The first time I dug into reading and learning about signs of fertility, charting, and what that could mean for me, I was in my early twenties. A few years on hormonal birth control - supposedly to "fix" issues with ovarian cysts and eventually for family planning - resulted in a symptom after symptom that required more medications just to keep me functional enough to attend graduate school.
While my providers initially dismissed the connections between symptoms and the pill, I now know that my some of my symptoms indicated that I could be at increased risk for stroke when taking hormonal birth control. At that point, I knew there had to be a better way.
While jokes about natural family planning abound - I remember a midwife telling me it was "naturally planning to have a family" - there are a wide variety of methods to chart and interpret fertility. These methods can be leveraged for a variety of purposes - to understand your body, to conceive a child, or to prevent pregnancy.
So here's a little bit more about fertility charting and why you may love it, too.
1. Understanding your body
When I first dove into research concerning various methods of fertility charting at age 23, my initial reaction was one of extreme frustration. Why had no one provided this education to me 10 years ago when I went through puberty? Beyond noting the difference between healthy and problematic discharge, I had NO IDEA that the variations in cervical mucus I observed when going to the bathroom had a rhyme and reason connected to my cycle and fertility.
Charting your fertility allows you to connect more deeply with yourself and your understanding of your own biology. Regardless of whether or not you employ this to plan your family, it is a powerful tool simply in that - knowing they whats and whys of your own body.
2. This isn't your grandmother's rhythm method.
A lot of the jokes and assumptions you'll hear about any mention of charting your fertility or a variety of approaches to natural family planning assume that you are discussing the rhythm method - an approach to family planning where you time your intercourse around the assumption of a 28 day cycle, where ovulation is predicted at day 14.
While these numbers of 28 and 14 are often cited in a discussion of how fertility works, in actuality many women experience a large spectrum of variation in the length of their cycle which in turn means that ovulation does not occur when a simple counting of calendar days would put it.
So if counting doesn't work, how do we chart fertility? Much more reliable than simple generalizations is an observation of your OWN particular signs of fertility. Here, several approaches to fertility charting fall under the umbrella of Symptothermal Methods - that is, methods that rely on charting your basal body temperature as well as other signs of fertility such as cervical mucus and the position of your cervix.
3. Timing conception.
Charting your fertility can allow you an understanding of your fertility window - the time in which conception is likely to occur - as well as confirming that ovulation occurred. Instead of aiming for day 14, you can tailor your plans directly to the specific indications of fertility given in your own cycle.
If you've been trying to conceive for a few months and are starting to feel frustrated, fertility charting can be a noninvasive approach to gaining more information.
4. Trouble Shooting
The data gained in fertility charting can also aid you in trouble shooting potential issues. Wondering if you are ovulating after going off hormonal birth control? Your basal body temperature can help you confirm whether or not an ovulatory event occurs. Some data could indicate a variety of natural supplements to explore, while other aspects of charting could indicate if their are concerns with hormone levels. All in all, it provides a host of data points to bring to a knowledgeable medical provider if and when you have questions about your cycle.
5. Family Planning
When I discuss the family planning aspect of fertility charting with clients, I'm always reminded that choices around this topic are intensely personal and should always be in tune with a client's values, needs, and preferences.
Recently, the CDC changed its view on the efficacy of Fertility Awareness Based Methods for contraception - citing a failure rate of 2%-23%.
Why such larger variation? This big span in numbers is due to the wide variety of methods that fall under the umbrella of this category, with some offering more efficacy than others. And, when you consider the failure rates cited for a variety of common birth control methods - condoms (13%), pill/patch (7%), shot (4%) - those looking for an alternate tool for family planning may find a fertility awareness method with a lower failure rate appealing.
Regardless of your plans for conception or family planning, fertility charting allows you to connect with your cycle in a new and helpful way. I hope I've piqued your interest to learn more.
Do you already chart your fertility? Share about your experiences in the comments!
Are you interested in learning more about fertility charting? As a fertility doula, I offer preconception support as well as charting education and support. Read more about these services here. Sign up for a discovery call, and we can have a quick chat to see if Nested Mama services are the right fit for you!
Johanna received a Ph.D. in English in 2014. Now a postpartum doula and educator of childbirth, breastfeeding, and infant sleep, she blogs about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and parenting.