Oct 15, 2007

Fertility Awareness - why I use it

Now, some of you may find this all to be way too much detail, so I'm warning you now - if phrases like "cervical mucous" make you want to run screaming from the room then this is not the post for you. In fact - since I'm planning to post about fertility awareness more than once, I promise to always use the words 'fertility awareness' in the title when I do. Fair?

I've been thinking about posting on this topic for a while because there is a lot of misinformation out there about 'natural contraceptive methods' - including that lovely old joke
What do you call people who use natural contraception?
I admit that I laughed and laughed in a superior sort of way when I first heard it because of course I was going to choose the way of pharmaceutical science when that sort of thing became necessary. And science said that natural methods were obsolete and unreliable. Which of course some of them are - the 'rhythm' method and other more 'intuitive' (i.e. unreliable) methods are not remotely useful if you actually want to prevent a pregnancy.

But when it came to my turn to actually use the contraceptives that the pharmaceutical companies provide, my body had other plans.

The first pill I tried made me depressed. Like, seriously contemplating hurling myself out of my 5th floor workplace window, depressed. As soon as I noticed what was happening (and thankfully realised it was cyclic and possibly due to the little cream pills) I immediately stopped taking them. Within two days the world was a wonderful place - birds were singing, the sun was shining and I felt like dancing. hmmmmm

The second pill I tried gave me migraines. great. Back to my GP and we try painkillers to stop the pain and we try a preventer to keep them away.
So at this point, I'm taking hormones to prevent conception, but they have side-effects so I'm taking more drugs to counteract the side-effects. And of course those other drugs have potential side-effects too...

So I got off the merry-go-round.

I vaguely remembered someone talking a couple of years earlier about a method where you record your daily temperature and some other stuff. So I mention this to my GP, and (praise God) he was familiar enough with the method to point me in the right direction to at least find out more about it. He was very supportive of the whole move, which was nice.

To cut a longish story short, I found that "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" by Toni Weschler was an excellent book, and since I learn best by reading books, that was enough for me.

The whole point of fertility awareness is to learn to read your body's signs to find out when you are fertile, and work around that. If you want children then you use that fertile time to its full advantage. If you do not want children then you take steps - abstinence or barrier contraception of some sort.

Weschler teaches the "Sympto-thermal method", which is, simply, taking note of your
  • 'basal body temperature' - your temperature first thing in the morning
  • cervical mucous texture/quantity etc
  • position of the cervix
And all of those three things together can tell you when you are likely to be fertile. Any method that misses out one of those observations is not giving you enough information, and will be unreliable.

A surprise benefit was not having to go get pregnancy tests all the time :-) Before I had children my cycle was really irregular - anywhere between 27 and 41 days was perfectly normal. This would have caused me great stress on an almost monthly basis as I tried to work out if I was pregnant or if this was a normal month. But when you chart your cycles, you learn that it's really only the first part of the cycle that's variable - the time between bleeding and ovulating. Once your body has released that egg (ovulated) it has a limited life span - 12-14 days only. Basically, if you know when you ovulate and you get to 18 days after that without bleeding, then you're pregnant. Yeehah. I don't know how much money we saved on pregnancy tests those first few years we were married, but it would be considerable.

So there you have it - Merl and I have used Fertility Awareness for almost 8 years now with 3 planned pregnancies and 0 unplanned ones.

(Oh, and you're right, those numbers don't add up - our first baby miscarried very early in the pregnancy)

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