My personal history with hormonal birth control is one that many women might identify with. At 17, during my first ever visit to a gynecologist’s office, I was prescribed the pill as a bandaid for my reproductive health issues, without much additional investigation into said issues. Fast forward five agonizing years later, and I was done.
Through much searching, research, help, and encouragement from medical professionals I could finally trust, I began fertility awareness and was freed from — among other things — fluctuating weight, uncontrollable mood swings, passive suicidal ideation, artificial hormones, and an artificial menstrual cycle. Now, quarantine has afforded many of us the perfect opportunity to do the same, and here’s why.
How FAM Works
There are many misconceptions out there about fertility awareness methods (or FAM). One of the most prevalent ones is that FAM is the same as the rhythm method (it isn’t) or that it’s ineffective (also untrue). FAM encompasses aspects of the rhythm method, such as charting ovulation on a calendar, and if used incorrectly, can be ineffective. However, FAM is a simple, all-natural, empowering alternative to conventional birth control with none of the harsh side effects. Additionally, it can be used both for couples who are trying to conceive and couples who are trying to avoid conception. FAM is based around three central ideas.
FAM is a simple, all-natural, empowering alternative to conventional birth control that can be used to both achieve pregnancy and to avoid conception.
1. Using a calendar to chart your menstrual cycles.
Whether your cycle is the average 28 days as it is for most women, or even if it’s irregular, writing down how long your period lasts, on which days you have or abstain from sex, as well as any other details from day-to-day can give a big picture idea of your menstrual cycles.
2. Checking your cervical mucus.
Second, going hand-in-hand with charting is noticing cervical mucus. It's perhaps our body’s most natural indicator of when ovulation happens. The textures, as you may have noticed, vary from a thick, lotion-like type of discharge (gearing up for ovulation or post-ovulation) to clear and stretchy like an egg white (ovulation is happening). Cervical mucus consistency is meant to aid in conception, which is why a slippery texture is indicative of ovulation (an easier texture for sperm to travel in) while thicker, stickier textures prohibit sperm from moving as easily.
3. Measuring basal body temperature, also known as BBT.
BBT can be measured with a specialized thermometer which measures your body’s temperature more sensitively than a regular thermometer. Taking our temperature daily for 28 days, or the average menstrual cycle, can help pinpoint when exactly ovulation happens. The body’s basal temperature naturally upticks around ovulation (in conjunction with the production of progesterone), and noticing this jump on a conventional paper or calendar app (I personally prefer paper) can help us begin to notice patterns, habits, and reactions our body performs naturally. You can find a basal body thermometer at Target for $8!
Cervical mucus is perhaps our body’s most natural indicator of when ovulation happens.
There are several different established methods of fertility awareness, each of which is research backed. Different methods will focus on different signs of fertility and their charting symbols might be different. The Creighton Model focuses primarily on cervical mucus, while the Billings Ovulation Method tracks vaginal sensations. The Sympto-Thermal Method uses sensations, cervical mucus, and BBT. The Marquette Method tracks your hormones through at-home urine tests. So if you don’t want to mess around with a thermometer or cervical mucus, there are options out there for you!
Why Being Stuck Inside is the Perfect Time To Start
Since the beginning of quarantine, we’ve seen how pharmaceutical companies and delivery apps have been working overtime to make sure they’re still garnering a profit from birth control, whether through no-contact delivery or subscription services that claim to do all the work “for you.” The idea essentially seems to be that we should be ingesting birth control because we’re prescribed it, we pay for it, and that’s all there is to it.
Quarantine is the perfect time to discontinue our reliance on birth control, as well as on the countless ads, shows, influencers, and other sources that glorify its no-questions-asked dependency.
Instead, quarantine is the perfect time to discontinue our reliance on birth control, as well as on the countless ads, shows, influencers, and other sources that glorify its no-questions-asked dependency. Whether we’re using quarantine as the chance to try to conceive or to avoid conception (again, FAM works either way), we should give it a chance if hormonal birth control is taking its toll on our mental and physical health, as it does for so many women.
Taking Back Your Body
There’s an additional benefit to starting fertility awareness, one you won’t find with a four-week pack of pills. Before beginning fertility awareness, all I knew about my own body is what I had been told by doctors or what I had read in textbooks. Ending my toxic relationship with the pill was terrifying at first, given I had relied on it for so long.
But once I settled into fertility awareness, along with doing plenty of research and finding a holistic doctor and looking realistically at my fitness and dieting habits, the response I got from my own body was overwhelming. I had always assumed, because of my past diagnoses and health problems, that my body just wouldn’t work in the conventional sense without the birth control to ‘fix” it. But it did. Not only did my body respond positively, with an actual observable menstrual cycle, but my mental health did too.
Giving myself up to hormonal birth control for so many years felt like a daily sacrifice in body and mind. Now, I’m free to listen to what my body is telling me, and I’m not afraid of what it’s saying.
Getting to know my own body, recognizing its signs and signals as well as acknowledging everything it has done for me and the things it will eventually do for me as I age, has been more empowering than I ever could’ve imagined. Now, when I go into a doctor’s office, I’m armed with knowledge about the inner workings of my reproductive health, and I feel more comfortable in my own skin because of it. Giving myself up to hormonal birth control for so many years felt like a daily sacrifice in body and mind. Now, I’m free to listen to what my body is telling me. and I’m not afraid of what it’s saying.
Resources I Recommend for Beginning FAM:
The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles & Optimize Your Fertility, by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack
Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler
Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods, by Lara Briden, ND
Find a Teacher for a Specific Method:
Creighton Model (tracks cervical mucus)
Billings Ovulation Method (tracks sensations)
Sympto-Thermal Method (tracks mucus and BBT)
Marquette Method (tracks hormones through at-home urine tests)
Looking at fertility awareness from a distance can make it look like a daunting, intimidating task. Should you choose to undertake it, I recommend several things: starting small and asking for help when you need it.
There’s no denying that since its inception, the pill has been marketed to helped millions of women with acne, painful periods, irregular cycles, and hosts of other health problems. But we’ve been dissuaded from exploring options outside of the pill, thus increasing our reliance on it. But there are other options, and tons of communities of women who’ve made the decision to choose empowerment, not artificiality. As we’re only now beginning to explore the many issues surrounding hormonal birth control culture, fertility awareness can offer a simple, freeing solution to those problems.