To conceive or not ro conceive


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Category: Women Date: 17 Mar 96

On the evening I met Mariane I had decided that for International Women’s day I was going to be generous to my own sex. We are our own ruin. Unlike men who group together so naturally, our meetings have undertones of envy and distrust. We go for the gentle kill: “Did you see that dress?”


I know that we can agree exactly what men are like and why we love and hate them. I have shared, with other women, painful experiences, out of which the laughter flowed. I have been part of communicating until we relaxed into ourselves. Not daughters or mothers, girlfriends or employees, just ourselves. There was a time when women friends were our life line. We have so much in common. Wiping babies bottoms one minute, attending corporate meetings the next, guiding 21st century man out of cave man machismo, the shared knowledge of childbirth, our helplessness against domestic violence, an instinctive humanity which recoils against brutality and violence. We should be ashamed of not liking one another more.


My new resolve gathered momentum that morning at the gym. A group of women in the weights room covertly observed a body builder whose agonised cries at each heave of the four, five, six, hundred pound barbell filled the room. He had a certain cadence and rhythm: Aaaaaah aaaaaah aaah. I looked around. Every woman smiled. So when one among us told the bodybuilder: “You sounding just like a woman giving birth, man,” we all dropped our little weights and cracked up. That laughter acknowledges that even the toughest couldn’t do what we do: there is power in bringing a child into the world, nurturing and shaping, and sending that child out into the offices and streets of the world. One of us produced him.


That evening at a party, I met Mariane, tall and graceful, with intense eyes and a thick shock of auburn hair. She didn’t look like a mid-wife, or mother of six. She teaches women about contraception which is natural but scientific, has no side effects, cost nothing, is 98 percent safe. It is sanctioned by the church. When I hear the church allied with family planning, I associate it with some ploy that would deny women contraceptives, and leave them with a bunch of children they can’t afford. But in my new mode, I was prepared to listen.


She didn’t have to tell me the side effects of the pill: nausea, vomiting weight gain, depression. What about the coil? She said, “As a foreign body in the womb, it irritates the lining of the womb so the fertilised egg cannot implant; it acts like an abortifacient, not a contraceptive.” That’s what it was supposed to do, but the side effects? She rolled them off: heavy bleeding, menstrual cramps, infection in the tubes which could lead to infertility. Hmmm. What’s this method of yours?


Billings, named after the doctor who discovered it. A woman identifies her fertile time by observing a discharge she experiences every month. During this time she refrains from intercourse. This means that she has control over her body. Many women use it without even knowing what it’s called. The method is scientific, even the Chinese Government which limits couples to one child has sanctioned it, and the World Health Organisation supports it.


Then she says with the pill, a lot of women have reported loss of sex, ah, ah, ah we both began looking for words. I suggested drive? She said passion. I said, is it scientific? She said she didn’t know, but hundreds of women have told her they’ve gone cold and their husbands feel rejected. Some seek “companionship” elsewhere. It contributes to the break up of marriage. She remembers the word “libido.”

“Billings help that?”

Well yes, because with Billings, you have to refrain from intercourse in your fertile days. It’s human nature: because you are always available, after a while you lose interest. When you abstain, expectation is heightened and so the entire experience is being renewed every month. You’re in charge, men respect that. It helps women in transient relationships to test their partner’s commitment...

“Infertility,” says Mariane, “is one of the most distressing experiences a couple can undergo. A woman who is longing for a child is like a man who wants a job and can’t get one. The sight of a pregnant woman or a newborn baby is painful. She feels barren, it may not be true but she can’t help it. Regardless of which partner is technically infertile, the woman takes the blame and says she can’t have children.”


Mariane says that although medical science has helped couples conceive, very often women who are examined for infertility feel dehumanised by the battery of procedures. The Billings method has given many despairing couples new hope.

“For women whose mucus is scant, it means that their fertility is diminished (since the mucus keeps the sperm alive) and if a couple want to conceive, they need to be very aware for signs of it and try for pregnancy immediately.”

By complete chance, Emile Elias, (president of the FPA,) called me on the day I was writing this. I asked him if he’d heard of Billings.

“Billings!” he expostulated, “Have I heard of Billings?” Then “Have you heard of Russian Roulette, of Billings babies?” He said he met Dr and Dr (Mrs) Billings at a seminar organised by the Archbishop some years ago. “They have eleven children.”

Emile acknowledges that the method has a proven scientific base, that it can be used to bring about pregnancy for infertile couples, but it is too complicated to work as a contraceptive.

“Can you imagine telling women, ‘Examine yourself for viscosity and the colour of discharge everyday with a torchlight’?”


He is also angry about the fact that Billings practitioners propagate false information to encourage people to use the method. And finally he asks, “Why do we trivialise a serious issue like family planning, population, the environment and the world, by arguing about the most natural way to prevent pregnancy when the object is to prevent it anyway.” Doctors also don’t like Billings. They link it to the rhythm or temperature method. Mariane: “They think women are not capable of reading their signs of fertility which is an insult to women’s intelligence. They also think men are incapable of abstaining for any period of time, which is reducing a man to an animal, which he’s not. With Billings the woman takes control over her body and fertility from the medical profession. Women often complain that doctors don’t listen, they just pronounce on you. Doctors are so dependent on modern technology that they don’t recognise our intuitive knowledge. We need their medical and scientific expertise, but they can’t treat us as if we are machines.”


Marianne and Emile. They are passionate about their work, because they believe it is much larger than an argument over contraceptives. They understand that they are dealing with life force. With power over their own fertility, women as a united group could control world population and poverty, and ensure that there is the time to pass on innate, essential humanity to the next generations.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur