The Fertility Awareness Method
I’ve been charting my cycle using the fertility awareness method (also known as FAM), for a bit over 5 years now. As a result of it’s efficacy and the beautiful daily process that it brings, I feel a deep urge to spread this information far and wide.
We can use the fertility awareness method for natural birth control, natural conception and overall gynecological health awareness. The menstrual cycle brings a whole lot of hidden magic, and I want to help you incorporate it's wisdom into your life!
Disclaimer: this article cannot be used as a fertility awareness education course, so you will not be able to track your cycle for birth control by only reading this blog post.
I’d also like to point out that when I say “woman” or “man,” I am referring to people born with a womb and yoni versus those born with a penis. This article is specifically designed for those who have female anatomy.
In this introduction to the fertility awareness method, I'll be covering:
- The cultural stigmas of the menstrual cycle
- What is Fertility Awareness?
- Rhythm Method vs. Fertility Awareness Method
- Intro to our hormonal cycle
- Benefits of charting
- Challenges of charting
Cultural stigmas of the menstrual cycle
In early civilizations a menstruating woman was viewed in a myriad of ways. Some cultures believed bleeding was dirty. Other cultures believed a bleeding woman was wise in her community and was often sought after for advice. The Dagara people of West Africa actually believe that menstruating women carry a tremendous ability to see into things, intuitively.
Today in western culture, our bleeding time is unfortunately recognized as an inconvenience, unclean and taboo. We have been taught to hide our grief during life’s stressful moments. This sometimes leans us towards masking our feelings with substances like sugar, caffeine, alcohol, food, bad habits, etc. Alternatively, we hold the ability to turn inward to search for the underlying cause of our struggles. Certain stressors and emotions actually suppress into our womb area, causing discomfort and hormonal imbalance.
By charting our cycles we become able to visualize imbalances and find cyclic patterns in our discomforts, therefore use these observations as pathways to healing. Menstruation is a vital sign of the body's overall health and well being, it’s just up to us to listen and act accordingly.
What is Fertility Awareness?
To me, the term fertility awareness means overall body literacy and cycle awareness. The fertility awareness method is the daily tracking of our cervical fluid and basal body temperature to determine whether we are fertile, or not, on any given day. When we hear the words fertility awareness based method, this is actually an umbrella term that holds together many other methods of charting our cycles. The practice I use, and what we are talking about today is the fertility awareness method. Also known as a sympto-thermal method.
Fertility Awareness Method vs. Rhythm Method
I want to point out that in our current society the fertility awareness method is often related to the rhythm method. The rhythm is not an effective method of natural birth control. I’ll describe the differences later on, but this is important because of it's rocky history of being associated with the church. As a result, FAM’s reputability has been hurt. FAM is a daily practice of following the ebb and flow of our hormones to determine our fertile times.
Many people have most likely learned in school that we are fertile every single day, and that we will always ovulate on cycle day 14. Both of these are false, and charting our cycles visually show us why.
*Ovulation may occur between cycle days 12-16, give or take. Everyone's cycles are unique.
Charting is sort of like we become our own holistic doctor. Fertility awareness allows us to visualize and understand certain underlying problems that our body is experiencing, rather than noticing a symptom, going to a doctor to fix this symptom, and getting prescribed a medication. We get to see what is going awry in the body, therefore can alter our lifestyle, diet, etc in order to be sure the body is in the most appropriate environment to thrive.
The Physiology of the Menstrual Cycle
Below is a visual of our hormonal cycle. Thank you Sarah Bly and Grace of the Moon for the beautiful image.
The main act of the show is ovulation. Our body continually goes through a beautiful process to hold a pregnancy, and menstruation is a result of pregnancy not occurring.
Two overall phases hold together our cycles: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. At the beginning of each cycle, we enter the follicular phase. Estrogen levels begin to release in low levels, and the levels increase as our cycle progresses. This hormone increase causes the uterus to thicken and grow with all of the nourishment we give it. Imagine a garden in which we mineralize and prepare soil for seeds to sprout. Essentially, this is what’s happening in the uterus after we bleed and until we ovulate.
As the days go on, estrogen levels rise more and more, causing cervical fluid to become higher and higher in water content. Some people feel extra sexy, or creative, and sometimes even desire sex more during this time. Eating nourishing food, exercising, and managing any stressors that arise will help to manage a healthy environment for ovulation to occur. Here is an article for what happens to the pelvic bowl when stressed.
Once estrogen reaches it’s peak, ovulation occurs. Imagine your uterus garden again. Our sprouts are now starting to burst through the soil.
In my online charting course we dive into how to find your unique fertile window. The fertile window is unique to each person and may change from cycle to cycle. We also visually look at a wide range of the types of fluids you might observe. Overall you will better understand what means fertile and what means infertile.
Following ovulation, the uterus becomes nourished even further by the hormone progesterone, to prepare its growth for a possible pregnancy to be sustained. Welcome to the luteal phase! Progesterone releases for an approximate, yet stable 12-16 days. Our garden now needs to be watered and tended to, to be sure the plants are thriving in their environment.
When the fertile window ends, we can have unprotected sex. Yes! We can literally have ejaculate inside of our vagina and not become pregnant. If we do not become pregnant, our garden of a womb is ready to be harvested, aka bleed for menstruation, and will prepare to start this process all over again.
Basal Body Temperature and Cervical Fluid Observations
Basal body temperature and cervical fluid play their role in both showing us our fertile and infertile windows. They help us visualize the separation of our follicular and luteal phases. You will learn the rules for natural birth control in my course.
Fertility Awareness Facts
With all of the information I just mentioned, we can put together that:
- The body is not fertile every day. Cervical fluid alkalizes the pH of the vagina so that sperm can stay alive. The vagina is acidic and will kill off sperm during all other moments of our cycles.
- We can chart our cycles using the fertility awareness method with both regular and irregular cycles. FAM is a daily practice of asking ourselves, “am i fertile today?” and will help us visualize any irregularities.
- Ovulation happens one time per cycle, and FAM will help you determine when this happens. *a second ovulation IS possible, however will only take place within 24 hours after the first egg's release.
- Know, to the day, when next menstruation will show up.
- When we combine basal body temperature with cervical fluid observations, we can visually see when our fertile window begins, when ovulation has been confirmed and when our fertile window has ended.
It is important to point out the difference between the rhythm method and the fertility awareness method.
- Rhythm = calculation based
- Fertility awareness = observation based
As I mentioned before, the timing of ovulation is relative to the amount of stressors we have in our environment. Stressors can be positive or negative: traveling, too little sleep, environmental, working hard to meet a deadline, etc. The body will push ovulation back in order to create a safe and optimal environment to healthfully ovulate.
My point is, our cycles are ever changing, therefore we can not effectively CALCULATE our timing of ovulation. By using the fertility awareness method, we OBSERVE our daily patterns and signs of fertility, and make decisions as we go.
Apps and Fertility Devices
There are many period tracking apps available today, which is amazing. However many use algorithms to determine the fertile window. Timing of ovulation becomes predicted, based off of previous cycles. As a result, we may get led to having risky unprotected intercourse.
I do not use fertility apps or devices (like natural cycles, daysy, or other ovulation-predicting apps) for birth control. Algorithm based apps and devices are not as effective as manually recording my own observations. ONLY YOU AND I (as a human being) can effectively calculate our fertile window and ovulation accurately, using our daily observations. However, I do believe that fertility devices would benefit those who are trying to become pregnant.
The daily practice of the fertility awareness method is based off of research done with the Petra Frank-Hermann study, which held 900 women with their 17,638 menstrual cycles. In the end, it showed a 99.6% effectiveness rate for natural birth control.
20 Benefits of the Fertility Awareness Method
- Optimal timing of conception and use as a natural contraceptive. Charting our daily signs allows us to find out when our fertile window begins and ends, in order to achieve OR prevent pregnancy.
- Gynecological health and body literacy. By charting our cycles, we can visually see any hormonal imbalance that is occurring within the body.
- Knowing, to the day, when next menstruation begins.
- Can chart as we want to come off of hormonal contraceptives (IUD, the pill, depo provera, etc).
- Understanding symptoms that show up, cyclically (PMS). I like to think of the luteal phase as a report card for past cycle or cycles. Charting our cycles allows us to recognize when we experience PMS and will offer comfort in knowing when it may show up.
- Understanding imbalances (estrogen/progesterone levels, thyroid health, PCOS, endometriosis, etc).
- Transitioning into menopause. Evolving hormone levels cause cycle / chart changes.
- Identify risk factors for miscarriage.
- See when conception had occurred.
- Know when conception should optimally occur.
- Can shorten length of time for conception to occur.
- It offers better communication within personal relationships. We get to open up and talk about our fertile window, bleeding times, and so much more.
- Connects us to the cycles of the earth through following the cycles of our body. In my online course I dive into how we can relate the phases of the earth with the phases of the menstrual cycle.
- Cost effective
- No side effects
- Non invasive
- It is a form of self compassion and care.
- Once the practice is learned, it only takes 5 minutes or less per day.
- Gives a huge burst of personal confidence and empowerment
Challenges of the Fertility Awareness Method
- In order to use fertility awareness, one is in need of a somewhat routine-oriented life. For those of you who work night shifts, have irregular sleeping patterns, travel a lot, etc., talk to me separately; I can offer you a list of the other available fertility awareness based methods.
- Learning the method may take about 3 cycle lengths to solidify your understanding on how the method works.
- No protection against STIs. Barrier methods needed for this.
- Cultural stigmas connected to rhythm method may infringe on your loved one’s support for you practicing the fertility awareness method. (Just show them this article)!
- For those with irregular cycles, one may need to be open to diet and/or lifestyle changes.
- Libido may be higher in your fertile window. This means we facing our fertility face to face. This may feel frustrating, but it could very well be a beautiful thing in order to try new things (like creative lovemaking).
To to put all of this to an end
Fertility awareness is a portal into our hormonal health, allowing us to figure out how to nourish our body’s needs throughout each fertility cycle. Learning how to follow our charts allows us to receive a complete understanding of the importance in caring for our overall health.
The secret element to personal bliss is to follow our cycles and it's rhythms, as it is our spiritual guidance.