A few people commented that it was interesting that I knew my date of ovulation, or was aware enough of my cycle to know to take a pregnancy test at scarcely 4 weeks along. I've also heard over and over that "Natural Family Planning" only works "sometimes" or isn't very reliable.
So today I'm here to set the record straight.
Myths about the Fertility Awareness Method / Natural Family Planning
FAM/NFP is based on your past cycles, so if your cycles vary from month to month, or if you have cycles that are longer/shorter than 28 days, it won't work.
I think a lot of people have heard of the old fashioned "rhythm method" which involves counting days from the beginning of your last period, and then making assumptions about when you'll ovulate. FAM does no such thing. FAM relies on observing (and then writing down) your fertility signs in this cycle, and determining on a day-to-day basis whether you are fertile or not. So your cycle can be different every single month and FAM will still work for you.
FAM/NFP fails a lot as birth control
Only if you are intimate on days you are fertile. There are two ways to practice NFP--one is to determine potentially fertile days and then abstain on those days--this always works. The other option is to determine the fertile days and then use condoms or something of that nature on those days--this has the same failure rate as the condom or other method.
Is is a lot more effort than something simple like the pill or just using condoms
I happen to really like using NFP for my family planning, because it means that if we change our minds one way or the other, we can switch from 'preventing' to 'trying' (or visa versa) on a moments notice. No devices to remove, no waiting for hormones to clear out of my system, nothing. I find it superior to long-term use of condoms because, let's be honest, who likes using condoms all the time? With NFP I know whether or not I'm fertile, and the rest of the time we don't have to worry about using 'protection.' Also, NFP has absolutely no side effects: no weight gain, no mood swings, nada.
Charting is a big hassle and takes a lot of time
I put in around 2 minutes a day. It's faster than my morning shower or brushing my teeth, and I don't know anyone who says that those are too much of a hassle!
There is no point in charting unless you are specifically trying to get pregnant/avoid pregnancy
I have found it enormously helpful even in months where I didn't care if I got pregnant or not. I happen to have irregular cycles--they might be 26 days or they might be 36. Usually it's somewhere in the middle, but it is different every month. But when you start charting you'll learn a secret: the follicular stage (between your period and when you ovulate) can be of a different length, but your luteal phase (from ovulation until the next menstruation) will always be the same. SO, if I know which day I ovulated, then I know precisely which day to expect my period. Every month. For someone who HATES to be caught off guard by good old aunt flow, this is awesome and oh so empowering.
I can't chart because I wake up in the night (baby, bathroom, etc), or I work a night/swing shift
This one is somewhat true. In order for a temperature to be accurate for charting purposes, you should have completed 3 or more hours of sleep prior to taking your temperature. If you often wake at 3am though, it's ok to take your temp then. If you sleeping during the day and wake at 5pm, you can take your temp then. The point is not so much about what time it is, as it is about being consistent. If you are often consistent, but just have occasional off days (sleeping in on a holiday, or when a child is sick for example) then you can just skip temping on that one day, and use the overall pattern of the rest of the days.
My 2yo Bear is still waking in the night with some regularity, and that has affected my own sleep patterns of course. So even though I had begun temping, and was able to see somewhat of a pattern, it was a little bumpy. It helped me narrow things down, even though I wasn't always sure quite to the day, I did know within a couple of days.
(if you have other questions/things you've heard, please leave them in the comments and I will add the answers to the post here)
So what are these fertility signals that we charting ladies monitor?
- Take a BBT (basal body temperature) each morning upon awaking. The hormonal surge at ovulation causes a sharp jump in BBT, so on the morning after you ovulate your BBT will show it.
- Observe the cervical fluid (CF) that is excreted over the course of the cycle. During fertile times, the CF increases and has a stringy consistency much like eggwhite--this is because the body is trying to facilitate conception by making the route easier for the sperm.
- Take note of other symptoms such as cramping, breast tenderness, increased/decreased libido (the hormonal shifts affect this--libido usually surges in the most fertile days).
- Some (not all) women take note of their cervical position. This involved sticking a finger in there and feeling your cervix. During fertile times, it gets softer and opens up a bit. (Yes ladies, your body wants to get pregnant each month, even if you don't.)
- For those who are trying to conceive, we also make a mark to indicate which days we "baby danced" or BD. This way when we do get pregnant we're better able to pinpoint the actual day of conception, which is darn handy.
If you think all this fertility awareness stuff is worth looking into, I strongly recommend getting your hands on Toni Weschler's book Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It is the quintessential FAM book. There are others that teach pieces of the method, but this is the most complete one I know of. It has extensive information about using FAM for birth control, pregnancy achievement, and just plain reproductive health and awareness.