Embracing Our Bodies with Fertility Awareness

In contrast to hormonal birth control, fertility awareness asks us to change nothing about our bodies. There are no harmful side effects, but there is the beneficial side effect of actually ovulating.

Ovulation is good for your health, and I believe that we as women have the #righttoovulate

Fertility awareness teaches us how our bodies work so that we can modify our behavior rather than our biology. Hormonal birth control changes how our bodies work, FAM teaches us how our bodies work.

I strongly believe that fertility awareness teaches us the value of self-control. We learn that unprotected sex at all times is not necessary for a healthy relationship.

For those not abstaining in the fertile window for religious reasons, I also think it changes the generally very heteronormative view of sex and opens us up to new kinds of love and touching in the fertile window. And of course, if choose to abstain, there is room for emotional love during this time as well

If you are ready to take the plunge into FAM, I am now accepting clients for an asynchronous course with 3 cycles of help from myself. Sign up on my learn with me page or send me an email.

An Honest Review of Pearl Fertility Kit

I tried the Pearl Fertility Kit. During my first kit, I got a little confused when the kit did not seem to line up with my fertility signs. However, I contacted Pearl Fertility and they were super helpful. They sent me another kit for free, and it worked perfectly when I tried it this last cycle.

Pearl is a product marketing to women who are trying to conceive (TTC). The product explicitly states that it should not be used to avoid pregnancy. The kit contained 15 follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) strips, 15 luteinizing hormone (LH) strips, and 4 progesterone (PdG) strips. It also included a few pink dye pregnancy tests. As I am not currently trying to conceive, I did not use these.

The app claims to open a woman’s fertile window by scanning the FSH and LH strips and giving you a fertility window from these results.

If anyone wants to try this product, I highly suggest tracking your cervical mucus, as good quality cervical mucus (eggwhite, clear, stretchy, wet) is what allows sperm to survive to meet an egg. Progesterone tests need not be used until at least 4 days past your peak day (the last day of good quality cervical mucus). Even then, some women do not see positive progesterone tests until as late as 7-10 days past ovulation. For more information, visit Proov’s website linked at the end of this article. By charting your real fertility signs, you could use these tests more wisely.

Overall, I thought the Pearl Fertility Kit was super cool. FSH strips are a brand new thing, and I have high hopes for them being integrated into a real fertility awareness based method in the future. If you have the money to invest in Pearl, this can be a fun kit to experiment with. Basically you get to see three main hormones of the menstrual cycle play out. Pearl graphs them for you.

If you cannot afford Pearl, do remember that it is free to chart cervical mucus and that this is always the best indicator for when to have sex when trying to achieve pregnancy. Without cervical mucus, sperm will never make it to the egg on its own.

Here is what my Pearl chart for this month looks like:

The highest pink dot is my positive LH strip.

Here is my Pearl information compared to my symptothermal method chart. In this chart, FSH equals Ferning since Kindara does not have an FSH category.

The Pearl fertile window is indicated by the green lights. It did start my fertile window on a day pregnancy was unlikely since there was no mucus. The blue hearts represent the fertile mucus where sperm can survive. These two fertile windows lined up pretty well.

Overall, I would rate myself satisfied with this kit.

One tip:

From the calendar screen, you can override what tests Pearl is asking for. I only suggest doing this if you are charting your other fertility signs (cervical mucus and basal body temperature) and know that something is not lining up right.

In addition to the strips, Pearl has spaces to track intercourse, your period, and pregnancy status.

Curious to know more about the fertility signs?

If you want to learn how to chart your real fertility signs to achieve or avoid pregnancy, read my guide to getting started.

Look for my next blog on using Proov progesterone tests.

Now Opening Enrollment For December 2019 Fertility Awareness Course

I am so excited to be offering this new course for those interested in learning the symptothermal method of fertility awareness. The method I teach is based on the rules studies by Sensiplan. You can read about this study here.

I found fertility awareness after 7 years on the pill, and it really rocked my world. When I started practicing it myself, I realized that it was a grave injustice that women are not taught about FAM. Practicing FAM has put me in touch with my body more than ever before. It healed some of the mind/body split that I had developed through years of resenting my period.

Moderating in Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control, the largest English speaking, secular fertility awareness group on Facebook at 25,000+ members, lead me to becoming a certified instructor through the Natural Family Planning Teachers Association (NFPTA). Starting in February 2020, I am pursuing a certification through Bebo Mia as a fertility doula to support women who are TTC. Outside of the fertility world, I am training to be a librarian. I have taught at the college level since 2016.

I teach a secular form of fertility awareness including information on barrier methods (condoms, diaphragms, etc). The NFPTA method has the same temperature rules as Sensiplan. I teach cervical mucus, cervical position, basal body temperature, and calculation rules (the doering rule and minus 20 and 21 rules). My distance course is offered on Moodle. It is a 4-week self-paced course that includes video charting examples and information on charting during all life circumstances (perimenopause, postpartum, postpill, and TTC). This class opens in December. Your partner is welcome to ask me questions and take the course along with you.

If you already have charting experience from reading TCOYF or the Sensiplan file (3 or more complete cycles), I will extend a discount to you if you decide to work with me. Reach out to me to find out more. I will also likely be holding a live introduction to FAM session in early December.

The best way to get in touch with me is through DM on my Instagram @chartyourfertility or through e-mail by completing a form on chartyourfertility.com. You can also follow me @chartyourfertility on Facebook

A symptothermal method chart
An Example of Symptothermal Method Chart on Kindara

*Disclaimer: These methods only work as well as the user. Even with perfect use, there is still a .4% chance of pregnancy. Using a calculation rule is built into the efficacy, and ignoring calculations may result in unintended pregnancy. I will work closely with you so that you understand the rules, but it is ultimately on the user to follow them.

Shortcut charting, or “Wait… I don’t have to take my temperature every day?”

Many people come into FAM overwhelmed by all the data that they have to collect daily. It can be a bit of a turn off for those new to the method. They may wonder why they have to check their cervical mucus ALL day and then set an alarm on top of that.

When you first begin charting, it is vitally important to try to get the information down every day so that you can get into a habit and make sure that you are following the rules. Missing information will leave you with less complete charts that could leave you confused as to whether ovulation is confirmed or not.

However, once you have been charting for a significant amount of time and become confident, you can stop recording fertility signs once you have confirmed ovulation.

I am headed into chart number twenty-two successfully avoiding pregnancy with FAM, and I have been shortcut charting most of the time for about seven cycles now. I personally recommend confirming ovulation in 12 cycles before shortcut charting. This is so that you know how early you ovulate, your normal temperature levels, and how to tell whether something abnormal is going on in your cycle (ie sickness causing temperatures to be higher than normal or an abnormal cervical fluid dry up due to cold meds or some other medication).

Toni Weschler, author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility, recommends that women have several months of experience in the standard rules before taking any shortcuts. She offers some modified guidelines to follow and emphasizes that “contraceptive efficacy won’t be compromised as long as both your fertility signs have confirmed that ovulation has already been confirmed for that particular cycle.”

The Modified Rules

Temperature Taking

  1. You don’t have to take your temperature during your period. Toni explains that these temps may be unreliable anyways. However, if you have short cycles with early ovulation, you may need those temps in order to confirm ovulation. If you have a temperature shift CD12 or sooner, you will need some period temps in order to have enough temperatures to draw a coverline.
  2. You don’t have to take your temperature after you confirm ovulation with temperature rules. This means at least 3 high temperatures with a standard shift. If you have weak shift or a fall back rise, you must have the extra temperatures needed to fulfill those rules before you stop taking your temperature. Some people take their temperature again a day or two before they expect their period since it can (but not always) give an indication that menstruation is approaching.

Cervical Mucus

  1. You don’t have to check cervical mucus after you confirm ovulation. You will need to check until you meet peak rules (P + 3) and crosscheck this with 3 high temperatures before you can stop checking for cervical mucus. Again, if you have a weak shift or fallback, you will need to check until you meet the rules.
  2. From the day after your period until the day you observe peak type fluid, you should check cervical mucus continuously throughout the day and follow all rules for mucus checks. However, you don’t have to check cervical mucus multiple times a day once you observe peak fluid. If you observe peak fluid first thing in the morning, there is no need to keep checking. You have already recorded your most fertile observation for the day.

Those are the basic changes when short cut charting.

Here is an example chart.

This woman does not take her temperatures during her period. She begins taking her temperature on CD6 when menstruation ends. She checks her cervical mucus multiple times a day and follows the rules for checking until CD11. On CD11, CD12, and CD13, she observes eggwhite mucus first thing in the morning and doesn’t check again. On CD14-CD17, she checks mucus multiple times a day because she knows she needs at least a 3 day dry up (P + 3) to confirm ovulation. On CD 15, she has her temperature shift. CD16 is above the coverline. CD17 confirms ovulation because it is at least .4 F above the coverline. Ovulation is officially confirmed with both peak and temperature rules met. She takes her temperature again on CD26 to see if she gets a temperature drop indicating that her menstruation may begin soon.

People Who May Want to Think Twice about Short Cut Charting

Not everyone is suited to short cut charting.

  • Charting for Health: If you are charting for health, you may want to record your signs every day. Odd cervical mucus patterns and temperatures can indicate health issues. If this is your goal for charting, short cut charting may not be right for you.
  • Using Tempdrop: Tempdrop says to wear the device every day. If you don’t, it could disrupt the algorithm. As far as I know, they do not recommend short cut charting at this time. If you use this device, you may not want to short cut chart if you are worried about being at risk of pregnancy.
  • You aren’t confident in charting: If you are not confident in your ability to chart, you should NOT short cut chart. You should be 100% confident in your abilities before attempting this.
  • You are sick: If you are sick, you may want to chart more diligently and stay protected if you are uncertain about your chart interpretation.
  • You are only charting one sign: You NEED two signs in order to short cut chart. If you pick just one, you may be putting yourself at risk of unintended pregnancy. Ovulation must be confirmed with two signs.

An Honest Review of Tempdrop

Did you know that there are now wearable basal body temperature thermometers?

A few such as iFertracker, Ava, and Tempdrop are now on the market. In this blog, I will review the Tempdrop device.

tempdrop

Tempdrop is a wearable basal body temperature thermometer that came onto the market in 2017.

Rather than setting an alarm, women can simply put this thermometer on before bed. You wear it around your upper arm (and it may be worn in a bra as well). It needs 3 hours of sleep to determine your basal body temperature. The device uses an algorithm to find your true temperature, regardless of how many times you have gotten up or whether you had restless sleep this night. This device is very popular with shift workers, breastfeeding mothers, and other women who don’t get a regular amount of sleep and wake up at different times. It holds 24 hours of data, and it must be synced at least every 24 hours or you will lose previous data.

After wearing it for thirty days, the algorithm kicks in. So, you cannot trust the device for determining when to have unprotected sex for the first 30 days. 

(If possible you should back up temp with oral basal body temperature for the first 60 days if you are avoiding pregnancy. If not, use a different method of protection).

During days 31-60, the device continues to learn your patterns. By day 60, the device will only change and make improvements to the last 3 temperatures taken.

PROS

  1. Helps Women Practice STM: If you are not able to take your temperature with a normal basal body thermometer due to breastfeeding, shift work, or other irregular sleep schedules, this device will help you practice any sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness or natural family planning.
  2. Great Customer Service: I have had to interact with Tempdrop Customer Service several times. They are fairly prompt with responses, and they do try their best to troubleshoot with you. While there was an issue with the Tempdrop frame breaking, they fixed this issue for free.
  3. No Alarm Needed: Hate your alarm? You won’t need to set it to take your temperature if you wear Tempdrop. 
  4. Helpful Facebook Group: You may join the Tempdrop Facebook group for support and charting help.

CONS

  1. Price:  Tempdrop Basic Package is $149 (12 month warranty). Tempdrop Confidence Package is $189 (12 month refund guarantee, 24 month warranty, Tempdrop Care available). Tempdrop Freedom Package is $249 (24 month warranty, Tempdrop Care, 12 month refund guarantee, extra armband and battery). While this price could be worth it for you if it’s the only way you can take your temperature, it may not be affordable to everyone. This price is still a little high, especially if you are making minimum wage or have other expenses like childcare. The referral codes only work with the higher price packages. If you have kids or animals, you may want to get a better package if you believe your device may be damaged easily.
  2. Battery: The device does not tell you when the battery is dying. However, you can contact support to find out. They now recommend changing the battery at 8 months.
  3. Frame Breaking: Many people (myself included) have had the frame break easily. However, the company promises that they are trying to fix this issue and a newer frame with different plastic will be issued with devices bought this year.
  4. Changing Temps: If you are the anxious type, you may not like the last 3 temps changing. While this is due to the way the device functions, some people may find it unsettling. Second, many people who chart expect that they will see a drop in their temperature before they get their period or the day of. I personally never got the drop to indicate my period was coming until Tempdrop retroactively adjusted my last temperature. With oral basal body temperature, changing temps is not a problem.
  5. Only Syncs With Ovuview** For now, Tempdrop only syncs with Ovuview which can only be downloaded on Android. If you don’t have an Android, you have to type the temperatures in yourself and make sure to remember to update them. However, supposedly Tempdrop will sync with new apps sometime soon!

My own experience:

I am one of the people who has had to contact support many times about the product. For some reason, they did not think to tell me to update the battery even when I had owned the device for longer than 8 months and began experiencing weird temperatures. I don’t hold that too much against them, as I know they have a lot of customers writing in and could have missed this detail for me.

I have used the device for almost 12 months. I found my oral temps to be more predictable and more steady. I get very steady “robo” or repeating temperatures with oral charts most of the time. However, I am not a shift worker, so I will admit that I do not need Tempdrop like some people may do. I already have to wake up at the same time 5 days a week, and I don’t find it inconvenient to take my temperature on the weekend. Even if I take my temperature later, my oral temperatures are incredibly steady. My oral temperatures also caught my shift earlier than Tempdrop did on two separate occasions (I have seen other people say that Tempdrop catches their shift sooner than oral temperatures, so this is really an individual thing).

Funnily, alcohol appears to effect my Tempdrop temperatures MORE than my oral temperatures. I speculate that this is because whenever I would put the Tempdrop on, I was still recently drinking and hotter due to the alcohol. In contrast, I would be sleeping for 8-9 hours and have worn off the alcohol before taking my oral temperature.

Here is one full cycle comparison:

Tempdrop (Ovuview) 

ovuview

Oral Temperatures (Kindara)

kindaraoral

Tempdrop temperatures will either read higher or lower than your oral temperatures. In my case, they read much higher.

Want to try it yourself?

Use this  link  and get 10 dollars off. This discount only works on the Confidence and Freedom Packages.

Full disclosure: I will get a 10 dollar kickback if you use my coupon.

Why Fertility Awareness Can Be a Feminist Choice

In this blog, I’m going to refute some of the arguments against fertility awareness. At the risk of losing some of my audience immediately, I have included the word feminist in this blog title. A while back, I got into an argument in a Facebook comment section with someone who was offended by this article that questioned the pill and it’s effect on women. The argument went nowhere fast, but it got me thinking.

In many circles, questioning the birth control pill is tantamount to attacking women’s rights. I have been told that I’m not a good feminist if I don’t support the pill. As someone who fully supports women and their choices, and as someone who only wrote about women in my graduate degree (I did a lot of gender studies topics), this assertion really hurts.

I know that the birth control pill changed many people’s lives. It brought women into the public sphere more than ever before. Women could now work and have sex without fear of pregnancy. It is considered a great achievement. What’s better than that?

The problem is that not many women are not fully informed about what their birth control options are before being put on the pill. In addition, women are put on the pill for reasons other than birth control (things like heavy bleeding, endometriosis and PCOS). However, we now know there there are alternative forms of birth control, and that the pill does not treat gynecological conditions (it masks them).

I was put on the birth control at age 15. I suffered from heavy bleeding, and mostly my mom just wanted me on it out of pregnancy fears. My doctor did not give me any information about the pill or expected side effects. (Some may point out that the packet comes with information, but freshman year aged me from high school did not think to read my birth control pack in depth). I was switched between at least 4 different types of birth control that I remember. The pill gave me migraines with aura (which I recently learned means I should have gotten off of it immediately, there is a link with having a stroke and migraines with aura while on the pill). I would lose vision while at work and had other disturbances in my vision. I also had pretty regular nausea, weird bleeding, depression, and digestive issues.

When I came off the pill for the first time at age 21, everything felt different. My emotions felt different, and my relationships changed. However, I was left with little alternatives for contraception. To me, taking the pill had become synonymous with being responsible, and I felt like I was failing at being a responsible woman and controlling my fertility.

At the same time, I felt so great coming off of it that I knew it wasn’t an option for me any longer. I felt truly like myself for the first time. One line in particular from a short film called Birth Control Your Own Adventure really resonated with me. This film is about how one woman struggles to find the right hormonal birth control. At one point a friend asks her, “How do you even know who you are if you’ve always been on the pill?” And, truly, I don’t think I knew myself while I was on it.

In my search for a better birth control, I stumbled upon fertility awareness methods. I found out that it was possible to track my cycle and determine daily whether I was infertile or infertile. Charting my cycle helped me learn when to expect a period. I had no idea that you could literally count high temperatures after ovulation in order to know when to expect a period. This feeling felt revolutionary, and I wanted to tell everyone.

When I try to share the joy I have found in this method, I often hear a few retorts. I’ve listed a few below along with my responses to these arguments.

The Arguments Against Fertility Awareness

  • Why should I have to plan sex? It seems kind of sexist that you expect women to wait to have sex at certain points in their cycle. On the pill, I can have sex whenever I want.

With fertility awareness methods, you don’t really have to “plan” to have sex. You can, however, choose to have unprotected sex during the infertile times of the cycle. If you are using a secular form of fertility awareness, you can also use condoms or other barriers during other points of the time in the cycle (keeping in mind that these barrier methods have their own efficacy rates).

I think it’s also worth noting how often the average couple has sex. A 2017 study found that the average American couple only has sex once a week. My window for abstaining or using backup protection is only about 9-11 days long. That’s a little over a week and a half a month. (I’m aware that some women have longer fertile windows. This aspect of fertility awareness is very individual and based on your own unique cycle). So, are these women really missing out on having unprotected sex a little less often?

Finally, yes, you can have sex on the pill whenever you want. However, the pill has been known to lower women’s libido and testosterone. Read this article to find out more. So, while you can have sex any time you want on the pill, doesn’t quality of sex matter? You can still have sex pretty often while using fertility awareness, and you may find you enjoy it more too.

  • This method seems really irresponsible. It only takes one time for a woman to get pregnant. What if she decides to have sex in her fertile window?

If someone is fully informed and taught by an instructor, they will know when their fertile window is. Yes, it only takes one time to get pregnant but if you are using fertility awareness, you know when that window is. If she decides to have sex in her fertile window, she may consider a barrier method. Anyone who has sex during their fertile window should be cognizant of the risks of pregnancy. By the way, at a typical use rate of 91%, someone could also have sex in their fertile window without knowing it while on the pill. At least fertility awareness lets women know what is going on in their own body.

  • Isn’t that a super religious method? I don’t care for that. It’s my body and I can have sex when I want.

Natural Family Planning is based in religious teachings. Fertility Awareness is not. Women can pick what they feel comfortable with based on their intentions. You can also still learn from NFP resources even if you aren’t religious. The method works the same regardless of any ideology attached to it.

  • Isn’t that like the rhythm method? You can ovulate at any time!! That’s not gonna work!

No, it’s not. There are many scientific studies on fertility awareness. Here is one. Here is a recent article reviewing all the studies done on FAM.

Women cannot ovulate at any time. Once ovulation has been confirmed in cycle, it is almost totally impossible for it to happen again. Some people say, “What about superfetation??” This is so rare, and almost impossible to prove. If you are confirming ovulation with a double check method, then you can be safely assured that ovulation will not happen again. At the beginning of a cycle before ovulation is confirmed, it could happen at any time. However, there are rules to follow so that women know when to stay protected.

The typical use rates of fertility awareness (when abstinence is practiced in the fertile window) is higher than the typical use rate of the pill. See my about section for more information.

  • But women need the pill for medical conditions, you know like endometriosis? Do you want women to suffer?

Obviously, I don’t want that. What’s important to know here is that the pill doesn’t actually treat endometriosis, or PCOS, or anything else really. It just masks the problem. If you have extreme period pain, you need expert care. The pill may mask problems that would eventually hurt a woman’s health and fertility. In particular, I want to note that if you are suffering from endometriosis, there is help. Join Nancy’s Nook Endometriosis Education to learn what your options are. For PCOS, Alissa Vitti is a great resource. Here is her website.

  • Isn’t it kind of anti-feminist of you to promote this? Women should be able to control their fertility however they choose.

Ah, my favorite question. I do agree that women should be able to control their fertility however they want. My whole shtick is that they should be fully informed in order to make this decision. With the dearth of good sexual education programs in the USA, almost no one is informed enough. Even doctors aren’t informed enough. Many only take one measly birth control class. Fertility awareness instructors do more than that, and they aren’t even in medical school. If more women knew that fertility awareness methods actually worked, they could make the decision to learn more about their body. I believe that all women should learn about fertility awareness methods as soon as they have their first cycle. It is so useful for girls to know what’s going on in their bodies!

I also argue that we have a #righttoovulate. I saw Dr. Lara Briden post this hashtag a while back, and I love it. Ovulation is amazing. And actually, I think it’s sort of anti-feminist to take that away from women, especially if they don’t understand what they are missing. Women are only fertile for around 24 hours a cycle (men’s sperm life makes up the rest of the fertile window). This is such a small window. Don’t we deserve the benefits of ovulation? Read Dr. Lara Briden’s article, “Ode to Ovulation” to learn more. In addition, some people have argued that it takes 7 years to develop fully healthy hormonal cycles, shouldn’t we be able to do that too? Putting women on birth control when they are young prevents so many of those benefits.

**I will note that I understand that hormonal birth control can be invaluable in domestic violence situations, or when a woman really cannot do FAM, or is forced on HBC for unrelated medical conditions. I just want the average woman to know that she has other options.

Conclusion

Most of the arguments against FAM are from uniformed people who don’t know what they don’t know. Fertility Awareness is actually feminist, and it’s certainly not anti-woman. It allows women to take control of their own fertility (here’s a great book on that). What’s more feminist than fully owning and living in your own body, while also avoiding pregnancy and planning it as you choose? Why should women subdue their own fertility when their fertile window is so short?

Do you want to learn more? Visit my other articles and reach out to me.