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  • Writer's pictureGiovanni Vitale

Fertility Awareness Books: Round 1

Fertility awareness is gaining traction in the mainstream. It’s clear that women want more than the side effects of the pill and the medical interventions of surgical sterilization and IUD placement. Fertility awareness places the power in the hands of the women, and it’s AWESOME.

This means we’re seeing more and more input from the greater community to help advance knowledge in this important field. I recently flipped through a few secular books that included some information on fertility awareness. It was interesting, to say the least, to see what new perspectives could be brought to a traditionally Catholic area of interest!

In both books mentioned below, there are references to behaviors such as withdrawal, barrier methods, and masturbation, which are contrary to the moral law of the Catholic Church. I don't support those recommendations and would discourage anyone from reading either book if they would find those subjects a source of anxiety or temptation.

My first adventure was to dive into “Beyond the Pill” by Dr. Jolene Brighten. This book is framed as a guide to help women come off of hormonal contraceptives and balance their hormones with diet and lifestyle changes. Brighten is a doctor of naturopathy, and writes in what I assume is meant to be a relatable tone. I was disappointed with the somewhat vulgar approach she takes in speaking about women’s health issues (don’t be surprised if you see a few colorful words sprinkled throughout the text). Her casual approach to discussing a complex medical issue is also demonstrated with a lack of in-text citations. While the bibliography is included for each chapter, it requires quite a bit of digging to determine which of her statements are evidence-based, and which are mere speculation. Of course, written from a secular perspective, I was not surprised by references to the use of barrier methods and withdrawal in conjunction with natural methods of pregnancy prevention, but her summary of fertility awareness is incomplete, and overall would likely provide a disservice to a woman who is looking to fully inform herself on all of the natural options. Again, the general idea of the text is to help women adjust their hormones, but if they are interested in staying off of the pill while avoiding pregnancy, the options are lacking. Overall, I wouldn't recommend this book unless you can check out a copy from your library and read it with a grain of salt. You might be entertained by some of the more interesting suggestions, such as standing barefoot outside during the full moon to regulate your cycle to the moon phases… I’ll wait for more evidence on that one.

The second book I took a look through was “The Fifth Vital Sign” by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack. Immediately upon opening this text, I was impressed with the apparent desire to provide evidence-based information to women about their menstrual cycles in a clear and objective way. Written as more of a general informational book about female hormones, cycles, and health, I was thoroughly satisfied with the references in-text, and the extensive information provided in an easy to understand way. Hendriskson-Jack gives an in-depth review of the science behind fertility awareness based methods of pregnancy prevention, and while she does mention barrier methods and withdrawal, she stands behind the research provided on various methods. She goes more in-depth into treating some common women’s health concerns, such as irregular and painful periods, and continues to support her statements with research. I think my favorite part of this book is the illustrations of hormonal changes through the cycle, cervical mucus appearance, and even charting examples. She doesn’t teach a method of natural family planning in the book, but does provide great information to get you started if you have no clue what it means to observe cervical mucus as a sign of your fertile window. I didn’t have a chance to read the entire book page-by-page, but my overall impression is that it provides a great deal of starter info on the female menstrual cycle, and can help you understand why it’s important to chart your fertility. I was a bit skeptical on some of the recommendations, such as vaginal steaming for heavy periods, so there is definitely an invitation for more research in women's health in this book as well!

Up next, I’m going to look into:

The Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden, ND

This is Your Brain on Birth Control by Sarah Hill, PhD

If you’re looking for an amazing compendium on the state of natural family planning from a Catholic source, I can’t recommend “Humane Vitae, 50 years later” enough!

Catholic sources are definitely my comfort zone, but it’s a wonderful volume that gives philosophical, religious, and medical perspectives on women’s health and NFP. You can pick up a copy through our Amazon affiliate link here.

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