My Fertility Awareness Story, Part Three: Pros, Cons, and Myths Busted

This post is part of my series on the Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control. You can find my post on how I made the decision to switch to FAM here and my post on how I learned the method here. As with anything, there are pros and cons to using FAM for birth control. Unfortunately, there are also myths surrounding this method, as not many people truly understand how it works. This post will address the pros, cons, and the myths surrounding FAM.

Pros

You get a comprehensive picture of your cycle and how it works. This is probably the number one pro in my mind. I knew some basic principles about how the menstrual cycle worked, and even tried to track my cycles as a teenager by marking when they started on my calendar. But I quickly got tired of this, because I didn’t really see a pattern in my cycles. However, with FAM, I always know where I’m at in my cycle. I know when my body is getting ready to ovulate and can even anticipate my period by a couple of days.

You will figure out your secondary symptoms that come up during your cycle. Do you ever suddenly have a few days where you’re extra sleepy or extra hungry? Or random breakouts even when your skincare routine and diet haven’t changed? Maybe your workout routine gets harder or you randomly gain a few pounds when you haven’t stopped exercising and have stayed consistent with your calorie intake. All of these things are related to your cycle! For me, I have learned that when I’m nearing my period, I get really sleepy and start breaking out. Around ovulation, my seasonal allergies will sometimes get worse. These things I have learned because once I knew where I was at in my cycle, I started noticing patterns in myself.

It is very easy to move up and down the “intentions scale.” In the FAM world, there is an intentions scale from 0-10 that can help you understand where both you and your spouse are at with your desire for conception. On the pro-life scale, being a 0 would mean you are 100% abstinent during your fertile window and being a 10 would mean you are actively trying to conceive, including pursuing any and all ethical fertility treatments. In the middle of the scale, 1-4 are those trying to avoid with increasing levels of risk taking, 5-7 are those not preventing pregnancy but not pursuing it either (“whatever happens, happens), and 8-9 are actively trying. Using FAM means you have complete flexibility with your fertility intentions. You don’t have wait for a hormonal birth control to kick in (if preventing) or wear off (if trying to conceive). You can make decisions as a couple and put those decisions into motion very easily. It’s especially helpful for those who don’t want to actively try, but who don’t necessarily want to prevent pregnancy. Fertility intentions aren’t always black and white, and FAM is perfect for helping you stay flexible (or not!) with your intentions.

It is perfect for those who have irregular cycles. This one is for my ladies with PCOS, endometriosis, or any other condition that causes their cycles to be irregular! FAM is an excellent option for you. Through BBT and CM tracking, you can learn when your body is both trying to ovulate and when it succeeds. You don’t need to stress about long cycles because you know where you’re at in those cycles and whether or not you have ovulated yet. You can also use your charts to help you better communicate with your doctor and give him or her a visualization of what is going on with your cycles.

Cons

If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, you won’t be able to “go unprotected” whenever you want. This was probably the most difficult part of switching to FAM. Needing to be protected when you’re in a stable marriage with your first and only sexual partner feels silly sometimes. However, I would rather deal with the frustration of being protected a few times a month than the side effects of birth control all the time (and potentially deal with other harmful things that result from long-term use of birth control, such as infertility and cancer). This really boils down to a maturity thing. And honestly, it also means that both you and your spouse are directly involved in your fertility intentions.

It does take at least a full cycle to truly understand. Doing FAM is definitely not the easy way out. Instead of remembering to take a pill or go to your doctor for your shot, you have to learn a whole set of concepts and information. But easy does not often mean better. I will say this over and over again until you are sick of me: FAM may not be the easy way out, but it is the best option for the vast majority of (if not all) women. Taking the time to learn how your body works is always, always worth it.

Some days, it can feel tedious. On the second day of my current cycle, I did not want to temp. I was on my period so I wasn’t feeling the greatest. And so I didn’t take my morning temperature that day, or for the rest of my period. And that’s okay. Sometimes it can feel like you are a slave to your chart. Many women do what is called “shortcut charting,” where they don’t start temping until their periods are over and stop once they have confirmed ovulation. I would only advise this once you’ve charted a full twelve cycles and have a good handle on charting. Right now, I stop checking CM after I confirm ovulation, but keep temping because I like to know when my period is coming.

Common FAM Myths

FAM will only work if your cycles are extremely regular. I have been using FAM to successfully avoid pregnancy since late August 2017. I have interacted with women in a FAM Facebook group who have used FAM to prevent pregnancy for years. And for me and many of these women, no two cycles look alike. FAM is actually an ideal option for women with irregular cycles. This is because when using the method I use, the symptothermal method, you interpret your data based on your current cycle, not on previous cycles. So even if you typically ovulate on day 16 of your cycle, you may not necessarily ovulate on day 16 of your current cycle. You could ovulate early, late, or not at all. You have to take each cycle for what it is and cannot make assumptions based on past cycles.

FAM is too complicated/takes up too much time/isn’t convenient. I will say this: learning FAM can take time. The concepts can feel overwhelming and confusing. But it is doable. A big part of learning FAM is stepping back, trusting the process, and taking it one day at a time. As you get into the habit, it will become second nature to you. Additionally, taking your BBT and checking your CM honestly takes up no more time than remembering to take a pill does. I like the way taking my temperature each more lets me take an extra minute or two before I have to get up and start my day. And checking CM takes no extra time at all. FAM is convenient. It allows you to be flexible in your fertility intentions and know and understand your menstrual cycle. I feel so empowered being able to look at my chart and understand where I’m at in my cycle.

You can get pregnant at any time in your cycle, so not using conventional birth control for prevention is “playing with fire.” On the contrary, there is actually only a limited time in your cycle when you can get pregnant. In the female menstrual cycle, your body prepares for ovulation, ovulates, then (if you don’t get pregnant) sheds the uterine lining (your period). Then the cycle starts all over again. When ovulation occurs, the egg only lives for 12-24 hours, unless fertilized. The ovulation event is the only time in your cycle when conception can occur. Thankfully, sperm can live in the right conditions for up to 5-7 days, so your timing doesn’t have to be exactly perfect if you are trying to conceive. All of this to say, there are times in your cycle where it is impossible to get pregnant. Namely, after ovulation has occurred and the egg is dead and gone. Contrary to popular belief, the female body is not a 24/7/365 lean, mean, fertile machine. Just during a specific time in the menstrual cycle. 😉

Well, there you have it: some pros, some cons, and a few myths about fertility awareness! I hope this series has been helpful and informative to you. It was a little intimidating talking about something so personal, but at the end of the day this is a topic I am incredibly passionate about. I knew it was important that I take the time to write about it. Also, if enough people have more questions about fertility awareness or anything related to it, I would love to do a Q&A as a part four to this series! Just comment below, respond on social media, or use the contact page to send them away!

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