Marriage and NFP – With Helen Doran

In this episode, I sit down with Helen Doran, founder of @fertileandempowered on Instagram.

We talk about the benefits of Natural Family Planning for your marriage but also for your own health benefits.

This is such an informative episode if you are wondering about NFP and how it can help your marriage!

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Find Helen on Instagram:  @fertileandempowered

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Ann Losinski 0:04
Welcome back to the Catholic brides podcast today we’re gonna be talking with Helen Doran about NFP, and just the benefits that and if he can bring to us, not only for planning our families but also for our health as a whole, and welcome to the show Helen.

Helen 0:32
Thank you so much for having me on. I’m so excited to talk about this.

Ann Losinski 0:37
I’m super excited as well. Why don’t we start with just you telling us a little bit about yourself about your Instagram page, and how you started kind of developing your passion about NFP

Yeah no for sure. So I am 22 and the young Blushing Bride of six months. So I am new to the married group. But I have been charting my cycle for a little over three years now, and I’ve been very passionate about NFP and fertility awareness method for a long time. In fact, I technically met my husband through NFP when we were really little because our parents taught through couples to couple league together. And so we used to play together well, they would teach in the other room or something so that’s actually how I met my husband so I may say it’s the ultimate Catholic setup. But I think it only makes sense then that, you know, it’s really near and dear to my heart and my husband’s as well. So yeah, I started charting. When I was 19, because I was struggling with my cycles I was having really painful periods and I could just tell that something was really wrong, but I couldn’t get an answer from a doctor. So that’s when I started researching and praying about it, and that really led me to just, you know, decide to start charting my symptoms. So I started doing symptomo thermal, so I would take my basal body temperature every day and record my cervical mucus patterns. And I taught myself, but I always say like, I was technically taught by my mom so she’s a couple to couple legue instructor. And so yeah so I started doing that three years ago and then my husband and I made the peripheral decision to learn Billings, because I was interested in kind of diversifying and seeing what other methods had to offer. And I really wanted to dive more into my cervical mucus and what that meant. And I thought that Billings would be really nice to do that. So I’m technically trained in two methods. But yeah, I’m super passionate about it it’s helped me so much with figuring out why I was having painful periods, and just overall, you know, it’s just such an amazing tool for anyone, whether you’re single engaged or married. So yeah, I hope that’s it. And there’s a long way of saying, I have some, some knowledge of this and I have really enjoyed using it and I highly recommend it to anyone listening no matter your relationship status, so yeah.

Awesome. So you mentioned a couple of different methods of NFP, I think the Sybil thermal and then Billings and then also a couple a couple couple of couples. Could you go into a little bit more detail I mean that doesn’t have to be super detail, but just a little bit more detailed about what the differences between the methods are there.

Helen 3:41
Yeah. So symptoms thermal is really focused on multiple symptoms for absolute certainty over when you ovulate. So you record your cervical mucus every day, and what you feel, what you see. And so that’s that’s kind of universal to most NFP methods. What sympto thermo has that Creighton and Billings do not have is basal body temperature. So, for symptoms thermal you’ll record your basal body temperature every single morning at the exact same time. And that allows you to confirm ovulation, it doesn’t allow you to anticipate it which I think there’s a huge confusion about for people are not technically trained in sympto thermal. Um, but yeah so it kind of helps confirm your fertile window especially, which is really helpful for couples who really have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy rather for, you know, health or or financial situations. So that that is simple thermal. Billings really hones in on the simplicity of your cervical mucus and so it just kind of hones in on what you see, day by day.

And what I love about Billings is that it’s actually very flexible so it’s unlike Creighton which also focuses mainly on cervical mucus as well. It’s different from Creighton in that it’s really individualized per woman, so you can make up your own vocabulary for what you’re noticing and observing. And it’s really meant to be very simple, you know, for the person who who just needs to record maybe a word per day on their chart and feel good about that and feel confident that they can identify their fertile window that way. And Creighton kind of takes that an extra step and has a standardized vocabulary and a numerical value for certain patterns, but that really helps if you have a concern about your cycle and you want to go talk to a doctor that that standardized method of charting kind of allows them to compare your hormones and your levels to other women and kind of see what what should be normal almost like you know you would with any other like blood test or something like that. And then there’s also Marquette, which really focuses in on your estrogen and your luteinizing hormone. And so that one’s probably the easiest and I hear a lot of postpartum women love this one because really all you have to do is just use your first morning urine and and record, use the clear blue monitor device to figure out your levels. So, yeah, so there’s a variety of methods, and honestly that’s it’s just so helpful and I love that there’s some diversity. There’s some debate over which one is best objectively but every woman is so different. It’s so unique that really I mean, what one method might work really well for one woman and not for another and having learned two methods I can definitely say, I see value in, you know, in the different methods and honestly I think just doing your research and we’re praying about it, especially with your spouse during this engaged period or if you’re a newlywed can be really helpful.

Ann Losinski 7:04
Yeah, I like how you said that one method for one person might not be the best method for the another person, because we are so unique and looking at the different types of natural family planning like you could look at the Billings method and realize that that’s not the best method for you that Creighton might be better, or that sympto thermal might be better and just knowing that if you start with one. And it’s not working for you it’s okay to that it’s not working and to try something else.

Helen 7:36
Yes, exactly. I honestly especially with like engaged couples who are getting it was part of their marriage prep, there’s almost like a certain pressure to stay loyal to your method, at least from what I’ve heard from people because you’ve invested all this time and a lot of the time you’re working with a couple who is mentoring you. So there’s a relationship involved there. So sometimes it can be hard and honestly scary to just be like you know this is just really, it’s really hard and I just need something easier. And I think some women feel a lot of guilt about like, Oh, well I’m not I’m not taking my basal body temperature every day is I’m not that invested and it’s not about the amount of time or energy that you put into it. It’s really just about what is fruitful for you and your soon to be husband or husband. And that really varies, you know, so I found it amazing just hearing different women’s stories about starting with this method and they’re like, well it worked, but I could not get up every morning to take my basal body temperature that was just driving me up the wall and I was getting no sleep. So then we tried like Marquette and that worked really great. Um, so it’s just really cool to hear this testimony and I think it speaks so much to the diversity of our church and a unique way of how we’re also different but so united and Solanas we’re all like united in that mission of unitive and procreated Love Like, I think it’s a beautiful, beautiful testimony to our church.

Ann Losinski 9:03
Yeah, for sure. I really like how you just compared it to our church because we all are so unique that, but it makes up such a diversity, so it would make sense that not everybody would be the same and not everybody would use the same method. So a question that I had for you, was that you mentioned it, doing this for mentioned doing this for the charting to evaluate your overall health. Can we talk about that a little bit more?

Helen 9:41
Yeah, for sure. Um, I highly recommend to any woman who is having any concerns, no matter how minor or serious about their period to start charting. And I think there’s a kind of a stigma, because largely in Catholic circles charting has been seen as something that is reserved for like, you know, married couples who are sexually active right you know and so there’s kind of a stigma to oh I’m not sexually active I am single so why would I be doing this. But honestly, there is, it’s like any other vital sign that your body is communicating to you like your blood pressure. Your, your you know your temperature if you’re sick. All of these patterns of your cervical mucus and your basal body temperature and, and all these hormone levels they say so much about your well being. And so I advocate to every woman. It’s so simple, you know, just start paying attention to what your body is telling you do your do your research, you know, start noticing like, Oh, You know what is this sensation down there while I’m walking around, kind of feels like I paint a bit it’s like when civilians. My Billings instructor said or, you know, just recording that and having a journal or using a fertility app. I can tell you so much, and I, I’ve hooked a couple of my friends when I was in college on charting who were missing their periods they weren’t they weren’t even having a period, you know, and they were able to figure out wow I’m, I really low progesterone, they can get on a progesterone supplement and that really helped them. Um, so yeah there’s so many, it’s just it’s just an amazing tool, and I like to say it’s really a practice in body literacy, you know, our bodies are such a beautiful because they are from God, you know, and you created us knowing that they are good. And there’s something that we really they are treasures they’re a temple of the Holy Spirit, and they deserve all of our attention and the respect and, you know, our care. And I really have the belief that if we’re taking care of our bodies we’re taking care of those around us because then we are able and able to be at beck and call for whoever needs us if we’re really struggling and we’re having a hard time and we’re not taking care of ourselves. That’s that much less energy that you have to devote to those around you. So training is a great way to practice body literacy and paying attention to what you’re feeling what you’re seeing. And, yeah, so I hope that could answer your question about the health. There’s so many, there’s so many fascinating things that you could dive into about charting for your health, but I think that’s kind of an overall gist of how I described it

Ann Losinski 12:28
Yeah for sure that makes so much sense. Um, so as far as practicing NFP as well. How does it work for when you’re married, like, people use it for obviously discerning whether or not to have children, but is it hard for people to be able to practice that, like, from your perspective

Helen 12:55
In terms of the absence or just like recording it with their spouse?

Ann Losinski 12:59

Helen 13:00
Yeah. Um, it really varies per couple and honestly I think that part of the issue we have now is when couples struggle really with NFP when they get married, especially in those that first year of marriage is that they just haven’t been doing it long enough. And that’s you know that’s my personal opinion so I think that was the greatest thought and, you know, in context but, um, yeah I mean, most will start charting maybe six months before. If not, you know, sooner, like be like are closer to the wedding than that. Um, but, honestly say, having charted for three years. You know, my, you know, husband, then fiance was so involved, and not necessarily like you know discerning our fertile window but more so just like reminding me to take my temperature for my own sake you know for my health because he knew that helped me so much. And such as practicing it in that you know chaste way without focusing on you know when can we have when could we could we be sexually active when can we not, you don’t need to focus on that. So I recommend starting as soon as you can when you get engaged at that level. And that really helps but there are times where it is hard, you know, especially like when you’re first married and you’re trying to figure out when to abstain when did not and I think there’s a, there can be a lot of anxiety, I think, personally, those first couple months of marriage which you know are not not super far away, they’re just this year. Um, but yeah there’s definitely a little bit of anxiety about just like there’s this new level of discernment and awareness of what my fertility is and what it what it means and what it can produce. And so I think just, you know, if you’re not communicating with your spouse about that anxiety and discerning together and creating and surrendering it to Christ, ultimately, that can be also a source of division. So yeah, but it’s just my, my best advice I guess for especially newlyweds or who are using NFP and maybe struggling or just feeling like they have no one to talk to or are just, you know, not really sure how it fits into the overall picture of married life. Just don’t overthink it. And honestly, reach out to any married couple that you know that would be practicing it. That is so helpful I, there is a little bit of a taboo. You know around it because it is something very intimate, but there are ways to talk about it and kind of build a community around it with people, married couples around you. That is sensitive to the topic. And I think that’s so important, it’s so helpful and I’m very lucky to have that as my husband with some other couples. And that’s, that’s changed everything for me. So, yeah

Ann Losinski 15:53
yeah that’s super important I think to have community and like you said, it’s kind of. It is a taboo subject because it is intimate, and people don’t normally bring it into everyday life, your not really going to bring it up in conversation. Um, but I think yeah like you said, having that like finding those people that you can have that community with to be able to talk about those things, especially when you’re struggling is super important.

Helen 16:21
Right. Yeah, and honestly I Funny enough, I am not a huge social media person. And I really don’t like to be on my phone a lot but, which is funny because I started a whole page on Instagram, talking about fertility and so why I did that is actually because I found such a huge community of women, especially married women who were talking about their fertility and using NFP and the struggles, but also the blessings. And that really inspired me to start, you know, talking about my own experience and all the knowledge I’ve gained in three years of churning for my own health. And that’s really what inspired me is just there is, there is a beautiful community out there and Instagram. Funny enough, and so, you know if you’re just like, well, like, you know, I have no one around me and person like that I could even reach out to who would who would even understand what the words and like the letters NFP mean, um, you know look at look look online look maybe for Facebook groups and on Instagram. It’s not perfect but it is a place to start. And I’ve developed, multiple relationships just through that. So, that is one place that you could start.

Ann Losinski 17:33
Yeah, and I think it also sometimes because it is weird because it’s like so intimate, it’s easier to talk about it with a stranger.

Helen 17:40
Yeah, that’s true,

Ann Losinski 17:41
Than people that you know, so yeah. Um. Another question I had for you was in regards to practicing NFP with your spouse. I know a lot of women might feel burdened that the burden of NFP is on them, because it’s monitoring all of their signs and all of the way that their body is working. And so there’s a lot of pressure that falls on them to be able to make sure that they’re charting correctly or doing things correctly or whatever. But how would you or what would you say to a woman that was feeling that way that she, like it was all the pressure on her and that’s what like her husband can do whatever, and it doesn’t really matter but it’s like all the pressure on her. What advice would you have to give her.

Helen 18:28
That’s a really great question. Honestly I had multiple women reach out with that burden, and honestly the job that I give them is like no, the reason you’re doing this is because your husband is 100% fertile all the time. So if anything you’re doing it because of him, don’t ever feel like it’s your body that is the problem here or the obstacle, you know, you know it, that it just bringing that into perspective if you’re doing this because you both are fertile, it’s just that you’re fertile some of the time your husband’s fertile all the time. And so you’re really like the window of opportunity to be able to discern light at the right time, or discern when God is calling you to have children. And in a way, see that as a gift and not a burden. And for involving your husband. Honestly, there’s some great resources and I might misquote what the title of this book is but it’s like the ultimate guide to NFP for sinners. It’s a new book out there, when it’s really, really good and I read it with my spouse Cailin. And I was just really helpful for bringing him on board, especially when we got married and we’re suddenly there’s this whole new level of discussion about abstaining and not, you know, um, but that was really helpful just having a continuous discussion. We also like to check in with each other every night and we’ll do our highs and lows of the day and part of that is checking in on my cycle and what I’ve observed and so he’ll make sure to ask questions asked you know, what is your temperature do today you know what what are you noticing what there’s cervical mucus patterns, so maybe it’s you know me doing all of the observations, but he’s putting in just as much mental energy as I am in terms of interpreting that data. And so in that way you’re kind of sharing that gift together, you know, but I mean I totally understand where sometimes it is like I’m just doing all this work and then he just, you know, gets to have the fruit of that. And honestly, I think that’s just a challenge from the Holy Spirit to grow in your relationship together with, you know, especially with you if your spouse is just to grow in communication and empathy and an understanding of that you are when you are a team, you know that you are sharing across to having together. Right. And so whenever you feel that burden just know that that’s a calling from the Holy Spirit for deeper intimacy. And so maybe I hope that’s helpful to anyone listening, but it is very true that that is a kind of a universal struggle especially starting out with NFP and feeling like there’s so much, you know, you’re still uncertain and not necessarily confident in your own interpretations and it’s like what is going on with my body. Um, and I know there’s a lot of early thoughts around that. But just slow down and know that you know don’t overthink it and like Christ. Christ is always in the moment with you and your spouse. So, yeah, I hope that was helpful.

Ann Losinski 21:34
For sure yeah I like how you touched on, make or having that discussion with your spouse, and, but it is like you but it’s also that your spouse should be putting in that same mental energy to it as well to be able to interpret the data, because obviously we’re making the writing down the data, but there are spouses also there to support us and to interpret that data with us and I think that’s really beautiful as well.

Helen 22:04
Yeah I know for sure and honestly I don’t, I can’t fathom being married without NFP it is such a gift in terms of communicating with my spouse especially just with, you know, our, you know, marital intimacy like, that’s something so beautiful, so spiritual is so easy to overlook and so easy to treat as something casual has been such a great way for us to connect, you know, I’m an intellectual spiritual and physical level. And so, it’s honestly just such a great gift I mean I just cannot be more thankful for it it’s a, you know, I think that it’s such a huge gift to any, any couple out there but especially as Catholics you know we have this greater perspective of what that means with our understanding of theology of the body. So, yeah, never. I’m trying to remember, remind myself especially you know five years from now 10 years from now just how much of a gift this is and how much I’m appreciating that as newlyweds. And I’m just trying to like take little camera shot moments of like, just how much I appreciate it right now, so that I can remember that later. So yeah,

Ann Losinski 23:14
that is super beautiful. Um, so, for women that want to get started, like charting their cycle and started with NFP, What would you recommend for them to get started.

Helen 23:26
Yeah, that’s a great question because I think so many of us so many of us, especially if we’re like, single or we’re in a relationship and we’re not engaged yet we’re not like preparing for marriage yet. We’re like well I don’t know how to start because I don’t really want to pay to to you know like learn a whole method and invest all that time so she had been like in college or something I’m already super busy but I’d love to learn this. My, my best advice I think for that is just start finding great fertility app. I really really recommend read your body. you do have to pay a little bit of a price, but it is very customizable. And so if you’re just a beginner and charting they you can work on that level, but if you know if you’ve been charting for 10 years and you, you have all of these extra like symptoms that you’re recording and you know exactly what to do when you want to like vary the data you want to like manipulate the data as you need to, to, you know, observe what you need to, you can also do that. So it kind of it’s kind of an app that grows with you as your understanding of NFP grows. Um, so I really recommend finding an app like that there’s multiple out there. another one is groove, which I believe is only available for iPhones right now but eventually it will be available for Android I think they’re working on it right now. Um, that that one is actually really helpful because it comes with a guide. And it’s honestly the most like coherent guide I have found to the symptoms that your body displays about your fertility like your basal body temperature and your cervical mucus. So it’s just like a very coherent Guide to Understanding what those are, how to interpret them what these different signs mean. So when I started charting at 19, I would probably look back on that page and that guide like every day after I’d like record my observations and it was so helpful. So I generally recommend like even if you’re using like the read your body up or a different one. Definitely go to the groove website and check out their guide because it is really helpful, especially if you don’t really have the time or the money to invest in working with the couple on an official method yet. That being said, if you are engaged and you’re getting married definitely do invest the time and money because you know there, there is a certain level, more, there is a certain level of seriousness there especially if you’re, you know, you do not have probable reason to abstain and avoid pregnancy at that time, but at that point it’s very helpful to work with a couple who really knows what they’re doing and is able to work with you to understand your individual chart because no chart looks the same. So sometimes it can be hard to identify that fertile window. But that being said, if you just like want to begin practicing the habit of charting and you want to start like you know just really practice body literacy. Definitely don’t feel discouraged from it just because you haven’t invested in an actual method yet. Honestly, you know I plan on teaching if I have any, any girls. I plan on teaching them from a young age just body literacy and how they can observe what they feel and what they see and what they’re thinking, I just think that’s so helpful universally. And it really transfers over to other areas of life, you know, not just your fertility but even just your overall well being, you notice, little things with your diet that you would have never noticed before like oh well I, you know, two years ago before I stood you know I would never have even thought, like oh my stomach’s kind of queasy after ate that you know because it’s so minor but when you’re so in tune with your body like that, just it’s just an overall, like amazing journey towards health and well being and treating your body well and I think NFP is just a great way to start, has it. So, yeah,

Ann Losinski 27:17
for sure. That’s really cool how you tie that back in with like being in tune with other things as well. Especially because we’re like so in tune with our fertility and what our body is doing and just to like, know that it’s tying into other areas as well and as you’re being paying more attention to like your fertility and your signs there you’re also paying attention to other things as well. And I think that’s super helpful for diagnosing other things that aren’t necessarily related to your fertility but like you said maybe you have a diet dietary thing that you don’t know about but all of a sudden because you’re paying so much attention. You might be able to catch that as well.

Helen 27:54
Yeah, and I can speak to that person the way, I’m just with targeting I that’s how I found out that I have hashimotos thyroid disease which okay technically is connected to your fertility more than other things but, um, I was having all these weird symptoms you know like I just had asleep like 10 hours a night girls I just could not function and I was gaining a lot of weight and I was like this is really weird you know and i mean obviously those symptoms are not directly connected to charting but through charity and I realized like you know my hormone levels are really really off here and that’s when I was able to go to the doctor and kind of explain the symptoms because I was starting to notice that knowing that there was something off with my chart. And I don’t think I would have ever really connected those symptoms if it hadn’t been for like my chart in front of me. And so, yeah, I am very grateful that I was able to catch that because knowing that I was able to start it a healthy regimen with food and exercise and sleep and knowing like my body’s limits. And so hopefully that’s, you know, not only very preventative so down the road 20 years I’m not going to have to be on major thyroid medication and stuff like that because it caught it so early. So I feel very blessed about that. So that’s just my own little personal testimony to how NFP can help you with diet body literacy and really catching other issues that you might be having. But,

Ann Losinski 29:16
yeah, for sure. Um, what would be your tip for finding a doctor that would be able to read your chart because sadly NFP isn’t something that’s taught, like, to all of the doctors, so I assume there’s different steps you have to go through to be able to find a doctor that would be able to actually look at your chart and be able to interpret it.

Helen 29:39
Oh yeah that’s such a good question. Honestly, there’s no easy way to find what if you’re new, if you’re doing Creighton or you want, you’re interested in that, that’s a great way to go because that’s kind of the universal with doctors who are working on fertility who appreciate charting, and so they’ll, there’s a pro doctors that will can help you if you’re doing Creighton. If you’re turning with a different method, my general advice is to work with, find a doctor who generally has a more holistic attitude. I just generally found that, you know, doctors who are a lot more focused on nutrition and overall well being and kind of connecting preventative medicine, um, and integrating integrating like different methods, not necessarily just Western medicine, generally come in much more universal and open. Respect for charting, I found I’ve been shut down a lot by some doctors who were just like, oh well okay, I don’t even know why you’re doing that, you know, just why not birth control, you know, as we all I’m sure we’ve almost all experienced that. Um, But yeah, so definitely trying to find the more holistic doctor has been really helpful for a lot of people that I know, but unfortunately it’s just hit or miss. Um, and generally you know even if you find a doctor that doesn’t know charting don’t immediately, you know exclude them from here journey to understanding your chart because if you find a doctor that’s very willing to listen to you and is very respectful of your intuition and your decisions. Generally what I’ve found is that they will they will invest a time in appreciating your chart and looking at it if you want them to. And that’s personally what I found is my doctor is not. She’s not a naipu doctor or like a, she doesn’t she’s not technically like certified in interpreting charts, but she does appreciate basal body temperature and cervical mucus and and really listens to me when I’m saying there’s something off with my chart here and I noticed this and this can mean that you know like low progesterone So is it possible to test that and she will invest a lot of energy into researching that and doing the appropriate steps from there with her medical degree. So, um, it’s complicated and unfortunately that’s just the reality right now as so many of us feel very kind of shut down very quickly, my doctors you know who are just like you know our cycle is a burden and not a gift you know and if you’re having period pain, just go on birth control what’s the big deal. And unfortunately that’s the reality right now but I I am praying so hard that people are waking up, and that they will doctors will start appreciating the value in our cycle in terms of what it tells us about our overall well being. But yeah, so just really really work on finding a doctor that will listen to you and respect your intuition and your gut and invest the energy in you and you know and treat you as you not another patient,

Ann Losinski 32:47
for sure. And I have one more question for you that’s not really related to any of this, but I’m asking you to all of my pockets guest. What is your favorite Bible verse or passage, and why.

Helen 33:01
Oh, wow, that’s a good one. And you’re putting me on the spot as Catholic because I’m so bad at quoting scripture. I am like the kind of person that will paraphrase, anything you could tell me a sentence and I’ll probably quote it back to you, Ron. So let me think about this. Um, oh shoot. I think that honestly the one that has been most impactful is we still know that I am God. I am generally a very, very fast paced person and I’m very impulsive. And I just I have a lot of thoughts going through my head at once and I multitask all the time and I am a person that will you know get writing myself a list to do and just like shoot through all of them but not really appreciate what I’m doing in the moment. So just constantly hearing that voice and be still and know that I am done has been so helpful to me and honestly it’s been kind of like, I won one verse that I keep going back to back to remind myself, you know, really God is just calling me to be in the moment right now. And in the moment is where I know what God is calling me to, and not one second faster and whatnot, not one second slower. So yeah. Honestly though. Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t say that would be it. But, yeah.

Ann Losinski 34:15
Awesome. Well thank you so much for coming on the show Helen. If people want to find you or get in touch with you How can they best do that,

Helen 34:25
the that’s phase to go find my page on Instagram, my Instagram handle is @fertileandempowered. And so I post a lot of information on health and diet, you know, in terms of charting and then just the one on ones on charting but I have a lot of big plans for for the page it’s only a month old so it’s still in the works but I have a lot of big plans for the future so stay tuned.

Ann Losinski 34:50
Awesome. Well thank you everybody for tuning in today, and we will see you on the next episode. Thank you so much, Helen.

Helen 35:00
Thank you so much for having me on such a wonderful conversation.

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