by Jill Allatta
Since the mid-90s, Katie Singer has taught and written about Fertility Awareness, an evidence-based form of natural family planning. Katie advocates for menstrual cycle health. She has worked in Amish, African, Guatemalan and other communities. She has also become a leading spokesperson about reducing our use of electronics to reduce energy use and exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR).
Katie’s first book was a novel, The Wholeness of a Broken Heart. Her nonfiction books include The Garden of Fertility, Honoring Our Cycles, Honoring Our Cycles in Africa and An Electronic Silent Spring.
The Garden of Fertility is my number one recommendation for women who want an introductory gauge of their gynecological health and to know when they’re fertile and infertile. The book’s straightforward information about charting fertility signals alternates with useful, personal stories. Reading the book gave me so much encouragement: I could understand my body’s signs. I could practice Fertility Awareness.
Katie and I had two conversations at her home in northern New Mexico; we finished our interview by email.
Jill Allatta Can you tell me how you first became drawn to Fertility Awareness?
Katie Singer I never wanted to take the Pill, and I wasn’t crazy about spermicide. After nearly ten years of wanting to learn Fertility Awareness, I found several independent teachers and two Catholic organizations that offered classes. I studied with all of them. From my first chart, I fell head-over-heels in love with the menstrual cycle and natural family planning.
One of the Catholic organizations offered a training program. But they wouldn’t accept me, because my partner and I weren’t married. I didn’t understand that. So I called a Catholic woman who’d written a book on natural family planning. She said, “Sex is sacred. It’s not a recreational activity. Marriage makes it sacred.” I respected this woman; and still, my partner and I did not feel moved to marry. All of this–including charting my cycles, noticing the difference between male and female fertility, deciding consciously whether to open to conceiving–inspired wonderful conversations with my partner and people all over the world who want to know how to read their bodies.
Jill What was your training like?
Katie I studied with a handful of people–and then I started teaching. My students rarely had healthy or predictable cycles. They had questions about their charts that I often couldn’t answer. They wanted to know how to encourage healthy cycles when they came off of the Pill or Depo Provera. They wanted to strengthen progesterone levels, how to ease menstrual cramps or clear PCOS (poly-cystic ovarian syndrome) without pharmaceuticals. When I asked about their diets, many of them told me they relied on soda and chips and canned tuna. They didn’t know what nutrient-dense food is or how to cook it. They didn’t know we need vitamins A and D, and that these are in butter and cod liver oil. They often fell asleep with the TV on, which can disturb the endocrine system. I learned about the work of the Weston A. Price Foundation, which promotes nutrient-dense diets. I learned about the work of Louise Lacey, who found that sleeping in total darkness except around ovulation can restore healthy cycling.
Jill You put all of this together while you taught Fertility Awareness?
Katie When a woman sees something she doesn’t like in her chart–maybe she’s not ovulating–that’s gold. That’s when we’re going to learn something. She gets motivated to improve her health, quit the junk food, learn how to cook greens and pastured eggs with healthy fats. I’ve seen this so many times. Fertility Awareness encourages women to study their health and take care of it. One student charted to see whether she ovulated with an IUD. She did, which meant she could’ve conceived monthly with it in; and she told her doctor she’d have preferred knowing that. After marking whenever she drank, another woman decided that alcohol affected her cycles–and to drink less. Lots of women study how much sugar they consume. When I showed an MD some of my students’ charts, she noticed that none of these women had intercourse twice a day. I didn’t understand the relevance–and then she shared that her boyfriend expected intercourse that often. The charts can open up layers of awareness and conversation.
Jill What does a good Fertility Awareness teacher need to know?
Katie I’d vote first for self-awareness. She needs an ongoing exploration of her own health, diet and environmental exposures. She needs respect for herself and for everyone else who hasn’t figured everything out yet. She also needs to be able to describe what happens in the menstrual cycle like it’s a compelling, multi-layered story. She needs a repertoire of options when problems present.
Jill Do you think all teachers need self-awareness or are you talking specifically of teachers of this very charged subject of sex and fertility?
Katie I’ve probably had the most fun with teachers who know themselves well and who can listen patiently while I struggle. I may have learned the most with teachers who differ with my perceptions. When a woman’s cycles aren’t healthy, she feels so vulnerable. Hearing her stories and questions is a great privilege. Doctors will often put a woman with “problem cycles” on the Pill, which doesn’t address the problem and may cause harm. As a teacher, I want to help her get the information and questions that are right for her. I need to know the difference between teaching and practicing medicine.
Jill What other situations are challenging for Fertility Awareness teachers?
Katie When a couple wants to conceive, their emotions are so primal and raw. Meanwhile, I’m concerned about how any of us will protect ourselves and children from GMOs, fracked water, fluoridated water, electromagnetic radiation from wireless technologies, nuclear power plant meltdowns, misuse of pharmaceuticals. All that. People rarely discuss this–how to raise children–whether or not to have them–while autism and diabetes rates increase dramatically, we’re replacing people with computers for education and health care, species are going extinct at alarming rates. Sometimes I keep my thoughts to myself. Sometimes that leaves me feeling irresponsible. This leads me to something else every teacher needs: at least two other teachers who welcome sharing notes about what works and does not work.
Jill Would you say that Fertility Awareness is empowering?
Katie I usually get trouble if I think I know what I’m doing, so I don’t aim for empowerment. I do better aiming for peace between my ears.
Jill You’ve taught Fertility Awareness in several different communities. How did that happen?
Katie When The Garden of Fertility came out, in 2004, I gave a workshop at the Weston A. Price conference. In the lobby, an Amish man was selling raw dairy, and I asked if he’d trade some for a copy of my book. He said, “Sure” before asking what my book was about. When I told him, “Natural birth control,” he didn’t miss a beat. He said he’d like me to teach it to his wife. I just nodded politely and returned to my hotel room. The yogurt was really good. So I went back to the lobby and got this man’s phone number. I said I’d teach in his community if I could stay one month and teach four classes. By our third week, these couples could read charts. They knew the difference between a cycle’s fertile and infertile phases. They said I had to write a book for Amish people because The Garden of Fertility wasn’t right for them.
I did not want to write another book on Fertility Awareness. But then I read about a Kaiser study showing that 62% of Americans couldn’t read past a sixth grade level. This was 2004, before text messaging. So I returned many times to this Amish community, where nobody goes to school past eigth grade. I wrote Honoring Our Cycles. Sally Fallon published it as a companion to her cookbook, Nourishing Traditions.
Jill So what’s the difference between Garden of Fertility and Honoring Our Cycles?
Katie The Garden is 300 pages. Honoring Our Cycles has 75 pages and a more conservative tone. I felt proud, when I finished HOC, that I got the information down to such a short, simple read. Then I shared it with a reading tutor. She opened to the first page, found words with three syllables and told me that sixth-grade-level readers can read only two-syllable words.
Jill How did Honoring Our Cycles in Africa come about?
Katie A group of African women (from Somalia, Kenya and the Gambia) came to Santa Fe with Equality Now to show a film about female genital mutilation (FGM). Somebody gave them a copy of Honoring Our Cycles; and they asked me to write a book that describes how the menstrual cycle is affected by FGM. Once I agreed to write the booklet, I told an African friend about the project. He said, “You white woman. You know nothing about tradition. When I have daughters, they will be cut.”
I shook for three days. I was really spinning. The whole issue was way over my head. The practice has gone on for 5000 years. Two million girls are still cut every year, often by their own mothers. But people rarely talk about it. They just assume that cutting is what happens. I had the thought that if people ever did talk about this practice, I’d want my friend who’d said he’d cut his daughters to have a place at the table. A respected place. I wondered if titling each chapter with a question would make the book a tool for encouraging discussion: What is a cycle? What is a hormone? What happens during a menstrual cycle?
Efua Dorkenoo, the Ghanaian midwife who wrote Cutting the Rose, helped me enormously. (Dorkenoo died in 2014.) My hospital’s librarian downloaded a stack of historical and medical papers about the practice for me. Unfortunately, the hospital closed the library in 2013, because it did not make money. This happens all over the world now, and it’s a great loss to public health. Doctors and researchers just rely on apps.
Jill Your work, your teaching, requires face-to-face contact, and a conversational attitude toward health care. Not an authoritarian attitude.
Katie I don’t consider myself an expert, and my teaching is very low-tech. I’m good at asking questions.
Jill Could you talk about your reproductive system posters?
Katie A friend brought Honoring Our Cycles in Africa to coffee growers in Guatemala. Several women’s groups there asked me to make materials for them. I used Suzann Gage’s extraordinary drawings and wrote a minimal narrative and glossary for each poster. I’ve said that the posters took me ten years to write–to get to this level of simplicity and clarity.
Jill I’d love to see the posters laminated on clinic walls, so people who are waiting for their practitioner can get informed and raise questions while they wait. I can also imagine them in sex-ed classes.
Katie That’d be great. If you know a good distributor, let me know!
Jill You also wrote Essential Questions About Sex and Health. I love these questions: “What’s a sexually healthy adult? Name reasons people have sex. Name reasons people don’t have sex. What makes it easier to welcome a baby? What makes it harder to welcome a baby?” I know you wrote these for Guatemalan communities, but they seem useful for everyone.
Katie They can help create substantive discussions.
Jill Your newest book, An Electronic Silent Spring, came out in 2014 from Rudolph Steiner Books. Could you talk about it?
Katie The book reports on the health and environmental effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from electronics.
Jill Which electronics, specifically?
Katie Mobile phones, Wi-Fi, baby monitors, cell towers, transmitting utility meters, electric power lines, broadband over power lines, digital appliances, computers, iPads, alarm clocks–common electronics.
Jill You’re saying–or, you’re reporting–that all of these things cause harm?
Katie Living creatures depend on the Earth’s electromagnetic fields in order to navigate, keep balanced, locate home, reproduce, all of that. Our cells and organs function by electro-chemical signals. Around 1880, we started laying out an electric grid and installing electric lights, refrigeration, radio and TV broadcasts, medical testing and treatments. Mobile phones and Wi-Fi have become ubiquitous more recently. In less than 150 years, we’ve nearly saturated our environment with electromagnetic fields at frequencies and amplitudes that do not exist in nature. And exposure to man-made electromagnetic radiation (EMR) affects every living creature.
Jill But most people alive now don’t know how to function without man-made electricity.
Katie So let’s go back to your question, Do electronics cause harm? We know that high levels of electrical power can harm. Lightning can kill. A person can be electrocuted to death in an electric chair. What about the effects of chronic, long-term exposure to lower levels of electrical power? The FCC, which regulates exposure limits, considers electronics safe if they don’t immediately cause tissue to heat. The FCC does not recognize non-thermal effects of EMR exposure, including DNA breaks, calcium eflux in cells, sperm damage, increased cancer risks, behavioral problems, sleep and memory problems, harm to wildlife including bee colony collapse and much more.
The FCC does not consider what happens when EMR exposure begins in utero, lasts 24/7 (chronically), over the long term or comes from multiple sources. We actually have thousands of studies that report on the biological effects of low level EMR exposure. But no federal agency recognizes them.
(For studies, see www.BioInitiative.org, www.saferemr.com, www.electronicsilentspring.com, or An Electronic Silent Spring.)
Jill Why doesn’t the public know about this?
Katie Our society does not abide by the principle First, do no harm. Technology–and money–have more value here than health. I need to acknowledge this and my participation in it, including my dependence on utility companies and telecom corporations and refrigerated food. I don’t know how to function without electronics and other corporate provisions. I find this enormously humbling. And if I’m aware of this societal preference, then I can sometimes make more informed decisions.
Nearly ten years ago, when the FDA approved the marketing of Seasonale, a “convenient” birth control pill that had women bleeding only every three months, my hospital librarian phoned me with the transcript of a meeting that Barr Labs held the following day. The meeting was attended almost entirely by stock market analysts who heard the plan to get every woman of childbearing age on this pill. There was no discussion about increased risk of stroke to women who took this pill. No discussion about previous studies that showed that young women who take the Pill for two years before they’re twenty-five and before they’ve had a pregnancy to term increase their risk of breast cancer ten-fold.
We should also ask why it took so many decades for the public to know about the harm caused by cigarettes; why some cities still spray soccer fields with pesticides and herbicides. Why fracking continues.
Jill Could you give an example of how the public is kept from knowing about harm caused by electronics?
Katie Since 1934, when Congress formed the FCC, it has defined “harmful interference” as anything that interferes with existing radio or TV broadcasts–and now cellular and Internet services. According to the FCC, “harmful interference” has never included biological harm.
Most people don’t experience an immediate effect of EMR exposure. They just really like what their device can do. The 1996 Telecommunications Act includes a Section–Section704–that literally prohibits municipalities from considering the health and environmental effects of cell tower–when a telecom corporation wants to install one.
I could talk for a long time about this, about the information that the public has not been given, about the dangers we’re exposing ourselves to all the time, including dangers to children’s brain development.
Jill Do any physicians talk about this?
Katie The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement that parents and pediatricians need to model their own media diets in order to help their children learn to be selective and healthy in their media consumption. The AAP and Kaiser Permanente both recommend limiting screen-time exposure. Kaiser recommends less than two hours per day for teens, less than one hour per day for children three through twelve, and no screen time for children under three.
Dr. Om Gandhi’s work is also important. He’s an electrical engineer, and he published a paper in the IEEE’s journal in July, 2015, explaining that children absorb more radiation than adults when they use cell phones.
Dr. Victoria Dunckley, a child psychiatrist (Reset Your Child’s Brain; www.drdunckley.com) finds that a three-week”electronic fast” can clear up behavioral problems entirely–or at least reduce them significantly. She also reports that interactive programs like video games are actually more harmful than television. She encourages parents to negotiate with schools to keep Internet access hard-wired, limit computer use and encourage eye-to-eye contact. Her focus is more with screen-time exposure; my reports focus more on EMR exposure.
Jill I have to say, having read An Electronic Silent Spring, my first reaction is to dismiss or diminish its information simply because of how much it would inconvenience me to fully believe it. I love my iPhone. My midwifery work depends on being immediately available. I’m also pregnant. I’m very interested in my baby’s health and in taking care of myself. I do find myself increasingly sensitive to some things. So I’m not eating much sugar or drinking much alcohol. I went on a three-mile hike recently and felt flattened. But I don’t feel any immediate effects from Wi-Fi. After reading your book, I’m aware that Wi-Fi and my mobile phone might affect my baby. But if I eliminate my exposure to these things, I’d have to turn my life upside down. I’m not alone in this. Nobody wants to hear that mobile devices can harm our health and our children’s health.
Katie What you say makes good sense, on one level: if you don’t see an immediate problem, why change? My concern comes from reading so many studies about how cell phone use, Wi-Fi, living near cellular antennas or transformers, all that…how chronic, long-term exposure increases risk of brain tumors, behavioral problems, memory problems, so much more. Looking at these issues challenges me to my core. I don’t know how to talk about this stuff. I don’t know anybody who knows how to talk about it. The CDC reports that incidences of autism increased by nearly a third from 2012 to 2014. One in 42 boys now has autism. This suggests a change in our environment. Wouldn’t we be wise to put as many possible factors on the table as possible–and reduce our exposures as much as possible?
To start learning the scientific literature, every pregnant woman should see the Environmental Health Trust’s seven minute video with Hugh Taylor. He’s head of Yale Medical School’s ob/gyn department, and he warns pregnant women not to use cell phones or wireless Internet access. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpsixxrZrDg
Dr. Erica Mallery-Blythe, an MD from the UK, has a wonderful video, “Children, Radiation and Health.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNFdZVeXw7M
Jill Okay. So you’re suggesting that we get informed. I get it. Do you have any good news to report?
Katie Well, you can reduce EMR exposure and energy use without changing your lifestyle. In “Calming Behavior in Children with Autism and ADHD,” I reported on a Bay Area pediatrician’s protocol for reducing families’ EMR exposure. It starts with turning your Wi-Fi off at night for at least 12 hours. This report includes stories about parents whose children no longer have autism. www.electronicsilentspring.com/calming-behavior
Jill What if we put our router on a timer so that it automatically turns off every night?
Katie That sounds like a good start. You should keep the experiment going for at least two weeks, and see if your family’s sleep, behavior or digestion improve. Also, eliminate any cordless landline DECT phones, and replace them with corded telephones.
Jill Can you suggest other steps that aren’t overwhelming?
Katie Don’t use mobile devices in a car, since the phone will go to maximum power each time it connects to a new cell tower. That happens about every mile. Much of the radiation gets trapped inside of the car, because it’s essentially a metal box.
Keep your children reading books on paper as long as possible.
Men need to keep their phones away from their testicles. Women need to keep them out of their bras and away from their ovaries. And you don’t want the phone or the charger near you while you sleep.
Jill This still feels daunting. I do see it as part of the larger climate of health in our country: steady increases in chronic disease, and many people feeling plagued by a lack of real wellness. We think it’s normal to get sick several times every winter. And so many of my peers feel completely alone with their children’s health problems. Pediatricians deem things like food sensitivities “minor.” Doctor appointments are usually brief and rarely helpful.
Katie All parents–and teachers and health care providers–all of us–now face challenges that none of us were educated to navigate. We all need support. We need to help each other get informed about how to reduce exposure to environmental hazards, how to reduce energy use, how to raise children with less electronics and more eye-to-eye contact.
Jill Well said. Lots of work ahead. Lots of assumptions to unwind.
Katie Yes. Let the conversations roll.
Katie Singer’s books Fertility Awareness
The Garden of Fertility, Avery/Penguin, 2004.
Honoring Our Cycles, New Trends, 2006.
To purchase the following materials, contact Katie Singer: http://www.electronicsilentspring.com/contact-2/
Essential Questions About Sex and Health (in Spanish or English)
Honoring Our Cycles in Africa
The Female Reproductive System Poster (in Spanish or English)
The Male Reproductive System Poster (in Spanish or English)
Re health and environmental effects of electromagnetic radiation (EMR)
www.bioinitiative.org Peer-reviewed studies about exposure.
Katie Singer, An Electronic Silent Spring, Steiner Books, 2014.
Dr. Victoria Dunckley, MD, Reset Your Child’s Brain, New World Library,
Dr. Erica Mallery-Blythe, MD, “Children, Radiation and Health,”
www.saferemr.com (Studies about biological effects of EMR exposure,
posted by UC/Berkeley Schl of Pub Health.)
Dr. Hugh Taylor, ob/gyn at Yale Med Schl, warns pregnant women and
children to avoid wireless tech.
Jill Allatta, LM, CPM, is a midwife and mom living in NYC.