An interview with Anna Halpine, CEO of the FEMM Foundation and creator of an innovative women’s health program
It’s called Fertility Education & Medical Management (FEMM), and it’s been downloaded 400,000 times, attracting the interest of the international press. The app helps women to not only monitor the regularity of their menstrual cycles, but understand their bodies, hormones, and other vital signs of health. If a woman detects a problem, the app suggests the help of a network of doctors and nurses who can further assist in diagnoses and treatments.
FEMM is a partner of the World Youth Alliance, an NGO “committed to building free and just societies through a culture of life.”
Aleteia spoke with Anna Halpine, CEO of the FEMM Foundation, to learn more about the origins of the app, which is one of a kind.
How did you get the idea for the FEMM app and why was it needed?
The FEMM app is an important way for us to provide scientific information about women’s health to women around the world. Through the app we can provide personalized information to each user, based on the data she puts into the app. The app allows us to bring this important information to women everywhere in the world, wherever they have smart phone access. Technology now allows us to provide this information and health support to women, for free through the FEMM app, allowing us to fulfill the mission of FEMM. We think this information should be available to all women, and our app allows us to do so.
The app tracks women’s physical and psychological symptoms. How can this information be a wake-up call?
Ovulation is a sign of health in a mature, adult woman. This is because ovulation only happens when all of her hormones are aligned throughout her cycle. When a woman learns to track her cycle, she is learning to understand and monitor the changing signs of hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, in her body. Her cycle pattern serves as a health map for her, capturing that pattern and its changes over time.
Estrogen and progesterone effect every system of a woman’s body. They are important hormones for the management of brain cells, of bone density, as well as providing indicators of her fertility. FEMM helps women understand the importance of these hormones in every aspect of her health, while also understanding the fertility implications of these signs. By understanding and charting these biomarkers well, women are able to confirm healthy hormone patterns, or identify early indicators that might help them to get early and better health support as needed.
Do you have any stories of women that have changed their lives because the app?
We love hearing stories from our users about how the FEMM app has helped to change their lives. Many users reach out to us to let us know – first – that the app has helped them to achieve their pregnancy goal.
Some users have been able to identify health conditions because of notifications being sent to them through the app. It’s very common for us to hear that the app was telling a user that their cycle pattern was irregular for many months, so that they finally reached out to set up an appointment with a FEMM doctor. One woman recently told us that the app highlighted her irregular cycle pattern; she then worked with a FEMM doctor, and, over a period of three months, watched as her cycle was restored to normal. The app also confirmed this for her! This helped a user regain her regular cycles following childbirth and breastfeeding.
The app has helped many women to avoid, space, or delay pregnancy. Many women have shared their stories that the insights provided by the app, including the indicators telling them which hormones are dominant, and helping to understand their own individual patterns, have helped them to avoid pregnancy. I always think of a particular case of a woman who told us that FEMM helped her to avoid pregnancy for many years — and ongoing — which is important because of a serious medical condition. It also helped her to do so without using hormones or implants, which allowed her to better manage her medical condition. The stories and trust these women give us are very important to us.
Here’s a link to a video of one woman with her testimony.
How can this app be considered a contribution to the education of women?
FEMM thinks that every woman should be health literate, and understand the signs of health that her body is telling her. Tracking her cycle provides this tool to women; empowering them to understand their bodies, and to be informed participants in managing their own health. Learning to track her cycle is a kind of health alphabet that every woman should know, starting from her teen years and moving through menopause. FEMM is eager to walk with women through all these challenges to provide them education and support so that they know what’s happening, and can make healthy and informed decisions every step of the way.
In your opinion, how important is it for women to start listening to their bodies?
Listening is always important! Our bodies give us important information, and the science now allows us to understand these signs. Health knowledge is critical to healthy outcomes and long-term health and fertility goals. We hope that the FEMM app can help many women to better understand their bodies, and, as a result, support them in better meeting the health and fertility goals that they have for their lives.
The FEMM app monitors both physical and emotional aspects of women, taking a more holistic view of health. How do you see the relationship between biology, emotions, and spirituality?
Our bodies are unities and there is a growing awareness that effective health education and support also needs to embrace the full reality of the human person. Our hormones can effect our physical and emotional symptoms, and vice versa. For this reason, we think it is important to allow women to track this information, and to see how these patterns align with the hormonal changes in their cycles. This information can be very empowering to them, and also very clarifying.
Spiritual health is also important for women. We think that physical and emotional health and support can help women with the spiritual goals and peace they are seeking, while it is also clear, and increasingly validated in the scientific literature, that spiritual support can help women to cope with challenges they experience physically and emotionally. The FEMM app tries to make it possible for women to record and understand how these experiences go together in her own body and experiences.
What is the added value of the network of doctors and nurses behind the app?
Understanding our bodies is not always easy. This is particularly true when women experience irregular cycles, and anovulatory cycles, which can pose real challenges to understanding what their body is trying to say to them. In these moments, a health coach is invaluable in learning the science and receiving support to understand a woman’s own particular experience. Sometimes the app can also identify health challenges that require medical support. Or, a woman might wish to meet with a medical provider to discuss her questions and make sure she has the care she needs. Our growing network of doctors, nurses, and FEMM teachers makes the FEMM app unique in being able to refer women for in-person and online support when these challenges arise.
What’s next in the development of the app?
We are constantly growing our network of doctors and health educators, and know that this is an important resource and support we can offer our users. Users have also asked for specific features that will help them to better meet their goals. We’re constantly working to develop and release new features that respond to this demand. We’ve just released the app in three new languages, so that it is now available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and French.
To download the FEMM app, go to:
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