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Getting In Tune with My Cycle and How to Delay or Prevent Pregnancies

May 7, 2008

In the past few weeks, I’ve had a couple of conversations about things that I do as a matter of course that are not mainstream (me, not mainstream? go figure!). So, I figured that other gals might be curious about these practices and I’m going to post about both this week.

The first one I’m going to address is how we have chosen to deal with fertility and birth control. We don’t use birth control. What started out as either my birth control pills going up in price or no longer being covered by my insurance (I can’t remember which now) led us to discover and take a course in Natural Family Planning (or NFP). The method is almost identical to the fertility awareness method (or FAM). The primary difference is how one chooses to deal with the period of fertility. NFP teaches abstinence during that period, because it is primarily a Catholic promoted method and FAM advocates abstinence or barrier methods.

When we first started taking classes, in which a nice older couple who had practiced NFP for years came to our home to teach us personally, I heard a lot of snide remarks from people about the rhythm method not working for their mothers (or more typically) their grandmothers. I believe that. The rhythm method works on the assumption that women ovulate on the 14th day of their 28 day cycle, which is certainly true for some women, but not all or even most.

What actually occurred is that we learned a method for delaying pregnancy, we opened our hearts to having a second child and I learned about the wonders of the female cycle. It actually is amazing how we work and what signals our bodies sends to us that we can interpret into where we are in our cycle. When I started paying attention, I discovered that what I thought were random, painful lower back problems were actually menstrual cramps (not unlike the back labor I experienced in each of my three labors). Things I thought were yeasty problems were actually a normal sign that ovulation was approaching.

So, how does it differ from the rhythm method? That is an excellent question. It’s based on science. That’s a start. The basic thing that I do is take my temperature most days of the month at approximately the same time each day, give or take an hour. This is your basal temperature, which not only rises after ovulation, but stays higher if you are pregnant and is also an excellent indicator of low thyroid function if it is consistently low (as mine is, but that’s another issue). Then you can basically break down your cycle into three phases, Phase 1 (starting with the first day of your period and the few days after, depending on the length of your regular cycle), Phase 2 (your fertile period) and then Phase 3 (your phase of infertility after ovulation up to the first day of your next period). Then there are two other indicators that women can use to back up their temperature observations. The first is cervical fluid. It increases and changes texture as your ovulation approaches (nope, it’s not a yeast infection [likely], it’s lubrication so that the sperm survives and fertilizes that egg!). The other is the feel of your cervix. It gets softer and opens slightly when you ovulate.* When one first starts practicing NFP or FAM, one usually observes all three signs to familiarize yourself with how your body works and to establish a series of cycles on charts as a baseline. As you become more practiced it becomes easier to be more lax and not take your temperature every single day and make the other two observations.

Is it more work than other methods to prevent or delay pregnancies? It certainly was a daily commitment to remember to take my birth control pill. It is more work than a tubal ligation, vasectomy, IUD, the inserts in your arm or the new hormonal birth control cervical rings. But surgery has side effects and is difficult and not always possible to reverse should you change your mind. IUD’s have their own set of risks and hormonal birth control has the side effects that come with ingesting hormones. We have both decided that this is the method for us because it doesn’t have any nasty side effects on either of our health, it is completely reversible, free and natural.

And it works, too. We’ve been using it for nearly eight years and the only unplanned pregnancy was Juliana, but honestly, when you use NFP, you know when you are bending the rules and it is a failure to follow rules and not a failure of the method if you take that risk. So, it wasn’t an complete surprise to find myself expecting a few weeks later.

Finally comes the charting and interpretation of all these symptoms that you are observing. When we first started, we used a mercury thermometer and paper charts. We’ve long since upgraded to a digital basal thermometer (basal thermometers read by the .1 instead of .2 like regular thermometers, which is essential). A couple of years ago, I upgraded to computer charting which makes interpretation a breeze.

If you haven’t had your fill of information from this post, you can find out more from the Couple to Couple League, which is the Catholic organization that we took our classes with. There is also a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, which I own. It simplifies it so well and makes the information less intimidating, in my opinion, than the Couple to Couple League’s NFP course. The Couple to Couple League’s NFP course is very detailed and taught in person, which can be a plus for some. I got my charting software from Ovusoft, which is the website that accompanies Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

And finally, one cool feature about NFP or FAM, you can use the very same method to get pregnant and many women who had difficulty conceiving were able to use FAM to successfully conceive because you are pinpointing your most fertile period, which is very important for both conception or avoiding conception!

*A little anecdote, in Ethiopia (if memory serves me correctly) it is is common knowledge that is passed onto the young women that when the cervix is open and flowing you are fertile. When it closes you are infertile!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Evelyn permalink
    May 7, 2008 10:16 pm

    That is really interesting. Aren’t our bodies amazing if we just pay attention to them?

  2. Angelina permalink
    May 8, 2008 3:23 pm

    I think it’s really great that you have gotten to know your body so well. I’m sorry to say that at 38 years of age I still don’t know when my period is coming. I’m actually really looking forward to the time it no longer comes at all.

  3. made by kort permalink
    May 8, 2008 4:34 pm

    we used NFP for 6+ years without getting pregnant…of course that made me worried that there were fertility issues. when we wanted to get pregnant, we charted and it worked the very first time. amazing.

  4. made by kort permalink
    May 8, 2008 4:34 pm

    we used NFP for 6+ years without getting pregnant…of course that made me worried that there were fertility issues. when we wanted to get pregnant, we charted and it worked the very first time. amazing.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    May 8, 2008 5:20 pm

    How lovely to read the account of your journey…finding NFP is only part of it. I’m wondering how your spousal relationship developed as time went on.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    May 8, 2008 5:20 pm

    How lovely to read the account of your journey…finding NFP is only part of it. I’m wondering how your spousal relationship developed as time went on.

  7. Lisa permalink
    May 8, 2008 5:40 pm

    Yes, Mom, they are amazing.

    I’m surprised by that Angelina!

    Kort, that’s great! You illustrated one of my points perfectly, it is multi-purpose.

    Anon, that’s a great question. I don’t talk very much about my hubby because he is quite a private person and has requested that I don’t blog about him. However, I will say that we have a wonderful relationship. We’ve been married about 12 1/2 years and using NFP for 8, so it has been a long portion of our marriage. I can’t specifically say how NFP affected it, but I think we connect on a deeper level, which could be the length of marriage, age, the benefits of NFP or a combination of all. He isn’t resentful of the method at all, though I understand that some husbands can become and he wholeheartedly agrees that this is the way for us to go. Neither of us wants to be surgically altered and he doesn’t want me to take artifical birth control and risk my health. Not to mention that hormonal birth control can prevent fertilized eggs from implanting which can be a moral dilemma for some, including me.

  8. jocelynstorm permalink
    August 25, 2009 2:52 pm

    Great article! Thank you for sharing.

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