As I scrolled through the tweets from attendees of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research conference last month, wishing I was there myself, one quotation from a talk given (I believe) by Lisa Leger, caught my attention: "Lack of body literacy is feeling unsafe in your own body."
This statement struck me because it made me recall how learning just the basics of fertility awareness when I came off the Pill changed my relationship with my body. Whereas before I had treated my body like a ticking time bomb that threatened me with unplanned pregnancy or periods and rebelled against the regimen of ten years on oral contraceptives with difficult side effects; body literacy gave me the insight I needed to stop seeing my biology as my enemy.
I had been fearful of my body; fearful especially that I would get pregnant, and this kept me on the Pill too long. I had been led to believe that I was fertile every single day, with pregnancy a potential outcome every time I had sex. I didn’t trust the Pill to keep me safe, mainly because I started taking it long before I started having sex. My mind never confirmed the connection. Coming off the Pill, though, I believed would definitely end in an unplanned pregnancy or such terrible anxiety about getting pregnant (even worse than when on the Pill) that I would no longer want to have sex anyway.
As my cycles started again I felt confident in knowing when I was fertile, when my period would start, and when I was most likely to have PMS symptoms. Whereas before I thought the best way forward was to overcome my biology; I found I felt better for leaving behind the constant struggle of managing it. I felt in control, but I didn’t feel like I had to be controlling. Nor did I feel like my biology was controlling me, anymore. My biology wasn’t demanding that I take the Pill, it wasn’t forcing me to experience side effects, and it wasn’t scaring me into doing what I thought was necessary. I didn’t feel like my reproductive system defined me, but I was ready to accept it as an important, healthy, helpful part of me and my life.
Today, my body literacy allows me to feel safe in my body and gives me a positive perspective on what my body is like both inside and out. In a way, fertility awareness is an essential part of the body positive movement.
What I like about the new technologies that are supporting body literacy – from the apps to the Bluetooth thermometers – is they act as great mediators between our bodies and our selves. They help us to learn fertility awareness in a way that doesn’t trigger defensiveness. This technology has become the bridge between not knowing and knowing. It’s not easy to go from feeling unsafe in your own body to feeling safe; and having the safe space to do work through that is vital.
Exploration of fertility awareness (while still using barrier methods, of course!) is facilitated via our constant companions, our smart phones. Progressing from thinking your cervical fluid is an STD symptom, to knowing it’s a healthy sign of fertility, to understanding the difference between consistencies, to sharing photos with your FAMily online, is a process of overcoming our fear of our bodies that leads to connecting with ourselves and, ultimately, with other women.
A little bit about Holly and her awesome work!
Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her book Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.