Making the case for an alternative approach to women’s health

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The more I talk with my friends, the more I encounter women making decisions about their fertility and their reproductive health, the better I see that I had the rare experience of having a mom who was straightforward and non-dramatic about her vision of these aspects to our womanhood. Yes, she generalized, and yes, our culture would consider her mentality conservative, but still, what she said made sense. She would say, “Don’t use contraception because it isn’t good for you emotionally or spiritually or physically” in the same way she said “Don’t do drugs because they’re not good for you emotionally or socially or physically.” We talked about the details, and the details made sense in context of my life. Hormonal contraceptives, for example, could mess with a woman’s body in a way that made it difficult for her to conceive later—and I knew I didn’t want to risk that. And certain methods were plain uncomfortable or increased the risk of infection—which didn’t make sense, if contraception is meant to help women and make life easier.

What my mom underscored always was that I should do what’s good for me because, in doing those things, I would most fully live out my personhood and the dignity that I possessed—in a way, I owed that to myself, to my parents, and to the people around me.

When I took my first course in women’s rights at New York University, I realized very concretely that the mentality with which I’d grown up was completely inverted in most women’s rights models among non-profit and non-governmental organizations. While I wholeheartedly embraced visions for maximizing maternal and reproductive healthcare quality and access, I was stunned by specific approaches these organizations suggested (campaigns for condom distribution before any kind of infrastructure for greater hospital or clinic access, for example, in areas where the greatest problem was maternal death among women who wanted children). I was sure that my mom couldn’t have been totally wrong about her vision of our fertility, and I saw in my research that entire cultures and audiences agreed that contraception and “family management” programs of the sort suggested weren’t going to work—for religious or ethical reasons, for medical reasons, for cultural reasons.

It seems that, somewhere, something has gone awry in the vision of female fertility, and the ways in which that fertility is important to protect, nourish, and manage appropriately, in a way that is healthy and good for the woman in question. FEMM reveals that, even today, a number of contraceptive methods are ineffective up to 60%-70% of the time, and both the more and less effective methods warp a woman’s hormonal cycle, and also increase the risk of infection, pain, STD transmission, discomfort, and a variety of greater problems.

Even better, FEMM gives a really healthy and really good response to misconceptions about what a woman needs in taking care of herself and her fertility. It’s a pro-woman, pro-fertility approach.

I love that FEMM gives totally advanced science-based reasons for everything my mom told me while growing up. Turns out, there is a reason that fertility-rated processes unfold the way they do. Our menstrual cycles aren’t random. The woman’s body is highly capable of a number of intense and fragile internal processes that reflect her health.

FEMM does the most awesome thing: It empowers the woman to know this about herself, to know when she’s fertile (only a six-day window out of the whole cycle!), and to control that fertility in a way that will both allow her to maintain her general health and to avoid situations in which she feels she doesn’t have a choice but to use contraceptive methods that have the potential to cause pain and internal dysfunction or damage, among other side effects—all those things that my mom didn’t want for me.

By Weronika Janczuk, a WYA North America member and FEMM researcher