putting the pill to bed

A couple months ago I started thinking about going off my birth control pills.  Not because I wanted babies, but because I was realizing that while I was trying my best to eat locally grown, natural food I was simultaneously pumping my body with hormones every day.  It didn't make a lot of sense for me, and I was also noticing some other correlations between things that had started happening around the time I started the pill.  My hair was feeling less thick and less curly than it was in pictures before I started the pill.  I realized that my monthly/bi-monthly migraines started when I started the pill.  And a few other things here and there had started around the time I started on the pill.  Unlike a lot of women I've never experienced huge mood swings or health shifts with birth control, so it took a while for me to realize that it could be effecting me in less obvious ways.

I wasn't really interested in substituting one unnatural method for another, like an IUD, so instead I started putting some feelers out there (thanks social media!) for resources on natural methods of birth control.  I knew that a few methods, like the Rhythm Method, were successful in creating unplanned pregnancy to the point where there's the old, "What do you call Rhythm Method users?" "Parents!" joke.  I was hoping to find something more reliable and biologically based, and I was interested when someone mentioned the Fertility Awareness Method.  I immediately went to the book store to grab Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which was recommended by quite a few people, both on twitter, and from local friends who have been using FAM.  I read the whole thing in a few days and was thrilled to start charting my cycles and "detox" from the hormones I'd been feeding myself.

I know that everyone probably knows someone who used a natural family planning method as birth control, only to have it backfire in the form of an unplanned pregnancy, but for all those people, I've also heard tons of stories from women who have successfully used FAM as birth control for years.  It's not as simple as popping a pill every night, it takes more thought and, well, awareness for it to be effective.  I'm actually consistently surprised how many women I've talked to about FAM who have been using it successfully.  Granted, I suppose birth control methods isn't really a typical topic of casual conversation.  Still, perhaps the success stories don't get as much press simply because nothing happens if you use it properly, and if you slip up, well, there's a rather large, conversation-worthy consequence.

So, for those who don't know, and to make things make more sense in this post, here's a readers digest run down of the Fertility Awareness Method of birth control (or pregnancy achievement, but I'm using it for BC).  Your body changes throughout your menstrual cycle, and you can actually see those changes by charting them on a daily basis.  You track three main indicators of fertility, your waking basal body temperature (for some reason everyone thinks you have to put a thermometer up your vagina and it freaks them out.  Nope, just take your temperature like you normally do, unless that's how you normally take your temperature....), your cervical position, and your cervical fluid.  Each one of these factors will tell you something about whether or not you're fertile.  A woman's body is only fertile 1-2 days per cycle, but because sperm are able to survive in the right (fertile) conditions for many days, this increases this window of fertility to more like a week.  So, in the most basic terms, you're infertile for the beginning of your cycle and the end, and then there's a week in the middle, which you determine by tracking your indicators, where you're fertile and should either abstain from sex or use another method of birth control such as a barrier method.  Instead of counting days and guessing when you're probably fertile, based on what your past cycles have looked like, you determine whether you're likely to be fertile on a daily basis by tracking your temperature, cervical position, and cervical fluid. (for a more in depth explanation click here).

I've only tracked one cycle so far, but I'm super excited about it.  In the past, before I was on the pill, I would forget every month when my last period was.  I'd get PMS-y and not realize that's why I was feeling weird, and then my period would start and I'd be like, "oh... I guess that's why I was wacky."  With charting, I know exactly where I am during my cycle and I can prepare for PMS, or at least know that that's what's going on.  When I saw my temperature shift during my first cycle it was so exciting to know that I'd ovulated, even if that sounds silly.  After my temperature dropped back down, I got my period later that day and I smacked my head, like of course I'd get my period the day my temperature drops, it all makes sense!  It's exciting to be in tune with my body and to realize that things aren't just happening willy nilly.  It's like getting to listen in on a beautifully orchestrated symphony of hormones and biological processes happening within me on a daily basis, all perfectly set up to create new life.

While creating new life isn't really on my list of things to achieve at the moment, I know that using this method for birth control actually sets me up perfectly for whenever we do want to have kids.  Because I'll be aware of when my body is fertile and when it's infertile, we'll have a much better chance at conceiving.  Or we'll at least know when the best time is to "try"!  But the good news for me is that FAM has been shown to be 99.4% effective for avoiding pregnancy when used properly.  Of course, FAM can't protect against any kind of STDs, so it should only be used in a safe, monogamous relationship.

I'm not really self aware when it comes to knowing why my body is feeling a certain way, or making correlations between symptoms and causes.  I mean, it took me two years to figure out that there might be a correlation between my migraines (which I'd never gotten in the past) and the fact that they started becoming more frequent when I started Birth Control pills.  That's one of my favorite things about this method.  I get to know my body.  I live in this body every day, I might as well get to know it!  Women who chart are also very good at helping their doctors diagnose any problems because they know what it normal for their cycles.  They can also pinpoint conception pretty precisely as well, since you also track when you had intercourse and whether or not you used any protection.

More than anything using FAM makes me feel empowered.  It gives me ownership over my own body and my reproductive health.  It pulls back this layer of mystery and confusion regarding reproductive health and fertility.  It makes me angry that the stuff I'm learning through using the Fertility Awareness Method isn't taught in sex ed and health classes.  I got the most cursory explanation of my menstrual cycle when I was in high school.  You know, the classic, "Your body builds up layers in your uterus in preparation to create a baby and then when there isn't a fertilized egg, it sheds those layers and you menstruate."  Okay great.  I mean now I know why I have to buy tampons every month but there is so much more going on, and that knowledge is power.

Living in the age of, "there's an app for that" actually makes charting cycles super easy and quick.  After looking at a few fertility tracking apps, I decided on using Kindara and I love being able to track right from my phone.  I have my charts with me everywhere I go so I don't have any excuses for not charting.  Plus, Kindara is just a beautiful app visually, which is a big reason I didn't use some of the other apps available which were confusing as well as eyesores.  I really wanted something clean, bright, and easy to understand at a glance.  With Kindara, I can also track other things throughout the month, like yoga or nutritional supplements, to see if they have an effect on my cycle and health.  Since I charge my phone on my night stand, I can take my temperature while I'm laying in bed, then enter my temperature into my app right there, before I even get out of bed.

Since I was pretty brief in describing FAM, here are a few other articles about it for those who are interested.  I would definitely recommend reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility.  It has tons of information, examples, and pretty much everything you need to get started with charting your cycles!

Ditching the Pill
The Atlantic
Osteopathic Family Physician
Taking Charge of Your Fertility

cycle images via kindara