Dr. John Billings’ opening discussion at the July 94 London conference on Natural Family Planning was a detailed explanation about the scientific verification of the Ovulation Method along with a brief history of how the method was developed.
Billings began his clinical research in 1953 by poring over detailed medical literature. He discovered writing on cervical mucus secretion which dated back more than a hundred years, yet little attention had been paid to this information. It was from this that Billings began more intensive study of mucus secretions by questioning women about their menstrual cycles and having them record what they saw and felt.
He paid particular attention to the cycles in which these women became pregnant and, since acts of intercourse were also recorded, he was able to ascertain when conception occurred. From this he was able to develop guidelines for avoiding conception.
During this time Professor Jim Brown had been developing a technique for measuring estrogen levels in the blood and urine. Brown, a chemist working at the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom, specialized in the chemistry of ovarian hormones. Brown Researched the hormonal patterns of women on the Pill. In studying these patterns, he discovered that the Pill suppresses the development of normal hormones produced by the body. In seeing the harmful effects which it caused to women, Brown hoped that his technique could be used in developing a natural method of family planning that would be as effective as the Pill.
Referring to his good fortune in being able to work with Professor Brown, Dr. Billings said, “Professor Brown was plucked by an angel by the hair of his head and dropped alongside us in Melbourne.” Brown’s technique had become recognized worldwide and he agreed to use his expertise to evaluate the Ovulation Method, confirming the accuracy of the observations women had made of their cycles and of Billings conclusions.
In 1964, following almost 10 years of intensive research, Dr. Billings published The Ovulation Method.
It wasn’t until 1966 that his wife, Dr. Lyn Billings joined her husband in his work. She has since been an integral part in assisting the further development of the Method. Research has progressed to study women’s cycles in all different circumstances throughout their reproductive lives, including breast feeding, apparent infertility and menopause.
In the early 1970’s providence struck the Billings once more in the person of Dr. Erik Odenblad, from Sweden. At the time Billings began his research in Australia, Odeblad was beginning his research into the physical properties of the secretion produced by the cervix. In Sweden, he was expected to perform abortions if he wished to make any progress in his field but he refused to perform abortions and went back to the study of physics.
Odenblad’s initial interest on the mucus secretion was to develop a more effective birth control pill to eliminate abortion. However, as his research developed, he discovered that the Pill was in fact damaging the cervix and created a risk to a woman’s fertility.
As a result, he abandoned his research contraceptive development. Following his initial meeting with the Billings, he returned to Sweden and examined his research in conjunction with the clinical research of the Billings. Odenblad’s meticulous examination confirmed that the guidelines of the Billings method were correct.
From very early on, Billings realized that his Ovulation Method could be used not only in helping couples to avoid pregnancy but also to help achieve pregnancy. The Method is not contraception, it is simply the knowledge of female fertility which allows couples to adjust their behaviour to meet their needs. The method allows a couple to plan the size and spacing of their family and it assists infertile couples.
Natural Family Planning has contributed enormously to the growth of understanding reproductive biology and (the Ovulation Method in particular) has been the subject of an immense amount of scientific research. The collaboration of Professor Brown, a Presbyterian-Methodist, Dr. Odeblad, a Lutheran, and the Billings, Roman Catholics, has resulted in what Billings calls “a very ecumenical method.”
Introducing the NFP method to China
Drs. John and Lyn Billings went to China in 1986 and have since returned three times to educate doctors about Natural Family Planning. It is now being taught and used by women in several major Chinese cities, though most of China has no access to this information.
Elizabeth Neilsen, The Interim
China is a nation known for its huge population and for its repressive “one child per family” policy. Women who become pregnant following the birth of their first child are required to have an abortion. And yet, despite this harsh policy, China has shown surprising interest in the Billings Ovulation Method.
Family planning agencies in China acknowledge the problems associated with current birth control methods. As well as the high failure rates, many women cannot use conventional contraceptive methods because of health concerns. It is to the credit of their medical staff that there is an openness to learning natural methods to deal with these conditions.
In the early 1970’s requests for information about the method were made by Chinese medical staff to the Australian government. Receiving little assistance they approached the World Health Organization. As a result, WHO was encouraged to do a five country study of the Ovulation Method. Completed in 1982, this study proved an effectiveness rate of 98.5% of the time which demonstrated convincing evidence of the reliability of the Ovulation Method.
Drs. John and Lyn Billings went to China in 1986 and have since returned three times to educate doctors about Natural Family Planning. It is now being taught and used by women in several major Chinese cities, though most of China still has no access to this information. A written application has been recently submitted by a group of Chinese doctors, to their government, asking for permission to set up training centres for the certification of teachers. Once teachers are trained, the Ovulation Method can be taught throughout the country.
Dr. Billings is confident that the introduction of the NFP in China has resulted in some reduction of the abortion rate and with its greater acceptance, the abortion rate will continue to decline.