Dr. Susan Caldwell
Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Fertility Appreciation Begins with Education
How did we come to believe that birth control is a good idea? I certainly understand why we thought it was a good idea at first. But now we have more than fifty years of experience and research that tell us that it was not such a great idea.
Birth control is the only prescription medication that is given with the intent to disrupt a normally functioning part of the human body.
Most women who have taken prescription birth control have done so without asking themselves why – they’ve simply trusted their doctor to give them something that is good for them. I believe that the reason why we continue to take birth control is summed up in one simple word – ignorance.
The vast majority of young women I encounter in my practice are completely clueless about what is happening to their bodies during their menstrual cycle. How would they know unless someone was there to teach them? Unfortunately, the ones who should be teaching them have generally not been taught themselves. Many of their “teachers” (their mothers and doctors) have blindly taken birth control to “regulate” their own periods or to “prevent pregnancy” without ever being taught about their own fertility. This lack of education has led to an enormous lack of appreciation for fertility. We have come to believe that we should manipulate our fertility according to our fleeting desires, rather than to understand our fertility as a facet of our health and wellness that deserves to be understood and protected.
Where should we begin? At the beginning, of course
When a little girl first discovers that she is female, she is ready to begin to understand her fertility. The purpose of our genitals is for generation of new life, both in the animal world and in human nature. Children come to learn this most basic lesson very easily with the help of loving parents and by observing the world around them. Little by little, children discover that their bodies can do amazing things. We should cultivate that wonder and awe that children naturally experience as they learn to express themselves through their bodies.
Puberty and beyond
When a girl enters puberty, her body begins to change in beautiful ways. There is an “awakening” of the glands in the brain which then invite the ovaries and uterus to respond. This complex system of communication between her brain and ovaries takes years to mature but eventually results in regular menstrual cycles for the young adult woman. We should appreciate this maturation just as we appreciate the healthy growth of the other systems of our bodies. When a girl begins having periods and her ovaries start making estrogen and progesterone, she should begin to learn about the marvelous effects of these hormones on her body. For example, when her ovaries are making large amounts of estrogen approaching the time of ovulation, she will notice a stretchy/sticky vaginal discharge when she wipes after urinating. This is a healthy sign that her body is learning to prepare an egg for ovulation. She can learn that she ovulates only once per month and that each egg that is released lives for 12-24 hours once it has been released from the ovary. Once the sticky mucus disappears, she can start counting the days until her period starts, usually 12-14 days later.
It is incredibly easy for a teen girl to notice and track the basic signs of her fertility. By doing so, she can celebrate her progress as she notices that this system is becoming more efficient as the months and years go by, assuring her that she is healthy. Alternately, if she recognizes that the signs of healthy fertility are not occurring, she can track these signs as part of an early warning system that her doctor can use to help diagnose a problem that may need to be treated.
Dating and Marriage
Once a young girl is confident about recognizing signs of her fertility as indicators of health, she is ready to consider her future as a wife and mother should she meet the right man. When she recognizes fertility as something to be treasured, she is more willing to protect her health by avoiding casual sexual encounters that could lead to disease or to her becoming a mother before she is ready. Fertility appreciation leads to an overall understanding that sex is for people who are mature and ready to be parents. She is less likely to consider sex until after she has committed herself wholly to a man who has earned that privilege as her husband. While the couple is dating and considering marriage, the woman or couple can attend classes in natural family planning so that more formal knowledge can help the couple to be more confident in identifying times of fertility/infertility so that (together) they can make decisions about building their family.
The man can share in the decision-making regarding family planning. At the same time, he can protect his beloved from being harmed by the side effects of artificial hormonal birth control. This shared method of fertility appreciation will build trust and intimacy between the spouses that will carry them through the ups and downs of married life. As an added bonus, the couple will then be well prepared to educate their children so that they will appreciate their own fertility one day.
Cherry Blossom Buds – a fertility awareness program for mothers and their daughters (ages 5-22years old)
The Wonder of Me (book)