Choosing if or how to chart your cycle is a major decision, but the options aren’t part of the typical health class curriculum. Heck, they’re rarely mentioned even at the gynecologist’s office.
The term for observing and tracking one's basal body temperature, cervical mucus, hormone levels, or some combination of these is “fertility awareness based methods,” or FABMs. Dr. Marguerite Duane, family physician and executive director of Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science, says that when women are informed about FABMs, more than sixty percent of them express interest in learning more about it. If you're unfamiliar with FABMs, here's a quick guide on the eight most common ways women chart their fertility cycle and the most accurate FABM apps for charting your cycle.
Few women have just one reason for using what some may call a period tracker, fertility chart, or ovulation calendar. Yet once they start charting, most find even more value in the process than they expected.
So what has us excited about getting to know our body's natural cycles? We heard from different women of different backgrounds in various life stages about why they made the personal and life-changing decision to use modern charting methods in a time when staying off the pill is a rather countercultural choice. Here are a few things they mentioned that made FABMs the right choice for them.
01. My periods were irregular, and I wanted to be empowered with knowledge about my body.
Josemine, Creighton Model — “Charting has helped me and my doctor . . . see features of a polycystic ovarian syndrome, as well as when stress may be particularly influencing my cycles.”
Elizabeth, Kindara App — “I finally discovered the root of all my period issues over the years—PCOS, which no doctor had even mentioned previously. I was always just given hormonal birth control to regulate my periods, which without it only came two to three times a year. I hated taking the hormones, but felt I had no choice until learning FABM and feeling super-empowered finally understanding my body.”
Christina, Creighton Model — “I've been taking [progesterone supplements since I started charting] . . . and it has made a HUGE difference in my PMS symptoms. Also, I know that progesterone deficiency is often the cause of early miscarriage, so I’m glad I got on supplements before I got married.” Editor's note: Charting your cycle enables you and your doctor to investigate a possible hormone imbalance and whether hormone therapy can help.
02. I don’t want to take hormonal birth control.
Maureen, Sympto-Thermal Method — “My mood when I’m off hormonal birth control is so much more regulated! Once I began to experience what it felt like to ovulate, get my period, be pregnant and, unfortunately, miscarry a pregnancy, I realized that my body is really not a mystery.”
Megan, Ovia Fertility Tracker — “I used [FABM] . . . to avoid putting any artificial hormones into my body. This taught me so much about my body . . . and prepared me [to recognize] changes when I went into early labor.”
03. We would like to have a baby.
Elizabeth, Kindara App — "It took us two long years to get pregnant (finally pregnant now and due in March!), but it was worth it to use charting as a means to learn more about my fertility and to finally have some answers. The community of women in Kindara has been amazing, and they have helped me learn a lot. It was they who first suggested talking to my doctor about potential PCOS and helped me through my anxiety of seeing a reproductive endocrinologist."
Jody, ClearBlue Fertility Monitor — “I had an extremely irregular period . . . I didn't want to have my first [child] in 2050, so I figured I should get something that would tell me what was going on! [When trying to get pregnant again] . . . to be honest, with a toddler, I needed to know when I was fertile because we were often too exhausted to have sex just for recreational purposes.”
04. We want to avoid pregnancy.
Sara, Billings Ovulation Method — “I have suffered seven losses in the five years since my wedding day, and I have since come to terms with the fact that my body is not meant to carry any more children. As such, I now rely on [FABM] even more than ever, and the stakes are high. . . . The risk of me not surviving another pregnancy is very real.”
Alana, Billings Ovulation Method — “I stopped using hormonal contraception after I bled for six months straight taking the Depo shot. . . . I’m artistic, not medical—but I figured [the method] out pretty quickly. . . . I’ve had no unexpected pregnancies, and my three children are spaced precisely two years apart.” Editor's note: The Depo shot, short for Depo-Provera, is an alternative method of hormonal birth control that prevents ovulation, and thereby pregnancy, for three months at a time.
05. I’d like us to be a couple that’s engaged in appreciating and caring for our fertility health and family planning.
Jessica, Sympto-Thermal Method — “I'm in touch with exactly what my body is doing and can see signs when things are out of balance. . . . My husband and I communicate almost daily about the fertility decisions we are making together.”
Melinda, Glow Ovulation Calendar App — “I really appreciate that the app also communicates with my husband. Because men don't have such a rhythmic nature, he learned how to understand and respect my cycle in a very concrete way.”
Yvonne, Creighton Model — “It has been a little more challenging to manage times of abstinence versus times of intimacy in marriage than I expected . . . we go out of our way to use each other's love languages to make sure we feel fully loved when physical intimacy is off the table. Needless to say, it has made those times of physical intimacy all the more special.”
If you're interested in learning more about common methods of fertility awareness, seek out a trained instructor rather than relying solely on a book, website, or app. Working with a trained educator or validated training program near you will help you chart correctly and accurately. They can also help you recognize patterns or irregularities that may need further attention. You owe it to yourself to make the most informed decision about how to best care for the natural intricacies of your female body.
Photo Credit: Taylor McCutchan