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"The essence of bravery is being without self-deception."
-Pema Chodron

Fertility Awareness: A Fountain... PDF Print E-mail
Fertility Awareness:
A Fountain of Feminine Wisdom

By Caitlin McMurtry

Does ovulation occur on day 14? Can you get pregnant while on your period? What is that clear stretchy stuff you see sometimes? Can you get pregnant every day of your cycle? How can you know if youíre about to ovulate? Is there a natural method of birth control that actually works?

Somewhere between high school biology, a visit to the gynecologist, and the occasional internet search, most of us have woven together a patchy understanding of how our cycles and fertility actually work.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of women are never given the key to unlocking the answers to the above questions.  Iím writing to tell you that the key is already in your hand.  In fact, it exists every day inside you, waiting for you to look for it, turn it, and discover an entire world of knowing.

The key is Fertility Awareness, also known as the Fertility Awareness Method, or FAM.

I discovered this practice when I was 25, ignorant and scared of my female body and its workings.  Inside, I was still a young girl who had never been taught and mentored with care about all the things my body did and why, other than the basics about period products and conventional birth control.  Fertility Awareness sparked a flame deep within the unlit chambers of my womanhood; it was the torch that cast light on the cave walls so to speak, so I could seeófor the first time in my lifeóthe beautiful paintings that had been there all along.

Through Fertility Awareness, I became a woman.  I didnít fear my cycles because I understood them in rich detail.  My body spoke to me and its language was not one of randomness and mystery, but one of rhyme and reason.  Suddenly I was the one I looked to for expert advice about my body.  The self-respect and inner power I gained from this knowledge rocked me to my core.  I cared immensely about sharing it with other women and  decided to train to be a teacher.  For two years I studied intensely with Sarah Blyís Grace of the Moon Teacher Training Program, and I recently graduated as a Certified Fertility Awareness Educator.  I have used FAM for five years, and itís an incredibly valuable, intimate, and precious part of my life.  Iím so excited to introduce you to this empowering practice.

So what exactly is FAM?  Itís a simple daily practice that enables you to know the days when you are fertile and not fertile during each cycle by looking at physical evidence from your own body.  Throughout the cycle, hormonal changes create physical effects, known as fertility signs.  FAM relies on daily observation and charting of the three primary fertility signs: waking temperature, cervical fluid, and, optionally, cervix changes.  Checking your fertility signs from the outside of your body informs you of what your hormones are doing on the inside of your body.  By tracking the changes in your fertility signs, you can know each and every day if you are fertile or not fertile, putting the power to avoid or invite a pregnancy directly in your hands.  Your cycles are no longer mysterious but clear as day: youíll know when youíre ovulating, why you have different types of secretions, how healthy your hormones are, and even the day your next menses will start.  

A common misconception is that FAM is difficult and time-consuming, but I guarantee that once you learn it, it becomes as easy as tying your shoes.  Checking all the signs and recording them on a chart takes less than five minutes per day.  This small time investment yields huge benefits, such as avoiding pregnancy without devices or hormones and having an in-depth look at your gynecological health.  What other activity gives you all that in mere minutes?  (Try spending under five minutes on Facebook.  I guarantee the benefits are not as great!)  Learning FAM does require an initial investment, such as a class series with a teacher, in person or online.  You need about three months of charting to learn the unique language of your fertility signs and confirm with your teacher that youíre on track and ready to use the method, or three to six months if youíve recently stopped a hormonal method of birth control.

At its heart, FAM is a self-care practice that you do every day, like brushing and flossing your teeth. It necessitates an investment of time, energy, and money.  Once you know it, however, the knowledge lasts your whole life.  No matter what age you are or where you are at in your fertile years, charting your cycles has wide-reaching benefits.  Maybe youíre coming off of hormonal birth control and want to see how quickly your cycles return to normal.  Perhaps youíre breastfeeding and looking for a natural way to avoid pregnancy and synthetic hormones going to your baby.  Or maybe youíre in perimenopause and want to get a firm grasp on the fluctuations in your cycles. If you want to understand your cycle in full, illustrious detail and reclaim your reproductive and sexual well-being, FAM is your girl.

Isnít it incredible that we have access to such a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge literally at our fingertips every day?  Itís also incredible that we arenít taught this essential information from a young age.  Sadly, widespread and persistent confusion with the ineffective Rhythm Method has kept FAM out of the mainstream and estranged from the medical community. Both are often thought of as the same thing, but theyíre more like distant cousins.  The Rhythm Method relies on calculation to try to predict when your fertile phase will occur; FAM relies on observation of physical signs to tell you for a fact whether any given day is fertile or not.  Thereís no predicting, guessing, or cycle lengths to consider which means that even those with irregular cycles can use FAM.  As a method of contraception, Rhythm is about 75% effective with typical use and 90% effective with perfect use1; FAM, when learned from a qualified teacher and practiced correctly, is 98.2% effective with typical use and 99.6% effective with perfect use.2

Of course, FAM is also effective for conception, too.  Studies have shown that people who learn to observe fertility signs  conceive more quickly than people who havenít learned.  Furthermore, FAM often helps people avoid expensive and uncomfortable infertility tests and treatments by identifying specific issues that can be seen on a FAM chart.

Becoming a skilled practitioner of FAM takes some time, and only when youíve had solid training can you expect to see the benefits Iíve discussed.  After reading this, you might want to run out and buy a thermometer and start checking for cervical fluid, but itís not that easy, nor is it safe to attempt to use FAM after glancing through a few internet articles or downloading a fertility app (beware Ė most apps are basically just the Rhythm Method).  Instead, I warmly invite you to personally learn FAM with me.  I offer private instruction as well as fun, interactive group classes that include all the information and materials you need to start charting.  I welcome menstruating people of all ages and stages of life regardless of relationship status, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or lifestyle.

My next class will be a 3-part series beginning in late January.  I would be thrilled and honored to have you join me.  As the new year begins, I hope youíll consider a commitment to personal empowerment, life-changing cycle understanding, and fearless embodiment of your fertile self.

Born and raised in Mendocino County, I always knew I wanted to work with womenís health in some capacity and found my calling with Fertility Awareness. I am a recent graduate of the Grace of the Moon Teacher Training Program run by Sarah Bly in Ashland, Oregon, and a member of the Association of Fertility Awareness Professionals. My approach to fertility is detailed and personalized, taking in to account all the pieces that make up the whole woman and her cycles, from emotional well-being to nutrition. I offer private consultations for those who already use FAM, or for general holistic reproductive health consulting. Iím on the web at www.enlightened-cycle.com. See my ad on page 15 of this issue.

1. Hatcher, Robert A, et al. Contraceptive Technology. 18th ed. New York: Ardent Media, 2004. Print.
2. Frank-Hermann, Petra, et al. ďThe effectiveness of a fertility awareness based method to avoid pregnancy in relation to a coupleís sexual behaviour during the fertile time: a prospective longitudinal study.Ē Human Reproduction 22.5 (2007): 1310 Ė 1319. Print

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