Up until recently, it never occurred to me that there were natural ways to avoid pregnancy. It's just not something that we're taught about growing up in American culture (unless you count abstinence, and I don't). But women all over the world have been avoiding pregnancy for far, far longer than the pill has been around, methods ranging from timing to teas. Oftentimes, these methods utilize the same principles that help couples get pregnant, and so they're useful to be aware of as women. In this post I'll focus on Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). In order to naturally avoid pregnancy, the first thing that a woman needs to know is that she is not fertile at all times during the month. I remember reading in teen magazines as a girl questions sent in by anxious readers wondering about pregnancy. Perhaps the editors were being cautious (or fear-mongering) by saying that a girl can get pregnant anytime, anywhere, no matter what. We received a similar message in our sex-ed class, that the body is mysterious and scary and we could never understand it's mysterious and scary ways. Those and others are the messages that we carry into adulthood, womanhood, and into our relationships. However, typically there are six days out of a woman's cycle in which she is fertile--and therefore when she and her partner should use a barrier method of birth control (unless they're trying to get pregnant, in which case yalla!)--and we can learn to recognize those fertile days by paying attention to certain signs.
1. First, charting basal temperature, which is the lowest temperature reached by the body during rest. This average temperature is different before and after ovulation. Before ovulation, it tends to be under 98, and after, due to higher levels of progesterone in the body (which would help the fertilized egg to implant in the uterine lining), the temperature is above 98. Using a basal thermometer, a woman takes her temperature each morning before getting out of bed and charts it. Once she gets out of bed the body heats up and this information is lost. Here's what a typical temperature chart looks like.
2. Charting cervical fluid. The different kinds of fluids present during women's cycles are related to their fertility, and this is one of the surest indicators that ovulation is approaching. At ovulation, this fluid is thick and feels like eggwhite, which is the body's way of making it easier for the sperm to reach the egg in what is actually otherwise a fairly hostile environment for sperm to live. Women can learn to chart their cervical fluid (also called cervical "mucus") and combine that with their temperature readings.
3. The cervix, which typically feels like the tip of the nose, softens and opens around ovulation and moves into a higher position. If women combine these observations with the other two, they can get more accurate readings.
It's amazing how much we don't learn as girls about our bodies, and when we are learning about sex and pregnancy, how much misinformation we're fed. Too often we intellectualize and dissociate from our bodies instead of fully inhabiting them. The Fertility Awareness Method is a great way of connecting with the body by listening to its messages and observing its signs in order to better understand ourselves as women. And we truly do have so much information available to us, and that translates into power.
Because this method does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases it is best suited for married or monogamous couples. It also requires consistency. For those who have irregular cycles or problems with ovulation or menstruation, it can still be a powerful tool to understand what's happening to the body and to track the benefit of medicinal interventions. I highly recommend the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which covers becoming pregnant, avoiding pregnancy, as well as how to approach irregular patterns and conditions. As mentioned there are various other ways to increase or decrease the chances of getting pregnant, and all sorts of great reasons for why we should avoid chemical and hormonal means of doing so if possible, and inshallah I'll cover some of those in future posts.