Lesa Meese is a natural fertility educator with the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. Working under the auspices of Natural Fertility Services Melbourne, she regularly speaks with couples online, over the phone or in person, assisting them to achieve or avoid pregnancy within the ethos of Christ’s teachings and the Catholic faith. It’s a mission that she feels privileged to serve in, and which she finds deeply rewarding.
Lesa is accredited to teach the sympto-thermal method of natural family planning, which she says is ‘a really good, all-round, basic method of tracking fertility, for everyday life’. The couples who contact Lesa have usually heard of her services through friends or family, through an internet search or through pre-marriage education provided at St Mary Star of the Sea Parish in West Melbourne.
In the first session, she guides couples through the biology and methodology of natural family planning, and how to chart what is happening in the woman’s body each day. Couples are given a kit that helps them to monitor the fertility cycles and indicators that will help them to make informed decisions about the best time to achieve pregnancy, or to avoid it, with Lesa on hand over the following six months to provide ongoing advice and assistance.
‘The sympto-thermal method enables a woman to chart her biomarkers, noting the sensation and any other bodily symptoms she has, such as pain, spotting, increased libido, bloating or headaches that might occur with ovulation, and the basal temperature,’ says Lesa. ‘The temperature is really helpful because it’s an objective measurement. The temperature tells them categorically, yes, you’ve ovulated or, no, you haven’t.’
Charting in this way also helps couples to pick up on potential reproductive issues like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, painful periods or tail-end brown bleeding, which can then be referred onto doctors trained in NaPro (Natural Procreative) Technology. Lesa is also finding that more and more, some doctors are referring patients to her, so that they can all work together in a holistic way.
‘It’s good medicine,’ says Lesa. ‘It’s about treating the underlying issue instead of saying, “Sorry, go on the pill to regulate your cycle or, if you want to achieve pregnancy, go down to an IVF clinic.” This is a viable alternative. It’s just as successful, much cheaper and has none of the moral issues.’
Lesa serves couples from all sorts of backgrounds, including Catholics, Maronites, Anglicans, Lutherans and other Christian denominations, Jews, Muslims, Bahai and Parsi. She also sees non-religious people who just want the ‘green option’. They come from many ethnic backgrounds, and from all over Victoria, including some from interstate and even from overseas, who’ve found her through the internet.
Lesa says many couples are often ‘really surprised’ by what they learn in the sessions, and many had not previously been aware of natural family planning options that didn’t compromise their faith beliefs. ‘It’s heartening because the couples get encouraged by it, and I’m reminded so often that there is a huge need for this service. So, I keep going at it!’
Natural family planning is also good in terms of strengthening the relationship, says Lesa, because ‘husband and wife are doing it together.’ ‘They’re both on the same page—they have to discuss where the wife is in her cycle and whether they want to have a baby, or not, in those moments.
‘It helps their relationship and holds them a lot closer together because they have to consider the other one’s needs. So, they’re unselfish. Couples see and experience this themselves, over and over again.’
Lesa explains that she had a couple see her a while ago, where the wife had been on contraceptives for about 10 years but was feeling uneasy about it. The woman wasn’t Catholic, but she was religious. The couple started doing natural family planning with the assistance of Lesa, and withing six months they shared how their thinking towards each other and towards children had changed.
Lesa says, ‘The wife shared with me, “We see children now as a blessing and not something that’s just a burden or a nuisance that is an unwanted side effect of having sexual pleasure.” The wife said, “We’re actually excited about it.” I was blown away. I thought, “Wow, to have picked up on this so fast and for it to have had such an impact on this couple. It’s really great.
‘There’s a lot of good to be done, but it’s all done very quietly, and mostly in the background.’
Lesa was formerly a registered nurse, training and working at Mercy Private for 20 years. She has been married to Tony for 40 years and has seven children and 15 grandchildren. By child number five, she gave up nursing to take on more school duties (including tuckshop and board involvement), and to volunteer on parish councils. She says the role of natural fertility services educator came up in 2010 following the retirement of Margaret Hogg, who with her daughter, Rebecca Hart, had run the natural fertility service for more than 30 years.
‘I think the good Lord put me here,’ she says. ‘When all of my kids were through school and I was at a loose end, I was thinking, “What can I do now?” Lo and behold, this opened up. I thought, “I have a nursing background (which has been really helpful), it’s part-time, and it’s a great ministry. I think the Lord wants me here.”’
After 12 years, Lesa still enjoys sharing the Church’s teaching on marital sexuality and natural family planning, both within her role at the Archdiocese and also as a guest speaker for pre-marriage couples at St Mary’s in West Melbourne. In previous years, she also conducted courses through the Life, Marriage and Family Office of the Archdiocese.
‘The Church’s teachings are based on Christ’s teaching—the Church doesn’t make it up,’ she says. ‘The Church’s understanding of what Christ has taught is that the sexual act is to be within the marriage bond because the marriage bond is to be forever. Intercourse outside of marriage was never in God’s plan. He always planned it to be within marriage so that the children would be brought up in security. And there are two purposes of the marital act—it’s unitive, where you come together in love, and it’s procreative, to further the human race.
She says, ‘The Church’s teaching is beautiful and is not something to hate or to fear. The Church is in it for you, for your good.’ Lesa remains heartened by the many couples who understand this message and desire to integrate it into their marriage. She also loves seeing couples who’ve never heard of this before and who are ‘blown away’ by the teaching and methodology and come back. ‘There are so many people out there who would have really responded to the call of Christ and the Church if they’d heard about it,’ she says.
‘And when I hear people saying, “So and so told me to come,” it’s heartening because I know they must have found my services helpful. So I’ll happily continue in this role until the good Lord puts me elsewhere!’
Natural Fertility Services Melbourne is one of 13 nation-wide, affiliated members of the Australian Council of Natural Family Planning. It is approved and partly funded by the Australian Catholic Bishops to educate the general public in fertility and sexuality awareness. For further information and enquiries, you can contact Lesa via email or by phone (03) 9287 5560.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli06 October 2022
Melbourne Catholic06 October 2022