Dr. Susan Caldwell
Charting The Cycle: Levels of Fertility Awareness
It is becoming increasingly common for women to want to learn more about their fertility. Our modern methods of fertility awareness are extremely effective in helping women and couples to both avoid and to achieve pregnancy. Yet, the vast majority of women today rely on artificial methods of birth control to prevent pregnancy. It is worthwhile to explore the process that a woman might go through in order to leave behind birth control in exchange for a method of fertility appreciation/awareness. In most cases, this is a difficult transition that requires the encouragement of family, friends and medical professionals who are knowledgeable about these methods.
The First “Aha Moment”
Long before a woman decides to start charting her cycle, she must come to the realization that fertility is a GOOD thing and is not a disease or a part of her that should be “fixed”. We live in a culture that generally views our periods and fertility as an add-on that can be suppressed or changed like we might change our hair color. The truth is that our fertility is inseparably linked to our health and well-being. Our periods and fertility should be APPRECIATED just as we appreciate our being able to breathe and walk. Time and experience has shown us that when we suppress or destroy our fertility, our overall health suffers as well. Once we begin to appreciate our fertility, we are then ready to become increasingly aware and learn the language of our body as it relates to fertility.
Levels of Fertility Awareness
There are different levels of fertility awareness that correspond to a person’s age, maturity and intellectual capacity. Using the example of the law of gravity, a child is vaguely aware that objects fall when thrown them up into the air, while a college student is better able to understand Newton’s Laws of Motion in much greater depth. Similarly, women grow in their capacity to understand the nuances of their fertility as they grow in age, maturity and intellectual capacity over time.
The most basic level of fertility awareness starts when a woman notices the day on which her period begins and ends each month. Perhaps she might record the days of bleeding on a calendar or on a cell phone app. This is a good first step for someone who has just begun to have periods in 7thor 8thgrade. In fact, all young girls should be encouraged to keep track of this most basic information. Unfortunately, this is where most women remain in their level of fertility awareness. It is no surprise that many women choose to use birth control when they do not understand their fertility.
2. The Rest Of The Cycle
There is SO much happening inside a woman’s body in between her periods. The menstrual “cycle” begins with one period and ends on the day before the next period. “Day 1” of the cycle is marked by the first day of the period. But to understand what’s happening during the period, one must understand what’s happening in between periods. Every single daya woman’s body is telling her something about her health and fertility but she won’t be able to “listen” to the language of her fertility if she has not been taught how to understand what her body is trying to tell her.
Early in the cycle, she may notice a rise in estrogen made by the ovaries as she is more energetic and begins to see cervical mucus when she goes to the bathroom. This cervical mucus tells her that her ovary is preparing to release an egg and that she is likely fertile. She is in the follicular phase of the cycle. When she no longer sees the cervical mucus she knows that she may no longer be fertile and her hormones are shifting. Her ovaries will soon start to make more progesterone along with estrogen. This phase of the cycle (after ovulation but before the next period) is called the luteal phase. Her ovaries are making the hormones necessary to prepare the uterus for either a pregnancy (if the egg was fertilized) OR a period.
Follicular phase = time from first day of period until last day of mucus
Luteal phase = time from last day of mucus until first day of period
3. Do-It-Yourself Charting
Many women are able to observe the signs of their fertility with very little instruction. These women are able to teach themselves how to chart their cycles using various methods such as:
· Marquette Method (urinary hormone testing to determine day of ovulation)
· Sympto-Thermal Method (tracking cervical mucus and basal body temperatures to identify ovulation and beginning of luteal phase)
· Phone Apps (beware as these work to try to predict ovulation based on information from previous cycles)
Due to the lack of instruction available to women using these DIY methods, it would not be wise to use these methods to avoid pregnancy. However, these methods are great for women who are trying to conceive or who simply want to monitor their health and to learn more about their fertility.
4. Advanced Methods – Working With Trained Instructors
For women/couples who are strictly trying to avoid pregnancy or for women experiencing abnormal cycles, it is recommended that they seek out a method that is taught by instructors who are knowledgeable and available for one-on-one instruction. These women/couples are generally highly motivated and are ready to commit their time and energy into learning the most advanced fertility awareness method that will assist them in reaching their goals. The Creighton Model FertilityCare System is the most advanced fertility awareness method available at this time. This is a method that not only allows a woman to know her cycle but also has been extensively studied so as to allow for medical diagnosis and treatment protocols to be implemented using NaProTechnology via a certified medical consultant who is usually a physician. This method is ideal for couples struggling with infertility or for women who have unusual bleeding, ovarian cysts, miscarriages or other symptoms related to their cycles.
Simply stated, there is a language spoken by a woman’s body every day. We must choose whether to listen and respond so as to seek our best health or to ignore what the body is trying to tell us and face the consequences that may follow. Just like the laws of gravity and motion, the language of a woman’s cycle is difficult to work against (though many of us try to do just that). The best approach is to become aware of the female cycle, then to become knowledgeable, and finally to appreciate the beauty and the mystery contained therein.
Enjoy the adventure!