February 27, 2021
By Miranda Bacon, DO
Editor’s Note: It is not every day one hears a teenager promoting fertility awareness education and charting of the female cycle. And when we do hear such stories of empowered youth excited to learn even more about their bodies, it is so encouraging. This is what Dr. Miranda Bacon experienced when, as a fourth-year medical student, she had the opportunity to meet Katie, a young woman who learned at a young age to know and trust her physiology and use charting as a tool to monitor her health. Dr. Bacon is now a pediatric resident eager to teach her patients about the lifelong benefits of fertility awareness.
I had the privilege of speaking with Katie, a fifteen-year-old young woman who, at the time of this interview, had been using a rough model of the Billings Ovulation Method to track her cycle for over a year. Katie was first introduced to fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs) and cycle charting through a program called Teen STAR (Sexuality Teaching in the Context of Adult Responsibility), something that was encouraged by her mother, Susan. Susan has been using and teaching natural family planning (NFP) methods for years. Aware of the benefits of these FABMs, she hoped her daughter could learn about them as well. As Katie and her mother explained, the Teen STAR program educates young women and men about sexuality, the female body, the menstrual cycle, and all aspects of healthy relationships, including emotional, intellectual, and physical health.
Over twelve sessions of Teen STAR, Katie learned to pay attention to her body, track cervical mucus and menstruation, and chart her findings using an app on her phone. She was one of a few young women in the course who had not yet started menstruating. She now sees this as a significant advantage, as she was able to note patterns in her charting and eventually was able to predict when her first menses would begin! This was only one of many benefits she has experienced when it comes to tracking her cycle. She can predict when her menses should come each month, which has been helpful when preparing for the days to come or planning camping trips. Katie now has an increased awareness of her body and can identify what is normal and what is not. She feels much more in tune with her body than most girls her age and attributes this to her use of a fertility awareness-based method.
After learning and tracking her cycle for over a year, Katie can see the flaws in her health class at school when it comes to teaching sexuality and contraception. She is disappointed that health classes only taught about artificial contraception (OCPs, condoms, etc.) and their pros and cons, without mention of cycle tracking or fertility awareness-based methods. She explained that her public school class lacked education about natural mucus, a woman’s cycle, and many aspects of healthy romantic relationships. These health classes made her appreciate her Teen STAR course even more and all she learned about FABMs.
Katie noted some difficulties using this FABM to chart her cycle, including a small learning curve at the beginning of charting and some trouble entering data into the app when not on her phone. Overall, however, there have not been too many disadvantages or difficulties, and she has found charting very beneficial. Even as a 15-year-old, she hopes to continue using this method long term. She expressed interest in using FABMs in the future when she is married, and would be very interested to learn other NFP methods and how to use them to prevent or achieve pregnancy when she reaches that point in her life.
Informed and Empowered
Katie’s Teen STAR instructor is the only professional with whom she has ever talked about her use of FABMs. She hopes to have positive experiences with any medical professional with whom she discusses FABMs. Although Katie has never discussed her cycle charting with her physician, she expressed that since she is so in tune with her body and cycles, she would be able to know if something was ever amiss, and this would help her know if and when to seek medical attention. She understands that as an adolescent who has recently reached menarche, her periods may be irregular for a few years. She has been able to track her cycles, however, and note the patterns, therefore recognizing she is simply experiencing normal variations.
Katie was very positive and optimistic about her FABM use during adolescence. She feels empowered and significantly more informed about her body. She believes all teen girls should have some education about FABMs and charting their cycle.
Ready to Educate the Young
Speaking with Katie and her mother was such an incredible and eye-opening experience. As a future pediatrician, I am grateful to understand the applications of fertility awareness-based methods beyond their use to achieve or avoid pregnancy. Katie’s insight into her experience truly broadened my view of FABMs. Not only was I able to see the various applications of the methods I once thought had limited use, but I was also able to understand the benefits of FABMs/NFP in the adolescent population, one I will be working with closely throughout my career. As I learned from speaking with Katie and her mother, FABMs can be used very effectively to track one’s personal health and also to educate young women about their bodies. I loved being able to learn about Katie’s experience with FABMs and I am truly grateful to have this additional knowledge going into the rest of my medical career.
*Fictitious names were used to protect patient privacy.
Author Bio: Miranda Bacon, DO interviewed Katie and her mom as a fourth-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is currently a resident physician in pediatrics at Inova Children’s Hospital. Dr. Bacon participated in the FACTS elective at the end of her fourth year of medical school and enjoyed learning about natural family planning and FABMs, especially in the context of using cycle charting methods in adolescence as a way for young women to become empowered and better understand their health.
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Did You Know?
FACTS hosts a research database with over 160 articles related to fertility awareness?
As a FACTS member, you are able to view and download more than 160 research articles. The searchable database groups articles into 12 categories including Charting and the Science of the Cycle, FABM Effectiveness for Preventing Pregnancy, FABMs for Infertility and Achieving Pregnancy, Fertility Awareness Apps and FemTech, Psychosocial Aspects of FABMs, and more.
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