A reflection on the benefits of fertility awareness from
MBC staff member Karen Schultz
I was 25 years old when I made the discovery that my body made cervical mucus. At the time I was a single woman living in a house of seven, and I mentioned to one of my roommates this “strange slippery mucus” that I had noticed while going to the bathroom. My roommate said pointedly, “Oh, that’s your peak-type mucus! You’re probably about to ovulate!”
Peak-type mucus? Ovulate? While I had had eight years of sex education in school, I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Of course, I knew the basics: I knew that I got my period about once each month when the lining of my uterus was shed, and I knew, at least generally speaking, that I had days of fertility and infertility. But beyond those factoids, I realized I knew little about my reproductive health.
Fast-forward a few years. With the prompting of a friend I found myself learning the Creighton Model of Natural Family Planning, also often referred to as a method of “Fertility Awareness”. The Creighton Method is one of a few well-known and well-reputed ways for women and their partners to learn more about their fertility and how to either achieve or avoid pregnancy by charting the woman’s cervical mucus.
Perhaps it should be said before I go any further that Natural Family Planning is not the Rhythm Method. Many use the terms interchangeably, but to do so is grossly inaccurate. The Rhythm Method is an outdated means of tracking fertility that assumes a menstrual cycle of 28 days with ovulation (when an egg is released from an ovary) happening on Day 14. You can see the problem here, right? Many women do not have 28 day cycles (some more, some less) and many women do not ovulate on precisely Day 14. It is easy to see how so many unexpected pregnancies resulted from the Rhythm Method! Natural Family Planning, and specifically the Creighton Model of NFP, uses simple observations of cervical mucus to track fertility: Couples wishing to avoid pregnancy abstain on the days that they notice fertile or “peak-type” mucus, while couples wishing to to achieve pregnancy use those days as their primary days for intercourse. Under the guidance of a trained practitioner and when practiced correctly, the Creighton Model of NFP is over 99% effective in avoiding pregnancy. For couples of normal fertility wishing to conceive, 76% will do so within the first month of charting, and a whopping 98% will conceive by the sixth month. And because the observations are done daily, it doesn’t matter if a woman’s cycle is regular or irregular, or if she is breastfeeding or even pre-menopausal. Each woman learns to recognize the signs of fertility that are unique to her cycle.
But NFP isn’t just for couples. I am a single woman who charts regularly because I find that it is a great way for me to stay in tune with my body’s rhythm. I often notice that certain medications can affect my fertility, along with varying levels of sleep, exercise, diet, and the daily stressors of life. Charting is a beautiful window into my overall health and wellness. It reminds me to take good care of myself so that I can take good care of my fertility. I love charting. I really, really do.
I often reflect on that naive 25-year-old version of myself and wonder, “How could she have not known such important wisdom about herself?” Thus, my mission: That every woman be empowered to understand the beautiful logic woven into her fertility. Because like birth, breastfeeding, and a host of other facets of a woman’s life, “empowering” is exactly what NFP is meant to be.
Karen Schultz is an MBC Staff Member and Certified Birth Doula and Lactation Educator Counselor, in addition to teaching the Creighton Model of Natural Family Planning to women and couples. Beginning in November 2015, Karen will offer introductory sessions in NFP at Minnesota Birth Center for those wanting to learn more. Email her for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.