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NFP and PR

A week after I got married, I had to visit one of those urgent care clinics for antibiotics (if you think this is too much information, you should totally stop now, because this is a birth control post). Apparently, you can pick up all sorts of things in Vegas even if you don’t happen to cavort with ladies of the evening.

But I digress. After four minutes with the nurse practitioner, who had known me for exactly that amount of time, she determined I was pregnant. Now, mind you, she had no such basis for making this determination – certainly not my cycle, which as a dedicated natural family planning devotee, I was keenly aware of – except for one small fact about my medical situation that stuck out to her like a sore thumb.

I, a young woman of 30 – professional, accomplished, middle-class, law school-educated, with a life of child-free bliss ahead of me – did not and had not ever used any form of chemical birth control.

Ergo, pregnant.

Potential medical malpractice lawsuit notwithstanding, I picked myself up off the floor and explained, politely, that I had no interest in birth control, understood the risks and complications of such a horrific decision and had happily made it. She made a joke about how people who use the rhythm method are called “parents.” I explained that what I did was nothing like the rhythm method. She proceeded to assume I was a lunatic.

I tell you this story not because I want you to see me as some sort of victim. No. One encounter with a member of the medical profession who is unfamiliar with the naturalistic technology that accompanies fertility awareness, culturally pervasive since Toni Wechsler published Taking Charge of Your Fertility in 2006, but because it brought up something I’d only been wondering about since I’d been through my own NFP educational experience.

Why don’t more people know about NFP?

The relevant appeal seems clear cut to me, but then again, I’m in marketing and think I know everything because I read it in an AdAge. But seriously. In a world where people freak out about high fructose corn syrup, buy only organically-grown vegetables, make their own soda, worry about the effects of chemical mosquito repellant and the hazards of dumping AA batteries in your kitchen trash. Why, on Earth, do people think its fine to ingest a chemical that interferes with a symphony of hormonal and chemical processes modern medicine doesn’t fully understand.

I’m not alone in my thinking, either. Elissa Stein and Susan Kim, much further left than I am and certainly no friends to the organized “patriarchal religion” they abhor, penned a book called Flow, which took on the mainstream understanding of the female cycle and the knee-jerk need to control not just birth, but the whole shebang. The authors point out – and rightfully – that in this age of organics, sustainability and environmentalism, birth control just seems so…twenty years ago.

Perhaps the Catholic Church, for all it is maligned in mainstream media, might be on to the solution. After all, those of us who’ve been through the ringer of NFP understand ourselves maybe a tiny bit too well, an education we most likely got as adults and one that was never offered in the “comprehensive sex education” classes that my public school forced on nervous 8th graders that claimed to teach me everything I needed to know about my body to survive the next forty years of my life until menopause. The problem is, of course, that the Church is far too modest.

NFP it seems, needs some new PR.

You’ll probably suspect I’m calling the Church to make the teachings “more relevant.” I’m not. They’re fine exactly how they are. And arguing over the intricacies of dogma surrounding, say, what extenuating circumstances are enough to warrant delaying pregnancy with NFP, won’t move this ball forward, primarily because those of us who argue about whether drowning in student loan debt is the same as being unable to make rent and put food on the table in the context of whether it constitutes a financial hardship are already believers. Bringing NFP into the 20th (yes, 20th) century has nothing to do with diluting the message, because that’s what draws most young Catholic women to the practice in the first place. A few spiff-ups on the presentation end could really help us spread the wealth, though.

For instance, my NFP instructor, who swore us to secrecy about the process as though we were going to discuss, at length, our sexual habits with just any old person in the grocery line, was about 90 years old, wore stretch pants and an embroidered cat sweatshirt and showed us a VHS (yes, in 2010 and yes, the pastor of the Church had to be called just to find a VHS player) where couples waxed poetic about how much they loved each other while wearing the sack dresses and floral Laura Ashley high-waisted pants that were so popular in 1989. And don’t even get me started about the embarrassment this self-esteem black hole suffered after a visit to Couple-to-Couple League, where I learned more than I ever wanted to know about people I never wanted to see again. Or the GeoCities-esque website I was granted access to, with its rose-hued color scheme, dancing sparkly pictures of babies, and huge florescent Comic Sans print.

And then there’s the curriculum, where, although all of the wonderful, amazing parts of NFP are investigated as in depth as the inner workings of the Basal Body Thermometer, no one ever talks about the hard parts. Like remembering. Or charting. Or having confusing results. Or, worse: the potential that you might go weeks without intimacy, you might learn about your body’s shortcomings, or that you might experience – along with all that elation at understanding your internal systems – fear, anxiety, trepidation and uncertainty. That things might not work out. And that you might need help. From real members of the medical profession.

Its not that these things are bad: at least, they weren’t when they were introduced (although I think the embroidered cat sweater missed the era of its cultural mainstay status). The VHS was popular twenty years ago, as was Laura Ashley. Comic Sans was on everything when I still ownned a desktop PC that ran Microsoft Bob. Couple to Couple League was invented when everyone thought fondue parties and Jonathon Livingston Seagull was worthwhile reading. It was all very, Our Bodies, Ourselves. But even Our Bodies, Ourselves is decades in the can.

There’s a moment here. A moment when we can take what we have, package it on DVDs starring normal-looking 20-year-olds, and with honesty and straightforwardness. Our generation isn’t used to flowery language and the pop-spirituality of the 1970s. We aren’t going to end our research at one website or one church-issued pamphlet. We have a thirst for knowledge that requires facts, case scenarios and realism. And, more than that, Truth.

And we’re hungering for it. I’m not kidding you when I say that the world just needs a little education. And you’re probably the one who’s best placed to do it.

 

Based in Chicago, Emily Zanotti is a strategic partner and Account Executive with Hynes Communications.  Emily is a nationally recognized writer and social media consultant who has served as new media director for a number of campaigns and non-profits.

As the Director of Web Strategy for the Sam Adams Alliance, Emily pioneered a national blogger outreach strategy that helped to organize and network state-level activists into a national grassroots force and produced a number of viral issue-based campaigns.  As an independent consultant, Emily helps organizations structure social media strategies, develop successful online brands, and tailor liberty-minded messages to a youth market.

Emily has covered state-level politics as a blogger for nearly a decade, first in Michigan and now in Illinois. She appears frequently as a guest on WGN Radio and has seen her work appear in the Chicago Tribune, National Review, iVillage and BlogHer, where she also serves as a Contributing Editor.  Currently, her work is being compiled for publication in a forthcoming book.

Emily is also a Second City-trained comedy writer and stand-up comedian who performs frequently in Chicago and across the Midwest.

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