I was put on the pill when I was 16 - not because I was sexually active and wanted to prevent pregnancy, but because I experienced horrible cramps during my period. When I went off the pill in college, those horrible cramps came back.
Even though the pill helped with my cramps, I stopped taking it because there were unwanted side effects from using a hormonal contraceptive, which I thought were worse. Personally, I experienced depression when I was taking the pill, but I know that other women experience different problems from their hormonal contraception.
I was able to get rid of my cramps without the pill through diet and lifestyle changes, and with fertility awareness. It took a little longer, but I thought it was well worth feeling mentally like myself again. Plus, I could use fertility awareness to avoid or achieve pregnancy without any side effects once I got married.
If you’re also experiencing unpleasant side effects from your hormonal contraceptive, I want you to know that there are natural methods available - and they work.
Natural methods (aka fertility awareness methods) are often confused with the old “rhythm method.” But in the last 50 years, scientific research has helped doctors understand with great precision how to pinpoint the time of a woman’s ovulation, even if she has irregular cycles. Not only can these natural methods help you avoid pregnancy if needed, they can also provide important information to help you and your doctor understand the cause of - and treatment for! - whatever you need relief from.
When I started looking into these methods, I had no idea where to begin. Between personal experience and taking multiple classes, here’s what I learned:
The Signs of Fertility
Based on scientific research, methods of charting your cycle are designed to help you know with accuracy which days you could get pregnant if you have sex. Charting tracks one or more of the following signs of fertility:
Cervical mucus: Each month, you can feel a sensation that usually lasts for a few days. A yellowish or clear discharge will appear when you wipe yourself with toilet paper. This discharge is a sign that ovulation is near. The texture and appearance of the mucus will change as ovulation approaches.
Body temperature: If you take your temperature every morning for a month, you will see an abrupt elevation of your body’s temperature after a certain point. That’s one sign that ovulation just happened.
Hormonal production: Right around the time of ovulation, your body produces two key hormones: luteinizing hormone and estrogen. These can be detected in your urine with a simple at-home test.
Cervix position: The cervix is positioned high, open and soft around the time of ovulation and it’s positioned low, closed and firm otherwise. With a bit of guidance, you can learn to tell the difference on your own.
Fertility Awareness Methods
Using these signs of fertility, several methods of charting can meet a woman’s specific needs:
Mucus-only methods or ovulation methods: They’re probably the most widely used. They work well for women with a fairly normal production of mucus.
Sympto-thermal method: This method uses two primary signs (mucus and temperature) and one optional sign (position of the cervix). It works well for women who appreciate greater confirmation from using more than one sign. It also works best for women who have a routine schedule, as your temperature should be taken at the same time every day.
Sympto-hormonal method: This method helps you detect the production of key fertility hormones with a simple at-home urine test, with an option to cross check with mucus observation.
Which one is right for you?
If you’d like to try a natural fertility awareness method, but don’t know which to pick, ask yourself some questions like:
Do I want a method that is simple and straightforward, or something that is more involved but gives me more information?
How much am I willing to spend on both instruction and materials to use the method?
Do I need a method that helps me understand any reproductive health problems like irregular or painful periods?
Can I wake up at the same time every day (or without too much variation)?
Do I want to incorporate gadgets and technology?
Do I want my method to be green (i.e. have little waste)?
Natural Womanhood has a great quiz you can take that includes these questions, plus even more.
If you’re fed up with hormonal birth control but don’t know where to turn - don’t worry, you have options! I hope this information is helpful for you to choose the method that is right for your needs and your lifestyle.