Understand Your Femininity and Plan Your Fertility, The Natural Way
Knowing about your body and your unique female anatomy is empowering. I was first introduced to the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) or Natural Family Planning (NFP) in my early 30s. After going through two miscarriages and a two-year period of infertility, I was in awe about the body's natural signs to determine ovulation, the best time for conception and the natural way to prevent pregnancy, without side effects from drugs or surgery. The human body is so amazing; it has the ability to heal itself and inform us what is going on, if only we know how to listen and interpret the signs. FAM/ NFP is completely natural and does not carry the risk of blood clots, stroke, infections, depression, cancer or other negative side effects. The pill is handed out and prescribed often without consideration of a person’s belief system or health issues. With my auto-immune blood clotting condition, I was told by physicians I could have had a stroke in my 30s, especially if I was a smoker and I know some women who have had strokes attributed to artificial birth control. Intra-uterine devices (IUD) are not much better. The IUD Essure has been recalled for contributing to adhesions and negative health issues. In addition, an IUD is a foreign object that your body might think is a thread and trigger an inflammatory response, contributing further to health issues.
Early in our marriage, I had my first migraine and aura, a neurological visual disturbance that typically comes before a migraine. Intuitively, I took it as a warning sign and ceased using birth control immediately. Thankfully I listened to my body. It was the beginning of a long journey of discovering the truth; that my femininity was a gift. Women have unique qualities of receptivity and openness, called the “feminine genius” by John Paul II. Taking medication for illness or disease is one thing. Taking medication for the natural and healthy feminine systems in your body is not in the natural design of woman. Birth control medication is unnatural and synthetic estrogen has negative side effects that need to be considered before taking it.
Learning FAM and NFP helps you to understand the natural, cyclical rhythms of your monthly feminine cycle. Not only does it help to plan or prevent pregnancy, it alerts you to seek medical attention if there is something wrong. For example, it can help detect infection or disease or a problem in another area of the body such as the thyroid or pituitary gland through a scientific method of charting your cycle. This is a teachable method that you take classes in or read an incredible resource like I did, Taking Charge of Your Fertility.
There are distinct differences between men and women. The reproductive system of each mirrors the other and is complementary in nature. For example, the clitoris is made from the same embryologic tissue as the penis, which is the source of climax, or orgasm. In addition, once a month a rise in estrogen triggers the cervix to produce ovulatory fluid that is compatible with seminal fluid (what males produce and sperm survive in). Men and women have complimentary designs, while having distinct differences. Men are potentially fertile every day, producing around 200 million new sperm every single day. Women, on the other hand, have all the eggs and genetic material for future offspring before birth and are only fertile when an egg releases each month. Despite this, women are often the sole responsible party when it comes to birth control. What might come as a surprise is that natural law is at work since sperm can only live and swim in a medium of ovulatory fluid. Knowing this important concept can help you plan or prevent pregnancy. Simply stated, sperm cannot survive in a dry environment and pregnancy cannot be achieved. In addition, ovulatory fluid contains properties that encourage sperm to survive, such as a lower pH (the acidic environment of the vagina is not suitable for sperm to live) and is a substance that mimics seminal fluid, encouraging sperm motility, while weeding out the weaker swimmers. I don’t know about you, but this was not covered in my high school health class and was a huge discovery! How is it that we do not know about our female body? In my opinion, this should be taught as one of the signs of puberty. When you have white streaks in your underwear or have something pouring out of your body, it is not an abnormal “discharge” that indicates disease or something is wrong.
Natural law is at work since sperm can only live and swim in ovulatory fluid.
Having a son and two daughters, I feel empowered understanding this and I have shared it with them. In fact, when my daughter started menstruation, we celebrated by going to dinner and giving her gifts of pearls and gold. How I wish it had been different when I came of age. My menses experience was dreadful and I grieved my lost childhood, knowing what I had in store was menstrual cramps, bottles of anti-inflammatory medications and PMS that my older sisters warned me about.
I will attempt to summarize the Fertility Awareness Method and Natural Family Planning, but recommend further study before trying to prevent pregnancy or conceive in order for the science of your body to be effective. There are signs and symptoms that help determine fertility including 1) cervix position, 2) basal core temperature and 3) ovulatory fluid. I will add libido (sex drive) since this is in direct relationship to ovulation. During ovulation, a woman’s libido is typically higher than her male counterpart, while a man’s libido is consistently high every single day. Outside of ovulation, a woman’s libido is often low and she will need a little convincing. This is important for the men to understand so they do not take it personal; you cannot argue with nature. FAM/NFP uses two signs that are paired together to be most effective.
Basal core temperature, ovulatory fluid and cervical position are the three signs associated with FAM/NFP and it is recommended to pair two of them together to be more scientific. Let’s start with basal temperature. This is your core temperature upon waking in the morning and can be measured with a basal thermometer from the local drug store. It is important to take it at the approximately the same time every day and before raising your temperature with activity or getting out of bed. My husband places the thermometer in my mouth in the morning when he is awake before me. When he is overnight at the fire station, I have to take it myself. We record my temperature on a chart and it typically stays within few tenths of a degree, around 97.5 degrees, until ovulation. Once progesterone kicks in during ovulation and my temperature increases almost a degree, it indicates that I have already ovulated, or passed an egg and it is too late for conception. However, since more than one egg can be released within a 24 hour period, it is recommended to wait until the third night after ovulation, to be safe from becoming pregnant. This was a key indicator when I learned I was pregnant with my third baby. The morning I was due for my period, I expected my temperature to drop, but instead it remained elevated at around 98.7 degrees. I took one pregnancy test and it was positive. This has saved me money and unnecessary anxiety over the years. It also helped me understand why I was so chilled the first day of my period since my core temperature drops almost one whole degree!
The next sign used in this method is ovulatory fluid. This is not a discharge, but rather a naturally occurring event every month. If you notice a discharge that has color or an odor or persists beyond the normal ovulation period, you should seek medical attention for a potential infection or medical issue. During the menstrual cycle, the amount and consistency of ovulatory fluid varies and libido follows this natural rhythm. Day one is the first day of the menstrual cycle. Beginning as early as day five or six, signs of ovulation begin that you can detect through ovulatory fluid, which varies in amount and texture. Any wet quality fluid can be a medium for sperm to swim, with egg white texture the most optimal for conception to occur. During ovulation and especially peak ovulation, additional lubrication is usually not needed as the vaginal walls are smooth and slippery. Outside of ovulation, the vaginal walls are rougher and can be like sand paper, especially with aging, and there is not a lot of lubrication. Coconut oil, olive oil, Uber Lube and Slippery Stuff TM are good lubricants to make sex more comfortable and enjoyable. Neither contains propylene glycol, which can burn sensitive vulvar tissues. Sex is most comfortable and enjoyable during ovulation, for both male and female, encouraging reproduction and securing future generations!
Cervix position is another sign used in FAM/ NFP. The cervix is like the foyer to the uterus and changes position throughout the month. During ovulation, the cervix is elevated to make room for another body party. Isn't that amazing? Intercourse during ovulation is more comfortable and pleasurable. Ovulation sex is great when you are planning pregnancy, but is risky if you want to prevent it. If you are following FAM, you can use an alternate form of birth control, during this time. If you are following NFP and you want to prevent pregnancy, you will want to abstain from intercourse during signs of ovulation. The position of the cervix is an important consideration in women with pelvic organ prolapse. The cervix is positioned higher naturally during ovulation and symptoms of prolapse will often be diminished during ovulation. Outside of ovulation, prolapse or descent of the uterus is more common and may require Pelvic Restoration Exercises. Click here to read our blog on Pelvic Organ Prolapse prevention and treatment.
The basic rules, if followed correctly and scientifically, can prevent pregnancy at a rate that is as effective as the pill (98%), without the unhealthy side effects. Let me add that using FAM and NFP is not the same as the Rhythm Method that our parents might have used, which used a law of averages (day 14) or the information obtained from previous cycles, since every month is different. It is important to chart your monthly cycle when you are learning your natural rhythm. It is an objective way to measure and put together signs and symptoms in order to have a higher success rate. You do not have to measure all the signs, but at least two. For example, I chart my basal core temperature and ovulatory fluid, but do not check the position of my cervix. For more information and for sample charting, see www.tcoyf.com or read the book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility. If you can’t be self-taught like me, take a class or be coached by an expert that can simplify it for you. Don’t you deserve to know and understand your female body?
The basic rules of FAM and NFP can prevent pregnancy at a rate that is as effective as the pill (98%), without the unhealthy side effects.
In addition to being safe and natural, with FAM/NFP both individuals are responsible for the couple's fertility. A man is fertile every single day, while a woman has only a few days each month that she can conceive, but in many relationships the woman is responsible for the entire burden of the couple’s fertility. FAM and NFP methods release the woman from the majority of the responsibility of becoming pregnant and helps the man understand her body in order to help her. After all, the most inherent need as women is to be LOVED and KNOWN. What a great way for the men in our lives to truly know us! When I downward spiral and approach the "doom and gloom" of PMS, my husband reminds me where I am in my cycle using an app on his phone called Cycle Beads and allows me to rest or go to bed early, instead of trying to solve my problems. This was a breakthrough in our marriage when my husband began to understand my cycle, along with the drastic changes in libido. We have used Natural Family Planning for over ten years and have planned every pregnancy while abstaining or fasting from sexual activity during the fertile portion to prevent pregnancy. Fasting breaks bonds and can set God’s will in motion (Isiah 58:9-14). Abstinence takes strength and discipline, which fortifies a marriage. And when temptation comes in the red light (if you want to prevent pregnancy) or fertile phase, we offer it up for other couples who are struggling in their marriages. My husband knows me intimately and we share in the fruits of our love. I love that he truly knows me and we have a courting relationship followed by a honeymoon period every month when we reconnect. How many couples can say that! Ignorance is no longer an excuse and there is an “app for that”. Women (and partners) can track the days of the cycle and signs of fertility in planning time away to bond instead of asking in the heat of the moment if it is safe!
Fasting breaks bonds and can set God’s will in motion (Isiah 58:9-14).
In closing, understanding your feminine body and fertility can empower you in your own health and well-being, while strengthening you for the journey ahead. For more information and to learn how to chart your cycle, see www.tcoyf.com and/or search the App Store on your phone for Cycle Beads or other apps. Don't you deserve to know and understand your female body? And if pain prevents you from being intimate, physical therapists that are trained in pelvic health like those at Healthy Core can help with abnormal muscle tension and clenching of pelvic floor muscles. Click here to read our blog, When Love Hurts...It Could be Muscular.
Weschler, Toni. Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 28th anniversary edition. The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement and Reproductive Health (2015). tcoyf.com.
West, Christopher. Theology of the Body Explained: A Commentary on John Paul II's "Gospel of the Body" (2003).