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I'm the third of four healthy children. I grew up assuming that my parents had no issues starting our family. I've only recently learned there's much more to understanding the role of a woman's fertility in family planning than our culture lets on.

Fertility awareness methods often get a bad rap—they aren't taught in med schools and myths surround their effectiveness rates. But I'm here to tell you that fertility awareness should be part of everyone's education and, yes, it's effective. I'm living proof.

Through their twenty-eight years of marriage, my parents, Lora and Peter Brodeur, have used fertility awareness methods to successfully achieve and avoid pregnancy. Together, they've been teaching the Sympto-Thermal Method (STM) of fertility awareness for more than sixteen years. STM users determine their fertile and infertile days each month by learning how to identify and chart their basal body temperaturecervical mucus, and making cervical observations (although that's optional).

Their experience and wisdom has earned them valuable insights about regulating and planning a family naturally, without the use of artificial birth control.

01. Fertility awareness methods aren’t one size fits all.

Lora & Peter: Natural family planning is a term for the scientific and natural methods used to help married couples either achieve or postpone pregnancies. It is basic fertility awareness. Thus, the term Fertility Awareness Based Methods (or FABMs), under which falls more specific methods such as the Sympto-Thermal Method, the Billings Ovulation Method (developed since the 1960s), and the Creighton Model (developed since the 1970s). It's important to differentiate these from the Rhythm Method (developed in the 1930s), which was the initial understanding of fertility awareness. Modern FABMs are not the Rhythm Method.

02. Their rate of effectiveness is surprisingly high.

Lora: When we got married, we were 30 and 31. We were very ready to start our family. At that time, we were very open to having children and we really didn’t think too much about “planning" if and when to have them. Our first child was a honeymoon baby in the truest sense of the word, and our second child was born eighteen months later. Although we were very happy, I started to experience what I like to call the “fear factor." I wasn’t feeling prepared—physically or emotionally—for having a really large family.

I became quickly aware of two things: I didn't have a good understanding of my own fertility and I didn't realize how exhausted I was going to be at the end of the day, by choosing to become a stay-at-home mom. It was at this point that we took a basic fertility awareness class. To say that we experienced an “aha” moment is an understatement. Research in Europe's leading reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction finds that the STM of family planning is as effective as the contraceptive pill (approximately 98% effective for avoiding pregnancy).

03. Our own Fertility is an unknown to many of us.

LoraWe were educated—both with masters' degrees—but we learned, very quickly that we really didn’t know or understand much about my/our fertility. After suffering a miscarriage (four years after we got married), we were blessed with two more children. By this time, we had a much better understanding of my fertility. We were able to use that knowledge through charting to achieve that next pregnancy.

Shortly after the birth of our third child (that's me!), we were faced with my diagnosis of Hodgkins Lymphoma—a cancer of the lymphatic system—and the fear-factor returned. This time, though, it was a fear that we might not be able to have any more children, which we so desired to have.

04. Charting can help you—and your doctor.

Lora & Peter: Through charting, a woman becomes incredibly tuned-in to what her body is doing and what her fertility cycle looks like each month. A couple we taught who had been charting for years contacted us with a concern because things "just didn't look right." We met with them and agreed that she should meet with her doctor, which she did. As it turned out, she had a cyst on her ovary that needed to be removed. Once that was taken care of, her cycle returned to what it had been doing prior to that interruption. The charting helped her and her doctor identify a problem probably earlier than had she not been so in touch with her fertility.

Every woman has a fertility cycle. But that fertility cycle is going to be different for every woman. Additionally, for any particular woman, her cycle can be different from month to month. This is where charting is very beneficial — if not critical. We strongly encourage all women to learn all that they can about charting their fertility cycle. It takes a commitment initially, but with practice will reap benefits for her lifetime.

Photo Credit: Horace and Mae