Friday, May 20, 2011

Becoming a Fertility Nut

I am a self-proclaimed Fertility Nut. Here's the story of how I got that way.

In high school, my friends were actually jealous of me because I had periods so infrequently. Granted, it was kind of nice—but the unpredictability was a little inconvenient at times. I never really wondered what was going on or why my cycles often dragged on for two or three months or more.

When we got engaged in 2002, I was seeing a naturopathic doctor to try to balance my hormones and clear up my skin. I told her I was getting married and needed birth control and she prescribed the Pill for me. I didn’t question it at the time but looking back, I wonder, “What naturopathic doctor prescribes the Pill!?!” If SHE hadn’t suggested a form of natural birth control, I can’t imagine how other women ever find out about it! She also had me pay about $400 for a saliva hormone test, which revealed that my luteal phase is longer than average and suggested that my testosterone levels were slightly out of whack. In case you’re wondering, she gave me some supplements, “prescribed” herbal tinctures (disgusting!) and had me using a castor oil pack on my belly (to supposedly draw toxins out of my liver)—none of which I kept up after the first month. Somewhat ironically, charting is what ultimately helped me deal with my hormonal issues—not her costly and highly impractical prescriptions.

I was on the Pill for our first year of marriage and experienced headaches (and I’m not at all prone to headaches), nausea and weight gain. I didn’t feel well and started wondering about whether the Pill was right for me. Around the same time, I was working as a secretary at an engineering firm and one day, one of the engineers (a kind Catholic man) that knew I was newly married approached me with a brochure. He handed it to me, said, “We never need to speak of this,” and walked away. It was about Natural Family Planning and mentioned how the Pill makes your uterine lining inhospitable to a fertilized egg. So IF we DID fertilize an egg (which has been known to happen while on the Pill), the effects of the Pill would mean the egg couldn’t attach and grow. As a person who believes that life begins at the moment of conception, that bothered me and gave me even more reason to quit taking the Pill. I started praying about it, asking for wisdom about whether to stop the Pill or not. Several days later, my backpack was stolen out of my car and my Pills with it. I felt like my prayer had been answered. “OK, Lord! I’ll stop taking the Pill!” I look at that incident as a major turning point in my life.

I immediately started researching natural birth control options on-line and quickly ordered two books: one on Natural Family Planning and one on the Fertility Awareness Method. We had just moved into our brand new home and my husband was out of town for the weekend so I spent the entire time pouring over those books, sitting on our mattress on the floor and reading by lamplight. I’m not Catholic so some of the concepts of NFP didn’t gel for me so I set it aside. “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler, on the other hand, really opened my eyes to what was happening in my body and was practical, easy to follow and down-to-earth. I read the entire thing in one day, purchased a digital basal thermometer and started filling out a chart immediately.

I was amazed at what I learned and the most amazing thing was that a typical chart for me was identical to the one the lab sent me with the $400 price tag. I could say that the information you gain from charting is invaluable but it’s more accurate to say that it saves you at least $400, the cost of two doctor’s visits AND 40 days of spitting into a vial every morning!

My first cycle coming off the Pill was annovulatory, meaning that I didn’t ovulate. I could tell because my temperatures remained mostly the same and the cycle dragged on for well over 40 days. The bleeding I eventually experienced was simply due to hormone withdrawal.

I learned some interesting things about my body in my first year or so of charting. #1, I ovulate much later than average, at around day 35 instead of day 14, making my cycles about 50 days long instead of 28. #2, sometimes I wouldn’t ovulate, then would try again within the same cycle (by the way, this has to do with reaching an “estrogen threshold” that I’ll address in future posts). Again, this resulted in much longer cycles than average. But, when we were “trying” to get pregnant, it meant I had a second shot at it! #3, I didn’t ovulate when I traveled OR when I was stressed—good OR bad stress. My body seemed to know when something was out of the ordinary, whether it was a vacation getaway or the week of my teacher evaluations. My body said, “NO! We can’t get pregnant NOW!” This is a good thing (no one wants to get pregnant during a natural disaster or when a loved one is sick), unless you are desperately “trying” to get pregnant, of course. It is just our body’s way of preventing pregnancy when the timing isn’t right.

With charting, I also came to realize that things like stomach upset, skin break-outs, fatigue and even an increased sense of smell were predictable from chart to chart and, thus, clearly hormonal. For the purposes of getting pregnant, I was also able to track patterns of spotting, abdominal cramps and pelvic pain to help me interpret my charts and maximize my fertile window. Just knowing I was—or wasn’t—ovulating made charting worth the effort.

I will admit that charting quickly became a way of life and, as a person who likes checking off boxes and filling in blanks, I enjoyed the actual charting AND the information they gave me. I would dream that I woke up and forgot to take my temperature, just to wake up and think, “Did I already take it!?!” I actually looked forward to filling in the information at the end of the day to see what it could mean. I spent a lot of time studying my charts and reading about all the possible explanations for my patterns. I congratulated myself when I turned out to be right about when I ovulated or when I predicted to start my next cycle. I was truly amazed at what I was learning AND, it only cost me the expense of a $10 thermometer and the cost of printer ink!

My husband and I have used FAM successfully for almost eight years now. It took us about three cycles of “trying” with our first son (Drew had an uncanny way of being out of town when I was most fertile) then we got pregnant on the first time with both subsequent pregnancies. And we’ve never had a “surprise” pregnancy. With my unusual cycle patterns, I truly believe that learning FAM was a gift. Without charting, I truly believe that I would have been trying to time fertilization during the typical fertile window (days 12-16 or so), then would have gotten to day 30 and beyond and thought I was pregnant. How heart-breaking! I am so grateful to have learned what I did to help me maximize my own fertility, especially since I’m only fertile about eight times during a calendar year instead of the usual twelve. Without FAM, I am sure the financial and emotional cost would have been tremendous. Learning to interpret and trust my own body is truly priceless.

What have you learned from charting your cycles? OR...what would you gain to learn from charting?

Please contact me with questions, or just leave a comment.

{{COMING SOON! Fertility Awareness and PCOS}}

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