Natural family planning: why it’s the obvious ‘feminist’ choice

Molly Daley, founder of the site Body Language, is a 27-year-old activist who sees women’s health—both in body and soul—as linked inextricably with the health of the planet.

Body Language founder Molly Daley is engaging young women of all walks of life in a conversation about natural, healthier family planning methods.

Not long ago, 27-year-old law school graduate Molly Daley was preparing for the bar exam and found herself on a plane thinking about her future. It wasn’t a quarter-life crisis, exactly, but a moment of uncertainty. She had enjoyed her internships working for a civil litigator, a federal judge, a public defender, and a district attorney. She loved the work of advocating for others. But she felt herself being called to something else.

Daley, who received her bachelors degree in religious studies and Arabic from the College of William and Mary, and her law degree from the University of Maryland, had recently been married. She and her husband Nick, who now works for a Silicon Valley tech start-up, were learning about and using Natural Family Planning (NFP). Considered part of the larger Fertility Awareness movement (FA), NFP methods teach couples how to achieve or avoid pregnancy by learning about their fertility and their bodies. While Daley admits that it may seem counter-cultural to her peers, she found NFP, and the very idea that she could understand her body and work with its cycles of fertility, inspiring and empowering—so much so that she wanted to share it with others.

On that cross country flight, Daley was reading a book about the power of singleness of purpose and recalls thinking, “Could there maybe be a way for me to combine my advocacy skills with my new passion for Fertility Awareness and Natural Family Planning? Because if I were to pick a single purpose to which I could devote all my energy, I’d want it to be sharing these ideas.”

Nick and Molly Daley

Molly Daley and her husband Nick. Photo by Sincerli Photography

Daley spent the rest of the flight brainstorming about how to best help others learn that “our bodies speak a language, and we deserve to learn this language.” Soon after that, she withdrew from the bar exam and launched her website Body Language, the purpose of which, she says, is “to gently introduce people of all cultures, faiths, and walks of life to Fertility Awareness and NFP.”

Natural family planning respects the way human bodies work. It’s 100 percent organic, and doesn’t leave an environmental footprint.

Historically, FA refers to a set of practices used to determine the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle, which can be used to avoid pregnancy, to plan pregnancy, or as a way to monitor gynecological health. Equipped with an understanding of FA, some couples opt to practice NFP as a method of family planning. It involves charting a woman’s cycle and using periods of abstinence to avoid pregnancy without artificial contraception.

Daley describes FA as a movement, and NFP as a lifestyle, because “exclusively thinking of it as a family planning method does not do it justice.” She believes that NFP respects the way human bodies work, and frees women from the side effects and health risks presented by some forms contraception. Also, she points out, it doesn’t leave the environmental footprint that some other methods of contraception do. “It’s 100 percent organic,” Daley explains, “in that it doesn’t use drugs, devices or surgery, and when used correctly NFP is highly effective.”

Daley cites statistics showing that for couples who use NFP correctly, it is 97 to 99 percent effective, which is the same rate as hormonal birth control. It’s worth noting that with typical (i.e. imperfect use), NFP is about 76 percent effective, meaning that 24 out of 100 couples will experience an unintended pregnancy in a year using only this method. And NFP is not exactly trending—only about 1 percent of contraceptive-using women in the U.S. rely on Fertility Awareness-based methods, probably because it requires more effort, planning, and communication than other methods. The pill and female sterilization remain the most widely used methods of birth control by American women.

However, Daley is undeterred. She believes that the benefits of NFP go beyond even family planning and extend to closer relationships for couples and better body image for women. Daley also sees preventive health benefits from any kind of FA-based methods. “When women track their biomarkers, doctors and healthcare professionals are better able to help them target the actual cause of their health concerns and cure the problem, rather than masking symptoms,” she says.

Daley’s website offers a fresh, youthful take on the FA movement and NFP, in contrast to some of the dated, in her words “hilarious” educational materials she and her husband encountered in their quest for information. (She recalls an old video featuring a couple wearing turtleneck sweaters, who had “eight or ten kids,” that gave them both the giggles.) Body Language reflects Daley’s addresses concerns as a millennial, with an activist bent, who sees women’s health—both in body and soul—as linked inextricably with the health of the planet.

Women’s health has become a political issue. We attack each other and our choices, and it has become a burden for women. It shouldn’t be this way.”

In one of Daley’s recent blog posts, “Naked and (Not) Afraid,” she writes about body image and fertility. In another, entitled “Confession: I Dream of Holding a Clipboard Outside Whole Foods,” she addresses the environmental effects of certain kinds of birth control. She points out that the hormones in our diet—that are a subject of concern to so many—don’t just come from meat and dairy products, but also from the hormones in medications, and can harm humans and our ecosystem.

A recurring theme on Daley’s website is that NFP is pro-woman. “I’m definitely a feminist,” she says. “I think the epitome of feminism is helping women learn about their bodies, and advocating a lifestyle that respects the female body and honors it and works with it. A lot of people are hesitant to use the word ‘feminist’ because they think it implies something political. But I don’t think that being pro-woman means that you fall into a specific political camp.”

Daley goes on to say, “Women’s health has become a political issue. We attack each other and our choices, and it has become a burden for women. It shouldn’t be this way.” And even though she is warm and forthright in sharing her personal views and her background, when it comes to her own choices about when she and her husband will start a family and how many children they might have, she graciously pivots on the question. “You know, I don’t feel comfortable at this point talking about that,” she says. “I don’t want to feed anyone’s agenda, and I think anything I say will be politicized. I certainly don’t want another woman to think that I’m recommending that she have or not have a certain number of children. It feels like a commoditization to me, turning children into objects.”

Daley scrupulously avoids judgement and politicization in her writing and speaking about FA and NFP, she says, because “at the end of the day we’re all trying to make the right choices for ourselves. We’re all trying to do the right thing. I want to affirm women and help them along that journey.”

Looking back on the pivotal decision she made on that airplane, Daley is convinced she’s on the right path. “It was liberating when I realized I could apply my reading, writing, researching and advocacy skills in an unorthodox way,” she says. “Sometimes I’m still shocked that I don’t work at a law firm, but I’m confident that this is what I have been preparing for my whole life. I loved law because I wanted to help the most vulnerable in our society and help others think about human dignity. This is exactly what NFP does, especially for women—in a different way.”

Sarah Koops Vanderveen
Sarah Koops Vanderveen
Sarah Koops Vanderveen is a freelance writer living in Laguna Beach, California. She and her husband David are parents of two college-aged sons. Sarah is the author of 'Once by the Pacific: Laguna Beach in Poems and Pictures.'

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