We don’t usually stop to think about all the things our bodies do for us at any given moment. Our hearts run off of an electric stimulus created by the sinoatrial (SA) node that pumps blood throughout our bodies. Our digestion systems work hard to break down and deliver nutrients to various parts of the body that need it. Our brains, processing powerhouses, burn nearly 300 calories a day just to sort out and transmit information that helps us drive a car, have a conversation, or read a book.
I’ve been charting my cycles using a Fertility Awareness-Based Method (FABM) for nearly ten years. In those years, I have found a new appreciation for what my body can do and does for me on a daily basis, even when I feel like my body is failing me.
Wellness has become a very appealing and trendy topic. Eat this, use this skin care regimen, join this workout, and you, too, can enjoy “wellness.” I’m not dismissing a well-rounded diet, basic hygiene, and daily movement, but for me, fertility awareness methods have taught me to love and appreciate my body no matter how it measures against other bodies or ideals.
My first (less than planned) pregnancy...
I am lucky that I only spent a year or so on hormonal contraceptives in my early twenties. That means it’s hard for me to imagine my reproductive health and adult relationship with my body and intimacy without fertility awareness. But my hormonal journey has been anything but stagnant. Different chapters have brought many different challenges and opportunities for growth. I had been charting for a couple of years when I got pregnant with my daughter at 24; I was stunned and shocked. Yes, I had chosen to have relations with my husband on a day that was considered “potentially fertile,” but like running a red light, I didn’t think I would get caught.
There’s a Spanish proverb that says babies come with a loaf of bread under their arm. The idea is that a babies are a blessing and bring their own abundance. In my experience, this proved to be true. After some first trimester woes, for the first time since moving to New York, the concrete cosmos shifted in my favor.
What followed were some very happy years. I began to transition my professional life from film (what I had studied in school) to providing fertility awareness education. I even started the four-year journey to become board certified in lactation consulting. Along the way, fertility awareness taught me not just to trust my body, but to trust my skills and journey as well.
While I was breastfeeding postpartum, I switched my fertility awareness method from Sympto-Thermal to Marquette. Different methods track different biomarkers, but all modern FABMs use real-time observations to determine the fertility status of each day. I assumed that since my daughter was conceived so easily that I needed to continue fastidious charting and to diligently follow the method. Eventually, my husband and I opened up the discussion on having a second baby. We didn’t want to rush into anything, but we thought loosening up the rules couldn’t hurt.
Infertility . . . me?
After a year of what they call “not trying, not preventing” pregnancy, I was surprised to come up empty-handed. We spent a second year trying, but this time, intentionally using my cycle charts to try to conceive. During this year, I had two miscarriages and one chemical pregnancy (a very early miscarriage). We were in the process of moving out of the city and there were a lot of transitions happening, but I knew that something was off in my hormones.
We made our big move to a suburb in New Jersey, and I told my husband that at the start of the new year (which happened to be the now infamous 2020) I wanted to look into fertility treatments. Even though my cycles were picture perfect on paper, there had to be something else going on. I found a NaProTechnology-specialized doctor, went on some crazy elimination diet, and under the guidance of my doctor, added some supplements and vitamins to my daily regimen. To my utter surprise, I conceived on the very first cycle we tried with NaPro protocols—at the outset of a global pandemic.
I am writing this at the end of my pregnancy, 39 weeks to be exact, and I’m reflecting back on how fertility awareness has been a continual gift in my marriage and relationship with my body. My body isn’t perfect. I discovered in my most recent fertility endeavors that I have mild PCOS and a few other quirks. I can give you a laundry list of the ways my body’s appearance doesn’t measure up to the world’s standards—the ways I’ve aged, the greys and wrinkles, my big and awkward nose, that one tooth that managed to turn against the others because I never wore my retainer during two rounds of braces in my teen years. But my body has also done a lot of really amazing things for me. It has grown and fed babies. It allows me to move throughout my day and enjoy food and watch a TV show or read a good book.
Body acceptance is about more than the body
Fertility Awareness has taught me grace and gentleness to my body. When I was struggling with infertility those two years, I made myself crazy. I felt like everything I ate was making it worse. There must be a magic vitamin. Or some juice cleanse.
After meeting with my NaPro doctor, it was deduced that I actually had probably been doing a pretty good job all along managing my PCOS symptoms, which is why it had gone undiagnosed for so long. I wasn’t eating any radical diet other than focusing on fiber, fresh, and in season. (But I left plenty of room for the occasional indulgence.) I exercised reasonably often and walked a lot of places. I slept (usually) eight hours a night and focused on hydration throughout the day.
Self-care is supposed to be just that: care. But, sometimes, the message of self-care gets distorted in a hustling world where everything becomes a commodity. It can become an accusation we hurl at ourselves: “If I took better care of myself . . .” The gift of really understanding what my body is doing is that I trust my body was doing its best, and like me, it is not a machine, and it’s not perfect. But that’s okay.
Fertility awareness as an imperfect gift
By charting my cycles, I can see these imperfections in fluctuations on my charts, but they aren’t “unsolved mysteries,” and in fact, they no longer feel like glaring problems to be solved. I feel comforted knowing that my body is churning along, living and breathing and basking in the beauty that is life, which can be chaotic some days and seamless on others. It’s actually very similar to my mental health. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it can be a work in progress and I can work in cooperation with my body at its own pace, without trying to control everything.
Since FABM has been such a part of my life with my husband, we’ve been able to talk openly about all of the various stages we’ve gone through. It has allowed him to appreciate what my body does on a monthly basis (when cycling naturally) and through each pregnancy and postpartum period. There aren’t any taboo topics in our household, and fertility, bleeding, cycles, and, well, health are open topics for discussing and understanding.
It’s a joy to watch my daughter, and eventually my son, grow and know that I can pass this gift on to them. Fertility education is not just about making (or not making) babies—it’s about appreciating our bodies and accepting ourselves, even or especially when we feel like our best isn’t enough.