— Being Aware of Our Cycles
What is fertility awareness?
In Fertility Awareness based methods, we learn to observe, interpret and chart the body’s signs of fertility and infertility. I am a certified teacher of the Justisse Method – a sympto-thermal method of Fertility Awareness that is based on up to date scientific facts about the female body. Every day the female body goes through cyclical physiological changes. By learning to read these changes, we can understand which days of the menstrual cycle are fertile and which days are infertile. In Fertility Awareness, we call this body literacy.
The menstrual cycle is dynamic and changeable; therefore, all observations are made in real-time on a day-to-day basis, and we never use calculations based on previous cycles to assess fertility. Thus, the sympto-thermal method is much more effective than for example the Rhythm Method and most fertility monitoring apps.
Using a Fertility Awareness Method gives a deep understanding of one’s body. It can be used as a highly effective form of birth control; a method of achieving pregnancy; a tool for monitoring our hormonal milieu and enable us to deal with fertility or menstrual cycle health issues; or to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves through a deep understanding of our bodies. Personally, I regard this knowledge as the birth right of everyone with a menstrual cycle.
What made you embark on this journey?
My interest for the female body started in my early teens. My first memory of it sparking was in science-ed class, where the teacher was showing a movie with pictures from inside of the female reproductive system. I remember how I thought it looked like something from a magical underwater world. The movie put me in awe – I suddenly had this new knowledge about a beautiful enchanted world that resided inside of me.
In my late teens and early twenties, I was practicing yoga and began trying to live as natural and wholesome as possible. Parallel to this, my interest in women’s issues and feminism was deepening – especially in regard to our relationships to our bodies. Somehow being on hormonal contraception didn’t seem to fit in this picture, so I started to look for a natural alternative. The answer came in 2009 when a friend told me she used observations of her fertile cervical mucus for contraception. I was immediately hooked! I learned the method, started using it – and have kept on ever since.
I was completely stunned about the fact that something like this existed; and that nobody had told me about it before! It turned out that I was not the only one who didn’t know about it. I started to hold a couple of informal free of charge workshops to spread my newfound treasure, and the interest was huge. After some years of deepening my knowledge about my body, and deepening my relationship to my menstrual cycle, I realized that I wanted to go all in for this work. It was then that I found Justisse College International, and started the process of becoming a professional Fertility Awareness Educator and menstrual cycle health coach.
I have founded Our Fertility as a platform for this work – a place to meet, develop skills and find information and inspiration about Fertility Awareness and holistic reproductive health.
Who is coming to see you and how do you work with clients?
All kinds of women (and other people with a menstrual cycle)! Many are looking for a natural alternative to hormonal contraception or IUDs, others are struggling with infertility and other imbalances in the menstrual cycle, and some simply want to understand themselves and their bodies in a deeper way.
The first thing I do is to teach them to observe their bodies’ signs and chart their cycle. The menstrual cycle chart is then our tool in all further work – regardless of the client’s intention. (As mentioned, the Justisse method is a highly detailed and standardized way of charting our physiological signs of fertility.)
The menstrual cycle chart gives us a mirror picture of what is going on in the body – when we are fertile, when we are infertile, and how the hormones are shifting. If a client wants to avoid pregnancy, we look at how to use infertile days safely for intercourse (we are only fertile for about 5 days every cycle!). And if she is working on hormonal health, we can use the menstrual cycle chart to understand what is going on in her body – then we can speak about how to use diet, nutrition and lifestyle to heal any imbalances.
How is the menstrual cycle a reflection of what goes on in the rest of the body? And how do you work with holistic health?
The menstrual cycle is actually not meant to be painful or horrible in any way – if it is, that’s a sign that something in our bodies is out of balance. The reason we can use the menstrual cycle chart as a mirror picture of whole-body health is because the menstrual cycle is shaped from what is going on in the rest of the body. I usually speak of the hormonal system as a symphony orchestra – where every hormone represents an instrument. The orchestra is playing a dynamic piece of music – and if one instrument changes their tune or tempo, the rest will have to adjust. Changes in the menstrual cycle should therefore be seen as interconnected with other hormonal changes in the body.
How the orchestra is playing is, in turn, affected by many other factors such as nutrient absorption in the gut, chronic inflammation, how hormone metabolism is working in the liver, how much stress we are exposed to, what nutrients (or lack of nutrients) we get through our food, if there are any viruses or parasites present, etc. In this way, we can learn to connect the menstrual cycle to what is happening in the larger picture and work with holistic whole-body health to improve menstrual cycle health.
When I work with a client, we use the menstrual cycle chart in combination with the client’s health history as our guides to understand this interconnected network of symptoms and causes – and provide guidance in addressing menstrual cycle health challenges through diet, nutrition, lifestyle, and other holistic interventions.
How can knowledge and building an intimate relationship with your own cycle contribute to your general health and wellbeing?
In addition to providing a mirror of our whole-body health, charting our menstrual cycle can also help us to understand ourselves in a deeper way. The menstrual cycle chart becomes a tool for daily communication with our bodies.
During every cycle we are going through an ebb and flow of energy – and by understanding how this affects us as individuals we can learn to live with these changes in a more dynamic way. Many charters start to grow a deep appreciation for their menstrual cycle, and feel that awareness of their monthly rhythm becomes an enrichment to their lives and deepens their relationships to themselves. I have also seen that understanding how our bodies function helps us open up to a very profound respect and awe of our bodies – and to more self–love.
How does female health and women’s relationship to their bodies relate to the health of the earth?
There are some schools of thought that see a clear connection between the way we treat the Earth and the way we treat the female body. In indigenous traditions, the female body with her cycles of fertility is seen as a manifestation of the cycles of life and death in the natural world. In contrary, modern society’s linear way of thinking t tends to dishonour these cycles – both in nature, and in the female body. This, in turn, creates an “ever-growth cult”, that forgets the need for cyclic regeneration, which is comparative to what we are observing in our society today.
Personally, I believe it is when we as women re-discover our bodies and cyclic nature, we can lead the way for the rest of society to a healthier relationship to the Earth’s cycles, and thereby help change the linear way of thinking that is leading our planet to a burn-out.
There are also the very practical ecological benefits to natural fertility management – for example stopping to pee out synthetical hormones from hormonal contraception into our oceans and lakes, which is contributing to disturbed reproduction among ocean creatures and animals drinking the water.
Why do you think there is such a lack of general knowledge about the female cycle and how does that relate to stigma about the female body?
The taboo on the menstrual cycle has been very central to how women have been treated in society. This is for example the underlying reason why women are not permitted to be religious leaders in some traditions, and in parts of the world girls are kept away from education. In our western society, we can see the taboo reflected in how science about the menstrual cycle is still hugely under-funded, and that knowledge about the menstrual cycle among healthcare practitioners is far from optimal. There is also this underlying assumption that a painful menstrual cycle is normal – leading to prescription of synthetical hormones to remove symptoms by removal of the menstrual cycle, instead of resolving the underlying whole-body health imbalance. Fertility Awareness is a powerful tool to help lift this taboo – through knowledge and empowerment.
How does fertility awareness play a role in the development of a healthy society?
By gaining full knowledge about our bodies, we regain the ability to make truly informed reproductive choices – which is giving us back both the power over and respect for our own reproductive bodies. This is incredibly strengthening both for us as individuals, and for women in society as a whole. When we as women return to a respectful way of treating our bodies, the rest of society will have to adjust and follow.
To get in contact with Siri or to read more about Fertility Awareness go to: www.ourfertility.no Siri gives lectures, workshops and online consultations in Europe and beyond. She also takes in-person clients in Oslo.
This is an article from Hauste Magazine.
Words by Mira Beckstrøm Laurantzon and Siri Kalla.
Photographs by Nancy Bundt and Mathis Kleeb Solheim.