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Reproductive health in a digital era when you want to know your body and nature"-not an app

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Thousands of years ago, women created the first calendars by marking the moon's phases and the days in each menstrual cycle with tallies etched into objects like bison horns. In The Lunar Calendar, publisher Nancy Passmore writes, "The origins of a wholistic view of the world lie in these early observations: we are part of nature, and nature is part of us."

My dedication to observing nature began when I learned that rocks, glaciers, plants and menstrual cycles all evolve from cycles of heating and cooling and drying and moistening. A woman of childbearing age can chart her waking temperature and cervical fluid (signs of heating and cooling and drying and moistening) and know, every cycle, when she is fertile and infertile, whether she is ovulating, if she may have a thyroid problem and more. Fertility charts provide a way to prevent pregnancy"and, when a couple wants to conceive, to know the best days for trying.

Every woman knows plenty about her own body. With Fertility Awareness (FA"also called Natural Family Planning), knowledge of the menstrual cycle's sequence of events expands. A woman does not need pharmaceuticals to prevent pregnancy. When problems arise, she can give doctors an introductory gauge of her health and ask informed questions.

When I taught Fertility Awareness, I met people who talked with their parents and grandparents about how they had prevented pregnancy. I heard discussions about what makes welcoming a baby easier"and more difficult. I often wondered, when a woman takes pharmaceuticals to ease menstrual cramps, prevent pregnancy, or increase chances of conceiving, what is a healthy menstrual cycle?

Indeed, I saw problems with any woman's cycles as messengers from nature signaling a need to adjust diet, rest more, exercise differently or investigate unconscious thoughts. One third of the women in my classes did not have ovulatory cycles. After coming off of the Pill or Depo Provera, women researched ways to return to healthy cycles. Charting inspired them to eat eggs, butter and greens for breakfast; to eat less sugar and drink less alcohol"and to delight when they ovulated.

I fell in love with the menstrual cycle. I fell in love with women conducting research.

Capitalizing on reproductive health

Around 2004, when I published The Garden of Fertility, my first book about Fertility Awareness, a pharmaceutical corporation began selling a contraceptive that offered women the "convenience" of bleeding only once per season. Tech companies began selling ovulation-tracking software. Women could buy a program for their desktop computer and give it their daily temperature and cervical fluid readings. (Smartphones did not show up until 2007.) The program told users when their chances of conceiving were enhanced. A few told women when to postpone intercourse if they wanted to prevent pregnancy. (I heard about more than one unintended pregnancy after "the program told me I was not fertile.")

The scope of any program depends on the depth and breadth of its programmer's knowledge. Users are thereby limited to the programmer's knowledge of the menstrual cycle.

These apps often come with a monthly fee. Users risk having their reproductive health data hacked. They do not learn about their menstrual cycles. They do not learn to question relationships between reproductive health and diets, pharmaceutical history or night lighting. They learn to read the app.

Advocating for healthy menstrual cycles

Given our diets' decreasing nutrient-density, increasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and GMOs, several generations of women taking the Pill and other hormonal contraceptives (which suppress events like buildup of the uterine lining, buildup of cervical fluid, and ovulation), in utero exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from a mother's cell phone, teenagers and adults keeping EMR-emitting cell phones near their genitals, etcetera, healthy menstrual cycles may be hard to find. What's an advocate of healthy menstrual cycles to do?

I can plead:

Learn what happens in a healthy cycle.

Chart your cycles on paper.1 List your questions and discuss them with a Fertility Awareness teacher and others who have used their charts to prevent pregnancy. Do not use FA to prevent pregnancy until you can discern fertility from infertility even in atypical charts"and all of your questions have been answered.

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Katie Singer writes about nature and technology in Letters to Greta. She spoke about the Internet's footprint in 2018, at the United Nations' Forum on Science, Technology & Innovation, and, in 2019, on a panel with the climatologist Dr. (more...)

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