I began learning about the Fertility Awareness Method when I was in college. Fertility Awareness simply means taking your temperature daily and recording it in a handy chart, along with additional indicators of fertility like cervical mucus and cervical position. It’s sad that so many women are never taught this, but by observing a few basic patterns, you can know precisely when you are fertile and when you are not. While men are always fertile, women have only a brief window of fertility during each cycle- typically about 6 days long. (The Fertility Awareness Method is more than I can teach in a single blog post, but I highly recommend this definitive guide.)
It takes a decent amount of dedication and follow-through to actually rely on charting to avoid or achieve pregnancy. My problem was that I continued to collect knowledge on the subject but neglected to actually put it into practice. (I do this a lot, actually.) I would buy a basal body thermometer but forget to temp. Or I would remember to temp at the crack of dawn but forget to record the data in my chart once I was fully awake.
So rather than implementing the practice of Fertility Awareness, I lazily used barrier methods. This led to two unplanned pregnancies (my delightful daughters Celeste and Guinevere!). In the case of Guinevere, I was doing some inconsistent fertility charting but relying on condoms nonetheless. I am super glad my girls are here! Still, I’ve decided to have a better handle on my fertility in the future.
Three kids later, I’ve learned that I cannot take my fertility lightly. Barrier methods aren’t reliable during our window of fertility, which I suspect to be bit longer than it is for the average couple. (The fact that I have three daughters might be a testimony to this: female sperm live longer and can survive for several days before ovulation even occurs, which means that even if my husband and I believed that we were squarely in the safe zone, our shared fertility as a couple proved otherwise.)
I now believe that the only safe way for me to avoid pregnancy is to abstain when I am fertile. Thus, I need to rely on Fertility Awareness so that I know exactly when I am at risk for becoming pregnant.
I’m still no expert. But there are a few tools that have helped me feel successful in my fertility journey:
- The first is the Kindara app, which is a free fertility charting app designed to be used in conjunction with the Wink thermometer. The Kindara app is beautiful, intuitive, and convenient. It allows you to record and reflect upon your monthly fertility symptoms right from your phone. (Note: you can absolutely use the Kindara charting app on its own without the Wink, which may be a good place to begin if you are new to this.)
- The Wink is like my dream come true. My husband teased me pretty hard about buying this gadget. Why? Why do you need a fancy digital thermometer with Bluetooth technology when you can just buy a cheap one from CVS and be done with it? Heres the reason: I won’t do it. I simply can’t stick with it. Whenever I tried to use a standard BBT thermometer in the past, nothing would ever get recorded and I would never actually make progress in charting. Now as a Wink user, I hear my phone alarm and take my temperature at the same time each day. The Wink quickly makes a quiet vibration noise to indicate that my waking temp has been recorded. I often fall back asleep after that. I never actually have to think about recording my temps, because the Wink sends the data straight to the chart in my Kindara app. Checking the app later on my iPhone is almost like unwrapping a Christmas present, or solving a fun fertility mystery! Temperature shift, Watson!
- Because I have a history of surprise pregnancy, I am also using the Clear Blue Fertility Monitor. I have the older version of the monitor, but as I’ve heard, both version are great. The monitor is used to check rising estrogen levels in urine, which makes it a very scientific way to track ovulation. The monitor prompts you to pee on a stick on the mornings when fertility is likely. It stores information unique to your cycle. Most women use this tools to achieve pregnancy, but there is great information available to help those who wish to avoid conception.
There you have it! It may seem like a lot, but it actually only requires only a few minutes of my time now that I’ve got my system worked out. (My system happens to be a bit much: most women who practice Fertility Awareness do not use both the Wink and the fertility monitor. They choose one method and stick with it. But, considering my history, it gives me great peace of mind to be extra careful.)
Acquiring the basic book knowledge is the time-consuming part of practicing Fertility Awareness, but there are so many awesome benefits to having that knowledge. For one, I am able to track my hormones and my mood patterns. (It makes it easier to cut myself some slack when I am feeling a tad foul.) I am able to notice when my luteal phase is a bit too short, possibly indicating low thyroid function (an explanation for low energy and low metabolism). Thanks to charting, I don’t have to surgically alter or sterilize my marriage (which, for me, keeps married sex a lot more meaningful and a lot more fun!). I don’t have to rely on a pill that numbs my sex drive and gives me other weird symptoms. And I don’t have to use a bizarre rubber glove in my own marital bed.
But I do have to to abstain. Indeed, I have to abstain during the one week of the month when it is the very hardest to do so. I do have to shoo my husband away sometimes (and there’s an element of fun in that, too). And I get brownie points for being a good Catholic, considering this is the method that is encouraged by the faithful. But don’t be confused: the Church does not encourage “breeding warriors for the kingdom” or anything remotely similar to the quiverfull movement. Catholics do have a lot of children, not because Fertility Awareness and NFP don’t work, but because thats the culture: Catholics just like kids. (Also, as I’ve been told, NFP doesn’t work very well with wine. NFP + wine = BABIES)
Believe me, as a feminist (and a former pagan), I was always disgusted by the Church’s stance on birth control. But now that I’ve actually lived out the teaching, I’m more in charge of my body than ever. This method requires respectful pause on the part of my husband, who has to be aware of my cycles as well (unless he wants to father more children). And it creates a monthly rhythm of craving and waiting that only enriches the experience of monogamy. For real. When we lived our marriage with unlimited access (thanks to artificial contraception), I think that we missed out on a lot of mystery, the thrill, and the power of sex. Thats the big conundrum: sex is powerful enough to create humans. When we remove that potentiality, it makes everything a degree flatter.
I’m not sharing this to evangelize (I actually have pretty strong feelings against typical modes of evangelization that I hope to hash out in a blog post one day). I’m sharing this because I occasionally get emails from liberal-leaning people who scratch their heads over my decision to become Catholic. (Want a small glimpse into my life as a blogger? Emails from conservatives that go like this: “Great blog, REEL IN ALL THE SWEARING PLZ.” Emails from liberals: “You’re cool but are you drunk? CATHOLICISM IS CORRUPT FIGHT THE REAL ENEMY.”)
Anyway, thanks for reading! And best of luck to you along your fertility road, whatever it may take you.