In recent years, my blood glucose levels were rising, unbeknownst to me. No doctor pointed it out to me for a good while, because at 99 mg/dL it was “normal.”
The day it rose to 100 and worthy of mentioning, I was “suddenly” already pre-diabetic. Doctors have offered no solutions beyond “watch your carbs,” or start medication.
I quickly realized I was going to have to become way more hands-on with this problem if I was going to halt the progress to full diabetes. Starting earlier would have helped, but I hope my cautionary tale may yet have a happy ending.
Part of the problem was my lack of knowledge and lack of vigilance over my own health. Doctors do what they can, but they would be able to do so much more for us if we came to them with our own knowledge. We can do so much more for ourselves if we pay attention and inform ourselves.
We all have this choice to make in our approach to our health. While modern science offers us abundant options to hand over the management of ourselves to other agents, it also increasingly offers us options for taking a more active role and becoming experts in our own bodies. We have the choice now between those scientific advances that truly improve our quality of life and advances that work against our well-being. We can choose today to be passively dependent or to be more actively self-reliant, and be better off for it.
Contraception is a great example of this choice; relying on a pharmaceutical method to suppress our fertility is the standard option. Contraceptives are effective and take care of the problem for us, but the cost of convenience includes health risks and side effects.
Today’s fertility awareness methods for avoiding pregnancy now offer another option, though too many women are still unaware of it. Highly effective, these methods chart the signs of the women’s own body to indicate exactly when she is fertile or not and allow her to make informed choices accordingly. She learns to connect to her fertility and to the data of her own body, to understand it, and cooperate with it naturally.
Charting the fertility cycle is also “the fifth vital sign for women,” as Dr. Marguerite Duane, executive director of FACTS, calls it, because of the information that can be gleaned from the details of a woman’s chart about her health. These methods truly lead the way into a new era of women’s healthcare. Charting the cycle generates data that a doctor can access no other way than by a knowledgeable woman producing it for herself―data that can revolutionize the way doctors are able to treat women.
The benefits are many of becoming more active stewards of our own health. We need not be trained as doctors. We need only be willing to learn and to do, and to connect to ourselves and to others.
We need to know for ourselves
Instead of passively counting on medical professionals to figure out what’s going on with our health, as I did with my blood glucose problem, we need to “own our bodies’ data,” as Talithia Williams exhorts us in her excellent 2014 Ted Talk.
Williams, a statistician, tells a fascinating story of how when she was pregnant, her doctor insisted on inducing labor. Instead, Williams was able to contribute key data on her body temperature from charting her own cycle that helped indicate more accurately the date of conception and allowed for a more informed choice. She recommends some basic ways to collect our own health data that can provide the missing piece of the puzzle for better diagnoses and better decisions than can be reached than by a doctor alone.
“Doctors are experts on the population,” she states, “but you are the expert on yourself.”
We need to do for ourselves
What seems “close enough” to doing things for ourselves often has profound, unseen differences from the real thing. There’s generally a reason for doing things for ourselves the way we used to do them; it’s just a question of discovering that reason. Doing things for ourselves may seem like a lot of unnecessary trouble these days, but how often it’s better for us.
- “We don’t have to read, anymore,” I once heard a little girl say. “We just can watch videos of anything we need to learn.”
- “We don’t have to walk anymore,” said the old man in the scooter.
- “We don’t have to cook anymore. Someone else, the food manufacturers, has done it for me. It saves so much time and effort! Why make gravy from scratch? I can buy this packet of ready-made gravy. It tastes good enough. Why make anything from scratch?”
- “We don’t have to breast feed babies anymore. We can just go buy powdered formula. It’s so much quicker and easier.”
- “We don’t have to eat right or lose weight now. We can take diet pills or get surgery if we get fat. If we get sick, medicine can make the diseases go away.”
- “We don’t have to abstain from sex. We can do what we feel like doing now. Yippee! Contraceptives make casual sex easy; they make it safe—or safe enough, anyway.”
- “We don’t need to bother learning about our bodies. I don’t need to know about ovulation. I don’t even need to ovulate. Or even have periods anymore. I don’t need to get intimate with my own cervical mucus or bother taking my temperature or anything like that. We’ll just take these pills and the whole problem goes away. The pills somehow keep me from getting pregnant and somehow make my cramps and PMS go away, too.”
We need help from others
If I am to prevent diabetes or manage it naturally I’m going to need in-depth knowledge. I want to do all I can do for myself, which I believe is a lot, to stay healthy and as naturally as possible. Staying healthy without relying on medications will require action on my part, but I’ll also need information and direction from the right experts.
Likewise, if we are going to prepare our own foods, we need education. We aren’t born knowing how to cook or garden, though these activities are certainly “natural.” We learn these skills from the experience of others, books being a poor substitute. I do a lot of cooking, but I have never been successful doing anything that involved yeast, nor have I ever figured out how to “fold in” something. My gardening leaves a lot to be desired, too. Traditionally, such skills were handed down by parents to children, here a little, there a little.
If a mother wants to breastfeed her baby, she needs training and information, too. Though it’s a “completely natural” process, it doesn’t just come naturally. Traditionally, women taught their daughters such skills. The expertise was passed down and shared, woman to woman. La Leche League exists today to fill that need, providing resources and support for breastfeeding mothers. Whatever the source, women need help to breastfeed successfully.
In the same way, women who want to learn a Fertility Awareness Based Method of family planning need support and information, too. You need to learn from the experience of others and from the expertise of a certified trainer. If you want to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally, without side effects or health risks, in harmony with your natural fertility cycles, you need a source of support as breastfeeding moms need the help of another woman or of the La Leche league. I learned to chart from a book, but I was trying to achieve pregnancy at the time. Trying to avoid pregnancy brings in the fear factor that thorough training will eliminate. Successful use of these methods—and peace of mind in using them—comes from adequate education.
As our world continues to hurtle into the future, we increasingly face options to disconnect from our own humanity and from the concrete realities of our world and from the real humans around us. While avoiding greater involvement in the realities of my own life comes at a cost, the benefits of connecting are many.