Not Your Parents' Rhythm Method

I’m late to the party, but thought I should do my bit to promote NFP Awareness Week.
If you aren’t Catholic (and in a sad commentary on . . . lots of things, maybe even if you are) you may have no idea what NFP even is.  The doctor I went to see right after I was married didn’t.  Of course, that’s been a while back, so maybe the situation has improved.
NFP stands for Natural Family Planning, and it’s not your parents’ Rhythm Method, which didn’t work.  Learned properly and followed exactly, it’s just about as effective as the Pill.  Only it’s permitted by the Church and non-abortifacient, and if you don’t care about that stuff, maybe being able to avoid pregnancy AND possible blood clots and other unsavory consequences of bombarding your body with unnatural hormones for extended periods of time might pique your interest.
I remember my first exposure to NFP.  I was a Senior at Knoxville Catholic High School, in a co-ed class taught by a priest, and he showed us some goofy movie.  We heard the words “cervical mucus,” became disgusted and/or embarrassed, and quickly tuned out.  Now, I give him props for at least trying, but I can think of better ways to introduce the topic.  And because no groundwork had been laid beforehand (at least, not that I remember) to explain exactly WHY artificial contraceptives were wrong, other than “because the Church said so,” none of us understood the importance of what he was trying to teach us.
I was engaged to be married before I heard about NFP again, not in a marriage preparation class, but rather in a Christian Marriage class at Georgetown, which I took voluntarily as one of the classes I needed to get a minor in Theology.  This priest had us read Certain Declarations Concerning Sexual Ethics, Familiaris Consortio, and Humanae Vitae before we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  These books changed my attitude and shaped my future life (and John’s, which he didn’t much appreciate since he was not a Catholic at the time!).
I’m not going to go into the details and the science because if you are truly interested and want to know you can Google the links as well as I can.  I can only share with you the freedom of knowing that you  are 1) following the law of the Church; 2) not polluting your body with chemicals; 3) not interfering with intimacy by the use of unpleasant and inconvenient devices.  Given today’s value for doing things naturally, I’m surprised that more people don’t embrace NFP for purely ecological reasons.
Well, you say, but it doesn’t work.  You have five children and everyone I know who writes about NFP has at least that many if not more.  I don’t want five children.
I didn’t want five children either.  I wanted ten.  See how I don’t have ten?  John didn’t want ten.  That’s called compromise.  I’ve been married for not quite 25 years.  If NFP doesn’t work, why do I only have five children?  Do you think that six-year space between Teddy and William was just luck?
Teddy's Graduation

Obamacare Revisited

I know I just updated recently but I have some things I really wanted to post about and I don’t feel like waiting!
Let’s start with the not-so-good parts, because while want people to see the enormous good in our Obamacare experience I lose credibility if I insist this new health care system is perfect.
I already told you that four out of seven of us were approved for subsidies and enrolled in a plan, while the other three were inexplicably deemed ineligible. And when I say inexplicable, I mean not only can I not understand it, neither can any of the Healthcare.gov customer service people I’ve spoken to. Anyway, I appealed this decision, through a formal process that involved submitting all sorts of paperwork. I think I had 30 days to do that, which means I probably did it in February some time. A couple of months ago I got a phone call about my appeal, and then last week I got a letter saying to expect a call at a certain date and time, and to be prepared with the information they wanted. Well, the day came and I waited and waited and they never called me. I called the next day and spoke to a very nice and very confused woman who finally figured out that they called Teddy instead of me even though it said RIGHT IN THE LETTER that they would be calling my number. So she fixed the number and said the next thing that will happen is that I will get a letter setting a formal telephone hearing. So we’ll see.
In the meantime, the Marketplace wrote me and they want MORE financial information, which is the second time since I applied that they’ve asked for more information, and I they want check stubs for everyone in the house who works, which is kind of difficult since two of us are self-employed. So there is no denying that it’s the government, and a bureaucracy, and that I (or you) could run it better. (Not that private insurance companies are any better, and that’s a moot point anyway for the many Americans who are uninsurable or can’t afford insurance–so you take the bad with the good.)
But on the bright side . . . Last week I went into the doctor’s office for a fasting blood draw, in preparation for yesterday’s checkup, which my doctor set for three months out from the last one. When I walked in she told me that basically I had reversed every single problem I arrived with. 🙂 She was so impressed that she gave me a hug! My blood pressure has gone down to borderline, my cholesterol is just two points shy of normal, my blood sugar dropped nine points, and my triglycerides dropped over 100 points. And . . . I’ve lost 27 pounds, without being on any official regimented diet, and WITHOUT BEING HUNGRY.
Now, some people might say that Obamacare doesn’t deserve the credit for this, but let me tell you a story. Six years ago I had my last checkup and got blood work done. At that time all of the above factors were close to what they are now, so above where they should be but not yet dangerously so. But because I did not have insurance, that one appointment was all I got. No one offered me any suggestions. They said, “We’ll keep an eye on it,” but how could they when I couldn’t afford regular checkups and blood work? This time, I’ve seen my doctor three times, the wellness nurse three times, and the nutritionist once. The nutritionist will continue to monitor me and do bloodwork every three months to track my progress. Moreover, they gave me the suggestions and the support I needed to succeed. This is what preventive medicine is all about. Without it, people bumble along and get fatter and sicker and end up in emergency rooms having heart attacks, or going on disability, costing ALL of us money (not to mention the cost in human misery, which is far more important to me). This kind of care makes sense and I am so grateful to be benefiting from it.

Me, Happy to Be Insured and Getting Healthy
Me, Happy to Be Insured and Getting Healthy

For more on our journey from being uninsured to becoming healthy, and on my views on Obamacare in general, see the links below.
The $64,000 Question, Answered
Who Are the Uninsured?
Uninsured No More
ObamaCare Update
ObamaCare Update 2
ObamaCare:  My Latest Update

Obamacare: My Latest Update

I went to Walgreens yesterday to pick up some prescription refills that I had called in.  I drove up to the window and gave my name and the guy said, “It looks like there are ten of them.”  He rang them all up and I held my breath and he said, “That will be $36.20.”
Y’all, when I got home I looked at where the info sheet for each prescription says, “Your insurance saved you . . . ” and I got out my calculator and do you know how much those ten prescriptions would have cost me last year?  $590.30.
That’s a WIN for Obamacare, folks.  Those were maintenance prescriptions (and there are six more that didn’t need filling) for two members of our family who were uninsured this time last year.  One of them had in fact been declared uninsurable.  We got medicine through mail order programs; we filled out numerous Patient Assistance Forms and took them to doctor’s offices to get help from the drug manufacturers; sometimes we just went without the medicines that I (as the family health expert) decided were non-essential.
I’m used to getting soul-crushing news from the Walgreens clerk, but now our most expensive prescription is about $70.  (That’s the one we used to go without.) More usually, I now pay five or ten dollars.
John has now had his first doctor’s appointment and a visit with the nutritionist.  If you’ll recall, he was diagnosed with diabetes a couple of years back.  As a self-paying patient, he didn’t get much attention from his doctor when this happened.  He was told of this enormously life-changing diagnosis over the phone, and they called in a prescription for him.  He wasn’t offered any education or told to change his diet.  And although I was pretty sure he needed to do something different, I didn’t know enough about it to help him.  (Nor did any recommendations I attempted to make carry the same authority as a doctor’s orders would have.) So he continued to eat the same way as before–which was pretty much a “Hey, let’s get diabetes!” kind of diet.  And after some improvement due to the medication, he started getting worse again.
But our new doctor’s office is all about prevention and treating underlying causes, not just slapping medicine on an illness like a band-aid.  “Food will be your medicine,” the nutritionist told him.  And so John finally committed to going on the low-carb regime I’ve been following for the last couple of months.  It’s been very hard for him for a variety of reasons, but he’s been doing it for almost two weeks and last time he weighed he was already down 12 pounds!  (And he feels better, too.)  That’s giving him the motivation to keep going.
I convinced Jake that even though he is not sick he should get a check up (it’s free, after all!) and become established as a patient in advance of future need.  So he had his first visit with our new doctor yesterday.  When his TennCare was about to expire, just a little over a year ago, I took him for a last minute check up.  What he really wanted was a prescription for an asthma inhaler, something he needs infrequently, but does need when he needs it!  The TennCare doctor could not prescribe this without giving him some kind of test which was not available at her office and had to be scheduled at the hospital.  By the time it was approved and then scheduled, his TennCare had expired.  I am happy to say that his new doctor called in an inhaler prescription for him that was ready by yesterday afternoon.
There shouldn’t be a set of assumptions about people who are on TennCare which influences the care they receive.  There shouldn’t be different levels of care for people who have insurance and those who don’t.  But that was our reality, and Obamacare has changed that for our family.
For more on our journey from being uninsured to becoming healthy, and on my views on Obamacare in general, see the links below.
The $64,000 Question, Answered
Who Are the Uninsured?
Uninsured No More
ObamaCare Update
ObamaCare Update 2

Walking in South Knoxville 2: The William Hastie Natural Area

Years ago, when my big kids were little, any walking I did consisted of pushing a double stroller around our South Knoxville (Lake Forest) neighborhood, Emily walking at my side.  I couldn’t go very fast, but I got exercise on the hills!
Occasionally, we’d make it as far as the dead end at Post Oak Road.  This intrigued us, because where the road ended there were some rocks blocking a KUB access road, and we were very curious about that path and where it might lead.  So curious, in fact, that when the kids were old enough to go walking sans stroller, the five of us walked it to where it ended at Margaret Lane, a little road off Sevierville Pike.  Along the way we spotted a sinkhole with an abandoned car in it and the body of a raccoon frozen solid by a pond.  Ah, memories.
Needless to say, things have changed at what is now officially the William Hastie Natural Area.  Y’all, you are going to amazed at all the wild and empty land that’s back there.  I am once again so proud of Knoxville for saving this land for all of us to enjoy instead of attempting to level the hills to plant some bland subdivisions.
Hastie 5
That’s the sign at the end of Post Oak Road, but I wouldn’t recommend you start there.  In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend you drive down there at all if you don’t live there, because not only is there nowhere to park, it will require about a 15-point turn to get yourself out of the dead end.  Instead, you want to drive to the end of Margaret Lane, but be careful, because the official entrance includes a very narrow road.
Hastie 9
You’ll find these helpful signs at every trailhead in the South Loop system.  And what’s even better, there’s an app for that!  Yes, there is.  It’s called PDF Maps, and it’s free.  You are going to want to go here for instructions and how to get it.  You will show up on it as a little moving dot, so you can’t get lost!
Another tip as you start walking these trails:  there are signs marking the difficulty of the trails.  But pay no attention to these if you are walking.  They are geared toward the bikers, and the challenges to someone riding a bike are very different.  I haven’t had any trouble on trails that had the highest difficulty level.
We have done approximately half of the trails contained in the William Hastie Natural Area.  Here are a few things we saw that day:
Hastie 2
I just love taking pictures of paths.  I do it almost every time we go walking.
Hastie 3
Hastie 4
Wildflowers are a big attraction on every path in the South Loop system so far.
Hastie 6
These fallen trees were near the top of the trail that leads into the View Park neighborhood.  There the trail system continues through Marie Myers Park, but that’s a story for another day.
Hastie 8
Emily rescued this little fellow from possible death by bike by moving him to the side of the trail.
Here’s the pond now, with no raccoons in evidence, frozen or otherwise:
WH 7
Next time, maybe I will write about the Forks of the River trails, or the Ijams trails, or maybe the ones in the private land easement near Anderson School.  There are so many!
But don’t just take my word for it, y’all.  Virtual tours are nice, but no substitute for actually being there, and reading about walking isn’t exercise.  I started getting healthy barely over two months ago.  Slight hills were torture.  I started with mile-long walks on paved trails.  Yesterday we did about four miles, in warm weather, with lots of evil hills.  I’ve lost at least twenty pounds. and there’s great satisfaction in feeling your muscles do what God meant them to do.

Obamacare Update 2

As promised, I will continue to update you on our family’s journey out of the ranks of the uninsured thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  Here’s where we are now:  John, Emily, Jake, and I are fully insured through BCBST.  Lorelei and William remain on TennCare which seems to be in a kind of limbo status–we haven’t heard anything from them in months.  Teddy remains uninsured but I have been contacted regarding my appeal, so we’ll see.  I really think it’s a glitch of some kind.
If you did not purchase a policy on the Marketplace because you were afraid the outlay for the monthly premium would outstrip the value of the health care received, let me tell you a few less obvious benefits of having insurance, some of which I did not know until I had it.
1.  When you visit any doctor, even the Walgreens clinic, YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY UP FRONT.  That’s right, they send you a bill.  So you don’t have to forgo medical care if you are short on cash on a particular day.  Yay!
2.  You reap the benefits of something called the “negotiated rate.”  That means everything is cheaper for you, even before your deductible is met, than it would be for an uninsured person.  Medicines cost less.  Doctor visits cost less.  That above-mentioned trip to the Walgreens clinic costs an uninsured person $90.  It cost us $60.
3.  You have access to more doctors.  When we had TennCare, it was easy to pick a doctor because there just weren’t that many who accepted it.  And many of the ones who did accept it would not have been my first (or second, or third) choice.  And get this:  at our former practitioner’s office, TennCare patients HAD to see the nurse practitioner instead of the doctor.  We happened to like the NP, but it still felt like we were being told we weren’t worthy of the actual doctor.
John is having his first visit with the doctor today.  Jake and Emily have checkups scheduled for next month.  Jake has been to the Walgreens clinic and another specialist already. We have purchased MANY prescriptions.  And I have had FIVE visits with health care providers since March.  That’s more visits than I normally have in five years, and I’m not exaggerating.  John has met his deductible, and I believe the family one was met as of yesterday.
Now on a more personal level, how is this benefiting us?  Well, I went to the emergency room a couple of years ago because I was worried about the possibility of a blood clot in my chronically sore and swollen leg.  Why the emergency room?  Because that is where people with no insurance go for health care.  I tried to go to the doctor I occasionally saw only to be told that I was no longer considered their patient because I had not been there in two or three years.  Anyway, there was no blood clot; I was told to follow up with my (non-existent) regular doctor; and I’ve continued to suffer.
At my first check up with my new doctor, she prescribed a mild diuretic.  It was like a miracle.  The swelling is greatly reduced, my blood pressure went down, my energy doubled.  If I’d had health insurance, I would have gotten this little pill years ago.
I used to lie awake in bed at night worrying that when I went to the doctor (I was counting down the months and days until the ACA went into effect) that there was going to be something really wrong with me.  I had strange feelings (attributable to high blood pressure, and GONE thanks to that little pill) that caused me anxiety.  When you don’t have insurance you are afraid to see a doctor even if you can afford one because what if they find something wrong which becomes a pre-existing condition and makes you uninsurable down the road?  But I don’t have to worry about that any more.  NO ONE DOES.  Because there is no punishment for pre-existing conditions under the ACA.  And there’s no more uninsurable either.  I also don’t have to worry about it because I got it checked out.  I had an EKG and now I know I am okay.
As I mentioned in the last update, I had my first check up (check ups are free under my plan, by the way) in mid-March.  That’s when I got the little pill.  I also had blood drawn.  I came back two weeks later for the EKG, and to discuss the results of the blood work.  I was low on Vitamin D so I got another pill (a much bigger pill!).  My glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure all need to come down.  Did my doctor throw more pills at me?  No, instead she set up an appointment with the wellness nurse (for exercise) and the nutrition nurse.  I’ve seen the wellness nurse twice (that’s $20 each time) and the nutritionist once (six visits per year are included in my plan).  I’ve learned about a new way to eat (I will write on that separately later) and I am walking regularly (as you might have surmised).  I won’t know if my levels have gone down (and I’ve been warned that sometimes they go up before they go down) until my next check up toward the end of June.  But I do know that I feel great and that I’ve lost 15 lbs.
I know that this story is only a personal anecdote, but remember, so are the Obamacare horror stories that you see in your newsfeed.  That’s why I’m speaking out on this very personal topic.
John is at the doctor as I write.  If he will allow it, I will include some of his story next time I update.  I promise to keep you posted.
If you want to read this story from the beginning, see below:
Who Are the Uninsured?
Uninsured No More
Obamacare Update

Uninsured No More

Since I’ve come out supporting the Affordable Care Act, with reservations, both here and on Facebook, and have publicly stated that my family would be applying for coverage, I thought I should let you know that as of February 1st I have joined the ranks of the insured at last!
You will see and probably have already see “Obamacare” horror and success stories in the media.  I am going to share my family’s story, and I hope you know you can trust me to be honest.  There will be no slant here, just anecdotal evidence of how this has worked out for one family.
I was excited to sign up for health care as soon as the website opened.  And that website was just as much of a mess as you may have heard.  The dysfunction could hardly be exaggerated.  I finally managed to get registered but even after days of trying could not log back in.  I figured I had plenty of time to sign up so I decided to come back and try again after the glitches were fixed.
Well, you can imagine what happened, given that the deadline for January 1st coverage was December 23, right in the middle of Christmas preparations.  I waited too long, didn’t realize how much there was to the application process, and had to settle for getting covered in February instead.
That said, the log in problem was solved with a phone call.  The process still had some glitches, definitely, but I was able to get help for all of them from customer service, and the wait times were short.  If you plan to apply, be aware that they are going to need all kinds of detailed financial information about everyone in your family who makes money.  One of the problems I had with the application was that it seemed to be impossible to leave it and come back where you left off.  The info was saved, but you had to click through all the screens again, not exactly a tragedy but a pain.
Once through the screening process, our results were mixed.  John, me, Emily, and Jake are all covered together.  William and Lorelei are supposed to be able to stay on TennCare.  Teddy was deemed ineligible.  I’m afraid he might be falling in that Medicaid hole caused by Tennessee’s refusal to fully participate.  I called a counselor, who said the results did not make sense to her, and I am appealing that part of it.
But in the meantime, four people in my family, four people who were completely without health coverage, are now insured.  About 15 monthly prescriptions are now covered.  A person declared “uninsurable” 13 years ago now has insurance.  All the pre-existing conditions don’t matter.  I can stop being afraid to go to the doctor for fear that they will find something wrong that will disqualify me from being insured down the road.
We did not choose the cheapest plan.  With subsidies we could have gotten one for about $85/month.  You can decide what level of coverage you want, what doctors you want on the plan, what your premium would be, what your deductible will be.  There are many, many plans to choose from.
We picked a plan with a $600 deductible per FAMILY.  With a $4,000 out-of-pocket limit for the year.  With free yearly check-ups, and pretty much 80% coverage of everything once the deductible is met.  Every doctor we care about accepts our plan.  We will pay $272/month.
Even with all the glitches, that’s a success story for us.  I’m going to be shopping for a primary care physician and I’m going to make appointments for the four of us with every kind of doctor we have ever wanted to see.
If you haven’t applied yet, it’s not too late to see what kind of deal YOU can get.  Go to www.healthcare.gov and apply before February 15 to be covered by March 1!

Why Do Catholics Contracept and What Can the Church Do about It?

Someday I’ll write a post about lies, damned lies, and statistics so you will know that the “98% of Catholic women use artificial birth control” you’ve seen bandied about as though it were gospel is a distorted statistic turned damned lie.  I’ve already written one in which I touched on how it doesn’t matter if every self-identified Catholic on the planet uses birth control; the Church isn’t a democracy–it’s here to proclaim the truth, not to succumb to the culture.
However, it is sad but true that most Catholics ignore the Church’s teaching on this issue.  And while I’m in no position to know the hearts of every contracepting Catholic out there, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of painful soul-searching and conscience-forming going on.  And the failure of the majority of even weekly mass-goers to adhere to this teaching cannot be solely blamed on them.  True, we are all products of a culture that puts things before people and gives us all kinds of messages about why small families are desirable and that artificial contraception is the way to achieve that.  But our Church has a much more compelling message, full of truth and wisdom and beauty, and it’s not being heard.  Why?
It’s not being HEARD, because it’s not being spoken.  By the Vatican, yes.  In the teachings, yes.  By teachers and parents and priests, from whom the majority of Catholics receive their catechesis?  Not so much.
Speaking for myself, I remember knowing, without knowing HOW I knew this, that the Church believed birth control was wrong.  I also recall having the definite impression that this was some old-fashioned idea we were all free to ignore.  Everyone used birth control, right?  In high school we watched some squicky movie about Natural Family Planning but all that cervical mucus talk was a big turn-off.  No one ever told me, NOT ONCE, why birth control was wrong.
What changed my mind?  I took a Christian Marriage class in college.  I read Humanae Vitae.  I squirmed uncomfortably as I read it, realizing that it made a lot of sense, that a Church with 2,000 years of Tradition and brilliant theologians and the Holy Spirit to back it all up probably was more trustworthy than the current culture I’d been raised in.  I could feel my conscience pricking me as I properly informed it.  But it wasn’t all negative–not at all!  The teaching was beautiful!  The Church’s vision of marriage and family–we read Familiaris Consortio as well–was so elevated compared to the world’s!  As I read, I was thinking, “Why did no one ever tell me this?  Why doesn’t everyone know this?”
I was already engaged–to a Protestant (at that time) who did not want children right away and did not (then) buy into all these “new” ideas I was sharing.  Fortunately, my Christan Marriage class also required that we read The Art of Natural Family Planning.  I was ready to read it then and I was sold.  I was able to convince my husband-to-be based on the science behind the method.  Not that our path to conforming to this teaching was smooth and easy–following your conscience can be hard.
What’s wrong with this picture?  I went to Catholic schools for 12 years.  I attended Mass every Sunday and lots of other days besides.  But I had to be a Senior in college taking a non-required class to hear this message.
My Catholic-school educated kids have heard a lot more.  They’ve gotten an earful from me, of course, but they’ve also heard at least some of this in their religion classes in high school.  I’m sorry to say though that if what they tell me is true, Catholic moral instruction should be starting a lot earlier.  And what about kids who get one hour of CCD a week?
I’m sure they go over all this in Engaged Encounters, but let’s get real.  Most of those couples are sexually active and contracepting already.
I have never, ever heard a priest address this from the pulpit.  NEVER.  I’ve heard there are some that do, but it’s rare.  Why?  For starters, a lot of them don’t buy into it themselves.  Or they feel that as celibates they cannot speak to this with authority.   My husband and I once went to discuss a disagreement we were having over family planning–not HOW but WHEN–with one of our priests.  Almost the first words out of his mouth were, “You know you can follow your conscience in family planning matters.”
Finally, does anyone want to tell all the people at Mass that somewhere around 85% of the sexually active ones need to confess their contraceptive use and change their ways before they approach the altar for Communion?  Of course they don’t.
But they need to.  If the recent brouhaha over insurance coverage for contraceptives has shown us anything, it’s demonstrated that even Catholics who dissent from these teachings respect the Church for holding fast to them even in opposition to most of their faithful.  Maybe, just maybe, if the Church would be as brave about proclaiming the teaching to its flock as it has been about defending it from the wider culture, more people might take it seriously!
I would never argue against the primacy of conscience.  But if you haven’t prayerfully studied Humane Vitae, the Catechism, and other Church teachings on these issues, your dissent is based on ignorance, not conscience.  If you would never, ever eat meat on Friday during Lent, but you swallow a birth control pill every day without thinking twice about it, maybe you should.