Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
When I first heard the idea that unmarried women, and even teenage girls, may want to learn to chart their cycles, I resisted the idea strenuously. I have accepted that it's sometimes necessary for me and my family, but I really, really, really hate charting. So why would someone take on that responsibility before she has to?
I've changed my mind recently, though. In today's mail, I received some charts intended specifically for teenage girls. They are very basic, and include space to record menstrual flow, the presence of cervical fluid, and things like "feelings, headaches, cravings for sweets or chocolate, or if your face breaks out." I called their designer, Kathy Rivet, who recently founded Marguerite D'Youville FertilityCare, and asked her why teens should consider charting.
She says that her charts for teens are designed simply to help girls know when to expect their period, whether they're packing for a sleepover or expecting to be in an athletic event. She says that girls who have severe menstrual cramps can take ibuprofen the night before their period begins, to get ahead of the pain. When her own daughters were teenagers, she said, she kept ginger root in the freezer, and would shave off some into their tea, to soothe cramping.
It occurs to me that girls who chart can also anticipate and plan around other predictable features of a normal cycle, like increased sexual desire during ovulation, or premenstrual mood swings.
Rivet says that girls who are familiar with their cycles "become comfortable with their bodies, and understand them, and then they can protect them -- they won't do anything to harm them." Rivet says that many grown women are ignorant about the most basic aspects of their reproductive systems: that even women who have given birth "know they have a cervix, because they were told it was dilating -- but they don't know what it is or where it is."
Many unmarried women also choose to track their cycles beyond the basic markers in Rivet's charts for teens. Here are some benefits to becoming familiar with your cycle even if you're not married:
--To detect early signs of health problems. The reproductive system is an integral part of women's overall health, and abnormalities in the cycle are often signs of thyroid disease, hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, even cancer.
--To detect early signs of infertility or future difficulties sustaining a pregnancy. Rivet says that abnormalities such as "tail end brown bleeding, unusual bleeding, short luteal phases, lots of split peaks, or very painful periods" may be signs of polycyctic ovaries or endometriosis -- conditions which can be treated surgically to restore fertility.
Many women don't realize there's a problem until they've tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant for many months, or until they've had more than one miscarriage. If a woman is already familiar with her cycle before marriage, she may be able to correct infertility or subfertility before her wedding, and be able to conceive much more quickly.
Rivet explains that, if a woman is infertile, charting provides a target for the diagnostic tests she will undergo: women who already know there is something amiss in their cycles can follow up with the appropriate blood tests at the right time of the month, rather than undergoing a huge battery of tests for various ills. Rivet says, '"Sometimes the only problem is not having good mucus. This can be treated with vitamin protocol or Mucinex, and women can often get pregnant very quickly."
Contrast this approach -- a targeted, holistic assessment of a woman's overall health -- with the typical approach of a secular doctor, who will often simply try to force a pregnancy on a woman's body, using IVF or other artificial means, whether or not her body is ready to support a pregnancy. "NaPro doctors want to find out what the problem is, " says Rivet.
Charting can also shorten the diagnostic process significantly if the charts look NORMAL. Rivet says, "If the chart looks perfect [but the couple can't conceive], then we look to the man." According to Marquette University, 40% of infertility problems are attributable to women's bodies, 40% to men's, and 20% to both. When an infertile woman has normal cycles, that may also be a sign she has blocked tubes.
And what if a woman is perfectly healthy and fertile, but needs to postpone a pregnancy? Many women first decide to learn how to chart when they are already married -- often, when they've just given birth. They may not realize that they will have to abstain for at least a month -- maybe several months -- while they learn the system. Prolonged abstinence is difficult, but even more so when it's aggravated by the enthusiasm of newlyweds, or the stress and change that come with a new baby. Some of this stress can be alleviated if the woman is already familiar with charting before the need arises.
There is nothing wrong with a woman simply living her life without knowing the first thing about her cycle, if that's what makes sense to her. But there are many reasons to chart, none of which have to do with trying to play God, or lacking in faith or trust, or being selfish or controlling. Charting is simply a tool which is available to women; and postponing pregnancy is only one of many reasons to chart.
For information about Kathy Rivet's charts for teens or for other information about ethically sound help with fertility issues, contact her at (603) 232-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org.