Family Planning WTSHTF, by N.S.

Everyone wants to be able to take care of the family When The Schumer Hits The Fan (WTSHTF).  We have all read dozens of articles about how to garden, store food, keep seeds, protect our homes, and generally go about the living of life day-to-day.  We’ve heard the mantra: Life after the TSHTF is not for the faint of heart, nor the easily-grossed-out.  We’ve also seen a few that go into detail on how to prepare medically for disaster.  While all of us will be working hard to provide for our families and keep them safe, we also need to be concerned about something less-often talked about:  family planning when there is no hormonal birth control, and prophylactics are scarce.  Heaven knows,  when TSHTF, you and your existing family will be busy adjusting to your new life, and may not be ready to welcome a new bundle of joy before your local area stabilizes. 

The dangers of unexpected or poorly planned pregnancies in a situation where medical facilities and options will be extremely limited cannot be ignored.  Communities may have no real medical expertise, and certainly, without anesthetic, a cesarean section won’t be a terribly pleasant or successful affair.  A woman who has had problem pregnancies in the past will most likely continue to have problem pregnancies.  If you suspect your partner will have a problem pregnancy, or if she’s had one before, extra care must be taken to consider the time and place of birth: for example, temporarily moving to the area closest to the best medical personnel available.  

Another oh-so-fun factor to consider is the very real possibility of being due mid-winter, when snow might be high, and travel difficult.  Families may want to consider planning the children they want to be born in the fall or in the spring or summer, rather than mid-winter, just so that if there is a semi-competent medical person in the vicinity, they can get there in time without being side-lined by a blizzard.  It’s not very likely that the county will be out snow-plowing and salting all the roads, right?  This is not to say, of course, that all pregnancies will end in disaster, of course.  Most of the time, with most women, the pregnancy and birth will probably go just fine.
 Aside from the risk inherent in pregnancy and childbirth itself, however, there are other reasons why planning for pregnancy is important.  There are implications for a woman’s health after the baby is born, her family’s health, and even to some extent, the health of the community itself. 

Families will probably need to be bigger than the “typical” American size of 2.5 children as a matter of necessity.  Where food is scarce, and farm labor is the mainstay of food production, it will be a blessed family that has four or five children to help out.  More importantly, though, a family needs the children well-spaced, so that there is time for the mother to recuperate in between pregnancies. For the preservation of her health, a mother should probably not have more than one child every two or three years.  This is because of the time it will take to recover from the pregnancy, birth, and the first year or two of infancy.  Remember, when TSHTF the baby will need to be breastfed, like it or not, because home-made formula is not a smart option if there is any alternative.  Babies should be breastfed for a minimum of 1 year, but ideally, it should be closer to two years, especially in areas where food or medical aid is scarce.  Breastfeeding beyond a year may be the difference between life and death for a young child after TSHTF. 

A woman who is worn-out from having a baby every year most likely will have difficulty helping with every-day tasks, let alone trying to manage the hard daily living of farm-work, gardening, and putting food on the table when there is no such thing as convenience food.  She might be fine for three or four years, but just try safely focusing on gardening, housework, and making food– possibly over a fire or wood-burning stove with five under-five-year-old children running under foot.  Some of those babies aren’t going to make it, and you’ll end up with tiny graves in your plot.  If that thought isn’t appealing to you, you need to start considering your options now.

Beyond your own household, though, there may be other factors to consider.  In a smaller community which depends on its members helping each other out, it would be a pretty uncomfortable state of affairs if most of the women in a community end up pregnant all at once.  It would be very difficult for women to help each other with, say, labor, or childcare if they’re all in need of help themselves.  There are some tasks that are just not safe with a baby in tow, and women may need to trade tasks.  In addition, can you imagine if there are only one or two people in a community who are even remotely comfortable attending births, and there are three or four women in labor or about to go into labor?  If even one of them has complications, the others might be out of luck when it comes to having someone experienced on hand to help out. 

Now, I’m not saying all the families in a community should be drawing lots for the right to get pregnant, of course.  Far from it.  But coordination among women or families isn’t at all a fanciful idea, and may be the difference between having adequate help in the first few weeks or days or being completely on your own.  It’s a small enough consideration to hold off on a pregnancy for six months to a year to space babies between families so not everyone is dealing with the squalling of an infant at all hours of the night at the same time. 
For families without the knowledge or supplies for family planning, purposeful spacing most likely won’t be possible.  I firmly believe that children are gifts from God, and that He is the one that engenders new life.  On the other hand, I also believe that God expects us to be reasonable and moderate, and use all the (morally acceptable) tools at our disposal to prepare and take care of our families.  In contemporary society, many God-fearing families still depend on hormonal birth control (“the pill”) or IUDs, condoms, diaphragms, cervical cups, et cetera, to help manage child spacing and family size.  While those families can plan ahead a certain extent and stockpile extra supplies, they won’t last forever.  Stockpiles containing latex items, like condoms and diaphragms face serious storage issues.  Latex is extremely sensitive to heat, cold, and light.  Without climate control, they won’t be nearly effective enough to be reliable in preventing pregnancy past a summer or two   Stores are not even required to notify the purchaser if they’ve improperly stored them, so even in perfectly storing new condoms in your stockpile, you are not guaranteed a “good” lot that will last for many years.  Hormonal birth control is no joke, either.   Even if you could store more than a year or so worth of pills, just because something works now, doesn’t mean it will continue to work– and there are serious health risks to unmonitored hormone usage.  Or you could get stuck with a stockpile of mis-packaged pills, like the batch that was just recalled.  In the event that manufacturing of these supplies ceases and distribution dwindles, alternatives will need to be explored.

So, then, if “conventional” methods are unavailable, what options are you left with?
I’m sure we’ve all heard the “sex-ed” talk about different kinds of birth control, and heard how ineffective the “pull-out” and “rhythm” method are in comparison to the standard industrialized hormonal and physical barriers are.  The bad news is that the talk is right:  those methods probably won’t help for long, and are pretty unreliable in any case.  The good news is that those are not the only options after TSHTF

You may know that in the animal kingdom, God designed most animals so that they come into “season” or “heat”  at most two times a year.  What you may not know is that although human beings are fertile all year round, women actually have been designed with seasons too, though the human fertility cycle runs on a monthly, not yearly, basis. Everyone knows about “that time of the month”.  Not everyone knows that there are other, equally important parts to the human fertility cycle that are predictable, observable, and measurable.   With the aid of something to write on and a writing instrument, you can use these observable and measurable signs on a day to day basis to determine the fertile and infertile portions of a given cycle.   Using the knowledge of which part of the cycle she’s in on a given day, a couple can choose to avoid or achieve pregnancy.  This practice is called Natural Family Planning (NFP) or fertility awareness. 

There is over half a century of solid research underpinning the science of understanding, and the art of working with the human fertility cycle instead of against it.  You may have heard someone mention NFP or fertility awareness and dismissed it as a “glorified rhythm method”.  Unfortunately, if they’ve even ever heard of it, your doctor may have reinforced that notion.   The average American’s understanding of NFP is severely flawed,  and influenced heavily by the pharmaceutical industry’s consistent downplaying and misinformation campaign aimed squarely at your doctor.  By deciding to either abstain from or engage in sexual activity, on any given day, the method can be used to achieve or avoid/postpone pregnancy.  The best part is that NFP is actually just as effective as any form of hormonal birth control, with an effectiveness rating of 98% to 99%.  Even women with irregular menstrual cycles can reliably use NFP to achieve/avoid pregnancy.  It’s more effective than a condom or a diaphragm.  It’s free, and perpetual.  Once you know NFP, you can use it for the rest of your reproductive life without any adverse side effects, and you can teach it to your children when they get married.  You can’t “run out” of NFP.  It can even help couples who are having difficulty with trying to get pregnant, so it works both ways. 

There are several “flavors” of NFP, ranging from the simple to the fairly complex.  Whichever method you choose to learn, it’s important that you do not wait to start learning.  I strongly urge couples to start investigating this most basic of knowledge before TSHTF so that they can be prepared. While anyone can learn NFP (and I do mean anyone), learning it is akin to learning how to ride a bike, swim, or shoot.  You will have to learn about it, do it, and practice some more before you feel fully comfortable.  After TSHTF is not the time to try and figure it out on your own.  You don’t learn to swim when you fall out of the boat, and you don’t learn to shoot when you’re going hunting for the first time.

It’s best that, if at all possible, you find a teacher that can help you learn the symptoms and help you learn to reliably interpret your cycles.  It’s important to remember that NFP is not something that a woman is solely responsible for.  For NFP to work, the couple must be in agreement, and communicate on a daily basis. Once your understanding is firmly established, the effort that goes into observing, and charting is virtually unnoticed.  It will feel like a natural extension of your relationship with your spouse, and will have some interesting fringe benefits.  A key point to remember is that, although in the beginning it may seem daunting, the process is quite simple. Really, if you can learn to tie your shoes, you can learn NFP.  I promise.

There is nothing you need to stockpile for it other than something to write on and something to write with and perhaps if you are so inclined, a book or two for reference and teaching your children when the time comes for them to learn about the birds and bees.  You might consider getting certified to teach NFP to other couples through an association like the Couple-to-Couple League.  You can use the training to teach the other families in your community in case they didn’t prepare.  You might also seriously consider obtaining a supply of glass thermometers (instead of the digital, battery-powered kind) for several reasons.  Some of the NFP methods rely on cross-checking body temperature with the other signs.  Equally, though, if you want to be able to determine someone’s temperature to, say, check if they’re getting an infection from a wound or childbirth or a viral illness, a thermometer is important.  The old glass-mercury thermometers are generally not available [new] in the US, but alternatives do exist.  Glass thermometers are more accurate than digital, and have several other advantages:  no batteries to run down, no need for re-calibration after just a few years, they can be sterilized, and they might make a good trade-item later. 

Although God is the only real arbiter of new life, and all our plans are subject to Him, the  knowledge  of our fertility cycles gives us the ability to discern our actions.  Our families do not need to be beholden to pharmaceutical companies to “help” us control our God-given fertility.  When TSHTF, you don’t have to be afraid of the specter of more children than you can manage, or your wife  getting pregnant when it would seriously endanger her health.  You can learn how to work with a woman’s natural cycle to plan your family safely, reliably, effectively, and cheaply.

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