Many people stumble onto information about fertility awareness based methods (FABMs) of family planning when they’re trying to achieve a pregnancy. This was the case for me. I was searching for information on how to get pregnant faster. I had just stopped using hormonal birth control due to negative side effects, and we were looking to start trying for another baby a few months later. It took 6 months of trying to conceive our first child. That isn’t a terribly long time, but we really had no idea how to increase our odds, and my long cycles at the time made it difficult to figure out when to even take a pregnancy test.
In the process of searching for information online, I found out that cervical mucus is one of the 3 things that must be present (along with sperm and egg) in order for pregnancy to occur. Cervical mucus is produced in response to hormonal stimulation. When estrogen is rising, the cervix produces mucus that becomes progressively more fluid, thin and slippery. This happens over the several days prior to ovulation. Estrogenic cervical mucus keeps sperm alive for up to 5 days waiting for an egg to be released from the ovary. So, when you’re trying to get pregnant, you observe for estrogenic mucus and time intercourse to those days, particularly the days that you feel slippery at the vaginal opening. For a more detailed explanation of this process, see my previous post.
To learn more about how to observe and chart my cycle, I joined a group on Facebook called Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control. At the time, I was totally skeptical of the idea of using the information I had learned to avoid a pregnancy. I figured we would use it to get pregnant, and then after I had the baby, I’d go back on hormonal birth control until we decided it was time for my husband to get a vasectomy.
However, as I learned more and started charting my biomarkers, I fell in love with the process of observing and recording my body’s signs. Gaining a deeper understanding of the physiology of ovulation, I became convinced that if FAM could be used to achieve a pregnancy, it made logical sense that it could be used to avoid as well. At its core, when you chart using fertility awareness, you learn to identify the fertile and infertile days of your cycle. Then you and your partner choose how to handle those days.
We ultimately conceived a pregnancy on my 4th cycle of charting (2nd cycle of trying to get pregnant), which unfortunately ended in an early miscarriage. After that, we intentionally used FAM to avoid pregnancy for 4.5 months until we were ready to try again. We then achieved our next pregnancy on the first cycle, which resulted in our youngest son. We have been successfully using FAM to avoid pregnancy since his birth 2 years ago, and plan to continue using this method indefinitely.
Birth control is a highly individual, personal choice. No method is right for everyone, and all forms should be affordably available and accessible to everyone. Today, I’m going to tell you why fertility awareness is the perfect method of birth control for me and my relationship, based on my personal circumstances.
1.) No medications or devices required
One of the things I love most about tracking my cycle to avoid pregnancy is that I don’t need a doctor to access birth control. I’m not left at risk of pregnancy if the pharmacy runs out of my medication or if I can’t get an appointment with my midwife to have a new IUD inserted.
2.) No side effects
Since hormonal contraception more or less shuts down the normal hormonal sequences in the female reproductive system, there are guaranteed to be side effects on some level, whether a user notices them or not. Reproductive health impacts overall health, and since reproductive hormones are required for many essential tasks throughout the body, interfering in those processes does have systemic impact.
I personally had some negative side effects when using hormonal birth control in the past, and I’m very happy to have FAM now, so I’m not stuck dealing with those effects in order to avoid having an unplanned pregnancy.
“Birth control is a highly individual, personal choice. No method is right for everyone.”Brittany Bair
Once you pay the initial start-up costs, fertility awareness is low-cost or free for the rest of your life in most cases. All you really need is to hire an instructor, purchase the needed supplies (depending on method, this can include a thermometer, urinary hormone test strips and/or a fertility monitor), and maybe a charting app, if you don’t want to chart on paper. I personally use and recommend Read Your Body as the most versatile charting app currently available.
4.) Freedom to change your fertility goals
The beauty of FABMs is that they do not interfere with your natural fertility in any way. So, if or when you decide you want to achieve a pregnancy, you simply continue charting. Then, instead of confining unprotected sex to the infertile days of the cycle, you time intercourse for the fertile days instead. There is no need to stop the pill or have a device removed (both of which can involve a temporary delay in the return of fertility after discontinuation).
The flip side of this coin is that, since your and your partner’s fertility remain unaffected with the use of FABMs, avoiding pregnancy in this way does require careful attention to biomarkers, daily recording, and a willingness to avoid unprotected sex on fertile days. I talk about how much time charting takes me each day here.
5.) Creates a health record
A fertility chart is a real time record of the charter’s hormonal activity and health. If there are concerns that need to be addressed, they will often show up in the menstrual cycle chart. Fertility charting can clue us in to potential thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances, possible infections, and more. When working with a medical professional who is trained to read charts, this data can be used to inform hormonal testing and other diagnostic tools to more accurately diagnose and treat health problems. This is a benefit specific to fertility charting that no other method of contraception provides.
6.) Provides clarity
When you fully understand how to chart your cycle, your period is never “late.” Menstrual bleeding follows ovulation by an average of 12-14 days. When you chart your cycle, you are able to identify approximately when ovulation has occurred. So you’ll know in advance if ovulation is delayed, and you can then expect your period will arrive later than you expected as well. There’s no running to the pharmacy for pregnancy tests when you don’t start bleeding on time!
Those are the six reasons I love fertility awareness for birth control. Are there drawbacks to this method of birth control? Absolutely. I’ll be talking about that in my next post. Until then, tell me: do you chart your cycle? If so, what are the benefits you have experienced? If you use another form of birth control, tell us what you love about it in the comments as well.