Refugees from the sympto-thermal method, my husband and I have begun learning the Creighton model for fertility awareness over the last few months. With five healthy children in seven years, as Mary-Alice says so perfectly, we are “drowning in blessings”!
Both the sympto-thermal method and the Creighton model rely on one of the same biomarkers to indicate fertility, and both involve daily charting of signs to determine fertile and infertile days of a cycle. In spite of such noticeable similarities between the two systems, I am rather surprised at how different they are – to the extent that the systems sometimes directly conflict on when data is collected and how it is interpreted.
When we were learning the sympto-thermal method before marriage, through the Couple to Couple League, I was fine with giving a decent shot at a decent Catholic method of fertility awareness. The manual was written by a Catholic couple—in fact, the course material included a lecture and readings on the Theology of the Body as well as on the practice of ecological breastfeeding. The sympto-thermal method was a definite upgrade from the rhythm method, and I was happy to receive a refresher on the Theology of the Body and to ignore the business about ecological breastfeeding. I liked the method’s emphasis on openness to children: do your best to observe and chart and abstain, but if the method fails or if you don’t practice it accurately, praise God!, another baby, another soul.
But maybe our jolly providentialism has delayed the earnest pursuit of a method of fertility awareness + periodic abstinence that works for couples in all the different possible circumstances – like breastfeeding, for instance.
So far, the Creighton model strikes me as an upgrade – the result of earnest, ongoing study and analysis by professional scientists and doctors. It was inspired by Catholic teaching, but no classes in theology or parenting philosophies are included. Just precise descriptions of biomarkers, constant data collection, and detailed charting. There is no “normal” cycle—Creighton is about interpreting this day of this cycle. It is also highly effective for avoiding pregnancy during the first year postpartum and during breastfeeding, as well as for treating infertility, postpartum depression, and the whole broad spectrum of conditions that can be understood by fertility awareness.
In short, it seems the time has come for a method of fertility awareness + abstinence that is objectively reliable. Leave the subjectivity to the discernment process. Once a couple has generously welcomed children and then has prayerfully discerned a grave reason to delay the next pregnancy, it would be nice to have a method that actually works.
But then again… what happens when doctors and scientists bring us a nearly perfect method of determining fertile days in order to minimize abstinence and dramatically reduce the number of “unplanned” pregnancies among Catholic couples? Even if the method is still consonant with natural law, less abstinence with fewer babies is starting to look a lot more like modern-day birth control.
On the front end, I want to know that, when we discern a grave reason to delay the next pregnancy, we will not conceive. But in retrospect, I can’t imagine our one “user error” baby and our one “method error” baby not being a part of our family.