I learned recently that former talk show hostess Rick Lake has begun work on another documentary concerning women’s health. This one, called Sweetening the Pill, has me really excited because it supposedly is going to be focused on shedding light on the facts about how dangerous hormonal contraceptives are to women’s bodies and will explore alternatives to the suppression of women’s natural fertility.
Lake’s famous documentary, The Business of Being Born, which came out in 2008, and the subsequent film More Business of Being Born (2011) focused an investigative eye on the current birth practices in our country. The theme of these films is that women’s bodies and births are being commoditized by pushing expensive measures and procedures that increase risks of complications in birth. She uses her own natural home birthing experience and interviews with midwives and mothers to advance the natural birth movement’s belief that women’s bodies know what to do in giving birth. Others need to just get out of the way and support them to do it.
The focus of her newest documentary makes perfect sense to me if she is to follow the logic she used in The Business of Being Born. If women’s bodies know how to birth and women are capable of giving birth without expensive medical intervention, then why would managing our fertility be any different? The suppression of our natural cycles of ovulation and menstruation is big business to pharmaceutical companies and depends on women buying into the notion that they are not capable of understanding their bodies’ natural rhythms. Like childbirth, fertility awareness and family planning can be done all naturally, and the evidence is out there to prove that it is safer and healthier for everyone involved in both cases.
As I was writing this post I was reading more about Ricki Lake’s work on women’s health. I was going to say that logically following the progression of her work we should expect to see a film about breastfeeding next from her. As lactation is the last of the three physical Feminine Abilities of ovulation, gestation, and lactation, it would make perfect sense for her to tell the story about how formula companies have made millions of dollars by convincing mothers over the past 100 years that their own breastmilk was inferior to a manufactured product. That would follow the theme of suppressing a natural ability of the female body for the profit of some corporation or entity, which she shows in her films is being done with childbirth and fertility. I guess Ms. Lake is further along on the path to adopting New Feminist principles than I previously thought as her documentary called Breastmilk was released last year!
I am so excited that a voice in Hollywood is boldly proclaiming that women’s bodies are not broken and that we do not need to suppress and destroy what is unique about them to achieve equality. New Feminists know that being paid the same wage as men and having all the same rights as them is worthless if it requires we give up our Feminine Abilities. We must work to change the culture to meet our needs as women, not change ourselves to fit into a cultural expectation that is based upon childless, working men.
I would be remiss if I didn’t end this with a short acknowledgement that there IS a proper place in women’s healthcare for supplementation to all of the three Feminine Abilities of fertility care, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Of course there are instances where lives are saved through the use of pharmaceutical therapies, childbirth interventions, and formula supplementation. However, these instances of needing intervention are not as common as we currently see them occurring in our culture. The bottom line is that many women have not received proper education about their bodies and thus still feel too intimidated and overwhelmed by the negative cultural influences to believe they are capable of naturally managing any of the abilities of their bodies. Society has convinced us that to be women fully and naturally is not only impossible but irresponsible. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am hopeful this documentary will address some of these things and I suspect Ms. Lake may one day call herself a New Feminist.
My husband and I just shared the news publicly that we are expecting baby number eight. We’ve lost two so the ones who are left with us would be the five littles, age 9 and under, whom I chase around the house all day, and the one growing safely in my womb. Six kids! We shared the news sparingly in the beginning, with the bulk of our friends and family finding out just this past week. There are many reasons for being secretive but the list wasn’t topped this time even by our fear of miscarriage that usually rears its head when I find out I’m pregnant. It was topped by the fact that through the years, as we excitedly yet fearfully welcomed baby after amazing baby, we have been met with some not-so-positive comments. Unfortunately, these have come from not only strangers but friends and family members as well. Neither of us was really ready for all that yet.
The fact that I’m only just one of probably thousands of women who receive this type of response seems to beg the question — Why are people so negative about children?
I think this issue resides not only within stable family units, but especially throughout the line of women who do not have a husband or a stable family life, or even a stable life at all in which it would be the “ideal” situation to welcome and raise a child (and yes, I was that woman at one point). Different circumstances and varying degrees of awareness of the value of a child culminate to this one issue that comes up so much in today’s society. Children are seen as a burden and something to be cast off or avoided if “unwanted.” Yet it doesn’t seem to ever come to light why exactly this is.
I can remember after we had our second or third child, someone in our family offered to pay for a vasectomy. At another point we were told by someone else that we ‘need’ to stop having kids, put them in daycare and I should go to work so we can afford whatever we want. Well-meaning friends made comments about how overwhelming and difficult children are and asked if I’m sure I want more (me already pregnant at the time). I think one of the most memorable comments a friend made to me was simply, “Ew.” Strangers have stared at my swollen belly with four or [now] five children in tow, whispering to themselves just loud enough for me to hear, “Wow, look at all those kids. I can’t believe her.” I can remember being out in public during my last pregnancy. We were getting the kids ice cream and we walked in and passed by a table at which sat a lady and her two young children. She glared at me, eyeing me up and down, her lips moving as she counted each of my children. Later, as we were seated across the room from her, I noticed her children were pretty out of control. Mine sat, quietly eating their ice cream. As we got up to leave, I gave her a smile. Not a pious, ‘look at my MANY behaved children and look at your few crazy ones.’ But a warm, knowing smile. I’ve been there, too. It was a smile I’d give any mom, whether of one kid or ten, who looked like she could use some encouragement when her kids acted (gasp!) like kids.
Although this is about my personal experience with the negativity we have battled in regards to our openness to life, I think that it could be any one woman’s story, married or not, in the “perfect” situation or not. Because there is definitely something amiss in our culture when we take the value and beauty of children —the future of our human existence — and reduce them to nothing more than a choice. What I hope to create from my expression of this plight is a dialogue, an awareness, and an understanding. What is it about our loved ones (or even strangers) that gives them the mindset — and the courage to express — that it’s actually not okay to be open to life?
I often try to put myself in others’ shoes. I want to understand their thought process that leads them to such a negative outlook on children, not just so that their hurtful words or dirty looks have less sting, but because I think it’s important for the good of humanity. Are they broken in some way? Did they have a terrible childhood? Do they come from a large family who lived in poverty growing up? Are they not able to have their own children? What is important to them?Is it having a lot of money over having a bigger family? Why do they feel this way? Is it just a matter of being fearful? Is my situation with my many children a frightening concept they apply to their own life so they project that fear onto me? This last one, I think, is one of the main culprits I have come across in my dealings with people. The thing is, it’s not that I’m NOT fearful. I never thought I’d have a big family. Having children in general scared me! I mean, being responsible for another little soul, someone who would be dependent upon me for so much for so long is a daunting reality, and what about what I want to do with my life? I have been, and still am at times, fearful of the idea of more children. Heck, I am fearful of raising the ones I already have!
What I don’t understand is the idea that people get so offended, as if maybe I’m saying, “Well I have six so YOU should have six!” Never would I ever say that. Of course I’m all for encouraging others to have children if they want more and I’m excited when they announce another pregnancy. Perhaps I also secretly wish there would be more families that are as big as mine to commiserate with. However it’s not a personal thing against anyone if I decide to have six, seven, or ten babies. It’s not like I get pregnant just to spite people. (Ha-ha, that would be something!) I’m not trying to show off or make myself look stronger, more patient, more holy, more… anything… than anyone else. I think it says a lot about us as a society when we can’t just be happy for someone and their family when they allow another life to grace it.
The point is that children are a gift. There’s something about the innocence and wonder of a new little human being. Their dependence upon us (though often difficult) forces us to grow and change and stretch ourselves, not just physically for those 40 weeks of pregnancy, but mentally and emotionally too. It is not a decision that is easily come by, especially if one doesn’t already have a moral conviction to be open to life, or if one is in a less-than-ideal situation. It is, nonetheless, a decision that needs to be respected and such women need encouragement. All life is precious and valuable. Our children are the future of this world. If Suzy Smith” feels she wants to contribute to the future with two kids, great. I support her. I, however, want to contribute with as many as will come. Despite my fears, my failings, my misgivings, and my anxieties, I still understand the value of investing in the future of our world with these little persons, and that trumps anything negative anyone has said to me about being open to more.
From the start, I had irregular cycles. When I was in middle school, it was attributed to my body adjusting to the fertile years of my life. When I was in high school, I was told that cycling 3-4 times a year was normal enough not to be concerned. When I was in college and still could go as long as six months without a complete cycle and had sudden weight gain, I was lying about my sexual activities or needed to be on birth control to “even me out”. It seemed that every physician I saw was unable or unwilling to diagnose or treat my cycle irregularity. I felt as though every gynecologist thought I was liar. I put my health on the back burner and tried to ignore the problems I was experiencing. If no one was able to give me a reason why my body wasn’t normal, then there is nothing wrong, right?
The game changer came when I discovered there were “symptoms” of fertility, and that these same “symptoms” are a wealth of information. For instance, my scattered waking temperatures indicate a lack of ovulation. My irregular cycling was indicative of hormone imbalance. Hormonal birth control may have prompted my body to cycle more regularly, but it also would have masked the underlying health issues that needed to be treated. I researched gynecologists in my area that recognized the signs of fertility and were familiar with temp charts, etc. Within a few months, I had all the answers I needed and more. My physician was able to diagnose me and we created a treatment plan that addressed the underlying causes of the cycle irregularity. This treatment plan not only shortened my average cycle length, but it spurred ovulation as well. I learned how fertility issues or irregular cycles had other health consequences that were not just about whether or not I could have a baby. (If you are interested in learning about my experience with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, click here.)
The best part about treating my irregular cycles? The health issues that were a direct result were also corrected: I was able to gain control of my weight again, I had a clear understanding of insulin resistance and how to best control it, and I just felt better. It was not just about potentially getting pregnant or not getting pregnant. Treating the hormone imbalance and the insulin resistance enables me to address health concerns beyond fertility: holistic care. The more I learn and understand about my body, the more I feel at peace with “my normal.” I learn what is normal for me and how to make sense of what my body is telling me.
My own struggle with health and fertility is one of the many reasons why I support the type of care for which The Guiding Star Project advocates. I want other women to have an easier time finding a physician that can help them learn about their body. Preventative care is really important for many reasons, but I might have been able to save myself some struggles had I been given the tools to monitor my health sooner. The GSP vision seeks to encourage women to have the tools they need to make informed decisions about their bodies. From my perspective, this type of care promotes and fosters trust between women and the physicians they see. Women deserve holistic care, and real solutions to health problems, not band-aid medicine, or treatments that mask the underlying issue.
One thing that sets New Feminism apart is its insistence that women are good. It insists that we can not respect women by disrespecting their bodies. We cannot raise women up while painting their bodies and their natural functions as bad. As The Guiding Star Project’s aim is to create Guiding Star centers where women receive holistic care that works with Natural Law and affirms the inherent worth and goodness of women, we are happy to share this guest post from Stefany Beyer. Stefany is a member of The Board of Directors for Guiding Star and shares a passion for New Feminism. As her story shows, if women and healthcare workers try to listen to women’s bodies, it can have amazing results.
Over the course of the past five years, my husband and I have experienced something of a fertility roller coaster. Two years of trying, a healthy baby girl, and then trying again. After a miscarriage, more trying, and now a healthy pregnancy, I feel that I have come around a sort of circle. I’ve solved a piece of my fertility puzzle, and I’m in a place now where I feel like this is a story that needs to be told. It’s a story that speaks to the importance of listening to one’s body. It’s a story about the kind of healthcare that leads to real healing.
After we lost our little Francis Pio in October 2012, I began having symptoms of endometriosis. Knowing that this disease can lead to serious complications, I began consulting with a doctor specially trained in NaPro Technology.
NaPro is an acronym that stands for Natural Procreative Technology. It is based on the understanding that fertility is a healthy state of being, and infertility is a symptom of something gone awry. In other words, infertility is a woman’s body asking for help. NaPro doctors are trained to use a method of cycle charting and other medical means to “listen” to the woman’s body, to discover what it is saying, and then to heal it with the goal of restoring healthy fertility and achieving greater overall health.As a result of this tenant that infertility is a symptom, my NaPro doctor takes miscarriage pretty seriously. The first thing he did was to order some blood work in case it would indicate the cause of my miscarriage. When the test came back, we learned that my body was not able to process folic acid. In fact, we learned that my body was only 30% effective at changing this vitamin into a usable form. This is a concerning problem since folic acid is essential for the healthy development of a baby’s neural tube. I’ll never know if this was the cause of my miscarriage, but it’s likely. In addition to contributing to infertility and miscarriage, this disorder significantly increases my risk factor for developing a blood clot. It can also contribute to anxiety, depression, other neurological disorders, gastro-intestinal problems, and even cancer. Some researchers think it also contributes to autism. This disorder is why my body was asking, or screaming, rather, for help. And because my doctor was listening, he was able to discover it with a simple blood test.
The doctor put me on a prescription supplement that contains a kind of folic acid that is already processed into a form that my body can use. I didn’t really expect to feel any different on this supplement, and at first I didn’t. But after about two weeks I began to notice a change. After three weeks I couldn’t believe how good I felt. I had energy that I had never had before. I was more patient with my two-year-old, I was less angry with my husband, and I was less likely to fly off the handle when some small thing overflowed my stress level. I felt alive in a way that I never had before.
When I think back to life before the supplement, I struggle with finding words to describe it. I felt like I was wilting from the inside out. No wonder I had fertility trouble! My body was just trying to survive from one day to the next. But this changed too, and the very next cycle, we got pregnant! I am entering the third trimester now, and so far this has been a healthy pregnancy with healthy hormone levels. I truly think this baby is with us because my NaPro doctor believes in the importance of listening to the body, which is at the heart of NaPro Technology.
I feel this is the kind of care that every woman deserves: healthcare that supports her natural functioning, rather than impairing it; healthcare that seeks to restore a woman’s body to this healthy functioning when something is wrong. This is respect for the woman and her body. This is real healthcare for women.
I’ve been asked several times recently what I mean when I refer to this idea of “The Feminine Abilities”. I use the phrase when I speak and sometimes when I write.
By “Feminine Abilities” I am referring to the three uniquely female physical abilities: to conceive, birth, and nourish children with only their bodies. To ovulate, gestate, and lactate. These are physical characteristics of being a woman that can never be replicated fully by man, unless serious alterations of the natural order take place.
These abilities are not encompassing of all a woman is capable of doing as they do not directly speak to the unique emotional, intellectual, or spiritual gifts of women. My use of the term Feminine Abilities is not meant to include all the abilities of women as this would reduce us to merely physical beings. However the physical Feminine Abilities do give us clues as to how a woman might integrate the natural function of her physical body with her unique mind to find fulfillment. They remind woman collectively of how she was created and teach women how to fulfill the role that is our vital female contribution to society.
In our current culture the Feminine Abilities are very often suppressed for reasons of convenience. The vast majority of women in the United States of America in their childbearing years use some sort of artificial birth control to override the natural, healthy function of ovulation. It is not that choosing to delay pregnancy is simply a matter of convenience for most women (we know there are legitimate reasons women do this that have nothing to do with convenience); but it is that choosing to ignore the natural healthy signs and cycles of fertility within women’s bodies and choosing not to teach young women how to observe these signs is considered to be simply easier.
Handing young women condoms and chemicals is just easier than educating them. It is not shared with them that success rates for natural family planning rival and surpass some methods of artificial birth control. Education takes time and effort; suppressing and ignoring is rather easy.
The same is sadly often the case with childbirth as well. Many of our currently accepted and promoted labor and delivery practices encourage augmenting labor so that it is more convenient both for the mother in that she can have a birth with less pain, and for the physician on a tight schedule. The time is not taken to allow the natural progression to take place on its own terms. Evidence has shown that models of care that focus on relaxation, acceptance, and education give women birth experiences that not only have better outcomes but that women also view as more empowering.
And then we come to the last of the Feminine Abilities, which is naturally nourishing our children with our own breast milk. While there are now many national and international efforts taking root to encourage the practice of breastfeeding, nearly one in four women never even attempt to nurse. As a lactation consultant working with new breastfeeding mothers this Feminine Ability gives me a unique way to keep my pulse on the current cultural worldview women have of themselves.
I have worked with many women who have struggled with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is a learning and trusting process for most first time moms. It seldom goes perfectly right and usually a woman is forced to face some sort of hidden doubts she has about her body and her abilities.
What I am seeing is young mothers who do not understand or trust themselves as mothers, or even as women. They are unfamiliar with how their bodies naturally function and have questions that often go far beyond the usual questions of inexperience. Many want to do what they believe to be “right”; i.e. breastfeed, but feel overwhelmed and distrustful that they really can do it. The number one reason women who want to breastfeed end up quitting is perceived low milk supply. There is no actual data to support whether or not these women actually have milk supplies that are inadequate, or if their self-doubts just override their good intentions and the education they have received on how to breastfeed.
I see women with the best of intentions who want to nurse their babies but simply cannot believe that their bodies will be able to provide enough to nourish another. They doubt they will be able to continue to nurse beyond the first few weeks and often quit just as things are starting to get easier. The natural changes that a woman’s body makes to adjust for a mature milk supply (softer breasts with less leaking) are sadly immediately perceived as failures of their body. They quickly give up, convinced that yet again they were not able to do what is natural because of some fault of their own. They believe there is something wrong with them, that they “could never trust their cycle to natural fertility methods, it is too irregular”; or “my hips just aren’t wide enough to give birth naturally”; or “my breasts just don’t seem to make enough milk”. They allow the negative cultural messages about the brokenness and inability of women’s bodies and the Feminine Abilities to permeate their being.
And this self doubt begins the first time we make a negative implication about a young girl’s menstrual cycle or her ability to understand her very own biology. These early messages about a young woman’s body stay with her for her entire life. Her sense of pride in her body is quickly diminished with school curricula that focus heavily on suppressing fertility and attempts to frighten teens into abstinence with horrifying childbirth videos. Our first messages to young women about their bodies MUST be positive and uplifting.
Instead of meaningful rights of passage into womanhood, most young girls are given sanitary products and told how to minimize any attention that may be given to their budding femininity. Then when it is clear that attention is coming nonetheless due to a hypersexualized society, we immediately begin putting our girls on birth control. Young women all too often are not mothered into society under a watchful, protective mantle, but instead find their way there out of curiosity and abandonment.
I sometimes wonder how our nation’s approach to women’s health can be so inconsistent? We insist women embrace one of the Feminine Abilities (breastfeeding) while also insisting that we suppress another (fertility). Our messages to women are contradictory and confusing.
In society the Feminine Abilities are liabilities. They have been unfairly painted as the enemy and seen as something that will hold women back in reaching their fullest potential. What type of “potential” does society value for young women? Not the potential to mother it seems. Having a great career, education, and becoming affluent are what we encourage our daughters to do now. But they are not happier for this because it comes at the expense of them destroying their physical abilities for their mental ones. Either a woman’s body or her intellect are treasured in current society, not both.
Yes, it is wonderful that young women are now free to express themselves in ways never imagined just 100 years ago. However we are far from finished in liberating women from a culture that still wants to suppress our contributions. All we have experienced yet concerning our Feminine Abilities is an ill-thought out plan to elevate our mental abilities over our physical ones. All that was accomplished with women’s “liberation” was that we won the right to reduce ourselves to parts and then destroy the part we don’t want to be. Women’s lib. was not an effort to force society to accept women holistically.
Guiding Star is here to right this wrong. We want to help women reconnect themselves with all that it means to be feminine. We want to put women back in touch with the natural functions of her own body and teach them that they are not the enemy. A society that forces us to suppress our very selves to achieve standards of success is the enemy.
We need to free women to be women — ovulating, gestating, lactating women. We seek to advocate for policies and attitudes that treasure our physical contributions to humanity as well as our mental. We can be both physical and spiritual beings, for we are women, the ultimate multitaskers. We seek to be free from old ideas of inadequacy in order to make way for women who fully embrace their whole femininity.
Over the last 3 weeks, there has been a buzz about the newly termed “fecundophobia” or fear of children and fertile women. It is argued that this fear is the problem with our society. Really? That’s our great problem? I’m not buying it. While I’ll admit there seems to be an aversion to fertility, children, and any woman or man who has more than 2 children, the aversion to children is not the real problem.
Fecundophobia is not the real problem just like anger is not the problem in an argument. No one will argue that anger is a problem and someone should work to control their passion of anger. However, anger is usually a mask to something else. Perhaps someone has been hurt, insulted, or felt used and instead of being open and honest with the offender about their real problem, they react with anger, lashing out and attacking the offender verbally. Why do they (we all) do this? Perhaps they don’t want to make themselves vulnerable again by sharing something so intimate, but perhaps they honestly have no clue themselves how they are really feeling.
Getting back to the issue at hand: sure, there might be a growing fecundophobia in society as can be seen in the blatant aversion to all things glorifying woman’s fertility. However, that is not the real problem. So, let’s get real. Let’s unpack this.
The surface issue is, of course, a verbal lashing out against pregnant women and big families. Name-calling, accusing, attempting to marginalize – all these actions are reactions to what those with fecundophobia see as threat. Fertility then is a threat to what? Ah, here is the big ticket question. What does fertility threaten that creates such aversion or fear?
What does having children usually do to a person? Short answer: it makes that person become an adult. I don’t mean just get older. Everyone ages every second of every day. I mean having children makes someone really and truly grow up. It forces a person to be concerned with someone other than her or himself. It forces a person to set aside their own personal desires to put someone else’s needs above their own. Putting another’s desires and needs above your own is the meaning of real love.
For the past couple of generations, our society has been sold a bill of goods. They have been told to self-help themselves to success; that success is equivalent with career, money and social/ political achievement of power. They have been told that freedom means being free from any dependence on anyone and free from anyone being dependent on them. “No strings attached” is the ideal of any relationship because you can still be “free” to do what is best for you. The sacrifice of this so-called freedom is ridiculous, absurd. Anyone who would seek to counter these truths is a simpleton.
There is a very simple test as part of an IQ test for children that goes like this: You place a marshmallow in front of the child (making sure that the child does indeed like marshmallows). You tell the child you can either have one marshmallow now or if you give me the marshmallow, you can have three marshmallows at the end of our game. The child who hands the marshmallow to the teacher has the higher IQ.
Our society is frantically holding onto what they think is the greater good. Anyone or any thing (like the praising of fertility or the presence of large families) that questions their philosophy is a threat. They see the sacrifices that parents of many children make and they don’t like it. They see the lack of career advancement that some parents choose (men and women alike) to spend more time with family and they are mortified.
They are stuck in a selfish mode. They may have fecundophobia, but the real problem is neoteny, which is defined as the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal. Selfishness and seeking one’s own goals, aspirations and wants above anything else is a childish trait. When we are forced to give that up, we discover something amazing.
It is in the giving of ourselves that we truly find ourselves. It is in the laying down of our own wills, our own desires that we realize a profound meaning of life we have never seen before. Children stretch you, pull you, and even break you physically, mentally, emotionally – but it is when we allow ourselves to be broken out of love for another that the whole world changes. We find peace. We find true joy. We find adulthood.
There may be a fear of fertility and children in our society, but it’s not the children themselves that they fear. Rather, it is what having children means – it means that they will have to grow up. They will have to set down their one marshmallow and see it disappear before them, and for a while it will seem they set it down for nothing. Yet, in the end, there will be an abundance of joy, they will wonder how they could have ever clung to that one thing for so long, and they will regret waiting to set it down – and for some, they wait too long and what they wouldn’t give to have those years of fecundity back again…
Theresa Martin is a blogger and author, check out her book “Woman, How Great Thou Art.”
An often-used phrase that one hears today is “reproductive freedom.” It’s most often used by those working for women’s access to contraceptives and abortion. New Feminists certainly don’t wish that women have no freedom to choose when or who they will marry and we also feel that the ability to plan one’s family-size is good. However, I feel we should question whether access to contraceptives and abortion actually gives women the reproductive freedom they desire.
The first thing that I notice in regards to reproductive freedom, is that it is so often only spoken about in regards to women’s freedom not to have children. To have a truly free choice, however, she must have the equal freedom to have children, and to have as many as she wants without pressure to limit. I question the current status of reproductive freedom in the West when so often women’s awe-inspiring capacity to bear and birth children is so often viewed as a liability.
When people, some of whom call themselves feminists, show outward hostility for women who have more children than whatever arbitrary limit others have set for them; when cities are increasingly set up to be less and less accommodating of families; when there are more and more spaces, previously open to all, being set up as child-free spaces (which typically means that many women will not be welcome either as it is women who are the majority of children’s caregivers); and when the general consensus of the culture is that our bodies and their reproductive capacities are burdensome, I wonder how many women are truly free to choose their family size. As it is women’s bodies that play the biggest role in the bringing forth of new persons into the world, I don’t see how this is anything but a misogynist attitude of disdain for our bodies and their abilities.
The above situations are only the more subtle messages that women receive in regards to our bodies. Though many continually fight for “access to contraceptives”, I rarely hear of any mention of the often coercive and exploitative abuses that occur from those selling or administering contraceptives and contraceptive devices. In the West, there is the usual practice of having women come to multiple appointments in order to remove an IUD. I personally know women who were talked out of removal by their doctors, and others who had to really stand up for themselves in order to have it removed. In my line of work I have also heard accounts of absolute disrespect of doctors towards their patients who choose not to use artificial contraceptives. In other places in the world, women often receive worse treatment. They are demeaned and treated as stupid while they are subjected to coercive population control programs. Some are tricked into taking contraceptives that they thought were vaccines. Mother Teresa told of how poor women in India would be taken off the street and forcibly sterilized, many without clean equipment or anesthesia. Even though an unscrupulous man can father several or even dozens of children at a time, several times more than any woman can parent at a time, population control programs and contraceptives are nearly always aimed at women. I feel this fact betrays the misogyny at the root of the contraceptive mentality. It is rooted in the acceptance that women’s bodies are defective and need to be improved upon.
In India, Mother Teresa and her religious sisters found a solution that helped the poor plan their family size and also one that protected them from government abuse. Rather than securing funding for contraceptives, clinics, and medical personnel, the sisters taught poor Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, Natural Family Planning. That is, they placed the knowledge of the fertility cycle into the hands of the women themselves. Furthermore, this solution did not require ongoing intervention, for once the women had this knowledge, it would serve them their whole reproductive lives. In this instance, the women were even saved from government abuse, because they would be spared forced sterilization if they carried a card saying that they used Natural Family Planning. In short, the sisters trusted and respected women enough to empower them with this knowledge. Even though the women they taught were very poor and often illiterate, the Ryder study, conducted on over 16,000 women, showed that they were able to use NFP with more than a 99% user effectiveness rate.1
A common complaint I hear about NFP is that couples who use it choose to take chances, having intercourse at times when they know there is a possibility that they are fertile. There are those who are opposed to NFP, not because they don’t believe it works, but because they feel that the couples who use it cannot be trusted. They are opposed to couples deciding that they are okay with taking a chance at pregnancy. As an NFP instructor myself, I am very careful not to insert myself where I don’t belong. I feel that no one has the right to tell a couple when they should or should not be trying to achieve a pregnancy. I tell my clients that it is my job to make sure they know the rules of NFP. Whether they follow those rules or not is up to them. If a couple has decided that they are okay with a pregnancy if one should occur, who is anyone to say that they don’t have a right to be making that choice? New Feminists believe that we can trust women. Women’s bodies are truly good and amazing and we can be trusted with the knowledge of how our awesome bodies work. We can be trusted to use this knowledge whether to achieve pregnancy or to avoid it, or even to decide that maybe we have some reasons to avoid, but we’ll take a chance because if we got pregnant, then we are okay with that too. New Feminists believe in real reproductive freedom, that is a freedom that is founded on a reverence for the reproductive capacity of all people. We believe in the reproductive freedom that would allow women to be free of medication and artificial devices aimed at incapacitating their normal functioning the majority of their reproductive years. We believe in the reproductive freedom of couples to choose when to limit or expand their family size with autonomy. We believe that Natural Family Planning has the ability to empower couples with the knowledge of their bodies and enhance their respect and reverence for themselves and their partner.
1. R.E. Ryder, “‘Natural Family Planning’: Effective Birth Control Supported by the Catholic Church,” British Medical Journal, 307 no.6906 (18 Sep 1993): 723-6 accessed Sept 27, 2013 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8401097
A woman’s fertility is a sacred thing- something about the ability to create and grow another human being makes us feel empowered, and is often viewed as the height of femininity. But many women often end up facing struggles with their own fertility, making them feel like less of a woman, though in actuality it does not mean any such thing. It can be devastating, regardless. There are many reasons why a woman might not be able to conceive. Sometimes it is the husband, but often it is an underlying health problem within the woman’s own body.
In 1978, In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) was introduced in Europe as the newest way of achieving pregnancy, reaching the US by 1981, and since then has grown to be a popular form of achieving pregnancy for infertile couples. The problem with IVF is that it bypasses any searching out of underlying causes. Up until 1978, much of the science related to fertility care was directed at researching and addressing underlying causes that correlated to infertility. But IVF created a shift in the focus of infertility and the approach that was once based on diagnosis and treatment became one based on the quickest possible fix.
Because IVF is such a popular choice in the world of infertility, it can be a daunting experience when a woman finds herself desiring a different route. My sister, Kate, is one such person. With the loss of one baby and one ovary, and with one successful natural pregnancy, problems with endometriosis and several surgeries under her belt, she faced a long six years of infertility after her son was born. Faced with the disappointment month after month, year after year of not becoming pregnant as she desperately wanted to, she began to doubt she would ever have another child. Unaware of the specific reasons behind her inability to become pregnant, she and her husband became hopeless. More than wanting to achieve pregnancy, they wanted to know the cause of her inability to do so, but found their options in finding a doctor with an open mind to be few.
Like Kate, many women- when approaching the fragile topic of infertility with their doctors- are often met with indifference to their emotional struggle and are made to feel as though they are just another number; another consumer paying money for a product. The fact that IVF is so popular plays a huge factor in the confusion and lack of understanding on the part of the doctor when a woman does not want to choose that route. But women have good reason to feel insecure with the process of IVF as it has many pitfalls to it. Not only does it not address underlying health issues that could be the cause of their infertility, it also presents many risks to the woman, it’s very costly (average cost per cycle is around $12,000 or more), the success rate is mostly less than 40%, it does not respect the marital relationship nor does it respect the life of the baby or babies produced when doctors join the eggs and sperm in a laboratory. Added to all of that, many couples admit to a decrease in the quality of both their sex life and their relationship when choosing IVF as an option to conceive.
Many couples are completely unaware of a fast-growing technology for achieving pregnancy called NaPro Technology. This innovative technology is an approach to fertility that adheres to the guidelines provided by a woman’s natural cycles. The Creighton Model of fertility care is the foundation for this approach, monitoring the bio-markers which showcase hormonal changes in a woman’s cycle. Coupled with natural supplements, and sometimes laparoscopic surgery, NaPro Technology has a very high success rate when used to achieve pregnancy. Because NaPro is a fertility-care based approach and not just a fertility-control approach, many women who achieve pregnancy through this method may find it to be less stressful, more inclusive and a better option overall in catering to the needs of their entire person- mind, body and soul.
The Science behind NaPro has been developing since the Creighton Model was first being studied, over 30 years ago. Because a woman’s body has specific tendencies and symptoms at each stage of her cycle which can be monitored by following this model, it is often easy to detect and diagnose an underlying problem by noticing a variance in the patterns of these symptoms. If nothing seems out of the ordinary, there are several other steps to take to help a woman determine the cause of her infertility. Kate, whom I mentioned above, spent an entire summer learning how to read her body’s signs and symptoms based on Creighton, and began recording her findings on charts. Her doctor read her charts and was able to determine that her body was actually doing what it should, suggesting they next test the actual levels of her hormones. Kate, filled with anxiety and still not pregnant, wanted to find out if her hormonal levels were the culprit so she went every other day to get blood drawn. When test results came back “normal” again and as she discussed pain and other symptoms she was experiencing in each cycle, her doctor suggested surgery as the next step, offering that many women became pregnant within six months of surgery.
Kate underwent surgery, finding out afterward that not only did she have endometriosis and scar tissue but that her tubes had blockages in them. Early one morning about two months later, Kate woke up and took a pregnancy test. She had taken them many, many times before over the previous six years. This one, however, did not read negative as all the others had. This one was different. Over the next few days, several more tests including a blood test reconfirmed what those double lines told her that morning, and Kate was thrilled to announce to our family that she was finally expecting! Thanks to the attention to her whole body through her doctors and NaPro Technology, she achieved her heart’s desire to have another baby.
It remains to be said that not all women will achieve pregnancy through NaPro, or any other means of aid. I’d like to reiterate that this is NOT to say that any woman who cannot conceive is any less of a woman. A woman is not just a woman because of the abilities of her reproductive parts, and not all women are called to be mothers to their own biological children. It is the innate care and nurturing with which women are created that define their femininity. The very idea that we wish to conceive a child, nurturing one throughout every moment of their existence, is just a small aspect of that. If you are struggling with infertility or know someone who is, I recommend researching NaPro as an option. You may just find the answers you are looking for.
To read the story of Kate’s infertility journey, click here.
Before I even begin this article, let me warn you that there will be more questions than answers here. Even so, the questions need to be asked; the conversations need to begin.
Why are women so fearful of childbirth? So much so that for many the thought of natural childbirth these days (without pain medication at all) is only for the “crazy women” or “superwomen.” With the “normal” woman saying, “I’m just not cut out for that! I’m definitely not that strong!” Why do we fear our periods? Or perhaps the better way to ask it would be: why do we wish we never had them or want to hide that we do? We want it washed away, clean, tidy and a woman’s cycle is anything but. We don’t want to think about it. So, when we are given an option that makes it go away, we take it because it is easier that way. But wait! Since when have other people decided what was best for our bodies rather than listening to our bodies themselves?
Another question, why do women think they can’t breastfeed their children? I’m not talking about the extreme cases where it is impossible, but the average case where she just is surrounded in doubt. Is it because it begins in a very challenging way? Perhaps it is just easier to give the child a bottle? Why do we fear rather than trust our bodies? Who told us we couldn’t do it? Who told us that what our bodies do needs to be fixed?
From the beginning of time, women have been the ones with the unique ability to give birth. Through puberty their bodies begin the monthly life potential cycle, and they know they have begun their womanhood. And even in cultures where women may have been considered unclean during their monthly menstruation, blood was also considered sacred – it was the life force. Breastfeeding was the nourishment of life.
Even in the Old Testament, we see the womb and the suckling child as holy places – even resembling God. In Isaiah 42:14, God cries out like a woman in labor – her forceful breath of labor becomes an image of divine power. In Isaiah 49:15, God compares Himself to a woman who has given birth and breastfed. This is used to describe God’s intense love for His people. Also in Deuteronomy 32:18, God is compared to a woman who gives birth. Giving birth and breastfeeding are images of divine power – bursting forth life and sustaining it.
It is not her ability to work well in society, have a career or be a leader that is divine, but it is that which is her most utterly feminine part. It is the most womanly aspect of her that resembles the divine; it is that which distinguishes her from man, her ability to grow new life within her womb, give birth to that child and then nourish the child from her body.
Yet, that was in ancient times. We are educated now. We have science and so we don’t really need religion to guide us anymore; we can explain everything. We know how the body works and we can manipulate and control it. We can cure many diseases and even take away pain. We are so much wiser now. Or are we? Are we trying to fool with Nature? Natural Law, the way we are created, is a powerful force.
If we are so much wiser, what are we afraid of? We, as women, seem to be afraid of our bodies, our very femininity itself. We doubt ourselves constantly. Can I breastfeed? Maybe my body isn’t made for giving birth; should I just schedule a C-section?
I would like to know what you think. My theory is that society is pushing the manipulation of the body. The woman is told she doesn’t need to have a baby; it will be a burden. In fact, she can actually turn off her fertility all together with just a pill. This is for her own good, she is told, so that she can live her life without those “burdens.” Yet, what does this convey to woman except that the very thing that makes her woman is not good?
Yet, even when society bombards her with a negative view of her femininity, she still yearns to create life. However, the feminine process that ought to be a vigorous reflection of divine power becomes a weak, timid image asking in a small voice, “Can I do this? Do I have the strength? I think I can, but I’m not sure anymore. Am I good enough?” Perhaps she is afraid of what she is capable of, because we no longer exclaim her as the reflection of the life force of the Creator, but instead we push her aside with a mere shrug, “well, if you want to do that, I guess you can try.” This same society is claiming to “liberate” her; she is now freed from her burden of femininity. Yet she is still woman. She is still feminine. And instead of feeling empowered and free, she is lost and weakened. She tries society’s vision and it’s okay, but not completely filling. Then she turns to her own femininity and doesn’t know what to make of it anymore. She doesn’t know who she is because that which makes her woman, her femininity, has been brushed aside.
Being a woman ought to be empowering. The blood flow that cycles through her touches back through the ages and forward into the future; it is the life cycle of the history of humanity. Greatness does not come easily; however, and bringing life into the world takes great strain. Yet, it is not a worthless pain but a powerful, divine cry of life. I don’t blame women for being afraid; they haven’t been given much to believe in when they learned about their bodies. Perhaps, as we move forward, though, we can give them the support, love and knowledge they need to know that being woman is the highest of callings. And maybe – we hope! – that one day women will be able to take a journey in understanding their femininity and welcoming the deep, beautiful, strenuous, divine strength that bursts forth in the power of bringing life into the world!
I think it’s fair to say that this culture has issues when it comes to women’s bodies. For example, babies who are breastfed have lower risk of allergies, diarrhea, constipation, ear infections, upper respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, reflux, obesity, asthma, SIDS, multiple sclerosis, leukemia, and heart disease. The reaction that lots of people still have when seeing a woman breastfeeding? Treat her like she’s doing something shameful and give her the stink eye or ask her to go do that somewhere else. The soft porn that exists in every checkout line in every store, however, is a familiar constant. Of course there is the impossible standard of beauty that women are held to that no one can actually live up to as most every printed image of women is photo-manipulated. There’s the jokes and shame surrounding menstruation, and the overall disdain of the rather phenomenal ability that women possess to give life to another human person. I mean, when male doctors do this in the lab (albeit while costing thousands and thousands of dollars, and with the problematic discarding of large numbers of fertilized embryos and selective reductions) they get the Nobel Prize. When women’s bodies do it naturally and for free, we are treated as a liability and pressured by our doctors to disable this ability with contraceptives. Don’t get me started on the pressure women feel to “get their body back in shape” after they just went through something as epic and powerful as childbirth.
As a result, I think it’s likely that most women don’t experience awe in regards to their bodies. They self-objectify, seeing a collection of parts rather than a valuable person, or thinking they’re only worth something if they look like a supermodel. I worry about the ramifications to women’s spirits as well. I recently wrote about the relational cycle of women. I won’t repeat the whole thing here, but just to summarize, when women are menstruating, they have less energy and naturally feel more withdrawn and reflective. It is a good time for rest and reflection. After menstruation ends, their energy levels rise and their interest in being more social returns. This is a good time for proposing and planning. When a woman enters her fertile days, she is bursting with creative energy and is naturally nurturing, selfless, and giving. A few days before her menstruation begins again, women feel a desire to pull inward again. Their spirits are more vulnerable and people ought to respect her sensitivity.
So in this culture where ovulation is seen as a liability, and in which millions of women who don’t want to get pregnant choose to take drugs to inhibit ovulation, it gets me thinking. By robbing women of our natural cycles, I wonder what else are we being robbed of? If women take drugs to eradicate our cycles, we also don’t get the benefit of our whole relational cycle. When women are fertile, this is when they feel the most alive and energetic. When I’m in my fertile phase, six hours maximum is enough sleep for me. I’m ready to get out of bed and seize the day, even though I’m not known to be a morning person and I still nurse my baby during the night. Women in their fertile phase naturally feel very selfless, nurturing, and giving. They feel alive and creative. This is often when I do my best writing. This is also the time when a woman’s husband will be the most attracted to her. Multiple studies have shown that men find ovulating women more attractive. I personally have found that when my husband and I are avoiding pregnancy, if we can’t come together physically during my fertile phase, it seems we come together emotionally. Often our best conversations, the moments of our greatest relational intimacy coincides with my fertile time. Do women not want their creativity to be at its peak? Do men not want a partner that’s selfless, nurturing, and giving? Do women themselves not want to feel this way? Do women not want to feel more attractive? Do couples not want this strong emotional connection with one another? For although they may not realize it, they handicap all these things when they willingly choose to not ovulate.
Second-wave feminists fight for access to abortion and contraception so that we can be free from our femininity, seeing our bodies as an unfair burden from which modern science can help us escape. I think though, that if one is actually disdainful of what is feminine, that can’t be considered authentic feminism. This is why I celebrate the dawn of New Feminism, a feminism that upholds and honors the beauty and power of women. New Feminism recognizes that if discrimination exists in the culture on account of women’s bodies, it is not women’s bodies that need to change, but the discriminatory culture. I think it’s time to hold our heads high because let’s face it, women are extraordinary, just the way we are.