When I mentioned to my general practitioner this past summer that I had been experiencing practically debilitating period symptoms, she said the words I was dreading hearing.
“Oh, well I can get you a prescription for birth control to help with that.”
I politely declined her offer, and began to do research on ways of alleviating these issues other than taking hormonal birth control. Avoiding taking the Pill was a decision I had made, not because of religious reasons (I am a practicing Catholic), but for scientific and health reasons. I would like to clarify that although my Church does condemn usage of birth control for avoiding conception, it is permissible as a treatment for other symptoms, like those I was experiencing.
The reason that I have personally decided against using birth control is because I believe that women deserve better options than taking medication which purposefully works against the natural inner-workings of their bodies. All other medications one would take — for whatever reason — are for the objective of helping one’s body work as it is supposed to. However, birth control works against a woman’s natural body to make it not work as it was originally designed to, which begs the question if it can be considered medication at all.
Veronica Arnold Smither, a Fertility-based Awareness Method (FAM) instructor from Houston, believes there are other ways to help women with health issues than giving them hormonal birth control. She explained to me that while birth control does work for some women, it opens you up to a whole host of potential issues — such as weight gain, headaches, nausea or even future infertility.
This is why she believes that instead of just prescribing the Pill for any woman who comes into the doctor’s office complaining about premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or other diagnoses, doctors should instead try to actually get to the root of the real issue. “I think women deserve to know whatever knowledge is available,” Arnold Smither said. “Why not tell women that this is how your fertility works? Let’s take care of women — and men — inside and out.”
When I asked her how exactly FAM can help with women who experience issues such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), she explained to me that a doctor will first start out by telling a woman to begin charting her cycle. Options for charting are wide, and include keeping track of cycle days, recording basal body temperature, observing cervical mucus or measuring urinary metabolites.
“NaPro [Natural Procreative Technology] technicians use this data to take it a step further,” Arnold Smither explained. “They focus the treatment at the point in the cycle when it would be the most effective, whereas a standard OB-GYN does not collect the data where a woman is in her cycle … because standard practice is not focused on treatment.”
The difficulty with explaining FAM methods to people is that they have a very heavy Catholic and pro-life connotation. Therefore, many outside Catholic or pro-life circles ignore the evidence on why birth control can be harmful, and why there are better solutions out there.
“[FAM] should be for everyone,” said Arnold Smither. She believes that the Green Movement should also care about the issues with birth control. “Why aren’t we going green when it comes to our own health care? … Even though there is a conservative Catholic connotation, the science shows that this is successful.”
If you are a woman who is interested in learning more about alternative methods of birth control and managing your gynecological health, please do your own research and keep an open mind. Factsaboutfertility.org is a great resource, and San Antonio has multiple listings for Naprotechnology OB-GYNs or FAM instructors that can help you learn more about your body and how to take control of your cycle without taking pills.
Although hormonal birth control might be the right choice for some, I believe that all women should have a full understanding of how their bodies work and the choice to manage their symptoms in a natural way that respects the body’s innate inner-workings. We deserve better than simply getting prescribed pills which may create even more problems than they fix, as true empowerment begins with understanding oneself and one’s body.