health

Charting your fertility may be the best self-care you can give yourself

My senior year of college was a horrible year for self care. I didn't eat for sometimes 12 hours or more, I had horrible body image and self-esteem thoughts, and there were many nights that I went to bed way after midnight. I over committed to things in my attempts to enjoy every minute of my last year of college, and my crazy schedule showed it. My health took a turn for the worse, and I lost around ten pounds from stress and horrible health habits. 

But I don't think I'm alone in the struggle for self-care.  I've visited with so many women who admit that caring for themselves is not a very high priority on the to-do list.  As women, we can be very good at taking care of others and investing in them.  But this is often done to the detriment of our own spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional health.  

Alright, we've acknowledged we have a problem.  So how can we get better at self care? The answer may be unexpected, but charting our fertility is one of the best self-care habits women can form - and a solution I can personally attest to myself.  By tracking signs of fertility, I was able to see areas and causes of stress and how it was affecting my body. 

When I started charting my fertility with the Creighton model system during Joseph and I's engagement, I began to notice patterns as well as the affects of my unhealthy habits.  The stress I was going through because I spread myself too thin by being involved in everything during school and finishing a senior thesis was causing longer and delayed cycles.  Does this sound familiar to you, too? 

Check out these three ways charting your cycle can help you become better at self-care. 

01.  Charting your fertility can give you key insights into just how stress effects your health. 

Dr. Thomas Hilgers writes in the Creighton Model Fertility Care System handbook, saying, "Stress has an enormous impact on the ovulation and menstrual cycles.  The stress may be physical or emotional, and it may be acute or chronic.  A variety of different patterns can be observed in women who are under stress.  First of all, one can have the delayed appearance of the mucus cycle and delay observation of the Peak Day when an acute stress occurs right around the time one would be ovulating. In effect, the ovulation is suppressed and delayed and thus the mucus cycle is delayed with it." 

But your fertility cycles aren't just delayed due to stress.  When you're under stress, your fertility can be impaired too, and you may be ovulating less than what is considered normal in women's health. 

In a study conducted by Shekufe Akhter and colleagues, results found that women who experience high levels of stress will ovulate 20% less eggs than women whose stress levels are lower.  And that's not the only research on how stress can mess with healthy fertility.  A study led by Dr. Cynthia Bethea found that the changes that stress can bring to a woman's fertility are so serious she called it "stress-induced reproductive dysfunction.” That's serious.

When I was in college, I was so tuned out to my own body, I didn't even realize that I was stressed.  But when I started tracking my cycles and noticing all of the irregularities, I slowly became aware of what I was putting my body through due to the stress I was under.  

Sometimes even having a written record of your fertility can reveal small hints that something could be up.  Is your writing sloppy, rushed and hard to read one day? That could be indicative of something deeper.  Having a physical record makes it easy to go back and pinpoint a day that things started going downhill, which can help you get to the bottom of what is causing you stress.  

02. Charting your fertility helps you know about your whole body and how to care for it. 

When we tackle self-care, there are so many aspects of the journey to look at.  On my road to recovery, it involved setting alarms on my phone to remind me to take time to eat. It also meant getting outside and enjoying the sunshine, and more frequent trips to the gym.  When I was committed to caring for myself more, I also knew that my fertility was an important part of my health that I needed to learn more about.  

As a woman, your fertility cycle is just as much an integral part of your system as other areas of physical health.  I got outside to boost the levels of serotonin in my brain.  I  went to the gym to strengthen my muscles.  I also started charting my cycle to become more aware of my fertility health.  

You are a whole person - mind, soul, heart, and body. By tracking your fertility through a variety of methods, I was able to see how intertwined all of those systems are.  When I was stressed, I stopped eating.  When I stopped eating, I became weak, shaky, and tired all the time.  All of those effects of hunger and bad nutrition choices also played a role in my cycle as well.  Until I started keeping track of my fertility through charting, I didn't understand the bigger picture of how my poor self-care habits were impacting every part of me - including my fertility.  

03. Charting your fertility can alert you to deeper health problems than just irregular cycles or bad PMS symptoms. 

Charting your cycle and having an instructor spot issues could lead to early and quick diagnosis of a variety of health issues, including: endometriosis, infertility, risks of miscarriage, low progesterone, hormonal dysfunctions, abnormal ovulation, infrequent ovulation, inflammation of the cervix, and cervix infections.  Most of these issues can be discovered just by an instructor noticing you have irregular bleeding, heavy periods, long mucus cycles, long cycles, short cycles, or short post-peak phases.  

If you're planning on having littles in the future, you can find out about and address these issues before they cause even larger problems.  And regardless of your relationship status (yes, you can chart even when your'e not dating!) charting can tip you off to deeper issues or explanations on issues like why you're suffering from awful pre-menstrual cramps, have heavy periods, or are experiencing irregular cycles - all without having to take tests, but simply through charting your fertility.

Okay, so what now? 

Are you interested in learning how to chart your fertility? It doesn't matter if you're a single lady (cue Beyonce), dating, engaged or married - each stage of life deserves a holistic approach to self-care and fertility health. 

The Creighton Model, Symptothermal method, and the Marquette method are all different approaches to charting your fertility - and there are other methods that are available, too. Each method has different ways to chart, track, and observe your fertility and cycles as a woman.  There are also some great, new articles on how fertility ties in with self-care, and so many experts to answer all of your questions. 

Do you already chart your fertility? Leave a comment letting us know if you've found it helpful in your journey of self-care. 

Are my thoughts on how to take care of yourself as a woman through an awareness of your fertility old fashioned? Or is this a modern look at self care? 

Old Fashioned or modern? It's up to you! *

5 Reasons Why You Can't be a Feminist and Pro-Contraception

Feminism.  It's a buzzword that I first really delved into last semester while taking a course on gender and communication.  The issue that bothered me towards the end of the semester was that modern feminism is often associated with the pro-choice movement, access to 'safe and healthy' abortions and access to contraception.  Because I understood the term feminism to mean equality between men and women, I found that incredibly ironic and infuriating.  I am anti-abortion, pro-life and anti-contraception.  And I don't think you can be a feminist and be for any of those issues.  Here are five reasons why you cannot be a feminist and be pro-contraception.

01. All on the woman

Feminism strives for equality between men and women in all areas of life.  This could manifest itself in the fight for equal pay for equal work, but in the sexual lives of feminists, contraception has squished any chances for equality.  When a woman is on the pill, or any other form of oral or surgical contraceptive, she is responsible.  It is up to her to make sure she takes the pill daily or schedules doctor appointments to install or maintain an internal contraceptive.  Meanwhile, men are not filling prescriptions for contraception, and are instead reaping the benefits of contraceptive sex without an investment in a relationship.

Dr. John Littell, an OBGYN, wrote:

"But now, it saddens me to see the effects of the Pill at play in unsuspecting lives. How often have I seen one patient after another frustrated by what has come to be viewed as a "necessary evil" for all women, if they ever hope to be a good wife, a good girlfriend, a good sexual partner. What is so "liberating" or "empowering" about feeling miserable, depressed, increasing one's risk of breast cancer, cervical cancer, blood clots, strokes, and heart disease, while the male partner has not a worry in the world?"

The answer to these issues is not to simply have men fill prescriptions for male contraceptives.  Rather, a form of family planning that requires the effort of both men and women is the ideal solution.  In this way, both partners can know the health life of the other better and work towards a common goal side by side.  The family planning method that has proven to be successful in this area is Natural Family Planning.  The man and woman chart the woman's fertility together, and the man becomes hyper-aware of the inner workings of the woman's fertility system.  In this way, the shared goal of achieving or avoiding conception bonds the couple together, instead of having one or the other feel the weight of the responsibility.

02. Health risks

Feminism should never support something that harms the health of women.  This is why we should fight against the brutality and objectification of social problems such as pornography, sexual trafficking, and female genital mutilation.  However, we can add contraception to that list of issues considered normal in society that actually do great harm to women.

Take for instance The Pill.  The small, white pill contains the side effects of vision impairment, yeast infections, blood clots, increased risk of strokes, increased chances of breast and ovarian cancer, mood swings and depression. Any of these side effects alone are alarming, but the problem is that any woman who takes an oral contraceptive is at risk for all of them.  The reason for this secrecy around the actual effects of the pill on women's health is that pregnancy is considered a larger threat to a woman's life than the issue that the doctor prescribed the contraceptive in the first place.  So while a woman suffers from a higher risk of strokes and cancer, doctors see the benefits of her low risk of pregnancy as a greater good.

 03. Freedom from Oppression

Oppression results when there is a lack of choices.  When it comes to feminism, the desire for freedom has manifested itself in many ways.  The right to have a voice and choice in the political system through the suffrage movement was the first way feminism strove against oppression of women.

However, in terms of their sexual lives, women's health is oppressed by the lack of choices that are presented to them in the average medical care center.  In today's medical offices, women's health issues are quickly fixed with a contraception prescription. In the visits that I have made to the doctor's office for issues such as acne, sever PMS cramping, and fainting spells, each time has resulted in another effort of a doctor or nurse to prescribe the pill.  This leaves women feeling like the only choice they have in terms of answers to their health problems is contraception.  This is oppressive - a lack of choice - since women are not only denied informed about the health risks of contraception, but also denied a conversation about the multitude of answers that could range from vitamin supplements and diet changes to fertility charting and NaPro technology .

Additionally, long-term prescriptions on contraceptives can ruin a woman's fertility.  Without the ability to conceive children, simply because one has synthetically tricked one's body into thinking they were pregnant for so long that conception isn't possible.   This lack of choice in terms of conceiving a child ruins the pill for being pro-woman, and places it into a category of oppressive medication that fuels the anti-women and objectifying state of today's culture.

04. Natural is Better

In a world where we strive to leave less of a carbon footprint by driving fuel efficient, cars, cleaning with non-chemical cleaning supplies and eating organic, we are still stuffing women's bodies full of unhealthy chemicals simply for the convenience of sex-on-demand without the results of a pregnancy.

Essentially, when a woman takes birth control pills, she imposes synthetic hormones onto her fertility cycle which is most of the time simply naturally doing what is supposed to do. Birth control contains estrogen levels.  This hormone tells a woman's pituitary gland that she is pregnant - which explains a multitude of the side effects of the pill.  Fatigue, nausea, migraines, and general soreness are all experienced by naturally pregnant women.  In the case of women on contraceptives, their body is chemically pregnant but without any of the natural good effects of an actual pregnancy.

05.  Future Women

Although many will lean on the radical feminist and pro-choice view of "my body, my choice," it turns out that the body of a conceived child is not a woman's body to oppress.  Women have seen oppression in their political, active and sexual lives in the past, they cannot continue the vicious cycle of oppression (lack of choice) when it comes to the next generation of women.

If all humans, regardless of their sex, have the right to a choice, what about the choices of the unborn child in the womb?  If the unborn baby is a girl, her chances of dying from abortion are steadily climbing.  The contraceptive mentality towards women (in or out of the womb) is the reason for gender-decided infanticide.  For instance, in China, partially due to the one child policy, there are now 120-140 boys for every 100 girls despite the governmental ban on sex-based abortions.  And it's not just China.  In 2014, The Daily Mail ran a story that claimed women are disappearing on the national census due to sex-based abortion.  They wrote,

"Official figures suggest as many as 4,700 females have disappeared from the latest national census records of England and Wales, raising fears that it indicates the illegal practice of sex-selection abortion has become prevalent in the UK."

Contraception, and the resulting abortions upon failed contraceptives, are killing women.  Literally.  Both mother and their unborn children are suffering greatly from the effects of objectification of women in what Pope Francis has labeled the 'throw-away culture' and what Pope John Paul II talked about when he mentions a cycle of use due to viewing people as things.

No person who claims to be pro-woman and defines themselves with the label of feminism should be pro-contraception.