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Changemakers in Fertility & Reproductive Health: Toni Weschler, MPH

Changemakers - Tony Weschler

Changemakers - Tony WeschlerMeet Toni Weschler, MPH

For more than 30 years, Toni Weschler, MPH has devoted herself to empowering women to take charge of their reproductive health and fertility. She is the author of the groundbreaking book Taking Charge of Your Fertility, now considered a classic and beloved by countless readers. When she’s not working on revisions for the next edition of her book, Toni keeps a delightful blog at TCOYF.com.

How did you decide to do the work that you do?

Actually, I had a serendipitous but admittedly humiliating experience that ultimately destined me to commit my life to this field.

The short story is that I naively applied for a position as a women’s health educator at a progressive women’s clinic, even though I had absolutely no experience in the field. While nervously waiting to be called to meet with the clinic director, I glanced around the room and found a brochure about the Fertility Awareness Method, which I assumed was nothing more than the antiquated and ineffective Rhythm Method.

So when the director came out and warmly waved me into her office to begin the interview, I clumsily blurted out that I was surprised that they taught such an ineffective method there. Much to my chagrin, she appeared equal parts annoyed and surprised by my utter ignorance on the matter.

As it turned out, she had to explain that the Fertility Awareness Method was not the Rhythm Method, and furthermore, they were not interested in hiring a women’s health educator who didn’t know the difference.

In the end, after leaving with my tail between my legs, I humbly slithered back at night to take their life-changing Fertility Awareness class, and as they say, the rest is history.

What are you most proud of in your work?

That I introduced the Fertility Awareness Method to the mainstream, both in the States, and abroad. Prior to my book, it was primarily practiced only among granola-crunching flower-children or deeply religious couples.

I think one of the ways I made the book such a page-turner (as many have told me!) is by using humor, current and appealing language, and gorgeous graphics, making the seemingly daunting subject interesting and even fun to learn.

From all the letters I’ve received over the years, I’ve been humbled by how many women’s lives I’ve apparently changed by helping them to get pregnant when they thought they couldn’t, or freed them of methods of birth control that wreaked havoc on their bodies, or offered them an empowering way to perceive their gynecological and reproductive health. And all of that while helping men to be more involved in their partners’ fertility.

What is a challenge you have overcome in your work? Or, what is the biggest challenge you are currently facing in your work?

The biggest challenge when I first started teaching classes in the Paleolithic Era of the 1980s was convincing people that I really wasn’t a snake oil salesman. Back then, the Fertility Awareness Method was constantly confused with the antiquated and ineffective Rhythm Method, so I was typically greeted with either rolled eyes or utter disdain, even in women’s clinics, where they should have known better.

The biggest challenge I am currently facing is a huge Celsius/Fahrenheit conversion debacle pertaining to most of my 11 foreign translations of my book.

Another very troubling concern are the scores of fertility apps that are springing up seemingly every few weeks and being marketed as natural birth control apps. In reality, no app should ever be used for birth control without having fully mastered the complexities and nuances of fertility awareness, and as importantly, without the woman herself using that mastery to establish those days that she is truly not fertile.

Finally, and this is a biggy, my concern that women will misunderstand a critical fact in my book (especially at such a dispiriting time in history when women’s autonomy over their bodies has been systematically eroded.)

What do you wish people knew about fertility and reproductive health?

The sooner women learn how to chart their cycles, the more empowered they would feel, from menarche to menopause. Beyond the obvious ability to teach women which days they are or aren’t fertile, charting can help them diagnose fertility conditions such as:

A. Anovulation (lack of ovulation)
B. Delayed ovulation
C. Short luteal phases (second phase of the cycle)
D. Unsuitable cervical fluid
E. Hormone imbalances
F. Insufficient progesterone levels
G. Occurrence of miscarriages
F. Detecting accurate due dates

Likewise, charting allows women to determine numerous gynecological issues, including:

A. Irregular bleeding
B. Vaginal infections
C. Cervical anomalies
D. Premenstrual syndrome
E. Breast Lumps

Who inspires you in this field?

Jane Knight is a British nurse specializing in fertility, and one of the founders of the website: fertilityuk.org. She is incredibly knowledgeable and certainly one of the trailblazers in the field. While her focus was initially on the Fertility Awareness Method, she is now on the staff of an excellent fertility clinic in London that helps scores of women to achieve pregnancy through IVF and other modalities.

Michal (pronounced Mee’hall) Schonbrun is an American Fertility Awareness instructor who has lived in Israel over four decades. She is one of the most knowledgeable and active instructors in the world and is responsible for single-handedly training hundreds of other women to teach the method throughout Israel.

What are you working on next?

Having a well-deserved breakdown. Oh sorry, I should have used my inside voice for that.

I am about to start the challenging task of revising my book yet again, this time for the 30th anniversary edition to be released in 2025 (yes . . . it can take a couple years to revise each edition. But hey, that’s better than the five years it took to write the first edition of the book in 1995!)

 

Want to meet some more Changemakers? Read on here.

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