Fertility Awareness Methods Can Better Serve African Women Than Contraception and I’m Living Proof
Contraceptives have been promoted as essential healthcare for women in Africa for decades. Access to contraception has been touted by Western development agencies and donors as the key to the liberation and empowerment of Nigerian and African women in general. Unfortunately, the advocates of contraceptives are not giving women in Africa full disclosure of the consequences and side effects of these choices.
My Experience with Contraceptives
Experience, they say, is the best teacher. Unfortunately, I suffered for about five years in the hands of multiple contraceptives before turning to fertility awareness-based methods (FABM), also known as Natural Family Planning (NFP). Like a lot of women in Africa, I fell for the lies of Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria, that contraceptives were the key to planning my family and living a healthy and happy lifestyle.
I got the opposite. I was in and out of hospital most times. Taking ultrasounds, EKGs, and several blood tests just so the doctors could identify what was wrong.
I had an Intrauterine Device (IUD) inserted some time in 1997 at a Planned Parenthood facility, off Ikorodu Road in Fadeyi, Lagos. My nightmare began shortly after. Instead of my periods lasting maximum 5 days, it stretched on to almost 14 days. After about 3 months I broke down, got treated for malaria, then typhoid, then anemia. I was in and out of hospitals as doctors tried to find the problem. Finally, I was referred to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
It was there I was advised to get the IUD removed. I had my third baby in 2000. And shortly after had a Norplant inserted on my arm by my gynecologist. I was fine shortly after except for the pain in my arm sometimes. Some months after, a family friend visited our home and was worried that my tummy had not “tucked in” after the baby. She advised I go to the hospital.
Lo and behold, a visit to the doctor revealed I was 26-weeks pregnant and I had no symptoms of morning sickness; the Norplant had failed. I had my fourth baby, two days before his brother’s first birthday! In desperation, I inserted another IUD, but this time I suspect it fell out shortly afterward, as I couldn’t feel the strings about three months after the insertion.
What followed was another round of nightmares of going for one scan after another just to confirm if it had actually fallen out. My life was reduced to constant worrying and spending my family’s much-needed money on endless tests and consultations with one gynecologist after another.
I was consumed by anxiety and fear of the unknown, and in my life’s experience, there is nothing as demoralizing as that. To my surprise, the doctors calmly explained to me that the tests revealed that the IUD might have fallen out. They prescribed I have another IUD inserted, or go for the Pill.
At this point, to me, that would amount to going from frying pan to fire. How could more of the same be helpful to me, after all these trials I’d been through? I had read and heard about many health risks with the Pill, and I knew it was not an option I wanted.
Finally, I set myself free from contraceptives in May 2002. I resolved to go natural. I dusted off the books I had on NFP and started reading about it. I successfully prevented pregnancy for ten years with this knowledge, until I was open to embracing new life once again.
Side Effects of Contraceptives That No One Is Telling African Women
I have found that many African women don’t know or understand the risks associated with the manipulation of their hormones through hormonal contraceptives. Common side effects and risks include:
- nausea, vomiting, constipation or bloating
- irregular menstruation and spotting
- breast swelling or tenderness
- decreased libido
- weight gain or loss of appetite
- mood swings,anxiety, nervousness or depression
- changes in vaginal discharge and vaginal infections
- headaches, dizziness, and fatigue
- high blood pressure and cholesterol
- acne or permanent discoloration of the face
- fluid retention
- bone density loss
- hair loss or changes in hair growth
- enlarged ovarian follicles
And how about these potential long-term complications of hormonal birth control?
- eye problems or vision impairment
- gall bladder disease and gall stones
- resistance to insulin
- immune system suppression
- heart attack
- stroke, breast tumors, and liver tumors
- ectopic pregnancies
- links with certain cancers such as breast and cervical cancer
- blood clots in legs, lungs, heart, brain
What I don’t think people understand is that for most women in Africa living in abject poverty, with little or no access to doctors or any medical care, the complications from these side effects could be a death sentence.
Which is why I’ve come to believe FABMs are best options for African women. I speak as a woman who has now practiced fertility awareness successfully for 16 years and set myself free from the toxins of contraceptives.
The beauty of FABMs is that they teach women to recognize their fertility and the dignity of their bodies. It’s empowering for a woman to know how her body works and recognize the changes that occur throughout the menstrual cycle. More than 50 years of scientific research has helped doctors understand how to pinpoint the time of a woman’s ovulation, even when she has irregular cycles.
There are various natural options for women to choose from: the mucus, temperature, cervix position, hormonal production, Sympto-thermal and Sympto-hormonal methods. Natural Womanhood offers excellent resources to support women planning to make the switch to FABMs.
FABMs offer lots of benefits for African Women. They are easy to learn and understand; even the vast pool of uneducated women across Africa can understand how to chart their cycles and identify the changes that happen. I think more African women would choose FABMs if they knew these facts:
- FABMs are natural and have no side effects.
- FABMs are science-based and have proven highly effective rates of avoiding pregnancy.
- FABMs are inexpensive and help a woman and her partner take control of their reproductive choices.
- FABMs are empowering for women. The knowledge of how her body works frees a woman from worry.
The world is going green and so should women across the world. African women, in particular, deserve to go green too and reap its benefits. Technology is coming to our rescue in this effort, thanks to the fantastic books, websites, and apps being produced. Every day, there are more resources to help women learn body literacy, chart their cycles, and effectively plan their families.
These are certainly exciting times to be a woman and African women shouldn’t be left out. For me, it’s been 16 years getting to know and listen to my body. And it’s not just a chore on my health to-do list. I’m loving it!!!
Too many women struggle with health risks of hormonal contraceptives and their trials stay in the dark. I hope that by sharing my journey I can help others avoid similar pain. That is why it has become my mission to help more women learn these methods, starting with those in my community of African women.
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