No two bodies are exactly the same.
The Fertility Awareness method (FA), otherwise known as natural family planning, or the rhythm method, is a means of assessing when you’re fertile via the tracking your menstrual cycle. You can do this by checking your cervical mucus (there’s more mucus when you’re the most fertile), your basal body temperature (your temperature is highest when you’re ovulating), and looking for other signs of ovulation, like sore breasts, abdominal pain, and spotting.
There are books, such as Taking Charge of Your Fertility, that will walk you through the process of tracking your fertility. R, whose daughter is now 2, used the book to avoid getting pregnant, after realizing she disliked using hormonal birth control and had a latex allergy. She also used it in order to successfully conceive. “I would definitely recommend this method, but it can’t be done half-assed. It’s a lot more work than taking a pill or having an IUD or even using condoms. It needs to be done every day for many months to establish real patterns. And even after that, you have to be very aware of your body’s signals that you might be ovulating earlier or later than expected. It also probably isn’t a great option for women who don’t have relatively regular cycles.”
Anita Blizard is a qualified reflexologist & holistic practitioner in the UK who specializes in preconception, pregnancy, and postnatal reflexology, which includes FAM. In her 6 week course, she begins with a general health consultation, taking into consideration issues such as PCOS. After that, the course might focus on areas like menstrual health, nutrition, and stress. “The aim is to prepare the body and to create the optimum environment for conception,” says Blizard.
For folks using FA in order to conceive, Blizard recommends keeping in mind how long it can sometimes take. “Knowing more about the subject can boost your chances, plus take some the pressure off. Many people seek FA when they are starting to panic about their fertility, rather than looking at it beforehand. It’s also important to look after your reproductive health throughout your life. Getting to know what is going on down there gives you the upper hand, you can combat any negative symptoms that might be having an impact on your general well being – you might not be able to cure them completely but you can take more control and manage them – both physically & emotionally.”
FA works flawlessly for some people with uteruses. J, who used FA to get pregnant, told me that “it ended up feeling like ordering a baby from Amazon, everything happened like clockwork.” Many folks reported that tracking their cycles with FA felt tremendously empowering. It’s important, however, to note that that is not the case for everyone, (I spoke with someone who had two unintended pregnancies while practicing FA) and the results can be far different than what you expect.
B’s attempts to use FA ultimately led to her PCOS diagnosis. After she stopped using hormonal birth control, she ovulated a few times. “And then I stopped. My skin broke out. My hair started falling out. I was growing hair on my chest.” A visit to a doctor confirmed that she did have PCOS.
“It was a bummer, but it (FA) helped me figure out this important thing about my health.” Still, she notes, it’s frustrating to hear FA constantly lauded as a panacea. “I resent the implication that your reproductive system should work perfectly, and that you never need the intervention of the medical establishment. People just need to be aware, it won’t work for everyone.”
If you are interested in practicing FA to learn more about your cycle and how it works, but you don’t want to get pregnant, consider using a non-hormonal birth control method, like condoms. Don’t assume your body works the same way as everyone else’s. Dr. Elizabeth Trattner teaches FA to patients who are interested in getting pregnant, as well as to those who are not. “Patients learn what ovulation feels like for them, and also what cervical mucus looks like so they can either get pregnant or avoid those days,” she says. “Many patients have gotten pregnant outside the safe days because their cycle isn’t a perfect 28 day cycle or they ovulate early or late and are not aware of their body’s own unique cycle.”