By Jo Bell
In 1953, Drs John and Lyn Billings began developing the teaching of the Billings Ovulation Method, based on the woman’s recognition of her fertility by observing the pattern of the discharge and sensation at the vulva as it changes throughout the cycle.
The publication of Humanae Vitae in 1968 gave them great encouragement; ‘since man cannot find true happiness – to which he aspires with all his being – other than in respect of the laws written by God in his very nature, laws which he must observe with intelligence and love.’ (Humanae Vitae No. 31)
As John Billings often said, “We did not create the method, because it exists in nature, and we found it there.” John began by collecting the observations of many women, verifying the fertile time accurately as couples used the method to achieve pregnancy.
Considerable scientific validation came with the research of Professor James Brown, a biochemist from New Zealand.
Not a Catholic, Professor Brown was impressed by the logic and loving message of HumanaeVitae, and moved his research to Melbourne, where he has made more than 75,000 measurements of the ovulation hormones over the past 40 years, providing a solid base of scientific evidence to validate the interpretation of the women’s observations.
Further scientific validation came when Professor Eric Odeblad, a biophysicist from Sweden, contributed his research on the cervix and the cervical mucus, which explained much about the changing patterns of discharge observed by the woman in the course of a fertile cycle.
In 1978, an international conference was held in Melbourne to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. Welcoming delegates from 47 different countries, John Billings notes that since Paul VI exhorted scientists, medical people and couples to work together (on NFP) … ‘a truly great work for the world’, the response has exceeded the most optimistic expectations.
Not only had a reliable method for achieving or avoiding pregnancy been developed, but great benefits were achieved in marriages and families by fostering communication, understanding, mutual decision making, responsibility and unselfish love between husbands and wives.
Bishop Thomas Stewart, a missionary from Korea, spoke of the ‘Happy Families Movement’ he formed to teach the Billings Method in his diocese 4 years previously.
He had 8,250 couples using the method, 5,000 of whom were not Catholic. He describes ‘many and varied fruits to be seen…’ including couples becoming Catholic, or returning to the Church, and ‘many people have told us that their marriage and family life have improved greatly’.
Far from being an imposition on Catholics, the BOM was actually proving to be an evangelising tool. Ten years later, at another international conference in Sydney in 1988, delegates from all over the world celebrated 20 years of ‘Teaching the Truth with Love’… as exhorted in Humanae Vitae, and re-iterated in Familiaris Consortio by Pope John Paul II.
I remember the leader of the Korean delegation describing the benefits of the BOM in creating family strength and stability in a society which was suffering from the breakdown of the traditional extended family values, by encouraging a caring unselfish love between husband and wife, and deeper respect for children.
At the same conference, Dr Hanna Klaus from the US, also a religious sister, provided convincing evidence that her ‘Teen Star’ program, instructing disadvantaged teenagers in the BOM, considerably reduced not only the pregnancy rate, but the incidence of promiscuous sexual activity, since they gained a new self respect. To quote John Billings again; “The unique love which has inspired the commitment of husband and wife to each other is embodied in their child, who becomes a source of peace and happiness to us all.”
Twenty years on, in 2008, the wisdom of Humanae Vitae still inspires us, in a world in which the ‘culture of death’ has taken an even greater hold.
However, the evangelising work of the BOM continues, assisted by that indispensible tool of the 21st century, the Internet!
World-wide websites and the accessibility of most places by air travel have enabled amazing advances of the BOM into most corners of the world… even the People’s Republic of China. But that’s another story…
– Jo Bell is an accredited Billings Method instructor and a Veterinary doctor living and working in Perth.