Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taking Charge of Your Fertility

Now that I'm married, birth control has gotten a lot less stressful. Don't get me wrong, Matt and I are not trying to have a kid yet (and, in fact, we are still actively preventing one). We want to have time to enjoy each other and really strengthen our friendship and develop ourselves before we introduce a whole other being into our lives.

I say it's "less stressful" because if I did accidentally get pregnant, we'd be okay with it.

For a while, I used both birth control pills and condoms. I was serious about preventing pregnancy!

But I never really liked regulating my body with chemicals.

Now that I'm married and don't feel the same hyper-vigilance that I felt before, I'm more comfortable moving toward the Fertility Awareness Method, like the one covered in the book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health.

The approach is different from the Rhythm Method. The Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is based on the premise that menstrual cycles vary from woman to woman. Day 14 is an irrelevant concept for a woman who has a 36-day cycle.

The book teaches you how to track and chart your own cycle (primarily by taking your temperature every morning and paying attention to your discharge). This kind of tracking gives you accurate information about your body's menstrual cycle. You can then use the information to prevent pregnancy or achieve pregnancy.

I am just astounded by how much I didn't know about my own body. I minored in gender studies in college and have books like Our Bodies, Ourselves, but I'm now realizing that I have been pretty ignorant for 30 years. It's frustrating!

For example, I always thought that an influx of discharge meant that something was wrong. I thought I was about to get some sort of infection.

It turns out that the influx in discharge corresponds to my fertile period. I had no idea! It's truly embarrassing to admit...

Anyway, we're still using condoms as our contraceptive of choice, but we will probably move to the Fertility Awareness Method once I've successfully charted my cycle for two months in a row (like the book suggests).

I highly recommend the process of tracking your own cycle, regardless of what kind of contraception you use or whether or not you're sexually active. It's very empowering and it gives you important insight into your body. Others seem to agree; the book has been reviewed 1,073 times on Amazon and has an overall rating of 5 stars. Wow.

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Elizabeth said...

I just started using this really great natural birth control method that is popular in Europe and Canada. I assume its not approved here yet because of the birth control drug companies control of the industry! Its called ladycomp. Its a computer that tracks all your vitals (basically the same thing you're doing) and tells you whether you're ovulating or not. Its 99.3% accurate (same as the pill), and its warranty is 5 years. I have a couple of friends that have been using it for about a year and love it. You can order it online through canadian websites, or straight from Germany.
Just thought some of you might be interested! Again, its called ladycomp. (lady computer)
Good Luck!

kathy said...

Another tool I've seen is the maybeMOM mini microscope. Apparently you can take a sample of your saliva and compare it to a chart to see if you are ovulating or not. The website says it's 98% accurate. And it fits in your purse!

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful! I use Natural Family Planning, which requests the man's participation (like with the act of charting) and a mutual understanding of the female body and fertility. Couple to Couple League (CCL)provides a pc-based program that eliminates paper and hand-charing. It's fantastic. check them out: www.ccli.org. My fiance and I have been using NFP (which is more thorough than Fertility Awareness from what I've found) and we've found we communicate so much more about sex, verbal intimacy, and the day-to-day matters!

Anonymous said...

wait, I meant "hand-charting" hahah

Becca said...

Thanks for sharing this info - I feel a little skeptical (coming from a Catholic background with rhythm method failures galore), but I'm interested in researching it. I hate hormonal birth control, and have been thinking about a non-hormonal (copper) IUD (the Mirena IUD actually released some hormones.) In Europe, the IUD is more prescribed than the pill. In the U.S. pharmaceutical companies have convinced us it's unsafe and that we need the regularity of a pill.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! A relative of mine who used this book when she was trying to get pregnant (she had a very difficult time) recommended it as a way to get to know your body, even if you're not interested in getting pregnant.

One question: Do things like taking your body temperature work if you're on the pill, or is your cycle totally different since the hormones are regulated and you're not actually ovulating? (Obviously I'm not trying to get pregnant, but learning how to recognize things in your body seemed cool.)

tamara s. said...

This is a GREAT book! I bought it about a year ago - as a way to learn more about my body and, at the time, to use it as a way to prevent pregnancy. Now that we are getting closer to the time when we want to start a family, I know this book will be equally useful. I highly recommend this to all women - if only, as you said, to learn about our own bodies!

Anonymous said...

There are lots of free online programs you can use to track your fertility. But be aware these methods are definitely no guarantee of preventing pregnancy so as long as you are sure you are more relaxed about what might happen, then enjoy a chemical free love with your hubby! As others have said, it is also a great way to get to know your body. On another contraceptive issue, one thing my partner and I did for about 18 months was no contraception at all. This also meant no penetrative sex as neither of us wanted to get pregnant, but it was amazing for our love life. We were already very emotionally and physically intimate, but because sex was no longer about penetration and climax, it very much became about intimacy and learning about each other, our sexuality and sexual desires. As a consequence, our sexual satisfaction and closeness intensified. Highly recommended!

Anonymous said...

I use this exact same method! It was amazing what I learned about my body and we only use this method. I also love the fact you can go to the forums and talk to women www.tcyof.com - next to wedding websites it is pretty much the only other place I go.

She also has a teen book out. less about birth control and more about understanding your body and "predicting" periods. I wish I had a book like that to help me my first few awkward years!

Marina said...

I used to use this, and loved it, and loved even more the knowledge I gained about my body. However, it became very stressful because I was not ready to let whatever happened happen, and while it's just as effective as other methods when properly used, it puts all the fault squarely on the user if it doesn't work. The book you mention is particularly good at presenting the risks fairly--if you have a regular 28 day cycle, you probably have 10 days where you can have worry-free sex. The other 18 days, you, the user, are weighing the risks. 10-14 days of those 18 are probably fine, but you never know if you're going to ovulate tomorrow.

(This is actually a problem some women I know had with ladycomp: if your cycle's irregular, most days of the month it gives you a yellow light, not a definite no or a definite yes. I can get that by hand-charcting without spending hundreds of dollars!)

I do highly recommend using all the possible methods: basal body temperature, cervical fluid consistency, cervical dilation, and saliva ferning if you've got a microscope handy. Plus keeping track of your own particular cycles: emotions, cramps, even food cravings! You can learn so much about yourself, and plus each little bit makes you a little more accurate.

To anonymous who had the question about doing this while on the pill: When you're on the pill, your temperature will not show when you're ovulating, because you're not ovulating. :) But you can certainly take your temperature! It just won't show signs of ovulation.

Meg said...

Not to be the one naysayer, but I know two very adorable children that were born when the mother was using this birth control method. If you're fine with "pray and play," I think it's fine. If you're aiming for "no kids, not right now!" then I'd keep a jaded eye on this. It's better than the rhythm method, but I'm not sure it's MUCH better. There are lots of pretty darn good non-hormonal options out there to consider.

Tyler, Thais said...

Nursing student here. recently had OB rotation, we actually learned that in order for this to be effective you need to use backup methods (condoms) for 8 months while charting. Two months is not nearly enough to figure out your cycle and whether it's regular or not, especially once coming off the pill. This method also does not work if your cycles are not regular. Just be very careful. Every single one of my friends that used this method were pregnant within one year. And they were trying to AVOID it, not get pregnant.

Sara E. Cotner said...

This is such a great conversation.

Thais, the way I understand it, you don't need to have a regular cycle for this method to work. You just need to be able to chart your signs. So, for example, after you've ovulated (as evidenced by the drastic change in morning temperature), you have to wait three days to allow for the remote possibility of two or more eggs being released over a 24-hour period, with each one living a full day. You also have to wait four days after the last day of wet cervical fluid to ensure that the vagina has returned to a dry, inhospitable environment for sperm. If those two days don't happen to match up, you have to wait for whichever one is longer. Then you can have unprotected sex up until any cervical fluid reappears, signifying the onset of ovulation. If any irregularity reappears within that pattern, users are advised to take an extra-conservative approach.

The Fertility Awareness Method actually seems to take a very cautious and thoughtful approach to birth control. I think the difficulty of it lies in being able to track one's signs accurately. The temperature is no problem for me(I even wake up at the same time every day), but the cervical fluid piece is more difficult for me (and it's certainly an important piece).

Also, I think it's easier and more tempting for users of the FAM to take more chances than users of other contraceptive methods. You have to follow four rules precisely--to the day. If you don't, you actually set yourself up to get pregnant because you're having unprotected sex when you're most fertile. It also takes a lot of diligence to track your cycle day after day after day.

To Meg's point, I've only started using this approach now that I'm in a stable, long-term relationship. Although I've always been a staunch proponent of a woman's right to choose, I never wanted to actually put myself in the position to have to choose an abortion.

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