Pregnancy centers have long been filling in the gaps in woman’s health education, but now they can do it with an element of technology.
“Sometimes clients come in and I’ll ask them how long their cycle is and they’ll say six days,” Christina Ikonomovska, client care nurse, said of her years of experience in pregnancy centers.
Like many young women, clients often think that their menstrual cycle is just the days of menstruation. They have no idea what goes on in between their monthly periods nor how significant it is for both their health and fertility. Negative pregnancy tests or a client’s desire to pinpoint the day of conception, sometimes to figure out who the father may be, then become teaching moments. FEMM Health and its accompanying smartphone app is a new tool to teach clients about their bodies and their dignity.
FEMM Health isn’t the only smartphone app out there for tracking cycles. As more and more women are turning to natural family planning, also called fertility awareness based methods, not only for achieving pregnancy but also for avoiding it, a plethora of apps for fertility tracking have popped up. Earlier this year, Britain’s equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration even approved Natural Cycles, a phone app for tracking basal body temperature, as a form of contraception.
In this widening field of technology, FEMM Health stands out for offering women a way to understand their reproductive capacity in an integrated, genuinely human way. FEMM Health takes learning and tracking the intricate cycle of a woman’s reproductive system out of the avoid-or-achieve-pregnancy paradigm and puts it in the context of a woman’s overall health and wellbeing. It’s a first step in seeing her sexuality as integrated into her a whole person.
“If they can see the order and beauty in their bodies, they can start to trust in that order and beauty. It teaches them that the body is good,” Dr. Amy Fischer, a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist trained in FEMM Health and a member of Abria’s medical advisory council, said.
FEMM stands for Fertility Education and Medical Management and was developed by Chilean physician Pilar Vigil. It’s based on the premise that regular ovulation is a benchmark for a woman’s health. The relay of hormones required to make an egg grow and release indicate a basic harmony within her body. Just as a woman can recognize when other major body systems may be having problems, she should be able to know when her reproductive system is off balance.
The program includes an education component to teach women about the physical and hormonal changes of their fertility cycle, as well as the biomarkers that indicate them. Women then have the option of tracking their observations in a free smartphone app. That information comes in handy for FEMM Health trained physicians, such as Fisher, who can then treat a range of reproductive health problems from painful periods to hormone-related depression. Fisher called it “just good medicine.”
She also finds it an excellent educational tool because it is a neutral, non-religious platform that works well for a diversity of patients. Evidence shows that, even outside of a religious context, a genuine appreciation for one’s fertility translates into positive lifestyle choices. For thirty years, TeenSTAR, an internationally-implemented sexuality education curriculum, has been teaching young women to recognize the physiological signs of their fertility. Child Trends, a premiere, mainstream research institute, found that the program reduced teen pregnancies, delayed the onset of sexual activity, reduced sexual activity among sexually active teens, and improved attitudes towards abstinence. FEMM Health brings that empowering knowledge to where women of all ages are at—on their phones.
“This is by far the most accessible,” Ellie Jensen, education outreach coordinator, said. “Obviously, this isn’t a traditional pregnancy resource, but it takes it to the next level and offers a woman a broader vision of her dignity and worth to become a stronger version of herself.”
Jensen is one of the Abria staff members, along with Ikonomovska, who are in training to become FEMM Health educators.
Fisher considers having FEMM Health at its fingertips as another way Abria is committed to the overall good of women.
She said, “It shows the we’re coming along side women and helping them to be the best they can be.”