Putting the control back in birth control

Published 11:34 pm Friday, August 14, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio- Zeba Haydar convinced herself she didn’t like children.
The 32-year-old graduate of Ohio State University had been told at age 19 that she would never be able to have a baby.
I’m talking to her at the first in what promises to be a nationwide chain of FEMM (Fertility Education & Medical Management) clinics, on the campus of her alma mater. Haydar may be the office manager at FEMM, but she’s more importantly a patient — she’s been off birth control for a month now.
There’s no religious reason she’s off birth control. Her reason is simply a desire for good health and knowledge of what’s going on with her body.
Haydar suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormone imbalance that many doctors try to regulate via the pill.
She went to more than 10 doctors over the course of 12 years, she says. And they all said very different things about what was going on with her.
“I was very frustrated,” she explains. Despite her doubts, “I was told again and again: ‘You have to get on the pill.’”
Right before I arrive at FEMM, Haydar was sitting down looking at her own body’s biomarkers, something FEMM teaches women to chart. “You get very amazed because you see it on paper in color — what your hormones are doing this month in your body. And it’s amazing because it tells me what is going on. There is no blood work that mainstream medicine does that can reflect what we do here.”
FEMM promises a natural approach to health care, a message that resonates with millennials on campus. “Young college women who come to the clinic are asking: ‘Why should I be putting this in my body?’” Marilou Stafford, the clinical nurse manager at FEMM, tells me.
FEMM is essentially women’s health care gone green. It sees ovulation “as a key indicator of health” and by teaching women to chart their cycles, helps them to “understand their reproductive health as a fine-tuned interplay of hormonal processes.” FEMM seeks to link “female reproductive science with direct experience” helping “women to recognize observable biomarkers as vital signs of women’s health.”
On the August Thursday on which I visit FEMM, I also stop into a Planned Parenthood clinic just a few blocks away. The contrast couldn’t be more stark. Whereas I’m greeted the moment I enter FEMM, the waiting room at Planned Parenthood is overflowing and I seem to go unnoticed. At FEMM, the mission is focused primarily on education: About what a sexually translated disease could mean for your health down the road, about how not to or how to get pregnant, and, yes, about the risks of taking the contraceptive pill.
Maureen Judson, a FEMM certified nurse practitioner, will “spend an hour often with patients, talking with them,” Stafford explains. She wants to know what’s going on in their bodies, to help them find solutions.
And while the majority of patients at FEMM currently have something to do with the university, FEMM accepts insurance and Medicaid and will waive fees where needed They also have a Spanish-speaking doctor available. The door is open for anyone looking for basic medical care and a better way of looking at her reproductive health.
Knowing when you are ovulating, Stafford says, is “a normal part of being healthy.”
FEMM makes it a point to take time with patients, respecting human dignity and looking for solutions.
Haydar, bursting with hope now that she has found a place that wants to find out what’s wrong with her, talks about her husband, who helped put fliers around campus just the other day for FEMM. He “can’t wait to have children.” And she’s filled with hope that her new colleagues will walk with her toward a solution that won’t require her to lie to herself about who she is and wants to be. “The significant difference I’m seeing is that I’m able to understand what’s going on inside my body,” she says. That alone seems a sea change in medicine.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.

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