Fertility Awareness is a valuable skill for every woman. When you can interpret your fertility signs accurately you have a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. And with knowledge comes power: the power to plan a pregnancy, avoid a pregnancy, to be in tune with your body and how it works. For this reason, Fertility Awareness is gaining popularity in the fields of preventative medicine, pregnancy planning, birth control, holistic health and body literacy. There are a lot of great resources available. Here are some excellent books, organizations and websites to help you deepen your understanding of this important topic.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler – This is widely regarded as the “Bible” of the Fertility Awareness Method. At 475 pages long, it is an invaluable resource, covering everything from annovulatory cycles to pregnancy achievement. It is available at most major bookstores.
The Garden of Fertility by Katie Singer – This excellent book covers Fertility Awareness with a more holistic approach. There is material on diet, night-lighting, healing childbearing loss and other topics relating to fertility and gynecological health. This book is a fun read and teaches you things about your body and fertility that every woman should know. I also like the parallels she draws between the human fertility cycle and the planetary fertility cycle (seasons), and how understanding one can lead to understanding the other.
Natural Birth Control Made Simple by Barbara Kass-Annese R.N, C.N.P. and Hal Danzer M.D. – This is another excellent resource. While Toni’s book goes into a lot of detail about scientific aspects of FAM, and Katie’s book has a lot of material on the effects of our environment on the fertility cycle, Natural Birth Control keeps it simple but still has enough information to suit most early users of the method. 187 pages.
Honoring Our Cycles by Katie Singer – This book is written very simply, originally for the Amish community. It covers the basics of Fertility Awareness in an easy to read way.
Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body by Toni Weschler – Written to empower teenage girls with knowledge about their reproductive systems. Buy it for your daughter, or any pre-teen or teenage girls in your life.
Now some links to organizations that offer classes or consultations in Fertility Awareness.
To explain the landscape a little bit, Fertility Awareness has been around in one form or another since the 1930′s. In the 1950′s it was formally “discovered” that a woman’s cervical fluid changes over the course of her cycle. Doctors John and Evelyn Billings refined the method while working in a Catholic family welfare clinic in Australia. The first scientific research into Natural Family Planning (The Catholic name for Fertility Awareness) was done inside a Catholic context, and for this reason most of the money set aside to research the topic between 1960 and the present has been from Catholic funding sources. As a result almost all of the national organizations teaching Fertility Awareness do so with a Catholic approach.
BUT… this is changing. As a natural method of birth control that works in harmony with a woman’s fertility cycle, Fertility Awareness is now gaining popularity with progressive women looking for alternatives to The Pill or an IUD. As a result, many good secular resources are becoming available. We predict this trend will continue, and within a few years our vision is a North American network of secular Fertility Awareness teachers. Here are the best secular organizations we know of:
Justisse is a Canadian organization started in 1987 by by Geraldine Matus with the mission to provide women with Fertility Awareness training and counseling while respecting their rights to make their own reproductive decisions. Justisse offers a 2 year Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner training program which is very cool for anyone who wants to dive into the world of female health and reproduction. Consultations are available. Amy at Red Tent Sisters in Toronto is a trained Justisse teacher, and her class was one of the best we have been to. Justisse has a list of instructors across North America here.
Feminist Women’s Health Center was founded in 1979 in Yakima WA and is a nonprofit organization that “promotes and protects a woman’s right to choose and receive reproductive health care”. There is tons of info on this site. They list most forms of birth control, how they work, and their advantages and drawbacks. Also a good place to call for a referral if you live in the US.
Grace of the Moon - Sarah Bly is based in Oregon. She offers workshops and private Fertility Awareness consultations. Phone consultations available for those out of area.
Bay Center for Birth Control – This women’s health center is based in Toronto and offers referrals for Fertility Awareness counseling. If you don’t live in Toronto, and can’t find a Fertility Awareness teacher in your area, your local women’s clinic is a good place to call. Ask them for a referral. For example, in Toronto there is The Hassle Free Clinic, perhaps there is a similar clinic in your area.
Fertility Awareness Center – Run by my teacher and mentor, Ilene Richman. The Fertility Awareness Center is based in New York, NY. The website has lots of information on FA. Ilene is a master of Fertility Awareness and a great teacher (Disclosure: She is also one of Kindara’s advisors).
This ends the list of secular organizations we know about. Below are links to Catholic organizations that teach Natural Family Planning. Note: While the techniques for gauging and interpreting fertility are the same as Fertility Awareness, Natural Family Planning typically comes with a set of Catholic values. Whereas Fertility Awareness instructors tend to be pro-choice and support the use of a barrier method or non-penetrative intimacy during the fertile time, NFP instructors are anti-abortion and abstinence is required during the fertile time. Most NFP instruction is available only to married or engaged heterosexual couples. (Which is a shame because a lot of great research on natural fertility management has been done by these organizations and I think it should be made available to everyone, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.)
Billings Ovulation Method USA - Offers consultations and workshops on the Billings Ovulation Method. It’s a form of Natural Family Planning that relies on cervical fluid alone. Instruction is available for married and engaged couples. Will and I went to a workshop here in Toronto and it was very well put together (although in general we prefer methods that take temperature into account to confirm ovulation). The woman leading the workshop was very thorough and articulate and was more than happy to answer any questions we had. This workshop, and the follow-up we had with her a month later were both free, supported by donations from Catholic organizations.
Serena - Serena is a Canadian organization that offers NFP classes to couples using the couple to couple teaching model. We attended a class led by one of Serena’s teaching couples, in a church basement here in Toronto. They had a very Catholic approach. Serena teaches the Symptothermal method of Fertility Awareness/Natural Family Planning (which means both temperature and cervical fluid are tracked).
Couple to Couple League – Another Catholic organization. They teach NFP using the couple to couple model. Additionally they have a home study course for those not able to find or attend a class.
Every teacher I have come across (whether Catholic or otherwise) has been generous, well-read, dedicated and helpful. People who teach this method believe that Fertility Awareness and/or NFP is a valuable tool for humanity, and have dedicated their time to teaching women and couples how to use it correctly.
Lastly, here are links to some informative websites:
The Garden of Fertility – Tons of information on Katie Singer’s site. Be sure to check out the Natural Family Planning Blog, where she answers questions about Fertility Awareness.
Natural Fertility – This site is run by a Fertility Awareness teacher in Israel. It has a a great one page synopsis of the Fertility Awareness Method including advantages and drawbacks.
Fertility UK – Based in the UK. Provides information on Fertility Awareness and Natural Family Planning.
Fertility Awareness on Wikipedia – At the time of writing, this article gives a good overview of FAM and how it works.
I encourage everyone to learn about Fertility Awareness. When you learn how your fertility cycle works, you can make responsible informed choices about your own reproductive health, and be amazed at the messages your body is sending you.