Given the multiple side effects and risks of hormonal birth control, there has never been a better time for women to learn about evidence-based methods of fertility awareness. A growing number of medical professionals are utilizing fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs) of natural family planning as they seek to address root causes of infertility, and others are seeking to offer their female patients additional treatment options beyond a prescription for hormonal birth control to manage painful periods, irregular cycles, and more.
Dr. Summer Holmes Mason of Ohio is one such provider. In a 2019 interview with Natural Womanhood, she said that initially in her practice she considered hormonal birth control “bread and butter gynecology for me. It was probably one of the largest tools I had in my arsenal as an OBGYN to treat medical issues.” Yet, she found that birth control was not a good fit for some of her patients.
“After a couple of years, I realized people were coming back to me with more side effects than I thought was acceptable,” she said, recalling one patient who experienced a blood clot, a potentially life-threatening complication of hormonal birth control. Additionally, Dr. Holmes Mason saw other patients “cycle through birth control. They’d be on, sometimes, five or six or seven different kinds of birth-control pills . . . and they couldn’t find one that worked well for them.” Just as troubling, she found that hormonal birth control was masking symptoms rather than resolving underlying problems.
“Often times I see women in my office who have been on the Pill for 5 or 10 years, and they’ve had menstrual dysfunction since they were 12 or 13 years old. . . . I’m seeing them for the first time, and we don’t really know why their menses were dysfunctional,” Dr. Holmes Mason said. “The Pill has been masking whatever pathology was going on. Maybe they want to come off the Pill, for whatever reason—a medical issue, or they want to get pregnant. But the original issue still remains.”
She wanted to offer her patients more options, but her only exposure to FABMs during medical school and residency was learning about the rhythm method, a 1930s precursor to today’s evidence-based methods. She was surprised to find a podcast that featured an interview with Dr. Marguerite Duane, co-founder of the Fertility Awareness Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS), a group of medical professionals and others which works to “provide information about natural or fertility awareness based methods of family planning with the medical community.” When Dr. Duane specifically addressed the use of FABMs for medical management of common reproductive issues, Dr. Holmes Mason thought, “Aha! This does exist!”
Fast forward several years, and Dr. Holmes Mason is now certified in FEMM Medical Management, which along with Neo Fertility and NaProTechnology has treatment protocols for various reproductive problems that work to restore health by identifying and treating underlying root causes. For her part, Dr. Holmes Mason now says she has “so much more to offer” patients besides hormonal birth control.
Public perception about FABMs is slowly shifting, amongst medical professionals and users alike. Growing numbers of providers have incorporated FABMs, leading to significant increases in patient load. Georgetown University is now offering an elective on FABMs to med students. In 2019, the CDC finally updated its effectiveness statistics for FABMs. What’s more, a 2018 survey found that more than 4 in 10 women were open to hearing about FABMs from their OB/GYN.
Evidence-based FABMs offer women holistic options to restore reproductive health without side effects, and can be used to either achieve or avoid pregnancy. Their growing popularity is worth celebrating.
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