Jenny Castro is communications associate and coordinator of the Women in Leadership Project for Mennonite Church USA. This article originally appeared in the fall issue of Mennonite Women USA’s Timbrel magazine.
When my spouse Jake and I decided to marry back in 2001, we knew we weren’t ready to “build our family” quite yet. We were young and adventurous with a list full of places to go and things to see. But when I was presented with contraceptive options, none seemed incredibly appealing.
In the midst of weighing pros and cons, a friend recommended the book, “Taking Charge of Your Fertility,” by Toni Weschler. In it Weschler, describes what she calls the Fertility Awareness Method, a process where women observe their own bodies, noting the changes that take place over the course of their menstrual cycle and are then able to recognize indicators of fertility. The method can be used both for pregnancy avoidance and in planning pregnancy. This method invited me into my own body’s processes. It invited me to get to know myself better. It required that I be attentive, tune in, watch and listen for what my body was telling me. I was intrigued. I decided to give it a try.
Undeniably, this method of pregnancy prevention required more work on my part. More thought. And yes, there’s more room for human error.
But, through the cyclical rituals of observation, I grew in knowledge of my body’s systems and in love, acceptance and appreciation of my body’s processes.
And with the discipline and practice of daily turning inward, I was able to recognize what my body was telling me about my fertility.
Tuning into my reproductive system and grounding me inside my body set me on a path toward physical health that I would never have explored otherwise. I began learning about healthy eating, exercise and adequate sleep. I read and researched about how these impact my overall wellbeing — my heart health, my vascular health, my brain function, my mental stability.
I didn’t grow up understanding these correlations. I grew up a latch-key kid in a single-parent home. My mom did her best to keep us fed and safe, but meals were often anything we could zap in the microwave and sleep wasn’t a huge priority. When my mom wasn’t home, we kids were safer inside watching T.V., so being active wasn’t necessarily encouraged or nurtured. By the time I was a young adult, I’d treated my body in some really regrettable ways, developed some seriously bad habits and mostly saw my physical body as either a tool for my use or an obstacle to overcome.
And so the epiphany that how I cared for (or neglected) my body, directly impacted its ability to function well, as well as its longevity, was literally life-changing. And as I grew in love for my body, the shifting of norms to new habits and new lifeways was inevitable. Some changes were more easily implemented —like eating more fruits and vegetables each day. Others have been bit harder — like cutting out Dr. Pepper (a Five. Year. Process.).
But having kids was a game-changer. Yes, we eventually had them. And, full disclosure: our first child, born three years after we married, was an “oops” baby (human error, y’all!). But since having kids, I’ve been so keenly aware that little eyes and ears are watching and listening — paying close attention to how I treat my body and acknowledge its wisdom in daily life.
And so I talk about what my body has accomplished and what it is telling me. And I reflect back to my kids this same practice.
I do this to help create and nurture a sense of awareness and connection to our physical bodies for my kids and for myself. I didn’t get that growing up. And I model taking care of my body through weekly yoga practice as well as running regularly. As a family, we eat healthy, balanced meals together around the dinner table. And I am keenly aware of how much sleep my body needs to function well and I am religious about bedtimes — for me and my kids.
The process of growing in body awareness fundamentally changed the way I saw myself as a human being in relation to God and creation.
My body has wisdom and implicit knowledge to offer me, if I am attentive.
I move about in the world, connect to others and experience creation through my body. I have grown to deeply love this miraculous network of systems that God created, as well as the unique form these systems combine to produce. And so taking care of it is not a chore or something I feel obligated to do. It has become for me an act of carefully planned, intentional love.
“‘i love myself.’
― Nayyirah Waheed