Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Mystery Solved: Women's Health

Last weekend, I burst into tears over the fact that network TV (we use an antenna) was airing Notre Dame instead of Michigan for the second week in a row. Not, like a few frustrated sniffles. This was like full-on toddler tantrum tears. I also haven't worn real pants in 5 days, which has to be some kind of record. The waistbands were just not happening for me, which I couldn't figure out.

And then, this morning in a red flash of clarity, I realized what the problem was - I just started my first natural period in over 6 years. After the Grige and I got married, I decided that it was a good time to take a little hiatus from birth control. Mostly, I wanted to give my body a chance to function without hormones. Birth control has always been a little challenging for me, It impacts my appetite, usually resulting in weight gain, it gives me nasty migraines, and it obliterates my sex drive (no wonder it's so effective). All of which I can live with, if I must. I can't help wondering if there isn't a better way. I especially wanted to go au natural for a while to make sure that I am healthy - ovulating regularly and not showing any weird patterns or signs that might be early indicators of fertility problems.

The Grige and I definitely want a child, but we aren't planning to have him or her until I'm in my early to mid-thirties. Since fertility problems run in my family, I want to be actively involved in tracking and understanding my fertility as early as possible. If it seems likely that we might have problems, we want to avoid unknowingly waiting until the graceful evening of my primary childbearing years to start trying. Enter: Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, a book on the fertility awareness method (FAM) of birth control. 

When I was in college, we had a guest speaker in one of my women's studies classes who said something that blew my mind: "Don't we all deserve the pleasure of unprotected sex without the woman having to deal with all of these complications? Shouldn't science be working on a better way??" It had never occurred to me that I deserved something more than migraines, a non-existent sex drive and weight gain in order to have the kind of sex I wanted with a trustworthy, monogamous partner. Which is stupid, because of course there is a better way. I still think that science owes us a contraceptive that allows skin-to-skin contact and protection from sexually transmitted infections, and FAM is not the answer to that. However, it's an ideal solution for someone like me - in a monogamous, trusting marriage. 

It was a little intimidating to purchase the book. Amazon now totally thinks that I'm trying to get knocked up and keeps suggesting all manner of baby crap for me to buy. However, it's not worse then the deluge of crap that was recommended after I bought The Hunger Games for my Kindle, and it will stop eventually, probably when I buy a bunch of hiking gear or beer brewing supplies. It was absolutely worth the ads for boppy pillows and breast pumps, because let me tell you - the female body is fascinating.

This is what a chart looks like - borrowed from, check out the website for more cool tools and discussions.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility  and the FAM method offer an easy, 3-factor system to track your cycles and identify times when it is safe to have sex without a barrier method, like a condom. It hinges primarily on taking your temperature before you get out of bed in the morning and checking your cervical fluid several times a day and keeping track of everything on a chart. It's definitely something you need to get in the habit of, but it's pretty easy to just keep the thermometer next to your alarm and grab it after you hit snooze each morning. Checking your cervical fluid is very easy and becomes a habit quickly. The charting part is fun and easy to remember, because it's amazing and exciting to watch patterns emerge.

In short, I think this method is going to work great for the Grige and me, and I think it's worth a look for anyone who is also in a monogamous relationship and looking to get hormones and latex out of their daily diet. It's very empowering to know so much about what's going on with my body. It's also practical and useful to know exactly when to expect my period, when I'm at risk for pregnancy and why I'm in such a crabby mood sometimes. Knowledge is power.

The flip side of all that knowledge is that once we start charting, there will never be any uncertainty about getting pregnant for us, if and when we decide to try. I think it's really hard to definitively decide that you are "ready" to have kids, and I think a lot of couples dodge that certainty of readiness by simply stopping the use of contraceptives and "seeing what happens". Then you can assume that it's a sign from the universe that you're ready if you get pregnant.

Any couple who uses FAM won't be able to avoid knowing that they are fertile on a certain day. They will have a strong grasp of the likelihood of a pregnancy resulting from sex before they even get their pants off. Scary. Of course, it's not a guarantee or anything, but the decision to have unprotected sex on a fertile day is a conscious and deliberate one. Couples using FAM can even make an estimation based on some moderately controversial research as to the likelihood of conceiving a boy or a girl based on the day they have sex.

That is way more control than we're sensitized to having over the process of having a child. It's actually a great thing, but it's hard to get used to all that power and control when the myth of conception that we're all taught is so wrapped in mystery and fate instead of patterns and science. Luckily, starting now means that the Grige and I will have lots of time to get used to it before we start exercising our knowledge in order to have a child.

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