If you’re trying to conceive (popularly known as “TTC” online), you already know it can be a rough battle. I was in an online group when I was TTC #1 where some people got pregnant immediately…and some had been trying for a year or more. Many women, after several failed attempts, started to read various books (like Tori Weschler’s “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”), trying out OPKs (ovulation prediction kits), taking their temperatures, and so on.
It strikes me as interesting because the biggest reason that young, healthy women don’t conceive easily is because they are just missing the opportunity. They don’t know their bodies well enough to know “when to do it.” That’s where Natural Family Planning (a method that can be used to conceive or avoid) comes in.
I personally think it’s very sad that we’ve become so disconnected with our bodies these days. We don’t know what’s normal and what’s not. I was so passionate about it that I ran a fairly popular sex ed site for a few years, before I got married. As women we need to know our bodies! There are also significant risks associated with hormonal birth control (yes, it’s easy, because you just have to remember to take it or put on a new patch or whatever) that I believe are definitely understated. We really need more and more honest sex education for our children and teens. That’s really another subject entirely, but one I feel strongly about.
Natural Family Planning is a method that requires the participation of both partners, and one that doesn’t use any form of birth control (necessarily). Barrier methods could be used, but typically are not. Abstinence on the few “unsafe” days is generally practiced (for avoidance) or frequent sex (for conception!). A woman has to be aware of her body, but her partner has to agree to abstain or “go for it” on the appropriate days, so it requires a little advance planning and some self-control.
Personally, using this method, I conceived my first baby in two months and my second and third on the first try (the third on the “first try” that I was sure would actually work — after I stopped breastfeeding around the clock – more on that tomorrow). It was very, very clear when the “right” days were and easy to take advantage of it! Best of all, this requires no special, expensive equipment. No OPKs to keep buying, no fertility monitors, no microscopes, and so forth. Depending on how well you know your body, you may not even need a thermometer (I don’t bother).
Here’s how it works:
There are some major signs and changes that your body goes through as your hormones change through your cycle. You’ll be noting your cervical fluid (or discharge), your cervical texture and position, and possibly your basal body temperature (BBT; your temperature immediately upon waking, before moving at all). BBT is the only way to actually confirm ovulation scientifically, but when you know your body well you may not need this confirmation. By paying attention to all these signs, you can tell when you’re about to ovulate so you know the right days to try!
Cervical Fluid: Starting the month, it’s your period, lasting 4 – 5 days on average. Once this tapers off, you should notice 4 – 7 days of “dry” or not much fluid. It will start to turn creamy, like lotion and become more copious. Then, it will thin out and turn clear and watery. This is the beginning of your fertile period! Discharge should be watery 3 – 5 days prior to ovulation. Then, the day before and day of ovulation (especially day of), you’ll notice thick, stretchy, clear fluid that is like raw egg whites. It is very slippery and you will probably notice it when you wipe because there is so much. This is a great sign, so get down to it when you notice this! After ovulation the egg white fluid will go away, and be replaced by creamy fluid again, which will stay until you get your period…or not!
Cervical Position: You’ll have to get comfortable for this, because you’re actually going to have to reach up and touch it!! It’s easiest while you’re sitting on the toilet anyway. It’s also not a bad idea to get familiar with it, so that you can know how it “should” feel and note if there are ever any differences (normally or in pregnancy). At the beginning of your cycle (and the end), your cervix should be low — very easy to reach — and hard, kind of like the tip of your nose. It should also be closed — you shouldn’t feel an opening in it, or it should be a small opening (if you’ve had a baby before). As you near ovulation, your cervix will rise higher, open, and become softer (more like the inside of your cheek). You may have trouble reaching it, or be unable to. When your cervix is in its highest position, completely open, and very soft — it’s baby-making time! After ovulation, your cervix will close, lower, and get harder again before your next period (and will do this even if you’re pregnant…it rises again and softens when you are more like 6 – 8 weeks along. So if it lowers after ovulation don’t fear, it doesn’t mean anything!).
BBT: This is the most reliable method of noting ovulation. Every morning, as soon as you wake up (before getting out of bed), take your temperature. It’s best to take it to the .00 mark (for example, 97.92). Ideally, it should be around the same time everyday. You should notice that your temperature jumps .1 – .2 degrees after ovulation has occurred, and remains steady at that slightly higher level until your period returns. Some women notice a slight “dip” (or lowered temperature) right before ovulation, but not all. Some notice a third higher level occurring 7 - 10 days after ovulation that can (but not always) signify pregnancy. Generally, if your temperature remains at the higher level for at least 18 days after ovulation, you’re pregnant! Of course, most women have missed their periods and tested already at this point anyway. If you’re struggling to conceive, many doctors will ask you to chart your BBT. If you have long cycles, chances are you’re ovulating late or not ovulating. Most women have very standard 12 – 14 days “luteal phases” (the time from ovulation to your period) even if they have weird cycles. A few women have short luteal phases, which can result in difficulty conceiving. BBT can tell you if this is happening, too.
Other signs to note are cramps (especially one-sided pain occurring with ovulation signs), spotting, headaches, nausea, etc. All of these can be signs of both your body gearing up to ovulate and pregnancy (occurring at different points in the month, obviously!).
After a few months you’ll start to notice your body’s specific pattern (and, you’ll notice if things are maybe not-so-normal). It will be easier to predict when you should ovulate, and your signs will just corroborate this. Hopefully, once you know your body, it won’t take you long at all to conceive! (It really is true that most women don’t conceive because they are just “missing” the right days.) And it’s totally free!
Have you used Natural Family Planning to help you conceive? Did it work?
Top image by DigitalEm