Who will teach fertility awareness to my daughters?
My daughters are two and four years old. Which means that I have a little less than, oh, about eight years before I really have to teach the eldest about fertility charting.
Right now, this doesn’t worry me at all. I’ve taught the basics to engaged couples and pre-teen and teenage girls and their mothers on two dozen or so occasions. I’m very comfortable with the lingo. But I’m sure—oh, so sure—that the day will come when my feet will shake in my cowboy boots and I’ll fret over “how much is too much?” and what they “really need to know.” Like the song says, “girls become lovers who turn into mothers.…” As a mom, I really do want to do what’s best for my daughters, especially in light of that daunting reality.
Because I love my daughters, the last thing I want them to wonder as adults is, “Why didn’t I learn this as a teenager?”
I want them to be equipped with all the information they need to make healthy choices for themselves as women, and I want them to have and be comfortable with that information long before they have to make some of life’s most important choices. Self-knowledge, with the right context, can be both empowering and freeing. So lately I have been doing some research on what programs and tools are already out there to help young people learn about fertility awareness.
The good news: With initiatives like Natural Womanhood, FACTS, and the Sweetening the Pill documentary making fertility awareness more mainstream, more adults than ever—including parents and physicians—are likely to be knowledgeable about their fertility and its impact on their overall health. Also, thanks to charting apps, today’s youth are coming of age in a time when fertility awareness is likely to be part of their digital landscape.
The not-so-good news: The initiatives specifically aimed at young people are few and far between.
Maybe this shouldn’t surprise me. After all, it’s not a one-and-done deal—physical, emotional, and psychological development occurs over the course of years, and every child is different in terms of when and what he or she needs (or wants) to know. In that sense, there will never be a “perfect” program that suits every audience at all times. Also, arguably, as a parent, I feel I should be the primary source of information about fertility awareness to my kids. So the fact that there aren’t a plethora of programs that target teens and tweens directly may not necessarily be a bad thing.*
But…it sure would be helpful if parents knew where they could go to feel empowered to pass on this information to their children!
So what programs actually exist that target teens with this information?
Before I get to the list itself, it’s important to note that each of these programs comes from a different perspective, with different resources on hand and different audiences in mind. (See my note above about there being no perfect program!)
Just as the variety of fertility awareness based methods (FABMs) available make it more likely that women and couples will find a method that is right for them, the variety of approaches for teens offers a range of benefits. As a mother of daughters, I find it empowering simply to know what is available.
Teen STAR (TeenSTAR.org)
Founded by ob-gyn Dr. Hanna Klaus, M.D., Teen STAR (Sexuality Teaching in the context of Adult Responsibility) is an international program that equips youth with practical ownership of their fertility and sexuality by experiential education that takes place over the course of a year-long program. According to the website, it “is a developmental curriculum which uses learning one’s fertility pattern to teach responsible decision-making and communication skills in the area of sexual behavior and enhances teens’ self-understanding and self-esteem.”
Teen STAR boasts incredible success at inspiring teens to choose and/or return to abstinence (read about its plan for Undergirding Abstinence Within a Sexuality Education Program), and has in the past been awarded USAID funds to help reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS.
What I like: Longer-term programs like this, led by trained teachers, seem to provide the time and support for information to really sink in, and give teens an ongoing sense that someone cares about their personal development—that they are part of a community and that their choices really matter.
The downside: Training for these programs does not seem to be widely available. (Try to find the nearest workshop for you on their website!)
Blossom (offered by the John Paul II Life Center in Austin, TX),
The Mother-Daughter Programs on the Gift of Femininity (offered by Clarity Apostolate in Wichita, KS)
and the Memphis Mother/Daughter Programs (offered by the Catholic Diocese of Memphis, TN)
These three programs all have in common a component of basic introduction to fertility awareness. They do not teach charting, per se, but introduce mothers (Blossom) or mothers and daughters (the mother-daughter programs) to the importance of the physiology and biology of the female reproductive cycle in the context of encouraging ongoing communication between mothers and daughters about the experience and gift of being a woman.
Most of the women I know who have felt compelled to spearhead these programs in their areas have been heavily involved in teaching and/or using fertility awareness themselves. For example, Heather Kalamarides, founder of Blossom, has used natural family planning herself for more than 20 years and is a Creighton Model FertilityCare practitioner (her husband, Dr. Jeremy Kalamarides, is a NaPro-trained Ob-Gyn).
Kalamarides said, “New [Creighton] users often remark on how they wished that they had known how their fertility … worked earlier in life. That they were missing something. How it would have changed their perspective on their own sexuality and their choices for the better. I have clients ask me, ‘Why don’t we teach children about this in school?’ Good questions. These are well educated people that have already been, many times, indoctrinated with sex education programs and knowledge of contraception. But the information given lacked the multidimensional nature of sexuality and also ignored fertility as a natural and normal part of human physiology.”
Her program aims to change that trend by equipping mothers to have ongoing conversations with their daughters about fertility and sexuality.
“As a parent, we can foster the idea of respect for sexuality, fertility and the human dignity of persons over the course of a lifetime of raising our children,” she added.
Blossom’s 2 1/2 hour event for mothers is split into two parts: a brief overview on the physiology of fertility, followed by a session aimed at equipping mothers with resources to assist in discussing these topics and fostering good relationships with their daughters.
The mother-daughter programs (which I have both attended as a girl and presented at as an adult) target presentations to the daughters with the mothers present, and also provide additional resources for their ongoing communication.
What I like: These types of programs provide a framework to bridge the gap between mothers and daughters, which is critical since parents are de facto the primary educators of their children.
The downside: Most programs like these are local initiatives, which means they simply are not accessible to wide audiences (although the Memphis programs do provide a PDF and resources for anyone to replicate their events). Also, attendees do not go away from these programs with the knowledge of how to actually chart their cycles. I’d love to see these programs incorporate a follow-up to teach young girls (and their mothers, of course) how to chart!
Marguerite D’Youville FertilityCare Services (Manchester, NH)
Director Kathy Rivet has designed a chart specifically for girls to help them learn how to track their cycles. This interview with blogger Simcha Fisher gives an overview of Rivet’s motivations behind helping teens learn to chart. She is especially keen on the fact that charting can help women detect potential health and/or infertility problems long before they otherwise would.
What I like: Because Rivet’s charts are directly tied to her FertilityCare services, teens who perceive they might be having health issues can theoretically plug right into FertilityCare and NaPro Technology resources, rather than being offered the ubiquitous Pill.
The downside: To my knowledge, like the other programs listed above, this is primarily a local initiative without broad accessibility.
Cycle Savvy by Toni Weschler, MPH (author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility)
If you’re looking for straight talk on the biology and physiology of fertility awareness, get ready to be impressed. This secular resource aimed at teens jumps right in with humor and frankness about the wonder of a woman’s reproductive system and how knowledge of fertility awareness can empower women with clarity about their cycles. I love, love, love her charts—and you can download them for free!
What I like: The accessibility of this resource is without compare. Readers really can learn to chart by using this book. (Did I mention the chart is available for FREE?)
The downside: Parents may be uncomfortable handing this book to their teens due to the way it handles sexual activity and other methods of birth control. I, personally, was disappointed that the website included links to several organizations that heavily push contraceptives (including hormonal ones) and encourage premarital sexual experimentation.
If a program existed that combined the
simple accessibility of Cycle Savvy
parental involvement and context of Blossom and the mother-daughter programs
direct access to charting-integrated health care of a FertilityCare system
longer-term, ongoing structure of support and emphasis on youth initiative of Teen STAR
… I think I’d be on cloud 9!
In the meantime, you can bet this mom will be continuing her research!
*Except for the fact that there are a plethora of “sex ed” programs that do routinely bypass parents and target teens directly, and very few, if any, of them incorporate fertility awareness.
Have you read our Medical Update about Fertility Awareness Based Method? You can download it for free here.