What’s a FAM and How Do I Get One?

This is a post from the “For Women Only” category. It is about the female reproductive system. You have been warned.

Just over a year ago, I started using the fertility awareness method of birth control, or FAM. My main reason for ditching the birth control pill, which I was previously on, was that I was uncomfortable with the abortient property of the pill. Basically, the pill prevents pregnancy in three ways: by preventing ovulation, by thickening cervical mucus, and by making the lining of the uterus inhospitable to implantation. This third property is called an abortifacient because technically speaking, it causes an abortion (any eggs that manage to get fertilized are not able to implant). Of course, the chances of this are slim because if the pill does it job right, an egg will not be released in the first place. And even if one is released, the sperm should not be able to reach it because of the thickened cervical mucus. The abortifacient is the pill’s last-ditch effort to prevent pregnancy. Still, it made me uncomfortable to use it knowing that there was even the slightest possibility that I was causing an abortion. All hormonal methods of birth control work in generally the same way, so when I found out about this I quickly discovered that hormonal methods were no longer an option for me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I pass no judgment on women who choose to use hormonal birth control methods. In fact, I strive not to pass judgment on women who choose to get abortions either because I understand the fear that may drive some women to terminate their unwanted pregnancies. My place is not to judge, but to love and encourage others. Personally, I hate abortion because I love babies and I believe that life is precious, but it is still not my job to judge others. But anyway, my point of saying this is that my decision to search for another method of birth control was the right decision for me.

Unfortunately, it did not take me long to discover that there are really no non-hormonal methods of birth control that are highly effective. At least, that was how things appeared until I finally stumbled upon FAM. I was shocked to discover that FAM is not only extremely effective, (as effective, if not more effective than condoms) but it requires no medications or uncomfortable devices. Best of all, through learning and using FAM I have gained a new understanding of how my body works. I am so much more comfortable with my body and I feel empowered because for the first time, I am in control of my own reproductive health. So what is FAM exactly?

The Fertility Awareness Method involves learning to be aware of when you are fertile, and abstaining from sexual intercourse during those times. For most women, the period of abstinence would be somewhere around 1/3 of the length of her cycle, perhaps 10 days or so. Now of course, this requirement of periods of abstinence is probably the biggest drawback to FAM, and for some people may be too big of a drawback to make the method worthwhile. On the other hand, many women report that periods of abstinence actually improve their sex lives because it forces them to be more *ahem* creative during their fertile phases, and it builds excitement for when intercourse is once again safe. For me, FAM is well worth the sacrifice.

One benefit of FAM is that barrier methods of birth control, such as condoms, are unnecessary. Then again, some FAM users decide to eliminate the periods of abstinence and just use condoms during the woman’s fertile periods, which is an option. Of course, it is important to recognize that having intercourse during a woman’s fertile period puts the couple at the mercy of the barrier method’s failure rate. For pregnancy-avoiders, it is much safer to abstain during these times. And for couples who want to be extra safe and avoid pregnancy, a barrier method can be used even during the “safe” phases of the woman’s cycle, thus boosting the effectiveness of the method even further. Lastly, for couples in which one person has or may have an STD, it is important to use condoms every time to protect against spreading the infection to the other partner. Obviously, using FAM without a condom will not protect against STDs. This is one reason why FAM is really only appropriate for monogamous relationships.

Now that I’ve explained some of the benefits and basic concepts behind FAM, I’ll explain the method in greater detail. For a FAM user, the most important tools to have are a chart and a thermometer (and a female reproductive system, of course!) This method involves keeping track of fertility signs and using them to understand when you are ovulating. There are two main fertility signs; waking temperature, and cervical fluid. A third optional sign to observe is cervical position. Without describing the biological processes of the menstrual cycle in too much detail (because this could get way too long), I will briefly explain the changes that can be observed in these three fertility signs throughout the cycle.

Waking temperature, or basal body temperature, can be taken with a basal body thermometer every morning and recorded on a chart. At the beginning of the cycle, starting on the first day of menstruation, a woman’s basal body temperature is typically within a low range— somewhere between 97 and 98 degrees, perhaps. A day or two after ovulation, the temperature shifts into a higher range, somewhere between 98 and 99 typically, and remains within that range for the duration of the cycle. When you chart your basal body temperature, you can observe the thermal shift to determine when you have ovulated, and that will allow you to know when you are safe again for intercourse.

Cervical fluid is sometimes called cervical mucus, but I think that “fluid” sounds nicer. Simply put, it is the moist substance that comes out a woman’s vagina throughout the month, and it changes dramatically over the course of the cycle. After the period of bleeding at the beginning of the cycle, cervical fluid is typically absent, or “dry” for a short time (5 days or so). Next, it becomes “sticky” which is sometimes also described as crumbly, flaky, gummy, or rubbery. Then, usually within a few days, it becomes “creamy,” also described as lotiony, watery, or smooth. Finally, it becomes fertile “slippery” cervical fluid, which is either clear or streaked and appears similar to raw eggwhites. Then, it dries up rather quickly and remains dry until the next menstruation. By observing your cervical fluid each day and classifying it as dry, sticky, creamy, or slippery you can know when your body is becoming more fertile and intercourse is no longer safe. For most women, it is safest to abstain from intercourse as soon as sticky cervical fluid appears and until 3 days after the last slippery fluid is observed.

The last fertility sign is cervical position, and is optional to observe. It can corroborate your observations of the other signs by giving you more evidence of when your fertile and infertile phases occur. In the beginning of a cycle, the cervix is typically sitting lower in your vagina (closer to the opening), and it gradually rises higher as you approach your fertile phase. It is also firm and closed in the beginning of the cycle, and becomes much softer and more open as you become more fertile. After ovulation, the cervix typically drops back down quickly and becomes firm and closed once again. A woman can easily observe her cervical position by inserting a finger into her vagina; the cervix is at the end of the canal. Once you start checking your cervix, you will soon learn to gauge its changes throughout the cycle.

Those are the three fertility signs that you can observe to help you know when you are fertile, and thus should abstain from sexual intercourse. Using your observations, you can follow the four FAM rules to avoid pregnancy.

The four FAM rules:

1. The first 5 days rule – You are safe the first 5 days of your cycle if you had a clear temperature shift during your last cycle.

2. The dry day rule – Before you ovulate, you are safe on dry days.

3. The temperature shift rule – You are safe 3 days after your temperature is above the coverline. Draw the coverline 0.1 degrees above the highest of the last six temperatures when your temperature rises at least 0.2 degrees above that temperature.

4. The peak day rule – You are safe 4 days after your peak day, or your last day of wet/slippery cervical fluid.

So there you have it. Those are the basics of the Fertility Awareness Method of birth control. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or use the contact button at the top of the page to send me a message. I am not an expert, but I will do my best to answer your questions. And if you are considering using FAM, please do some more research on your own and make sure that you fully understand how to use it safely. Most of my information came from a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH. I highly recommend it for anybody interested in using FAM.

Sometime in the near future, I am planning on writing a post about my personal experience with FAM after switching from the birth control pill. It literally took me over a year from when I stopped the pill to start having normal cycles again, and I would like to share that experience to hopefully help others who may be in the same boat. But until then, hopefully this post was enlightening and helpful. Thanks for reading!

🙂

 

 

Forever and Ever

Yesterday, my hubby and I were discussing our concerns about the way that most people seem to view marriage. For many people, it seems that relationships in general are considered to be mysterious and unpredictable. In this view, whether or not a marriage will work depends on luck and statistics more than anything else. After all, you can’t control how you feel and you never know if one day you might just fall out of love! And if that happens, then divorce is the best solution, because you deserve to be happy, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong! I mean, yes, everybody has the right to strive for happiness, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But when it comes to love, there is more to it than this. Love doesn’t just exist to make us happy, and it is not something that we should only look for from other people. Love can bring us great happiness, but it can also test us and bring us sorrow. And in any case, the greater gift is not receiving love, but giving it to others.

When it comes to relationships and marriage in particular, love is first and foremost a choice. It is a verb, not a noun. Your relationship doesn’t depend on whether or not you manage to capture and hold on to love— it depends on your ability to give and receive it no matter what else happens in your life. I know that I will never get divorced or separated from my husband, because I choose to love him no matter what. Fortunately, he also promises to do the same. Because of that, I know that not only will we always be together, but we will always be happy together. That is what we choose.

I find it tragic that so many other people settle for less. They chase after romance and the rush of falling in love, and ditch out at the first sign of boredom or commitment. People leave their husbands, wives, or significant others with the excuses of “I just don’t love him/her anymore,” or “we’ve drifted apart,” or “I’m too young/old/rich/poor/ugly/pretty/mature/immature/various-other-excuses to be happy with this commitment.” Relationships are valued for what they can give you, instead of what you can give to them. Possibly even more tragic than the breakups and divorces, though, are the cases in which people stubbornly stay in miserable relationships. They refuse to leave, which can be a good thing, but they also refuse to do something about the situation. The point of a relationship isn’t to make you happy every minute of every day, but neither is it to turn you into a hardened, miserable, joyless person. The point of a relationship is love, to give and to receive, and staying in a relationship that doesn’t involve love is not any better than leaving one. The third, and in my opinion the only suitable option, is to make a change. Unfortunately, that often seems to be the last thought for many people.

I understand it to some degree. I know that change can be hard. In fact, sometimes even wanting to change can be hard. The problem is that people, by themselves, often lack the right attitude and willpower to desire and then follow through with necessary changes. And because of that, things never get better. Eventually, they are bound to fall apart.

While we were talking yesterday, Cory jokingly said that there should be some kind of law to ban divorce except under extenuating circumstances. Then, after thinking about it, he revised his idea to just making it harder to get married. But even this, we realized, would not fix the situation. There is no good way to legally prevent people from getting married or divorced. The problem isn’t with the system, it’s with the people. Thinking about this led me to a conclusion that I find myself coming to quite often, with a plethora of different problems. As usual, the answer is God.

You see, our world has a major problem. The problem is us. I mean, it really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we’ve made a nasty mess out of things on this planet. Trying to think of ways to solve all of our world’s problems usually makes me feel depressed, because I quickly realize that we can’t solve much of anything. We can alleviate, sometimes, but rarely if ever can we actually solve the issues in our world. It’s just the sad truth, the reality of who we are as humans. There will always be evil, greedy, corrupt, violent, apathetic, and heartless people in our world. To be honest, there will always be evil, greedy, corrupt, violent, apathetic, and heartless moments in each of us. For as long as we are human, we will make human errors. There is nothing we can do to change that, and so our problems will never be solved by us.

But God is not us. He is not human. (Despite the fact that Jesus was human, he was also simultaneously God, and honestly this is a topic for a whole separate post so I’m not going to get into it now.) Because God is, well, God, he can solve any and all problems. And one day, He will! Until then, though, we at least have something that can change the whole equation of our human + relationship = fail situation. You see, God provides help for us.

God can change attitudes, provide strength, offer encouragement, and bring hope. He can heal broken relationships, strengthen mediocre ones, and give endurance to great ones. He will do these things for the people who seek his help. God is the secret ingredient that can protect and preserve a marriage forever, if you let him.

When it comes to relationships, I understand and realize that not every one of them is meant to last. Before the commitment to marriage is made, it is fair and understandable to leave a relationship, even a long-term one, for the right reasons. But the key words here are for the right reasons. In my opinion, a relationship should never be entered if you don’t believe that this person could be someone you would one day choose to marry. Dating just for fun may sound good, but there is a difference between dating and being in a relationship. As soon as you give a piece of your heart to someone, and take a piece of theirs, you are in a relationship. That may mean different things for different people, but I don’t believe that it should ever be taken lightly. Love is capable of causing great ecstasy, but it is also capable of causing great wounds. In any romantic relationship, even if you have not made any commitments or promises to each other, you have the power to deeply wound the other person. With that power, comes great responsibility.

The first relationship a person has is usually not going to be their last, and that may be unavoidable. Still, a great deal of pain could be avoided if we took love more seriously and gave as much concern to the other person as we give to ourselves.

Love isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be a game of chance. It can be chosen, and with God’s help, it can last forever. I’m in the process of proving it right now.

 

 

On February 24, Cory and I commemorated our five year anniversary as a couple. I didn’t write a post about it because it wasn’t our wedding anniversary, but I wanted to at least say something. Five years deserves some bragging rights, doesn’t it? 😉

Happy belated five year dating anniversary honey! I love you forever and ever! <3

 

 

Burnout

This week has been exceptionally difficult for me. My professors have been piling on the school work, and I’m starting to feel very burned out. Just this week, I had 315 pages of reading (no joke— I counted it. I actually have to finish some of it today, even though I usually try to avoid working on Saturdays.) On top of the mountains of reading I had an exam, three quizzes, two smaller assignments, and two major assignments due. By the middle of the week, I was ready to give up.

I’m not saying all of this just to complain. Because in truth, while it is a lot of work, it probably could be managed if I actually worked 8 hours every weekday, which is what I would be doing in a normal job. The problem isn’t that I don’t have enough time. The problem is that I’m beginning to find it really difficult to spend the majority of my day doing something other than what I really want to be doing. I don’t want to be a student anymore, honestly. But I am a student, because that is the path to the career that I want. Or, I should say, that is the path to the second career that I want. What I really want to be doing is starting my first career— my career as a mother.

I would so much rather spend my days taking care of my baby and my home. Weird as it may be, I actually love cleaning. When I need a break from my schoolwork, I usually do some vacuuming or do the laundry. I also love managing Cory’s and my budget, making our grocery list, and taking care of our pets. These are the things that I want to be doing all day. I am very much looking forward to being a stay-at-home mom.

Unfortunately, things aren’t quite lined up yet for that. And in the meantime, I can’t just sit around doing nothing. I have to do something productive and useful. Since I may not have much time to finish school when I’m a parent, I may as well get that out of the way now as much as possible. That way, when my kids are grown, I can jump right into teaching. It makes sense for sure. The problem is, I’m just so tired of it.

My husband has been trying really hard to help me in whatever ways that he can, but there’s simply not much he can do. He can’t do my schoolwork for me, and that’s the one thing that I want to be doing less of. But his support and encouragement have helped me push through. I’ve also been trying to focus on God instead of my problems. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Usually when I’m feeling burned out, spending time in prayer or reading my Bible is not very tempting. Sometimes I even start to get mad at God and purposely avoid Him. It’s like I’m trying to punish him for not giving me what I want— which is really ridiculous considering how much God has given me. For most of this week, I didn’t spend a lot of time with him. But a couple nights ago, I started a new Bible reading plan and on the first night, this is what I read:

“We must let go of the good to grab hold of the better. Living a better life begins with understanding this one key thought from Psalm 84: better is one day with God than thousands elsewhere. His ways are better than your ways. His love is better than life. His blessings are better than material possessions. This week, you will read from God’s word about what it truly means to have a day with God.”

The Bible passage assigned to that day was Psalms 84:1-12. This is some of what it says:

“With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God… What joy for those who can live in your house, always singing your praises… What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord… For the Lord God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory.”

When I read that, I was not really feeling full of joy. I was feeling discontented and frustrated. But then I remembered something I learned a long time ago— the only surefire source of true and lasting joy is God. Lately, I haven’t been looking to God for joy; I’ve been looking to life. And life isn’t exactly always full of joy. So it’s really no wonder that I’m feeling the way that I am. Even though I haven’t been ignoring God completely, I certainly haven’t been giving him my focused attention.

I’m trying to change that, though.

Next week, I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter how much reading or how many assignments or how many hours of schoolwork I have. I’m determined to focus on God instead. I have a feeling that he’ll help me take care of the rest.