A few weeks ago, I shared my experience with hormonal birth control that drew me to the Fertility Awareness Method, or FAM. Today, I am (finally) sharing part two (of three) of my FAM story. It’s important to me that I share my learning process, as the idea of the learning process was my biggest hurdle in not turning to FAM sooner.
FAM can feel very overwhelming and scary to any woman, but especially those who don’t have picture perfect cycles. I am one of those women. I definitely do not have the 28 day cycle that most physicians assume women to have. My cycles average anywhere from 30-35 days, sometimes longer. During college, I noticed a pattern in my body where I would “skip” my period every fourth month or so. Incidentally, those months generally fell over finals week or the start of a semester.
I had heard a lot of myths about FAM including that it only worked for women with consistent cycles. I’ll go further into this myth in my next post in this series, but to sum it up for now, this myth comes about because of the now-debunked Rhythm or Calendar Method that assumes every woman has a 28 day cycle and ovulates on day 14 (which is obviously not true). My biggest fear was that FAM would prove to be inaccurate and I would end up pregnant with an unplanned (but otherwise welcomed!) baby. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but the point of me being on birth control was so we could wait to start having children.
But I knew I could not continue in the way I was going. So the Nuva Ring found itself in the garbage and I began fervently reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility while waiting for my basal body thermometer (BBT) to arrive in the mail. A Facebook group was recommended to me to help me learn, and I joined that immediately. As I scrolled through the posts, looking at the posted charts, reading the questions and the answers they received, I felt completely overwhelmed. It was information overload. But, as I scrolled through the group, stared at the charts that looked like a foreign language to me, and read the education posts, I realized something very important: the best way I was going to learn this method, was to start doing it, even though I did not understand what everything meant yet.
This meant that I downloaded a charting app (I recommend Kindara!), started taking my BBT immediately upon waking every morning, and checking and attempting to interpret cervical fluid. This wound up being the best decision I made for my learning process. Because I jumped right into the thick of it, I was able to learn how to interpret charts using my own data. Additionally, I connected the dots with everything in Taking Charge of Your Fertility faster than I would have if I had read it and then started charting. I learned the rules as I practiced them, and it did wonders for my understanding. I think this is partly due to the way I learn. I’m not a good test taker, but I am really good at writing papers and completing projects. What always made science classes harder for me was not being able to see the concepts in action. But this is also why philosophy and theology are more my thing: it’s easier for me to visual and piece together these concepts. Knowing myself and how I learn well helped me learn this faster.
I also learned quickly that I was not going to fully and truly understand FAM and how it works unless I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility (TCOYF). This book is vital to the learning process, especially if you’re not working with an instructor. In TCOYF, Toni Weschler explains in detail the process of the menstrual cycle and how conception works. She even includes helpful diagrams to help women understand better what’s going on inside their bodies. Then, after explaining the menstrual cycle, how it works, what happens during it, the fertile window, ovulation, and everything else, Weschler then explains how to track your cycles. I love this arrangment because you learn how everything works and then learn how to know where you’re at in the process of the menstrual cycle. You see it, then you apply it.
I did have to wait for my thermometer to come in, so I started off with just tracking cervical fluid (CM). I read every source I could on this because it can get confusing. But I also learned through this not to inundate myself with all of the varying possibilities for CM and to trust my first instincts. So I started a chart, began inputting any data that I could, and through that, began to learn. TCOYF and most instructors advise “staying protected” for your first three charted cycles or until you feel like you have a handle on charting and interpreting charts. Because I started charting immediately and learned as I went, I was able to have a handle on things by the end of my first full chart.
Isn’t it beautiful?! Now, this isn’t to say that by the end of that chart I understood everything perfectly and never broke a “trying to avoid” rule ever again after this chart. However, I did understand the rules about temperature shift, peak day, and confirming ovulation in a very clear way. Charts went from being a foreign language, to something I could look at and immediately understand!
I know I’ve been a little vague about what things mean what. This post isn’t intended to be a teaching post. It’s intended to show just how easy learning FAM can be. With a lot of things, it’s important to place a foundation first before you do anything else. However, I firmly believe that with FAM, it’s important to be building your framework on the side while setting the foundation. The foundation-building and the action of charting every day even while you’re building that foundation will lead to faster learning and better understanding of how your body works. It’s okay if not everything makes sense right away. Trust the process, and know that everything will eventually make sense.
I also want to show that FAM is not as scary as it seems to be. There is a lot of information. I understand how overwhelming it can feel. But that is why I encourage forming the framework and laying the foundation at the same time. When you get to the end of that first chart, the foundation you’ve been building alongside putting it into practice will make sense. It may take a few charts, but it will come together. It is possible to use FAM for preventing conception. I truly believe that the majority of women, if not all women, can benefit from using FAM, no matter their fertility intentions, if they have any at all! If I had known about FAM as a teenager, I would have absolutely started charting sooner. FAM is an excellent tool not just for avoiding or achieving pregnancy. It is a great way to visualize your own health and is great for women with disorders like PCOS and endometriosis, to help them better interpret what is happening with their own bodies.
Realizing that FAM and charting was easy to learn and very doable was a lesson that I personally needed to learn on my own. So if you’re still skeptical, I completely understand. I wasn’t ready to listen the first time I heard about it. But I am still so glad people told me about it even when I wasn’t ready to listen, because I remembered it. And I remembered that they could help me, and they did! Even if you are skeptical now, my inbox is always open. I will always wish I had known about FAM sooner, and I want to make sure as many women as I can tell know that they have empowering options outside of hormonal birth control.
If you do have questions or are skeptical, please feel free to ask or push back! The third part of this series will be pros, cons, and myth debunking. I would love to answer questions either in that post or a fourth post.