I am a fan of women like Jenna Kutcher and Rachel Hollis. As successful women, they make me feel like I have happiness in my grasp. They give great advice about marketing, limiting screen usage, making time for my family, appreciating my body no matter the size, and the significance of helping others.
This past December, I was in the airport heading home and I needed to pass the time. I thought, I’ll listen to Jenna! Is she in Hawaii this week? Or, is she enjoying the snow on the North Shore in Minnesota? I had seen she had a Podcast on periods, and I was really intrigued. What would she focus on? Would she promote the pill? Blah. Did she know about Natural Family Planning? I hope!
We Can Take All the Help Navigating Our Cycles
As a single woman, who has always had a regular cycle, I also know the pains of the monthly period. I am energetic one week, and the next week I feel like I am going to die, or kill my best friend. Hormones are real! Periods are no joke!
When I hear Christopher West say: “Ladies, be grateful for your periods.” I cringe! Even though I know what he’s getting at and I am incredibly grateful for fertility and the gift of life. But periods are hard, and they impact everything! Especially as a female leader in the Church; I have to be “on” all the time even when it’s that time of the month. I don’t think our male colleagues know the struggle. They for sure think we are bi-polar!
Do you listen to powerhouse women like Jenna Kutcher? Did you tune into her podcast on period coaches featuring Claire Baker? What did you think?
While I think Jenna and Claire have the best of intentions, as Catholic women, we need solid Catholic guidance on important topics like these. So, I went to SymptoPro trainer Cindy Leonard and asked for advice on the topic of secular period coaches to get clarity on whether or not women should be seeking out their guidance, or if there’s a better and healthier option available.
#1: Clarity on the Role of a Period Coach
Q: What is a Period Coach and is this a new phenomenon? Is a Period Coach the same thing as a Natural Family Planning (NFP) Instructor? Does the Church have “Catholic Period Coaches”?
Cindy: Period Coaches help women understand their menstrual cycles and how their cycles can affect the many aspects of their well-being. Period coaches do seem to be a fairly new phenomenon, fueled by the blogosphere, women’s magazines, and the lack of self-knowledge most women have for their own reproductive anatomy and physiology.
This seems rather curious since Planned Parenthood logs so many hours teaching ‘Comprehensive Sex Ed’ in public schools, starting at very young ages.
Period Coaches are not the same thing as Fertility Awareness-Based Method (FABM) or Natural Family Planning (NFP) Instructors, and to my knowledge the Church does not have Period Coaches, per se.
However, the Catholic Church does promote NFP and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has standards for NFP programming which include excellent standards for certification of NFP Instructors. What I learned from a quick google search is that there does not seem to be any standards or certifications to become a Period Coach.
In many arch/dioceses, NFP Instructors have long been working with mothers and their daughters to offer instruction that goes far beyond what a typical Period Coach seems to be able to provide.
NFP education can be provided to single Catholic women for good cycle healthcare. About a year ago I developed and taught a four-part course to a group of chaste Catholic single women who received much more than period coaching.
It was fascinating to fulfill the desire they had to understand their feminine bodies, their reproductive fertility, and how their cycle biomarkers telescope the inner workings of their reproductive system.
Women charting NFP can be aware of potential roadblocks to fertility long before they try to conceive along with being more attuned to their emotional, physical, and spiritual health as it relates to their cycle.
#2 NFP is Natural and is Key to Navigating Our Cycles
Q: As a professional woman serving in the Church, what would you say to other working women who are affected by their periods each month by a lack of energy, peaks in energy, cramps, and other illnesses?
Cindy: My husband and I have taught the NFP SymptoPro Method together for decades to hundreds of couples, and he is always the stickler about charting ‘everything’ each day. That means besides the biomarkers, we advise charting anything that could potentially affect the cycle or be related to the cycle.
So- stress, sleeplessness, mood swings, cravings, cramps, super energy days, workouts etc., all go on the chart. He’s a database specialist so it makes sense that he wants lots of data to assist the couples we teach. Putting all these extras on a chart along with cycle biomarkers like bleeding, basal temps, mucus, and cervix position can provide a really full picture of what is happening during the course of a women’s cycle.
Getting this full picture can be so helpful for women because we can also provide tried and true suggestions when adjustments are sought, such as nutritional supplementation, help with getting good sleep, providing NaProTechnology referrals when warranted, and helping women see stress in themselves which they might not otherwise see.
#3 Start by Learning an NFP Method
Q: What would you recommend to women who are interested in Natural Family Planning (NFP) and would like to begin tracking their cycle? What are the first steps they should take?
Cindy: The first big piece of advice is to stay away from charting apps for learning FABMs/NFP. Instead, I would advise checking out the USCCB’s NFP Programming website to find a Certified Instructor in one of the handfuls of Endorsed NFP Education Programs in the country. From their websites, it should be easy to register for either an online or in-person class.
After learning one method well you can then seek out an online method of tracking your biomarkers, but it is a mistake to place too much reliance on an app for NFP education and especially if you are concerned about spacing or avoiding a pregnancy. Lastly, if you’re married, please involve your husband. It pays big dividends to invite him into the mysteries of your body’s feminine genius!
#4 Understanding the Four Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
Q: The way Claire Baker in Jenna Kutcher’s podcast “No One Ever Told You This About Your Period” uses the Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall analogy. Is this similar to how NFP explains it? Can you explain this analogy for us?
Cindy: The four seasons analogy is an old one for NFP Instructors and one that works pretty well. Although I live and teach in Phoenix, where it’s pretty hard to find four distinct seasons, so it’s a little harder for my clients to relate to this analogy!
The analogy of the changing seasons is helpful in explaining the four phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Many women don’t know about these phases because most of us only have focused on menstruation.
So, in this analogy, menstruation is likened to the falling leaves of Autumn, a time of quiet and a natural re-set. This is followed by a phase of dry days in the cycle that is likened to barren Winter and this phase can be short for some women and long for others.
Spring follows and it is the time in our natural world with gentle rains that moisten the earth and assist in a profusion of blossoming and pollination in the beginnings of new life. In a woman, her cycle’s biomarkers at this time should show a fertile window of several days before and up to the release of her egg or ovulation.
The Summer season is warmer and a time for growth. In our bodies, this time is her post-ovulatory high-temperature phase. If pregnancy has occurred this phase lasts nine months but otherwise, it lasts around two weeks.
This Season Analogy is more helpful in understanding what biologists and endocrinologists see as times of changing and cascading hormones with their characteristic and complicated interplay between the endocrine reproductive systems of women.
Period Coaches use this analogy of the seasons to educate women to attune themselves to their changing hormones by listening to their bodies in relation to energy levels, moods, and relational dynamics. Rather than focusing simply on menstruation, they want women to see the superpowers they possess in all phases of their menstrual cycle.
The analogy can be further developed as a foundation of all the Fertility Awareness Based Methods by relating that if a seed is planted during the dry seasons of Winter or Summer, then there will not be enough moisture to germinate the seed. But if the seed is planted during the moist Spring season, then there is likely to be a harvest.
And, sometimes there is enough moisture between the wet and dry seasons for a seed to germinate. Couples using a FABM for family planning learn to read the biomarkers and know when they are in a fertile or infertile phase on any given day and can decide to come together to try for conception or abstain to postpone a baby for the time being.
#5 Starting with God’s Gift for Human Sexuality
Q: What is the difference between the secular approach to tracking vs. pro-life NFP tracking?
Cindy: The big difference is that over the years successful pro-life NFP educators have learned the importance of beginning with Christian anthropology and the nature of marriage.
When the faithful are provided with an opportunity to learn and reflect on God’s gifts of human sexuality, the nature of marriage, conjugal love and responsible parenthood, as well as the gift of human fertility and the value of children and family life, then the methods of NFP can be seen in a balanced light as a ‘skill set’ which can help them remain faithful to their marital vows, be open to life, and live God’s plan for married love and life.
And, we’ve seen through the many years of teaching these methods, first by soft-selling the Church teachings and emphasizing only the health benefits and the good science of natural methods and later by incorporating the beautiful teachings of Humanae Vitae and the Theology of the Body, that there are much more positive outcomes with giving the fuller foundational teachings first.
So, it’s interesting to see a blossoming of interest in Period Coaching in the secular world. Single Catholic women and couples have long been offered this education and more through Natural Family Planning education.
Finding Ways to Promote Real Womanhood and the Female Cycle
If this is the first time you have heard of NFP or even the female cycle talked about in a positive light, isn’t it a relief?
Here’s something else to be excited about! There are organizations out there who support women and their health. Here are just a few I love!
Their clothes are designed for leak protection at night (no tampon or pad required) and activewear clothing that offers security all day long. This company promotes women’s health and has a particular focus on encouraging young girls and not pressuring them and women of all ages to use foreign objects like tampons or menstrual cups, which often are lined or made with chemicals.
This is a pro-life and pro-health organization that helps women like us gain a better understanding of our biology and monthly cycles. This includes helping women recognize hormonal and other vital signs of health, medical testing, and the free FEMM Health App that helps women track their health and reproductive goals, including achieving pregnancy!
This is a far-reaching women’s health literacy program. Their wealth of knowledge and offerings are incredible. Just check out the biographies of their team members! Natural Womanhood exists because many women are harmed by or at risk from the use of contraceptives, and most don’t even know they have an alternative. This organization promotes fertility charting, disease prevention, self-knowledge and so much more.