Fertility Awareness Is For Every Woman
When my husband and I were first married, I mentioned to a coworker that my husband and I practiced Natural Family Planning (NFP) and their immediate response was to make a joke. “You know what Natural Family Planning is, don’t you? Pregnancy!”
What I have come to learn through my research into the benefits of understanding one’s fertility, is that women do not understand their own bodies. Instead of taking ownership of their bodies, and trusting both the design and the Designer, many women are completely ignorant to the fact that the ebb and flow of the multitude of hormones within a woman’s body and their effects can easily be seen and charted.
Many women will see a post on NFP and cut and run, but understanding your own fertility is about so much more than delaying a pregnancy or achieving conception. Understanding your body and its reproductive system can aid in maintaining one’s overall health. Therefore, this subject is for all women.
What is NFP?
NFP refers to a spectrum of varying methods used in planning or preventing pregnancy. Those techniques used aid in identifying the woman’s reproductive cycle in order to predict those days which she would be most fertile.
One of the most well known methods of tracking one’s cycle is by charting basal temperatures. Tracking basal temperature requires the woman when she awakens after a full night’s sleep to take her temperature with a basal thermometer before any activity.
By charting these waking temperatures, a pattern will begin to emerge. By understanding her personal pattern of cyclical temperature shifts, a woman can predict her fertility from month to month. Many people do not realize that this is just one mode of gauging fertility, and when practiced alone it is not the most reliable method.
The Fertility Awareness Method
I was first introduced to NFP through Toni Weschler’s book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Toni introduces a method of NFP called Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). On her website, Toni explains FAM:
“Fertility Awareness is a remarkable system of knowledge that uses your two basic fertility signs -waking temperature and cervical fluid- to accurately gauge when you are ovulating. Such critical information serves as a window into your cycle, empowering you to practice effective natural birth control or pregnancy achievement, as well as to enlighten you on the entire array of life’s menstrual mysteries. Indeed, charting your cycles with FAM will show you, among other things:
- The difference between perfectly normal, cyclical cervical secretions and true vaginal infections.
- When to expect your next period.
- Whether or not you are even ovulating.
- Whether or not you are pregnant.
- Your true due date, if in fact you are!
It is unfortunate that the Fertility Awareness Method is even referred to as a method, because in reality, it should be seen as a fundamental life skill that all women should learn, just as they are now taught basic feminine hygiene. This is because the practical knowledge women glean from charting their cycles will aid them from puberty to menopause, and all life phases in between.
Toni’s method of Fertility Awareness could also be called the “Symptothermal Method.” The symptothermal method of NFP involves tracking both basil body temperatures and studying one’s own cervical changes, cervical secretions and position. Only by charting both waking temperatures and cervical secretions can a woman be more confident in the emerging pattern presented by her charts. By combining both of these techniques, variables such as sleepless nights, illness, or even hormone shifts will have less effect on the overall pattern rendered. This method of charting is not only effective in preventing or achieving pregnancy, but it is also beneficial to understanding a woman’s overall health.
The Dirty Details
Many women might snub their noses at the thought of checking their cervix for position and secretions. It does sound somewhat gross to those unfamiliar with the practice. I had an awkward go at it when I first began using FAM, but it soon becomes familiar when you get the hang of it. The idea is that the length of the cervix (long or short) and the structure of the cervix (soft or hard) and the secretions, or mucous, thereof (dry, watery, sticky,, slippery, stretchy) denote what stage of a woman’s cycle that she is currently in.
For instance, when the cervix is high, soft, and open ovulation is nearing or occurring. Following menstruation the cervix becomes long, hard, and closed. BabyHopes.com explains,
“As your cycle progresses, your cervix will show marked changes and the cervical mucus will increase in volume and changes texture. … (During your cycle) The first cervical discharge that appears is moist or sticky and white or cream in color. In the finger test, the mucus will break easily. You will only be able to pull your fingers about 1 cm apart before it breaks. During this transition time, first the mucus will become cloudy and slightly stretchy during the finger test (this means that it will still break before the fingers are stretched all the way). As time progresses, the mucus will become greater in volume.
At this stage, cervical mucus is the thinnest, clearest and most abundant during your cycle. The amount of this thin cervical mucus will also steadily increase until you experience your ‘cervical mucus peak’. This occurs on the last day of your cycle where the chance of conception is high. It is closely related to ovulation.”
I urge any woman interested in gaining a more thorough understanding of her fertility to buy Toni Weschler’s book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility. She even has a book targeted for younger girls called, Cycle Savvy. Her main goal in both of these books is to present women’s reproductive health as something to be embraced and understood, not shunned as taboo. Her original book is packaged with a charting software program on CD-ROM. This software is easy to navigate when used in conjunction with Taking Charge of Your Fertility.
There is also a corresponding online community where women help women as they learn to use FAM in regards to their health. Women even share their own charts there to gather various opinions as to what this or that shift in temperature or change in cervical mucous means. Charting questions and health concerns can be submitted to the online forum for advice and encouragement. I used these forums myself for over two years and still talk to some of the friends I made from the groups in which I participated.
FAM Benefits Overall Health
When a woman possesses both the knowledge and tools to understand what her body is saying and doing, she will be better equipped to identify when problems arise. As women we are full of hormones, and these hormones affect more than just our uterus and vagina. Hormones affect our entire body, yet we also affect our hormones. Our age, activity, eating habits are just a few ways that we affect our endocrine system.
Living a healthy lifestyle is necessary to maintaining health, but in this fallen world our bodies will deteriorate. That deterioration leads to breakdown and disease. There are many ways to maintain a healthy body longer and it is important to take control of your own health by understanding your own body. Every human body is different; it is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing.
Charting your cycle may seem simple to some, tedious to others, and maybe even gross to most, but it is one stride among many that a woman can take to lay claim to her personal reproductive health. Infections, infertility, hormonal imbalances are a few of the issues that FAM can help a woman navigate. Having your cycles documented are a great way to aid your physician in your healthcare and understanding your chart to be able to dialogue with your doctor about the path your healthcare should take is even better.
Toni Weschler states that by implementing FAM you will begin to understand “the truly wondrous hormonal symphony that comprises your menstrual cycle.” NFP should not solely be for those women concerned with pregnancy, although this sounds counter intuitive, considering the very definition of NFP is that of planning a family. Every woman should be concerned about her fertility young and old alike no matter what stage, because the methods utilized within NFP are a window into the very health of a woman.
Do you practice Natural Family Planning (NFP)? What are your thoughts on NFP and what method do you use? How have you found that practicing fertility awareness has benefited your overall health?
Lindsey Stomberg is a pastor’s wife and loving mother to three little blessings living in rural North Dakota. Reading, sewing, and crafting are a few of the things that Lindsey enjoys doing when she is not cuddling with her hubby or playing with her children. Lindsey is cataloging her journey to become the Proverbs 31 woman on her blog, Road to 31. Her passion is helping women to understand their God-given role as a woman. Lindsey created Road to 31 to teach women how that role relates to singleness, marriage, motherhood, and beyond. Grab a cup of coffee and join Lindsey while she blogs about the Bible, natural living, marriage, homemaking, homeschooling and more!
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