July 15, 2021
By Katherine Watson, DO
Editor’s Note: This is a compelling interview of a patient-turned-educator of FEMM (Fertility Education and Medical Management) after FABMs transformed her health and life. Dr. Katherine Watson interviewed Tessa Mills while on the FACTS fertility awareness online elective offered through Georgetown University School of Medicine and led by Dr. Marguerite Duane, executive director and co-founder of FACTS.
FEMM is a modern fertility awareness-based method (FABM) that provides education for women about their physiology, a free app to track their health and fertility, and medical support as needed. FEMM works with the Reproductive Health Research Institute (RHRI), which conducts research and develops protocols and training for health care professionals. FEMM teaches women to monitor their health and fertility using biological signs, empowering them to make informed decisions about their medical care. As exemplified below, the Fertility Education and Medical Management program has important clinical applications beyond family planning.
Same Story, Different Ending
“I wanted to get to the root cause of my irregular periods so that I could have the best chance of conceiving children when I was ready.”
These words may sound familiar to the countless women who have had irregular periods at some point in their lifetime. Like many of them, Tessa Mills was treated with contraceptives when she was younger to “regulate” her periods. However, she noticed over the years that she never really had “regular” periods. She wanted to know more about what was going on with her body and started to think that contraceptives were merely masking the bigger problem.
Mills had been on contraceptives for almost a decade before she met her husband and, together, they started the exciting step of family planning. Yet, Tessa felt uncertain about her fertility due to her prolonged history of birth control use and irregular cycles. “I had all of these symptoms to go along with my irregular periods,” she recalled, “and every doctor I spoke to seemed to just push another form of birth control at me.”
She was determined to master her health before conceiving children. Then everything changed when she read a book titled, “Taking Charge of Your Fertility,” by Toni Weschler. “Not one of my doctors had ever mentioned natural family planning (NFP) or fertility awareness-based methods.” After learning about these options, Mills took her fertility into her own hands and stopped all birth control from her treatment plan. She then started to seek out medical professionals who were trained in FABMs.
Proactive Steps in Reproductive Health
Mills described how charting her menstrual cycle enhanced her medical care as she partnered with FABM-trained medical professionals. “I started tracking my cervical fluid and basal body temperature to see if I was actually ovulating. After a year of charting, I realized I wasn’t ovulating regularly. I had weight gain, extreme fatigue, and hair loss. It was then that I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease of the thyroid.”
She was immediately started on thyroid medication and her menstrual cycle became more regular. “My experience revealed how broken the standard approach is to women’s reproductive healthcare.”
From Patient to FEMM Educator
With this realization, Mills was inspired to help other women who have been struggling with fertility. She left her job working in public health to pursue certification in the Fertility Education & Medical Management (FEMM) program. She then started a business to help women understand their reproductive health and fertility and “make the journey to motherhood an informed and supportive one for my clients.”
Mills decided to help fill the void she felt was lacking in standard women’s healthcare. She wanted to support women by educating and coaching them to understand their bodies.
“Women taking back control of their fertility is empowering,” says Mills. She knew FABMs are an option for women that is often not presented to them. Allowing women to decide for themselves how to approach their reproductive health with all the options in front of them helps them make a more informed decision.
Birth control is clearly not always the answer, and a woman’s cycle can be one of the first indicators of general health. “There is so much that can be revealed about a woman’s health just from tracking her cervical fluid and menstrual cycles. It was like an untapped wealth of knowledge.” Soon, friends and family started to approach Mills about natural family planning. “A friend of mine who had been struggling for two years to get pregnant asked me about FEMM. I helped her get started on charting her cycles and connected her with the right resources. After charting for a few months, she was pregnant! It was rewarding to coach her through this process. I was convinced I had found what I was destined to do with the rest of my life.”
Mills’ journey began as a patient seeking answers, and now she coaches women needing to find those answers. She remarked that she wishes every physician could be taught about fertility awareness-based methods starting in medical school and continued throughout their training. She hopes they can “learn about all the options for women’s reproductive health and take the time to really listen to (their) patients. That’s what they want. They trust medical professionals to give them all the information to make an informed decision and to listen to them.”
* Special thanks to Tessa Mills for sharing her story.
Author Bio: Katherine Watson, DO conducted this interview as a fourth-year medical student at Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine. She hopes to improve women’s health and is pursuing a career in obstetrics and gynecology. She is a mother of two from Texas, an Army Officer, and previously worked as a registered nurse.
THE FACTS CME COURSE IS HERE!
The FACTS 4-part CME Course – Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs) for Family Planning and Restorative Reproductive Women’s Healthcare prepares you as a medical professional to present more comprehensive options for family planning and women’s health monitoring and management of a range of reproductive health concerns. Through online lectures, live case study discussions, and readings, this course will explore the broad applications of modern Fertility Awareness-Based Methods (FABMs) and their role in pregnancy prevention, infertility, and women’s health.
The course is divided into four parts; you may elect to do any or all of them and they may be completed in any order. Each part is worth up to 14 AAFP-approved CME credits.
• Part A, An Introduction to Modern FABMs for Family Planning
• Part B, Special Topics in FABMs for Helping Couples Achieve or Avoid Pregnancy
• Part C, FABMs for Restorative Reproductive Medicine and at Various Stages of Life
• Part D, Medical Applications of FABMs
Click here to download the full lesson schedule for the course.