I admit it, I have not always appreciated cervical mucus. For most of my life I thought it was just like most other bodily secretions and therefore I simply overlooked it as just another slightly disgusting material that my body produced like earwax or nasal discharge. It wasn’t until I started learning to chart the signs of my fertility when I was introduced to the wonders of cervical mucus, THE most underrated wonder of a woman’s body. I came to learn this simple fact: (almost) every human owes his or her existence to cervical mucus. This is because cervical mucus is the means by which sperm is allowed entry into the womb in order to fertilize the egg that waits (for 12 to 24 hours each month) inside a woman’s fallopian tube. That’s right - cervical mucus is the SUPERHIGHWAY that sperm need in order to make the long arduous journey to the egg in order to form a new human being.
I remember when I began learning the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and studied the history of the discovery of the mucus which is made in the lower portion of the uterus known as the cervix. In class I heard the names of several male scientists whose professional careers were spent exploring the intricacies of this seemingly useless fluid. I’ll admit that I thought this was a bit strange. What kind of man spends his life studying cervical mucus? I am so very grateful to these scientists, especially Dr. Eric Odeblad who died last week at the age of 97. Dr. Odeblad was an OBGYN in Sweden who left the practice of medicine when faced with the changing health care system that would require him to perform abortions. His refusal to cooperate with the practice of abortion led him to begin to study the biophysical properties of cervical mucus in 1959. His work using nuclear MRI technology to study the cervix led to what we now understand about cervical mucus. It is made in a woman’s cervix in response to rising amounts of the hormones estrogen and progesterone which are made by the ovaries throughout the woman’s cycle. Under high magnification, fertile cervical mucus produces patterns that look like the fronds of a fern.
The cervix is a dynamic organ that serves as a type of biological valve that opens to permit sperm into the uterus when estrogen levels are rising (mucus is watery and stretchy) and closes to prevent sperm from entering the uterus when progesterone levels are rising (when mucus is thick forming a sort of “brick wall”). A woman can know whether she is fertile or infertile by observing her own cervical mucus (when she uses the bathroom) throughout the day and throughout her cycle. This observation of cervical mucus forms the scientific basis of many of the methods of fertility awareness such as Creighton Model and Billings Ovulation Method. It is not as easy as it sounds, however, because each woman is unique and should have instruction in a particular method so that she will have confidence that she will be able to successfully read the signs of her fertility. Once she understands the signs of her fertility, she will be able to successfully avoid pregnancy, achieve pregnancy or simply monitor her health depending on her goals in each season of her reproductive lifetime.
I recall meeting a patient who came to our clinic because of infertility. She had never learned a method of fertility awareness so when she and her husband were unable to conceive on their own, they sought help at a local fertility clinic where she was treated with a total of four cycles of IVF (in vitro fertilization). As you might imagine, she was anxious, frustrated and probably a bit skeptical when she heard about the simplicity of the Naprotechnology approach. At our initial meeting, I inquired about her cycles as I do with every patient. She told me that she had never paid any attention to her cycles as her cycles had been manipulated with artificial hormones for so long. She had never been taught how to interpret the natural signs of her fertility. After our meeting, she began to chart her cycles with a Creighton practitioner and discovered that her cervix produced very little mucus which made it very difficult to conceive naturally. Her Creighton practitioner suggested that she take a mucus enhancer (vitamin B6) and within two months, she was pregnant and overjoyed. She went on to have a healthy pregnancy and delivered a healthy baby.
I am a HUGE fan of cervical mucus now that I understand the power and value of this highly underrated bodily fluid. Equipped with knowledge of their cervical mucus, women can make decisions regarding their fertility without resorting to taking birth control. The woman has the control that she deserves without sacrificing her health. Who in your life needs to learn more about cervical mucus?
Take home lessons:
#1 Don’t give up when a door in your life closes – human creativity often thrives amid constraints! (Thanks for this lesson, Dr. Odeblad)
#2 Be thankful for your mom’s cervical mucus! If it wasn’t for that amazing fluid, you would not be reading this blog!