Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Last week, the women around the world had celebrated the #thxBirthControl Day. Showing their appreciation to their birth control of choice and how it transformed their lives to the better. The practice of birth control, although might seem like a modern one, it actually is not. Birth control practices are well documented in both ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia 1550 BC. Historically, women had used plant leaves, stones, and even honey to prevent pregnancy. And in societies where abortion was not stigmatized, abortion was used as a form of birth control, too. Modern birth control methods had, with no doubt, a huge impact on our history as women. It allowed a lot of women to continue their education, to have a career, to follow their dreams, and to dare! It is no secret that mine and my partner’s birth control of choice is the symptothermal method of Fertility awareness. The journey that led us to choosing this method was –and still is- an evolving wonderful one, and here are 3 reasons why:
Partner’s involvement and shared responsibility:
The responsibility of bearing a child has been – for the most part of our history as humankind- a woman’s responsibility. And even though we might have had that idea growing up, the simple truth is: IT TAKES TWO TO MAKE A BABY. This shared responsibility and level of involvement can look different from one couple to another. FAM is unique in which both partners need to be on board for the method to work effectively. They would need to accept their shared responsibility and modify their sexual behavior during the fertile window – the only time when pregnancy is possible.
I heard a lot of stories about men attending classes with their partners to fully understand the method and the science behind it. Some might plug in the cervical fluid (CF) data on their partner’s chart at the end of the day, while others would make sure they wake up to take their basal body temperature (BBT) every morning. some partners would choose to be present and provide emotional support every step of the way while learning the method and beyond, and others would simply modify their sexual behavior to practice the method effectively. It does not matter how your story looks like, whatever works for you and your partner is what matters the most.
The way I was introduced to FAM would not have happened the way it did if it was not for my partner, who had done extensive research on hormonal birth control (HBC), and their effects on woman’s health, the environment, and sea life. It was him who opened the door for my curiosity to wander and find a method that is effective, side-effects-free, hormonal-free, and environmentally friendly. Learning the method and practicing it had been a wonderful journey for both of us. We have learned so much about each other because of the open conversations we had to have. We learned a tremendous deal about the woman’s body, living cyclically, cooking to support the hormones, and expressing our sexuality in a shameless, proud, and empowering way.
Side Effect Free:
Here at Niswa, we stand by every woman’s right to choose how to manage and control her fertility. We advocate for accessible birth control while also strongly advocate for informed consent- where a woman has understood, to the best of her ability, the method of birth control she is using, the correct way of using it, the effectiveness rate, how would the method affect her body and brain, and what are the side effects that might be experienced no matter how rare.
Women have for so long been accused of being "less rational" beings by having a cycle, and they have defended themselves again and again against this sexist rhetoric to say, “hormones have no effects on the brain.” Only that THEY DO, and they do not have to be our enemy. Sex hormones especially, have receptors all other the body, in every system of the body. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have an effect on our energy levels, mood, libido, brain development, bone health, breast tissue, and skin, to name a few. When a woman is put on HBC, these sex hormones are shut down while synthetic hormones are flooding the body instead. They mimic the natural hormones, directly impacting the brain, and the HPA access regulation.
According to Dr. Jolene Brighten, author of beyond the Pill, “young women who use hormonal contraceptives have 3 times the risk of suicide compared to those who have never used this type of birth control.” Another study had shown that, “women who are taking combination pills (estrogen + progestin) were 23% more likely to be prescribed antidepressants.”
Estrogen mimickers (Xenoestrogens) can affect all living organisms. It is no coincidence, given all the estrogenic chemicals in our lakes and oceans, we are seeing fewer male fish around the world. Men are producing 50% less sperm than they did 50 years ago, and women are developing estrogen-dependent diseases at a historically higher rate. This is not exclusively caused by HBC of course, as the exposure to Xenoestrogens can occur through air, water, food, soil, and consumer products such as laundry detergents, pesticides, and skin care products. Given the current state of our planet, it is the ethical thing to do to have more research on the impact of these drugs on both us as humans, and the environment as a whole.
More millennials are drafting away from HBC because they see how it impacted their mothers or aunts. They are also realizing that the pharmaceutical companies had not always had their best interest in mind. More women are speaking up about their experiences with HBC, and it is important to open more spaces where women feel safe to share their stories without being shamed, accused of harming the woman’s movement, or gas-lighting them as if their experiences aren’t valid. Women, in my opinion, had been mishandled by medicine for so long. Up until 1986, research had been almost exclusively on men, considering them as the “norm” of our species. When a woman visits her doctor and shares how her HBC is affecting her physical, emotional, or mental state, she deserves to be heard and have her experience validated even if there are no studies to show that correlation. “An absence of evidence is not an evidence of absence.” We are so behind in research when it comes to woman’s health, and something needs to be done about that.
My birth control of choice is the Fertility Awareness Method, that is 99.6% effective, with no short nor long term side effects. It aligns with my health goals, while also serving the long term intention of avoiding pregnancy without altering my body nor brain. While practicing FAM as the primary method of birth control might not be for everyone, Body Literacy is every woman’s right to educate herself about her body and to use her menstrual cycle as a guide.
Speaking of body literacy, I must say, “knowledge is priceless.” Practicing FAM is a hundred percent dependent on your knowledge, and understanding of the method. After reading the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility and charting for few cycles, I needed a guiding hand to validate my understanding and boost my confidence in practicing the method. That was when I found Megan McNamara, a fertility awareness educator. I took her Second Nature Cycles course and my life had changed forever. There is no going back. I remember Megan asking me how committed I was to learn the method on a scale of 1 to 10, and I excitedly replied “Ten. Ten, for sure!” That ten never changed and is still growing every day.
After taking the course, buying a basal body temperature thermometer, downloading Kindara app (free cycle charting app), and using old notebooks to chart my cycles on paper, I was all set. There are no more investments I needed to make to practice the method effectively. I learned the language of my body and its changing biomarkers. I learned how to identify each phase of the cycle, and confirm ovulation. I have the knowledge that would support me in achieving my reproductive goal whether it was to achieve or avoid pregnancy. I will also be capable of navigating my cycles as my body changes and enters a new phase such as perimenopause, years from now. This means that if I lose my health insurance, or a device gets discontinued, electricity goes out, pharmaceutical company decides to stop producing HBC, I am still governed by my knowledge of how my body works. My body IS my Birth control, and no one can take that power away from me.
Now, a healthy man is fertile at all times, while a healthy woman is only fertile for a few days, six to be exact, each cycle. Yup! You read that right. Women cannot get pregnant every single day of their cycles. It baffles me how achieving or preventing pregnancy had almost always been a woman’s issue, when she is not the one who is fertile all the time. I am so grateful that I have found FAM- a method that works for me, where my partner is involved, and my intentions are met.
I dream of a day where women are well informed and educated about the wonderful bodies they inhabit, where medicine is individualized. I dream of a day where women do not have to suffer for 10 years in order to get a diagnosis, and where the menstrual cycle is recognized as a 5th vital sign of health and not a burden. I dream of a day where young girls feel a sense of pride when they bleed for the first time, and manage their symptoms by addressing root causes instead of suppressing their hormones. I dream of a day where birth control is safe and side-effect-free for ALL women. where couples freely speak about their reproductive goals, and enjoy an evolving, exceptional, and enjoyable sexual experience. What do you dream about, today?
“Birth Control”. In O'Reilly, Andrea (ed.). Encyclopedia of motherhood. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications. pp. 121–126.
Take Back Your Hormones Conference: This is Your Brain on Birth Control Talk.
Beyond the Pill. Part II. Chapter 9: Take Charge of Your Mood Swings, Anxiety, and Depression.
The Fifth Vital Sign. Chapter 1.
Woman Code: FLO Blocker 3: Our toxic environment and lifestyle.