Friday, April 27, 2012

Fertility Tracking 101: Part 1

I've put off writing this two-part post for weeks now, but it's definitely time. It's just such a juicy topic with so much to say, I'm not even sure where to start. I will begin with saying that the information in this post is a compilation of my own research and discernments, and should not be taken as professional medical advice, nor me telling you what you should do. This is meant to be a guide to help you make your own informed decisions.

Perhaps birth control is the best place to begin. I am certain that some of you haven't even thought twice about birth control options, right? It's so culturally normal for women to be on the pill or an equivalent for most of their childbearing years that the thought of anything else is seen as weird, hippy, religious, or just plain inconvenient. In fact, I would most likely have been on the pill had no one ever told me I had options. Who knew?!

I am so grateful for that day almost five years ago when my dear friend and old roommate, Rachel, was preparing for her own upcoming marriage and came home with a pamphlet that talked about Natural Family Planning. I hadn't heard of it before and decidedly tucked the thought into the back of my mind. Fast forward a few years to another conversation with my dear friend, Carrie, who was still newly married at the time and telling me all about this book she picked up at the used book store that outlined how to "use" natural birth control. I was considering marrying a pretty cute guy (Papa K) around this time and we chatted the night away over fancy tacos about natural birth control and her friend (or friend of a friend?) who had used the method successfully for birth control and pregnancy achievement. I was hooked and couldn't stop talking about it to my other friends. I would often hear feedback like, "That is such a Christian thing to do", or "Yeah, I had a friend who tried that and it didn't work—she's got 11 children" (I'm kidding). I didn't know what to think or even where to start. I really questioned whether this was an honest form of birth control.

I must have mentioned the topic to Rachel again that year because she offered to loan me her book, Taking Charge of your Fertility by Toni Weschler. She bookmarked the section she thought I should read (chapter 6, I think—the one about birth control), and said I didn't need to read the rest if I didn't want to. I had no idea what I was in for. This book is life changing. It literally sat under my bible on my nightstand for the year leading up to marriage (I eventually bought my own copy after I had worn out my welcome with hers) right up until our recent move. It now sits on the bookshelf, proudly. I cannot recommend this book enough. I even brought it one day to our pre-marriage class to make sure everyone knew about it. It's that good!

I assure you that this isn't a religious hokey-pokey book. It is a secular, incredibly easy to understand, book about how the female body works—from puberty to menopause. Don't be swayed by it's thickness either. You don't need to read the entire book. You can read sections as they become relevant to you. I just focused on the birth control chapters until we began discussing starting a family. I haven't even touched on the menopause chapters just yet. It's really a bible for the female body.

Basically, TCOYF walks you through the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). This is different from the well-known method, Natural Family Planning (NFP). In a nutshell, NFP assumes that you have a 28 day cycle and ovulate on day 14. So following this method, you would watch the calendar and count the days to find your alleged fertile period. However, not every woman has a 28 day cycle or ovulates on day 14, so this method is often the perpetrator behind those stories of women you hear about who get pregnant using natural birth control. The FAM method tracks the cues your body gives you to know what point in your cycle you're at. The basics of practicing the FAM method include: taking your temperature before getting out of bed every morning, charting your cervical fluid/mucus (that white/yellow sticky stuff that comes out of all women), and optionally, charting your cervical position. It's really not as daunting as it seems.

A sample chart from the book

From what I've experienced, it's the "work" that goes into it that holds back most women from choosing this birth control method. But I can promise you that it takes no more time to plop the thermometer under your tongue in the morning than it would to remember to take your pill everyday. And observing your cervical fluid is generally as easy as paying attention when you go to the bathroom and wipe. I will refrain from going into further detail, but the book explains all of this and more in full.

In closing for part one of this post, I have to say that this book has honestly taught me more about my body than anyone or anything ever has. I have heard countless friends and women say the same about TCOYF. There doesn't seem to be any in-between opinions about this book—you read it, you learn, and you love it, end of story. It's amazing how much we aren't taught about our physiology by our leaders, teachers, parents, etc. I think much of this is because they aren't educated about the female body themselves. Thankfully, my body is no longer a mystery. I almost always know what is happening inside me and have a much greater understanding of the way God has so intricately designed a woman's cycle and body to be a beautiful and perfectly orchestrated symphony.

Stay tuned for Part Two where I talk about my experience with natural birth control, fertility tracking, and pregnancy achievement.

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