was put on the pill as a teenager. Many teens have irregular cycles, and this can be a variation of normal for them. Sometimes there is something more going on, such as endometriosis. Having her track her cycle would help in determining that (note: endometriosis currently cannot be definitively diagnosed without surgery, but it can be strongly suspected from other signs).
If the cycle shows normal Peak, then she would know there’s probably not cause for concern and wouldn’t need further investigation; if the cycle showed mid-cycle bleeding or some other issue, she would know to get further testing done. A doctor who is knowledgeable in such things would be able to get her the treatment needed (another note – while a hormonal treatment is sometimes indicated, there are alternatives to the pill that would work with her body and her natural hormones instead of forcing her body into infertility. One example is taking progesterone post-Peak for low progesterone or PMDD).
If a woman hadn’t tracked her cycles, though, she won’t know exactly what is happening. If her doctor then tells her she needs the pill, and then she experiences a cessation of worrisome symptoms, she may feel the pill has fixed the problem or that she needs the pill. She may worry about facing that pain again, as I was. That fear is strong, and can prevent a woman from going off the pill and seeking out better treatment. She may not even think about it until she’s going through marriage prep, and then finds that her fear paralyzes her (speaking from my personal experience).
She shouldn’t have to wait until she gets married to tend to any potential problems. If she does that, she may have been on the pill for years and already have reduced fertility as a result (not all women experience reduced fertility – I didn’t – but some do because of the effect the pill has on the cervical mucus).
Just think, though, if I, and others, had been truly taught about our bodies as teens and in college! Think of how much better informed we’d be, and how we’d be better able to get the care we deserve. Of course, doctors need to catch up, too, as far too many of them are woefully ignorant of endometriosis and other issues. It is changing, but slowly. The more we educate ourselves and other young women, though, the better it will be. A young woman who is educated about this will be more likely to ask her doctor to find alternatives to the band-aid that is the pill, a pill that doesn’t fix anything and just masks symptoms. She’ll be better prepared to find the treatment she needs. It just makes sense to teach this earlier than it usually is taught now.