Friday, May 4, 2012

Fertility Tracking 101: Part 2

Note: This is a very personal post. We both desire to share our story to hopefully encourage others on their individual journey. 

Now that we’ve hit the basics of fertility tracking, and hopefully you have a general idea of what I’m talking about, let’s dig into my personal experience with it. As I’ve said, I have learned so much about my body by tracking my fertility. It never ceases to amaze me how intricately God designed the female body. Everything about our bodies is so intentional, harmonious and cyclical. Only the Creator himself could have made something so perfect. This is my "yay for fertility awareness" face...

Assuming you’re a woman, did you realize that your body is always flowing through a cycle? You’re period is just a part of it, not the whole of it. I had only the vaguest idea of what ovulation was prior to reading TCOYF. Our bodies actually go through many different stages each month, all revolving around the possibility of conceiving and bearing children, regardless of whether that is on your mind or not.

It all starts with our period. This is day 1 of a woman’s cycle, and certainly the most notorious part. Once our period ends, we are then in the pre-ovulatory phase, which can last an indefinite amount of time and is easily affected by stress, diet, change in exercise, etc. During this time, our bodies are preparing to release an egg (or sometimes two) at ovulation. As ovulation approaches, our cervical fluid and interest in sex increases as a natural cue that our bodies are becoming fertile. At ovulation, we should be at our peak cervical fluid, which acts as the carrier for the sperm to make it to the egg.

Ovulation also causes our temperature to rise about .5–1 degree and stay elevated until day one of our next period, or will continue elevated if we’ve conceived and throughout that pregnancy (18 consecutive days of elevated temps means that she is most likely pregnant). If we haven’t conceived at this month’s ovulation, the egg will die within 24–48 hours and shed with the lining of our uterus during the next period. This phase after ovulation, but before day one of the next period is called the Luteal phase and is always between 12–16 days and is not affected by outside factors such as stress or exercise. This happens every month to every woman during her child bearing years (given that she has regular cycles). Crazy, huh?! Well, I think so.

My experience with all this started before I was married when I decided to begin tracking my temperatures every morning and chart them on the free version of the phone app, My Days. I later learned that I wasn’t even using the proper kind of thermometer, but it was good to practice the routine of temping first thing in the morning. This lasted for a few months, and I must admit, I wasn’t completely committed to doing it every day, especially since I was just doing it for “fun”. My intention was to start to get the hang of fertility tracking so when I really needed to “use” it for birth control I would be ready to go. We both knew we were not interested in using the pill for health and moral reasons.

Flash forward to getting engaged in December 2011, I was ready to kick it up a notch and start tracking more than just my temps. I wanted to have a few completed cycles of tracking as though I was using it for birth control before we eventually needed to start implementing in May 2011 after our wedding. So I dug further into my TCOYF book and loosely began tracking my cervical fluid in addition to my temps, which I was now taking on a daily basis with a proper basal thermometer. I also started talking more about charting and what I was learning with Arthur.

However, throw in the chaos of planning a wedding in basically four months and not having enough energy or time to devote to studying my body and the book, I found myself not as prepared as I wanted to be come our wedding. So I kept charting and temping, but we decided to just use condoms full-time (sorry if this is TMI!) as our birth control method for that season. We took a break from most of our obligations for a few months after wedding to spend time together, which gave me more opportunity to dive into my book. Perhaps the post-wedding maternal instincts that kicked in were also drive enough to force me to learn about my body and get this stuff figured out. I knew I would at least need to know this information for when we started trying to get pregnant.

I will spare some of the more intimate details, but about six months into marriage we began truly committing to learning about and practicing the fertility awareness method. I had a few cycles charted by then and felt pretty comfortable with identifying where I was in my cycle. It was a really exciting and freeing time for us both!

I have quite a few friends who do fertility tracking also, and the most common issue I hear from them is that their temps and/or cervical fluid aren’t regular enough to chart and therefore they can’t determine when they are ovulating. I can say that tracking my cervical fluid wasn’t as straight forward as I would hope. It didn’t always happen as the book said it would and I had difficulty identifying what the “quality” of it was most days. I could, however, determine when I had the most fluid, which was a good sign of impending ovulation. And also, once your cervical fluid dries up, you know ovulation has passed and you are free to have intimacy as you wish. My temps were almost always regular, which was the biggest indicator of where I was for that cycle. I didn’t choose to track my cervical position regularly, but to be frank, if you pay attention when you’re having sex, you might be able to feel when your cervix is low and hard versus soft and high (around ovulation).

We continued to practice the FAM method for about three months, when Arthur felt a calling that it was time to start trying for a baby and growing our faith in the Lord. We had initially planned to wait a few more months, but God had different timing. I was thrilled, yet knew that this could be the beginning of a long road of trying to get pregnant. It has seemed like almost all of our friends have struggled or are continuing to struggle with conception, and we realized that was an honest possibility for us too. Our trust was in the Lord's timing for our family. And, thankfully, we were educated on how to pursue pregnancy achievement through the Fertility Awareness Method. Even so, many of our friends were essentially following the FAM method themselves and still not getting pregnant. I tried as much as I could to keep my expectations in the Lord.

So month one of officially trying ensued. We did what we needed to do, when we were supposed to do it, and waited (not so patiently). I would pour over pregnancy forums and books looking for anything I could do to "help" the process along, seeking information for my hungry mind and also diverting my attention from the Lord. I have to say that our TTC (trying to conceive) months were some of the most fun and stressful we've had yet in our marriage. It was a strange time.

I was so in tune with every ache and pain my body was experiencing. I started to feel aches in my lower abdomen and nausea and dizziness and tender breasts. My period did not feel like it was coming and I had convinced myself that I was pregnant. So much so that we ordered pregnancy tests and counted down the days until we could test. I was convinced. Until my period came and I was devastated. How could I have been so sure and so wrong? My faith and determination in the Lord was being shaken.

So I picked up my broken heart and we trudged on. I decided we needed something to pick up our spirits, so I planned a last minute super-surprise trip to Portland. I couldn't wait! I booked a hotel, filled up the car, got a cat-sitter, planned a route and secretly got Arthur off work. The distraction was great and allowed me to focus on serving my husband and praying to the Lord. I also journaled a lot during this time. It helped me sort through everything and see my thoughts, sins, life, and just the general season from a new angle. These journal entries are so precious to me. However, the timing became even more strange when the Lord suddenly provided us with a new job for Arthur, and this already crazy season became even more chaotic.

We were now at month two of TTC and were days away from going to Portland (little did he know) and starting a new job. They weren't the most magical "tries" or days, but I can see God's grace shining more brightly during this time than any other. He was so, so patient with us. However, this month I wasn't so confident in my prediction of ovulation and was starting to feel like maybe I wasn't going to ovulate. I thought it could have been the stress. I was showing signs of cervical fluid, but my temps (always regular) had not peaked. So we kept on trying until I was sure I had either ovulated or wasn't going to. We were both ready to take a break after that marathon week and a half(!) joke.

We came back from PDX and I was certain I was not fertile anymore (if I ever was this month). So we waited. About a week into my Luteal phase I started to feel cramping, which was 100% aligned with how my periods start. I threw in the towel and told Arthur I was sure we weren't pregnant. He lovingly empathized, but wouldn't throw in the towel himself. He kept saying, "it's not over until it's over". I shrugged him off every time he said this and geared up to order our next kit of Pre-Seed. My cramping got stronger, per usual, and my breasts began experiencing their usual tenderness. My temps, which had finally rose, started to drop and I had my favorite bible verses ready to comfort me once my period started.

My temps were dropping steadily and I figured I was about a day away from my next cycle. But then one morning my temp rose up. I figured it was a fluke. So I woke the next day assuming a drop in my temp, but it had rose again. I knew something was up and told Arthur what was happening. I admitted we might actually have conceived and that I was ready to take a test the next morning. My mind was spinning with shock, fear of not wanting to get my hopes up again, and excitement at the possibility of being pregnant. And the rest is history, we were in fact pregnant. (If you missed reading about how we found out, you can read the aptly titled post, How We Found Out.)

This is our story. Or rather, God's story for us. Each of us will have a different journey with fertility, but I share ours with the hope that it might inspire you to learn about your beautiful body and give encouragement in your own story. The Lord is sovereign over each of our families, and there is no explanation aside from Him why we conceived when we did. I didn't actually do anything. I didn't need to do anything. God was and is in control. Even so, He does give us wisdom, and I am so grateful he has blessed me with the knowledge of how he has built my beautiful, womanly body.

And how awesome is it that that fateful day I started my period after month one of TTC was actually the very beginning of our current pregnancy, and the day that I get asked about every time I go to the doctor...

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