Ally Rudd majored in pre-med in college. She was drawn to using fertility awareness tracking to learn more about her body.

“I’m excited about the way that it provides authentic care and education for women that is not present in society right now,” she said.

Rudd, who is serving in the University of Notre Dame’s Echo graduate service program as a pastoral apprentice at Holy Trinity Parish in Beaverton, isn’t married. She’s not tracking her cycle to prevent a pregnancy. Fertility awareness tracking, often referred to as natural family planning, tracks a woman’s biological markers to determine if she’s in the fertile part of her menstrual cycle. Unlike men who are fertile every day, women are fertile only for a week or less in each cycle.

Rudd has appreciated having a greater understanding of the complexities of a woman’s cycle as a whole.

“It’s so beautiful,” she said. As children and teenagers, she explained, girls aren’t given a holistic picture of what their bodies are preparing for and what they’re capable of.

“I’m learning to see my fertility as a gift,” added Rudd. “When I’m having bad cramps, I see that as a gift.”

Rudd also has been able to recognize emotional fluctuations as rising and dropping hormone levels depending on where she is in her cycle.

“Things are less out of the blue,” said Rudd.

There are several different methods to go about tracking a woman’s fertility. Rudd uses the Creighton method, created in 1976 by the founder of the Pope Paul VI Institute. The Creighton method, along with the method it is based upon called Billings, tracks a woman’s cervical mucus to determine when she is fertile. It is the same method being used in practice at the new Holy Family Clinic.

“It’s a lot more than family planning,” said Dr. Grace Jazrawi, one of the partners at the clinic. “It’s more about the woman’s medical issues.”

A woman tracks her cervical mucus every day on a chart. Couples have to be trained in the method before it is effective. Those being trained through the clinic may have their sessions covered under health insurance but it does take several months of tracking and working with the providers after an initial introductory session.

With the use of what’s called natural procreative technology, the clinic also can use what the woman tracked in her chart to determine if there might be problems. For instance, spotting before a menstrual period can sometimes indicate that the woman has low progesterone levels. The spotting would show up on a woman’s chart and allow the certified doctors to investigate further. Doctors wanting to be certified in natural procreative technology take an additional year of training after their residency at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Nebraska.

Jazrawi said fertility awareness can be good for couples. The couples who go through training at the clinic are encouraged to track the woman’s fertility together. Jazrawi tells the husbands to keep the charts so that the women have to talk to the men about the symptoms.

“If a couple can talk about cervical mucus, they can talk about anything,” laughed Jazrawi.

“It’s a team effort between husband and wife, honoring the woman’s natural cycle and never just turning either man or woman into a sexual object,” she added. “When intimacy occurs, the act is still open to life. You never take that away.”

“Fertility awareness improves your marriage because you’re forced to communicate more,” said Jason Kidd, director of the family life office at the Archdiocese of Portland. “You grow in virtue by having self-discipline.”

“God made a woman’s body in such an amazing way that if she pays attention to these signs, it tells her when she’s fertile or infertile,” added Kidd. “She can work with her body instead of against it.”

There are other fertility awareness methods, which track additional or different biological markers.

The sympto-thermal method, developed here in the Archdiocese of Portland in the early 1970s, tracks cervical mucus along with a woman’s basal body temperature, which is the temperature of a body fully at rest. The two signs are meant to cross-check each other.

Lauren Fuller is an instructor and trainer for the sympto-thermal SymptoPro program, which is connected to Northwest Family Services.

Fertility awareness demands acceptance of fertility. A couple must know how God designed the woman’s body and work with it, not against it.

“Charting cycle health is considered its own vital sign,” said Fuller. “It’s telling the woman something about overall health. If her cycle is off, there could be something else off.”

None of the methods mentioned here are the rhythm method, which estimated a woman’s fertility based upon an average 28 day cycle. It is largely unsuccessful.

“It’s developed much more since then,” said Fuller. “We know a lot more now. Fertility awareness is not just making a calculated guess. Biomarkers tell a woman if is she’s in that fertile window.”

Different methods may be useful to women at different times in their lives. When a woman is breastfeeding a baby, her cervical mucus may be difficult to interpret. This can create a situation where a woman can become pregnant very soon after giving birth or even before her period has returned.

Many women have turned to the Marquette method after childbirth or while breastfeeding.

Louise Boychuk runs Vitae Fertility Education, a company in Alberta, Canada, that teaches the Marquette method. Her instructors meet with clients online. Rather than tracking symptoms of fertility like the other methods, Marquette tracks a woman’s estrogen and luteinizing hormone levels with the use of fertility monitor.

“You’re actually getting a real time picture of what your body is doing,” said Boychuk. If a couple needs to monitor more than just hormone levels, Marquette instructors can add checking those signs to daily observations.

Boychuck and her husband have been tracking fertility since they were married in their early 20s.

Natural family planning “has helped us to go deeper in our relationship,” she said, pointing out the big sacrifice it takes for a couple to abstain when a woman is fertile.

“It’s helped us to mature as individuals. It’s helped us to mature as a couple. I feel like it’s preparing us for the challenges that come in a marriage and the challenges that come as an adult. There are things in life that aren’t fun. If you already know how to bear it, it’s easier to take on the more challenging parts of life.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org

SIDEBAR

Don’t just guess, get the facts

Each of the natural family planning methods requires training for effective use to prevent or achieve pregnancy. To learn more about the Creighton method, visit holyfamilyclinic.com. To learn more about the sympto-thermal method, visit symptopro.org. To learn more about the Marquette Method, visit vitaefertility.com or marquettemethod.com. Vitae Fertility Education also offers free instruction for clergy hoping to learn more about fertility awareness.