The death this week of Dr Evelyn Billings went largely unnoticed by most Catholics in the country and certainly by almost all Australians, outside of the relatively small number of individuals who carry out the work substantially started by herself and her husband, also a doctor, John Billings, teaching women and couples a new way of observing female fertility.
Paradoxically, while her death went largely unnoticed by Australian society, the work that the Billings began over half a century ago was to expand like a ripple on a pond and eventually affect the lives of millions of people around the globe positively by providing couples and women with key information enabling them to naturally and reliably space pregnancies or to conceive. In this sense, the death of Dr Evelyn Billings was momentous and it is ironic just how little Australia comprehends what an influence two suburban General Practitioners had on the rest of the world.
One thing – but only one – that was remarkable about the contributions of Dr Evelyn and her husband John to Catholic marriages and families was the way they provided an outstanding solution to a serious challenge facing the lives of Catholics everywhere in modern society: how to space pregnancy for the good of the spouses and their families without slipping into using unethical means so temptingly offered through means such as artificial contraception by a society that sees no ethical problem with them. Their work is still not understood enough.
However, although the name Billings is usually associated with something that is Catholic, and therefore often marginalised by health professionals and marriage educators, it would be a serious mistake to think the Billings method is only for Catholics.
In fact, it is for anyone who wants to use it, while its use in no way implies that one is some sort of crypto-Catholic.
One of the most interesting aspects to the development and spread of the Ovulation Method which the couple developed and refined is that it has quietly become more and more popular with couples of any faith or no faith at all who feel uncomfortable with the idea that women should be expected to pump their bodies with pharmaceuticals as a natural precondition for living as a woman in the 21st century.
Paradoxically, while many Catholics in Australia remain ignorant of the remarkable contributions of Dr Evelyn Billings and her husband to medical science and the subject of human fertility; and others, influenced by fashionable prejudices, turn almost naturally to artificial contraception; some, strongly concerned with and interested in environmental issues and natural solutions have been among the most enthusiastic users of the Billings Method.
For such people, a means which is highly successful, scientifically verified by numerous multi-country studies and which is, above all, natural has been an answer to their quest to ground their own spousal relationships and families in something they feel naturally at home with.
They, like the Billings, saw that being a woman is not a condition that needs to be medically treated.
Catholic solutions and approaches to the regulation of pregnancy have been regularly ridiculed by contemporary society as near-mediaeval and yet, ultimately, the joke was on the sceptics. In 2003, for example, The Record reported on news of the official backing and promotion of the Billings method throughout the nation by the government of China.
Faced with a serious population issue significantly magnified by its history of maintaining an inefficient state-run economy run according to Marxist-Leninist principles, the Chinese government realised its enforced one-child policy which relied on universal promotion of contraceptives was not working well, was costing the country a fortune and causing serious social problems through the policy of forced abortions.
In 2003, as a result, it was reported that there were approximately 37,000 Billings Ovulation Method teachers working throughout China, 2.7 million fertile couples using the Australian-developed method regularly and an accompanying significant drop in the rate of artificial abortions in regions where the method was used.
Meanwhile, it was estimated that approximately 32 per cent of couples previously diagnosed as infertile were able to give birth to a child.
There is another remarkable advantage to the work that Dr Evelyn Billings and her husband John produced: the strengthening of married and spousal relationships everywhere among couples who use their method.
Rather than making fertility the woman’s ‘responsibility,’ the Billings method encourages the male partner or spouse to become involved in the process of charting the woman’s fertility so that the fertility of the couple becomes a joint project, drawing the two together ever more closely.
In a very real sense it could be said that the strengthening of relationships and marriages – and therefore of families – was one of the Billings’s real children.
In a culture seemingly intent on savaging marriages, relationships, families and children, Dr Evelyn Billings was an outstanding, shining example of medicine at its finest and of the Catholic baptismal and marital vocation which produced extraordinary fruit for the good of all people. May eternal light shine upon her, and by God’s power, may she rest in peace.