fertility awareness method: an update

So, about 6 months ago, in December, I decided to take the leap to quit taking birth control and use the fertility awareness method for my birth control method.  Of course every time I told someone they got those wide eyes and asked if we were trying to get pregnant, to which I had to insist that it was quite the opposite.  So far so good, at least!  It definitely means having to be more intentional and mindful, but I'm really happy to be taking charge of my own fertility.  And speaking of taking charge, if you want to use the Fertility Awareness Method, for either pregnancy avoidance or achievement, I absolutely recommend getting Taking Charge of Your Fertility.  It is packed full of pretty much everything you need to know about your cycle, how to use FAM, and has lot of appendices that address various problems and troubleshooting.  It's a pretty big book, kind of textbook-like, but I found it was a quick read as I was fascinated with the information and everything I'd never been told about my own body!  A lot of the pages are devoted to the appendices, or other issues that I didn't need to read about yet (like pregnancy achievement), so I found I only needed to read about half the book in order to know how to use FAM, but it's good to read the whole thing.  I think I'll probably read it again sometime soon, just to get a refresher.  

I had heard that, since I was coming off of using birth control pills for about two years, my cycles could be wonky for a while before they got back to normal, but mine went right back to being 28-30 days exactly, every month.  It was super exciting to track those first few months and learn about my own personal cycle.  I learned that I typically ovulate on the 18th day of my cycle, unlike how most sources insist on the typical 28 day, ovulate on the 14th day, cycle.

I was really good about tracking everything, temp, cervical position, and cervical fluid, my first few months but lately I've been lazier about it, mostly just tracking temperature.  I'd like to get back to being more thorough, though, especially since we're trying not to get pregnant.   Until this most recent cycle, I'd had very normal cycles, all ovulating around the 18th day, and lasting 28-29 days, but this last one I saw for the first time the effect of stress on my ovulation!  Haha, maybe that's just exciting to me.  Anyway, I think I mentioned in my earlier post about FAM, but the time from day 1 of your cycle to the day you ovulate can fluxuate based on stress.  The time from when you ovulate to when you start your next cycle is almost always the same number of days, in my case, usually 11-12.  The week I was supposed to ovulate ended up being mega stressful.  I learned I was starting the farmers market the day before I had to do it and Kristi was moving into the Winne and the kitchen was still torn apart from renovating it.  I was running around like mad and noticed that my temperature didn't spike on the 18th day, indicating that I still hadn't ovulated.  It didn't jump until the 22nd day, after all the stress had calmed down a bit.  My cycle that time was 32 days, much longer than my normal 28, but because I knew exactly what was going on, I didn't have to freak out about being "late."  It's really cool to know what's going on inside my body!

I do all my tracking with Kindara, which I've been loving.  It's so clean and simple to use, I'd absolutely recommend using it.  I'm not sure if it's available on Android yet, I don't think it is.  Of the tracking apps I looked at, this was the one that looked the best to me and I haven't had any desire to switch to anything else.  I had printed out paper charts to track with, but honestly, having this app I have no need to.  I have alarms set on it, so I track things at the same time each day, and my phone is always with me, so I don't have to remember to haul a sheet of paper around with me.  

Another cool thing you can do is set it up to track other things, so if you wanted to see if, say, doing yoga had an effect on the severity of your PMS symptoms, you could do that.  It also has a journal function where you can write more information about mood, diet, anything that you feel would be important to track.  

One unexpected thing that did happen about 4 months after going off of the pill?  I started shedding massive amounts of hair.  Like, crazy amounts.  Well, turns out it was basically faux postpartum hair loss.  Since the pill basically tricks your body into thinking it's pregnant so it doesn't drop an egg.  Once you go off the pill, it's sort of as if you've given birth and your body is getting back to it's normal cycles.

Many new moms are surprised to find themselves shedding more hair than usual in the first few months after giving birth, but it's perfectly normal. And there's no need to panic: You won't go bald. In fact, your hair should be back to normal by your baby's first birthday.
Here's what's going on. Normally, about 85 to 95 percent of the hair on your head is growing and the other 5 to 15 percent is in a resting stage. After the resting period, this hair falls out — often while you're brushing or shampooing it — and is replaced by new growth. An average woman sheds about 100 hairs a day.
During pregnancy, increased levels of estrogen prolong the growing stage. There are fewer hairs in the resting stage and fewer falling out each day, so you have thicker, more luxuriant tresses.
After you give birth, your estrogen levels take a tumble and a lot more hair follicles enter the resting stage. Soon you'll have more hair coming out in the shower or on the brush. This unusual shedding will taper off and your hair will be back to its pre-pregnancy thickness about six to 12 months after you give birth.

Having never given birth before, I didn't know this was a thing and was kinda freaking out for a hot second.  It lasted a couple months, but it's since tapered off and I'm not losing wads of hair every time I touch my head.  Of course, now I have a ton of short little baby hairs that are frizzy at my crown, but it's nice to know they're growing back!  My skin was also a bit more annoyed than usual, with more blemishes showing up on my face than normal, but it seems like that's tapered off as well.  I suspect just another case of hormones being haywire while trying to balance themselves.

One thing that I do like about tracking my cycles and using FAM is that I know exactly when it's possible that I even could be pregnant.  A few months ago I read an article that was pretty interesting, and frightening, about drinking while pregnant.   Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a pretty big problem in Alaska, but not being a big drinker I never really thought much about it.
The trouble begins within days of conception, as alcohol consumed by the mother kills cells destined to become the building blocks of her baby's brain, organs and central nervous system. Her child may suffer memory lapses, learning disabilities and a range of behavioral problems, including dangerous impulsivity. 
In the most serious cases, the disability is called fetal alcohol syndrome. It punches holes in the brain's ability to process information and reshapes the child's face.
I'd never known that within the very first days after conception, alcohol can damage a baby.  I mean, I'm sure I'd known, but you don't even really think about those first few days after you might've conceived.  I know quite a few women, not big drinkers even, who joke about how they went out on a girls night or something right after they conceived, not knowing they were pregnant yet.

Today FAS is considered the leading cause of "intellectual disability," what used to be called mental retardation, in the Western world. Although wholly preventable, FAS is as common as autism in the United States...
The availability and toxicity of alcohol to a developing fetus both fuel the problem.
Alcohol is more likely to cause brain damage and lifelong behavior problems in unborn children than either crack cocaine or heroin, which can also harm the baby, according to The Institute of Medicine...
The damage can begin immediately after conception, when heavy drinking can kill the just-fertilized egg... 
At this point, less than a month after conception, most women still wouldn't realize they're pregnant.
Using FAM means I know exactly when during my cycle it's even possible that I could be pregnant, and I can make sure to be extra careful about drinking.  Even though I don't drink that much, or that often, knowing that drinking could effect a fetus, even just a few days after conception, for the rest of his or her life, makes me much more aware and mindful about when I choose to go out for drinks with friends.

Since I'm using FAM for birth control currently, and not pregnancy achievement, we always use a back-up method of birth control during the fertile period of my cycle.  Some people like to be even more careful and completely abstain during that fertile time, it just depends on what makes you feel most comfortable.  Obviously abstinence is the most effective form of birth control, but for some, abstinence for ~10 days out of the month just isn't going to fly.  Another thing to keep in mind is that using FAM requires a safe, monogamous relationship.  FAM can't do anything to keep you safe from STDs, so you need to know that your partner is trustworthy and monogamous and honest about any STDs they might be carrying.

Even if you're not looking to avoid or achieve pregnancy through FAM, I still think it's pretty awesome.  I love how much it's teaching me about my own body.  It's so practical to know about your own personal cycle.  If I ever have daughters they are absolutely going to know about this stuff, because I never learned any of it from my health and sex-ed classes in school, which I think is a total disappointment.  No woman should have to learn this stuff at age 27, they should know it when they have their first period, it's so important to understand what's going on!  And truly, it's fascinating too.  If more girls knew how amazing their bodies are and understood what goes on throughout their cycles I think they'd feel less ashamed of their bodies and more empowered.

*edited to add:*  I forgot to also mention that since I went off the pill, my migraines have completely stopped!  Before going on the pill I'd never had migraines, except maybe one or two my entire life.  During the two years I was on the pill I got one every month to two months.  Since going off the pill in December I haven't had a single migraine!