The Rhythm Method vs. the Fertility Awareness Method (THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING)

I’ve spent the past four days reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility, a book by Toni Weschler about the Fertility Awareness Method of birth control. I’ve been off birth control for eight days now, and have been charting my temperatures and cervical fluid each day.

In my reading and discussing my decision with people, I’ve realized that what I’ve always known as “Natural Family Planning”, a lot of people confuse with “The Rhythm Method”, something I vaguely remember my health teacher mentioning in this context: “A lot of people use this method of counting back from their periods but it DOESN’T WORK because EVERY WOMAN IS DIFFERENT and DON’T USE IT.” I’ve caught a little bit of flak and a little bit of concern from friends and strangers alike who don’t realize there’s a difference.

I’m going to say this in all caps so if you were confused, you won’t be anymore because CAPS mean IMPORTANT (and also yelling):

THE FERTILITY AWARENESS METHOD IS NOT THE RHYTHM METHOD.

It’s not even technically Natural Family Planning, although they are almost identical save for FAM allows use of a barrier during your fertile period.

What the Rhythm Method is:

The Rhythm Method “works” by counting backward from your period to predict when you will ovulate during your next cycle. You abstain from sex during this predicted ovulatory phase.

Why the Rhythm method is faulty:

The Rhythm Method assumes consistency from cycle to cycle. However, even women that have a typically consistent cycle can still have delayed ovulation due to stress and other factors. The Rhythm Method is based on assumptions and previous observations, not what is currently going on in your body. There is also no charting aside from keeping track of when your periods start.

What the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) is:

FAM uses consistent observation and charting of three ovulation indicators to tell when in your cycle you are ovulating, close to ovulating, or finished ovulating. By tracking 1) your basal (waking) body temperature, 2) your cervical fluids, and 3) your cervical position, FAM tells you what is currently happening in your body.

This is the part where I rave about FAM for a while:

The thing about FAM is that it takes very little time (I take my temperature in the morning when I used to take my pill, I check my cervical fluid when I go to the bathroom, and I check my cervical position when I take a shower) but from just monitoring these few signs, you gain SO MUCH INFORMATION about what’s happening in your body. You can tell when you’re going to get your period, within a day. You can know whether or not you actually ovulated, or if your body only prepared for ovulation but delayed it. You have a much better awareness of potential gynecological problems, and if you need to talk to a doctor, you can go in informed rather than blind.

I’m barely scratching the surface here, but the point is, I am amazed they don’t teach this stuff in high school. Obviously it wouldn’t be smart to present it as birth control, but I think it’s unfair to deny women the right to know how to interpret the changes in their bodies. I mean, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of how the menstrual cycle worked, but I learned stuff I didn’t know by reading this book.

Heck, I learned how the pill works by recognizing the hormones it uses and their place in the menstrual cycle.

I’m excited to see how my first fully-charted cycle goes. They say that when you first come off the pill, your cycles may be a little wonky for a while, but I was only on the pill for not even a full three months after being off it for over a year, so who knows. I’m really trying to resist the urge to force all of my girlfriends to chart with me so we can compare each other’s charts*. (I have already sort of done this to my friend Megan but SHE IS USED TO ME FORCING MY OBSESSIONS ON HER. I love you, Megan.) For the time being, I’m sating my desire to look at other people’s charts by looking at charts posted on the author’s website.

If you are a woman, I HIGHLY recommend you give FAM a look-see, even if you have no desire to use it as birth control or to get pregnant (which I didn’t talk about here, but it works just as well for getting pregnant as it does for avoiding it), simply because there are so many benefits to be gained just by knowing how your body’s a-tickin’.

If nothing else, I hope you’ve got a little clearer view of the difference between FAM and the Rhythm Method.

*That being said, if FAM piques your interest at all and you’d be willing to chart with me and compare and contrast charts, LET ME KNOW I am in my highly obsessive phase of learning something new™ and I would love someone to obsess with. 🙂

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I Do Not Want to be On The Pill Anymore.

When you take your pill
it’s like a mine disaster.
I think of all the people
lost inside of you.

~”The Pill vs. The Springhill Mine Disaster”, by Richard Brautigan

I recently finished reading Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet, and one of the chapters recommends creating a daily “moment of truth”.

Officially, I’m still struggling with Menu Item #1 (Do nothing for fifteen minutes every day), so I technically shouldn’t “advance” to any of the following menu items until that is habitual. However, I’ve read the entire book, so I know the concept of a “moment of truth”.

Today during yoga, I had one. Big time.

I’ve been back to yoga officially for eleven days now. I didn’t go on Sunday, but out of those eleven days I’ve taken ten classes. When I went back last time, I was already able to do the whole class all the way through ten classes in. I was already well on my way to fine-tuning postures, getting back in the rhythm of class, fighting the negative self-talk that makes me want to sit down rather than push forward.

I’m not there right now. Not by a long shot. And I’ve been trying to figure out what the difference is. After eleven days, can it really be that I let myself stagnate for three months?

The last time I went back, I was in such great head space in class. I found old habits and old thoughts creeping in, but I recognized them for what they were (old) and dismissed them, pushing forward. I have NEVER had a blissful and more powerful run of yoga than those sixty days I went back at the end of 2010. So where’s the disconnect?

About three days ago it hit me: The last time I went back to yoga, I had not been on the pill in at least a year. It was the ONLY time I have gone to yoga while not simultaneously being on hormone-induced birth control. I started back on the pill a couple months before I went back to yoga, and now, my foggy head space, my struggles with postures, with self-esteem, with stamina, with balance…it’s all back. As if it never left. As if I never had those sixty incredible days of the Best Yoga Ever.

Since realizing that, I’ve been trying to get back to that head space from the end of last year and all that comes back is my bad habits. Today, halfway through the standing series, this thought hit me, and hit me hard:

“I do not want to be on the pill anymore.”

That phrase lodged itself in my head and refused to leave the entire rest of class. In fact, it became difficult to focus during class, mis-hearing dialogue and moving on to postures we weren’t on, or coming out early not because of fatigue but because I genuinely thought the teacher had told us to come out, and found with surprise everyone else still in the posture, the dialogue still rattling away. Because the one thing in the forefront of my mind was, “I do not want to be on the pill anymore.”

To be honest, it makes sense. I hate medication, I hate that our society is so dependent on it and how over-prescribed it is. When I have a cold, I won’t go to the doctor for antibiotics, I’ll eat raw garlic instead, because I don’t want my body becoming a breeding ground for super-colds. When I have a headache, I won’t take any sort of pain killer, because I’d rather be present with the pain of the headache than in the dull haze of medication. I won’t drink coffee in the morning because I don’t like the idea of being dependent on the stuff to wake up.

Hell, I don’t even use tampons because I don’t want to stick bleach in me every month. (I use a Diva Cup instead.)

So why the hell would I consume a pill on a daily basis that tells my body its hormonal state is different than what it’s supposed to be?

The truth is, there are alternatives to this sort of birth control. And I’m not talking about the patch or the ring or any other sort of implant that feeds your body these hormonal lies.

I’ve known about the concept of Natural Family Planning since high school. I went to Catholic high school (where apparently, we learned more about our bodies and birth control options than my public school counterparts, I’m finding out). We were required to take a religion class every semester. I’m not religious in the strictest sense of the word. I’m not Catholic by any means. But a good chunk of my freshman-year religion class covered pregnancy, abortion, and Natural Family Planning.

Natural Family Planning is also known as “Symptothermal Planning”. Basically, it’s a way of charting your body’s menstrual cycle, basal temperature, and (there’s no way to make this not sound icky) mucus consistency to know when you’re ovulating. It’s approved by the Catholic church because it doesn’t require any artificial birth control, therefore it’s in line with “God’s natural plan” since you’re not running around inhibiting the ability to create life.

Listen. I’m not anti-birth control. There’s a good chance I’ll still use condoms on the charted “abstinence days”. That’s not why I am choosing to go with this method. I’m choosing it because I am beginning to question my personal morals about creating a hormonal imbalance for the sake of getting laid. I feel lucky that I got taught this method in high school, because it came as a great relief to know right off the bat that there IS a method of birth control that does not require ingesting or altering ANYTHING.

It’s also way cheaper than the pill. And as an added bonus, it forces you to become more aware of your body and what’s going on inside of it. Hopefully it will improve my yoga practice as well. I’m okay with all of the above.

So I did a whole bunch of research this morning after class, and I feel that I’m armed with sufficient information to move forward with this. I’ll keep you posted.