Q. Conversion stories are usually fascinating. Please share how you ended up converting from Buddhism to Catholicism.
Strictly speaking, my parents were not Buddhists but Confucianists who taught us good manners, including respect for elders. And so, you can say I was brought up as a Confucianist.
When the time came for me to go to school in 1961, my father wanted to send me to his alma mater, an Anglican school (one of two top schools at that time, the other being the Catholic school); enrolment was full. Eventually, he sent me to the Catholic school. It was in this school that I learned Catholicism. When I was about to leave for New Zealand after high school in early 1975, I told a priest I was keen on becoming a Catholic. He advised me that time was too short for preparation but instead to approach a priest in New Zealand for help. I did this, and then I was baptized in New Zealand in July 1975.
Q. Tell us about your family. Are you all currently living in Malaysia?
I am a 4th generation Malaysian. My great grandfather left China in search of greener pasture as a teenager in about 1850. His descendants and family are now dispersed in many countries throughout the world. We have two children; a boy, Aidan (Tiong-Eyong), and Lucinda (Hoon-Hong). They are both Billings children. They are still single, although Aidan was to be married in June this year. The wedding had to be postponed indefinitely due to Covid-19. Lucinda graduated in English language and linguistics from Christchurch, New Zealand, and is currently teaching English in a language school in Shanghai. Aidan graduated in Mathematics and Economics from Cambridge, England, and has been working in monitoring share markets in Kuala Lumpur until a week ago when he relocated to Singapore but is still in the same line of work.
Q, How did you first hear about the Billing Method™ after being a forester and making a rather dramatic career change to the healthcare field? What inspired you to become much more involved?
Before I left for New Zealand (NZ) to study forestry in 1975, a local priest I knew well, even before I was Catholic, used to talk about the couple, Drs. John & Lyn Billings, and their Billings Ovulation Method®. At that stage, the Billings couple had been to my home city (Kuching) to give teaching sessions on the method.
One day while only a few months in NZ, I happened to be at the Christchurch Catholic Bookshop, and there I saw The Ovulation Method, the first book written by Dr. John Billings. Without hesitation, I bought the book.
In 1982, I returned home to Malaysia. In November 1984, I was engaged to Agnes, whom I had met after returning home. We were planning to be married on May 1, 1984, and shortly after the engagement, we looked for a Billings Ovulation Method® teacher and we found staff nurse Mary Lu.
Having found how beneficial and simple the method was, Agnes and I were always promoting and encouraging people to learn and use the method.
In 1987, my archdiocese started the Marriage Preparation Course, and the course included the Billings Ovulation Method® and still is part of it. I used to help Mary Lu when she was teaching the Billings Ovulation Method®, giving presentations on its use.
In 1994, a Teaching Training Program was being organized in Penang, and I decided to attend at my own cost. Then after being coached in the practicum, I started teaching the next year. Within two years, the committee members of the Natural Family Planning Service of Malaysia (NFPSM), now known as Natural Fertility Awareness Service of Malaysia (NFASM), noticed somehow my progress and zeal and they asked me to join the training team.
In 1997, I was elected the Vice-President of NFPSM, and in 2001, the President.
A turning point occurred in the year 2000, the Jubilee Year. I saw that Melbourne was organizing a Jubilee Year Conference. What came to my mind was this: “In a Jubilee Year, a person may make a special pilgrimage. And for a Billings Ovulation Method® teacher, the ‘Rome’ is Melbourne, and to Melbourne, I must go.” It was there that I realized how far behind we were in Malaysia in the teaching of the method and, more importantly, how much I could learn. From the year 2000, I have attended every conference organized by WOOMB International or Ovulation Method Research and Reference Centre of Australia; I am still learning.
In the next five years or so, I was resolved to update all our Billings Ovulation Method® teachers throughout the country, a task which was difficult at times as old habits are hard to change.
In 2003, WOOMB International celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the Billings Ovulation Method® with an international conference. As President of NFPSM, I managed to garner enough interest for a Malaysian delegation of 35 to attend the conference, including our Spiritual Director, Bishop Murphy Pakiam, who returned to Malaysia to become the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur. This 2003 conference was noteworthy because I met Dr. Pilar Vigil for the first time – the beginning of a lot of learning for me because her research helps women discover their underlying health issues through their Billings Ovulation Method® charts.
In order to explain the change from Forestry to Natural Medicine, I must emphasize that the Natural Medicine resulted from the Billings Ovulation Method® and not the other way around. So it was from Forestry to the Billings Ovulation Method®, then on to Natural Medicine. Let me explain. As I stated, my involvement in the Billings Ovulation Method® went deeper and deeper to the extent that we needed to promote it among the doctors of the medical sector. Without some medical background, the doctors would wonder if I was speaking confidently on the medical aspects of the Billings Ovulation Method®. When I reached this crossroad, I was already in my mid-40s, not only a little too old to start a full medical degree, but also opportunities did not abound in Malaysia. It was then that a friend introduced me to a course in Natural Medicine!
Q. Back in the day, international conferences in Australia included natives Drs. John and Lyn Billings, Dr. James Brown, Dr. Kevin Hume, and occasionally, Dr. Erik Odeblad of Sweden. How did your frequent attendance at those conferences and the ability to personally meet with the leaders influence you?
Of your list, the only one I never met was the deceased Dr. Erik Odeblad.
In 2000, it was a very emotional moment to meet Drs. John and Lyn Billings for the first time. They appeared at dinner before the conference started, and as they entered, somehow the atmosphere changed. I found them to have no special airs but the ever-willingness to share with people. Gentle and kind are probably the simplest yet most appropriate descriptions. I have learned this from them.
Dr. James Brown was a real keen scientist, always wanting to uncover the truth and was always enthusiastic in sharing his findings. This certainly had a bearing on my approach to understanding fertility, particularly the concept of the ovarian continuum. I certainly want to emulate his enthusiasm.
Although soft-spoken, Dr. Kevin Hume was always a keen promoter of the Billings Ovulation Method® and he never failed to find opportunities to do so. I, too, always look for the slightest opportunity to encourage and teach the Billings Ovulation Method®. Perhaps unknown to many, Dr. Hume served in Labuan Island, Malaysia, right after World War II giving medical attention to Australian forces.
Q. As a trainer of Billings teachers, are people coming to you for Teacher Training with a Billings background, or are they like those in the United States who often have experience with other methods, particularly the Creighton Model?
We don’t have any other natural family planning methods in Malaysia. Trainees are either from purely Billings Ovulation Method® background or from artificial methods.
Q. With COVID-19, how are your remote trainings going? We have seen a significant serge in the number of teachers we are training now that we offer remote trainings and not just the correspondence course.
We have not had a Teacher Training Program in COVID-19 times. If there are requests from our local representatives, we may go into remote training.
Q. What are some of the challenges you face in Malaysia regarding the acceptance of the Billings Method™?
Most people are open to it, but some may resort back to rhythm thinking once they see they have ‘normal’ cycles of 28-32 days. Then they are very surprised one day when they suddenly have unplanned pregnancies. They wonder why the Billings Ovulation Method® is not reliable when, in fact, they are not practicing the Billings Ovulation Method®.
No matter how much we stress the importance of day-to-day observation and tracking fertility, there are usually some who eventually fall back to the Rhythm Method.
Another challenge we have is that the state medical system is pushing hard for contraceptives when mothers return for postpartum follow-ups. Part of the KPI (key performance index) of each maternal and child health clinic is measured by the number of couples they serve who are using contraceptives.
One very common challenge is getting women to pay attention to vulval sensations, which are more important than the discharge they may see. We are told to tell women to go back and do their observations, then come back say two weeks later with their chart for a follow-up. What happens is the chart will come back with most, if not all, descriptions of what discharge they may see. I then discovered that in our local situation (and true around the world), when we tell a woman to observe, they automatically think that means ‘observe with the eyes.’ So, we need to emphasize that the key observation is the sensation during teaching.
Likewise, when women here record ‘cloudy sticky’ or ‘sticky cloudy,’ most would mean that it looks ‘cloudy’ as well as looks ‘sticky.’ So it is not a description of sensation. By ‘sticky,’ they usually mean it looks thick like nose mucus at the end of the flu.
Q. Over the last couple of decades and as one of the WOOMB Directors, you have been committed to helping the Billings Ovulation Method® both nationally and internationally. We know the Billings Method has not changed once the rules were defined, but what about our teaching approach? Has that changed much during the past several years?
I think the approach over the years to teaching has changed, though not dramatically. The reason for this is that research has been on-going, and we are becoming clearer on the science behind the method and the charts. And we are continually improving, making the teaching simple and easy to understand by women themselves. The ‘invention’ of the slide rule comes to mind.Q. We have enjoyed having you as a speaker for a couple of our conferences. We especially appreciate the case studies that you share. We are looking forward to your November 17 webinar when you will discuss infertility along with the importance of Vitamin D. How did you become interested in the role of Vitamin D and fertility?
If I remember correctly, at the 2003 Golden Jubilee conference, Dr. Pilar Vigil spoke about how fertility can be affected by Vitamin D deficiency and other underlying causes of menstrual abnormality. (Note that by ‘menstrual abnormality,’ I include women with regular bleeds but not ovulating.)
At first, I did not pay too much attention to it and hardly sent women for Vitamin D tests. Then I heard Billings Ovulation Method® teacher Darcy Hemsted from the USA spoke a few times at meetings on the importance of Vitamin D. Eventually, I got the message. Now, I will not miss testing Vitamin D for women with difficulty conceiving. Even in a tropical country like Malaysia, people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency.
Q. We know from the work of Dr. Pilar Vigil that what is considered a normal Vitamin D level is quite low in her professional opinion. What are the latest levels that Dr. Vigil recommends for healthy fertility (and good health, in general)?
Dr. Pilar Vigil sets her minimum 25-Hydroxy-Vitamin D level at 80 nmol/L or 32 ng/mL. Some labs are using 75 nmol/L in Malaysia, but it seems in many countries, 60 nmol/L is quite common.
A few years ago, I presented a case study at a BOMA-USA conference in either 2014 or 2016. The case was a Malaysian woman who was not ovulating when her level was 62 nmol/L, although she was regularly bleeding. She had been trying to conceive for six years. Her chart shows much improvement after supplementing her with Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) until she reached ovulation. She eventually conceived. Dr. John Worden, who was in the audience, commented that labs were still using 60 nmol/L in the USA.
At an Australian natural fertility conference in 2014, I presented the same case study. Dr. Raffaella Pingitore, a gynecologist from Lugano, Switzerland, who was in the audience, commented that 60 nmol/L was used in Europe.
Dr. Lek-Lim will be presenting a webinar for BOMA-USA on Tuesday, November 17 at 8:00 pm. If you’d like to register, sign up here.
BOMA-USA provides education and training for The Billings Ovulation Method® which is a natural method of fertility management that teaches you to recognize the body's natural signs of fertility.