Have you ever talked to your mom or another female member of your family about your reproductive health history? Discussing reproductive health with our moms might seem like an awkward conversation about sex, but it’s a vital discussion that can help inform your own choices about your health. Fertility cycle health impacts our entire wellbeing, and so understanding our cycle helps us better understand the rest of our body. While it may seem awkward to talk to a mom or aunt about menstruation and family history, it’s one of the best things you can do for your health. 

My grandmother passed away from ovarian cancer, so the conversation about women’s health and our family history was - and is - highly important to the women in my family. My grandmother had reproductive health issues that she didn’t address, and they eventually led to a diagnosis of ovarian cancer when she was 63 years old. She navigated her diagnosis and treatment for four years before passing away at the young age of 67. Because of this, my mom was an even stronger advocate for making sure I understood my cycle and learned that it was an important biomarker for my overall health.

Lisa Hendrickson-Jack is a certified Fertility Awareness Educator and Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner, and author of The Fifth Vital Sign. She believes that menstruation and cycles are the fifth vital sign of a woman’s health. Our cycles give us information that can help pinpoint particular health issues and get to the root cause of a diagnosis. Many in the fertility awareness space, myself included, have realized just how powerful charting and understanding our cycles are for our health. We can use this data to make positive, impactful changes, from nutrition and cycle-syncing exercise to deciding how to organize our schedule and meetings.

During graduate school, I worked with the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA) and learned about the importance of education for women about reproductive health, part of which is helping women learn about their cycles and engage in conversations with female family members to make sure they understand health history.

Ovarian cancer is impacted by genetics, so family history is an important factor in determining lifetime risk. Additionally, breast cancer genes BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are markers that can mean an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Endometriosis can also create increased risk for ovarian cancer.

If you’re wondering what questions to ask a female member of your family to better understand your own health history, here are a few to start the conversation:

I have questions about my cycle. Would you be comfortable having a conversation with me about this?

I really want to take care of my reproductive health and I’m wondering if family history impacts my story. Could we talk about it?

Do we have any important stories of reproductive health history that I should know about? 

Have you ever had irregularities in your cycle – while menstruating or ovulating – that have caused you concern?

Does anyone in our family have a history of cysts?

Do you think we can talk about this more so I can make thoughtful choices about my health?

Our reproductive health matters and it’s important that we take care of ourselves by learning about our family’s health history, charting our cycles, and scheduling regular visits with a gynecologist.

Not every reproductive health concern is genetic, but conversations about our reproductive health can also encourage community and support. Sometimes, it’s easy to live with a diagnosis in isolation, and we can fail to see an alternative option, the importance of a second opinion, or the need for more education to advocate for ourselves in the doctor’s office.

Bridget Busacker

Bridget Busacker is the founder of Managing Your Fertility, an online, one-stop shop of fertility awareness resources for women and couples™. She is on a mission to fuse the science of Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABMs) and Theology of the Body (TOB) into the everyday practice of Fertility Awareness.

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