Fertility charting is something every woman should learn how to do. But like learning anything new, there are challenges to overcome. Many women who begin charting aren’t just learning a new fertility awareness based method (FABM), they are also learning all sorts of facts about how the monthly cycles work.
Whether you’re new to charting or a couple years in, if you have encountered some hiccups along the way, don’t worry! You’re not alone. We all tend to make the same common mistakes when we first learn to use FABMs. Below, real women share the challenges they encountered when charting their cycles and how they eventually overcame them.
01. We simply forget to keep track of the details.
It may seem obvious, but this is one of the most common responses from FABM users. After I carefully charted a few cycles, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect from my body each month. I stopped writing things down. I thought I could keep track of anything that stood out in my head. But I quickly learned that led to not keeping track at all, and when I picked charting up again, there was no way to tell if my cycle was on track or not—not very helpful for a young couple trying to learn about my fertility in the months leading up to our marriage.
I wasn’t the only one; Caroline shared with me some trouble she ran into when she didn’t record all of her symptoms. “I had the same thing on my chart almost every day, but the consistency varied, which I noticed but didn't always mark down.” When she checked in with her doctor, he explained that recording those inconsistencies was actually very important. “That ended up being key to being able to tell when my peak time was, and marking it on my chart meant my doctor could see the evidence too,” she explained.
Liz agreed: “I was using an app to record temperature and symptoms and if I wasn’t sure how to interpret something for the day, I would just leave it blank instead of giving my best guess. This didn’t end up being helpful in the long run because I would look back over the month and see a lot of blanks!”
Pro tip: Make a routine out of it! Put your chart under your pillow so you see it at bedtime. Or, if you use a fertility tracking app, set an alarm to remind yourself to record your symptoms every night.
02. We assume that some rules matter more than others.
If you’re trying to avoid or achieve pregnancy, the line between fertile and infertile is very fine. It can be tempting to forget some of the guidelines that accompany a fertility awareness based method—but you shouldn’t. The high success rates for fertility awareness methods depends on learning the system as a whole, not just learning your symptoms.
Verily contributor Claire McArthur shared that following her charting method “loosely” resulted in her first pregnancy. After her daughter was born, she relearned her Symptothermal method and followed it more strictly. Through her second training, she even learned some charting rules she hadn’t been taught before. She and her husband learned about a "20-day rule" from their doctor, which involves counting days earlier in your cycle when you may not have any ovulation symptoms, but you could still be fertile.
Your fertility isn't black and white; irregularities differ from method to method and from woman to woman. So giving yourself time and patience to learn all the ins and outs of charting is essential to success.
Pro tip: There is a ton of new information to take in about a FABM and your body—don’t expect to master them all in the first few months. If you are trying to avoid or achieve pregnancy, make sure you have a complete understanding of your method. Claire advises, “My biggest piece of advice to someone learning to use FABMs for the first time would be to do your research thoroughly, read up on all of the different methods, compare and contrast them, and choose which one (or a combination) you'll use.”
03. We try to do it alone.
Your fertility may be a private matter, but learning about FABMs shouldn't be. If you’re engaged or married, consider including your fiancé or husband in the learning process. While preparing for marriage and beginning to chart, I found that the more my fiancé learned with me, the more supportive he was. He helped hold me accountable for filling out my chart each night. Julia agrees, “[My husband] charts for me at the end of the day and attends our follow up sessions with our fertility care specialist. This has helped him become more familiar with the method, be able to read my chart accurately, and ultimately has helped us be on the same page.”
Thankfully, there is an increasing number of support groups for women learning and using various FABMs. My husband and I are learning the Creighton Method, so I joined a Facebook group committed to supporting women using the same method. These groups exist for several other FABMs. Whether they used FABMs themselves or were simply interested in learning more, the conversations normalized the topic (it definitely feels awkward at the beginning!). Talking about fertility and natural family planning methods shouldn’t feel taboo—we need more of it!
And, of course, talk to a certified expert. “My husband and I consistently meet with a fertility care specialist, who has helped me greatly understand the Creighton model and also has kept me accountable in creating a habit of charting,” Julia told me. “Being in touch with an expert who is properly trained (in an ideal world, a medical fertility doctor or nurse who is well-versed in FABMs—though these are hard to come by) is also very important. You'll want to show your charts to a trusted expert each month to check whether you're interpreting all your body's signs correctly,” Claire adds.
Pro tip: The more we talk about charting, the more all women can benefit from it regardless of her background. Your doctor may be able to refer a support group, or you can join one online. Ask your girlfriends about charting, whether or not they're trying to conceive.
04. We don’t start charting until we’re planning a family.
Julia learned about FABMs while preparing for marriage. “It didn’t take long before I was convinced that this was the best for our marriage, my body, and for our future,” she shared. But that doesn’t mean you should wait until you’re engaged to start charting your cycle—being single is actually the best time to start charting. Avoiding and achieving pregnancy are not the only benefits to learning a FABM; your charts can tell you and your doctor if you have a hormone imbalance.
Julia told me, “I always tell my single friends to learn about your body and start tracking your cycles now.” Claire agrees that you should start charting while you’re single: “If you're learning while having sex, there's a whole lot more room for error, so you need to be pretty open to getting pregnant if that's the case.”
Pro tip: Practice makes perfect, so why not start now?
Photo Credit: Elissa Voss Photography