7 Things Charting Taught Me

*My usual warning, this is a fertility post. You know ovaries and stuff. Beware if that’s not your thing.*

I find people rave about charting, but don’t often explain why. So I want to lay out the reasons fertility charting has proven to be totally kick ass in my life.

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1. The biggest realization from charting answered a persistent puzzle of mine since I was a young teen – my migraines. I’ve always had terrible migraines. I tried all the medicines, which usually just made me nauseous. I went on Topomax a long time ago, but lost sensation in my hands and feet as a side effect and was like, “Um, no, that’s not for me.” So I was stuck with ibuprofen and a nap. Which of course, in the working world I can’t always come by. Through charting I discovered, my migraines almost always come in phase 3. In fact, that’s my tell-tale sign that I have actually ovulated. In a weird way, I learned to like my migraines, I understand where they come from now. I’d love to investigate further which vitamins or diet changes can be made to alleviate my migraines.

2. I think in all our health classes, girls accept puberty and the menstrual cycle to mean periods. You bleed once a month. End of story. We don’t look further into the fact that we have some 25 other odd days of a cycle. Through charting, I learned how intrinsically connected every day of a cycle is to another. Menses is a direct product of ovulation, therefore ovulation determines when your period will begin. That’s right, I know 14 days in advance when I will get my period. Every month. I’m not so sure they make that clear in health classes. Your period is never late, it’s always (well, the majority of the time) the same distance from ovulation, around 14-16 days. What does happen is ovulation gets delayed (by stress, hormone imbalance, illness, just because your ovaries don’t feel like it..) and therefore our periods come “late”. I read something online once where a woman was saying “You can get pregnant a week before your period. I did.” Technically, there’s a lot of wrong in that sentence. You can get pregnant a week before you expect your period if you’re going off of standard/counting days, and haven’t ovulated yet. But if you know you have ovulated (bearing the fact that your luteal phase is longer than 6 days, which medically speaking, it should be.) getting pregnant a week before your period is next to impossible physically. Charting made me aware that every day of a cycle is connected to the one before and after it. Something that, embarrassingly enough, wasn’t made clear to me in health classes growing up.

3. My emotions and moods really do change throughout my cycle. I don’t know why women are so touchy about this subject, it’s like we want to deny the fact that we have menstrual cycles ? For me, I can see a direct correlation with how I feel and what phase I am in. At the end of phase 3, I am very sensitive. I take everything personally. Charting has actually helped me with this because I am aware that, perhaps, how I am feeling may not be a direct reflection of the situation. And in a weeks time or so, I may feel differently about the exact same circumstance. I don’t want this to get blown out of proportion – our cycles do not make us crazy. The PMS stereotype is a horrible illustration. But being aware of how our hormones affect our moods, I think, can give us a little more authority over them.

4. I always warn the boys (because I have SO many male readers…*sarcasm*) about posts that have female anatomy details, but if you didn’t take the first warning, here’s the second one – I’m about to talk about cervical fluid. Bolt while you can. Ok, cervical fluid – to be honest I had never friggin’ heard of cervical fluid until I picked up “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”. Toni Weschler talked about how she kept going to the doctor saying she had a yeast infection, always around the same time of her cycle. I’d be willing to bet over half of women have thought perfectly healthy, normal, fertile cervical fluid is an “infection”. Been there. Done that. This is a crime – that women aren’t taught how amazingly wonderful and important cervical fluid is. Man, when charting, you are one happy gal when you see fertile cervical fluid, it means “My body is healthy. My body is working. My body is good.” Men love to tout about their semen. Well boys, without our spectacular and intuitive cervical fluid, your semen wouldn’t last 10 minutes. No really. Which leads to #5.

5. I had no idea that there was such a narrow(ish) window that women could reproduce. I also had NO idea that without cervical fluid, semen lasts up to 20 minutes MAX. The female body, when not fertile, is naturally very hostile to sperm. (Our bodies are pretty damn smart, huh?) I was always under the impression, thanks to crappy health classes, that the female body was some kind of a pregnancy bomb – that could explode any minute. I get it, you can’t tell a 14 year old that they’re only fertile for a small window of their cycle, but geez, it sure made me feel like an idiot at age 21 when I found out.

6. For those of you that are just getting into charting – keep doing it, keep doing it, keep doing it. Those first few months can be frustrating. I spent weeks reading and researching about everyone else’s charting experience before I actually started. I expected my charts to look textbook perfect and then was frustrated when my peak temp didn’t match my CF peak day. Your body has a tempo, you just have to find it. After charting for a year now, I discovered I trust my body. It does talk to me, it does give me signs, and sometimes I feel like my body is smarter than my head. The reason people say charting is easy, is because it can be very easy once you get in your groove. But every individual has their own groove to get in.

7. Fertility is not just about babymaking! It’s the female health system. I used to think fertility charting was just for women in marriage who want a family. I thought, “I’m unmarried, not starting a family, why would I care about fertility?” It has opened my eyes to a much bigger picture of biology and beauty – all encompassed with the idea of monitoring my health. I know when I’m stressed, when I’m coming down with a cold, when I need more of what in my diet, when I need which kind of exercise. Fertility is health.

8. Ok so it’s really 8 things…I learned that the female body is awesome, and wise beyond our rationale. It’s such a shame every female isn’t empowered with fertility charting at least once.

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23 responses to “7 Things Charting Taught Me

  1. #3 is useful information for every man as well.

    Why it’s a “touchy subject”, I believe, is a post in itself.

  2. This is awesome! number 5 was totally me – even after I was married! I had a honeymoon baby, lol, so I just thought I must be super-fertile. Baby #2 took us 6 months to conceive, to my shock and awe. Fertility is such a gift and should never be taken for granted!

    I think unfortunately a whole lot of Catholics fall into the secular world’s opinion of fertility… I have married friends who were unable to conceive for over a year, and I personally fielded nosy, judgmental and inappropriate questions from very devout Catholic mutual friends, such as “Do they, you know, WANT children?” So unfortunate. And uncharitable. We Catholics need to get on board with the realization that true fertility is rare and therefore not all families will look the same! Being open to life does NOT mean you will have a baby every other year… conversely, if you do not have a baby every other year, this does not imply you are not being open to life. [You know - besides having just cause to space out children as you and your spouse see fit within your private discernment, aided by the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage!]

    Anyways – sorry for the long comment! Great post! :)

    • Thanks for stopping by! I think fertility is just such a mystery to so many women (myself included until about a year ago!) Charting has really allowed me to unveil that mystery. Quite frankly, I wish NFP wasn’t excluded to just Catholic women who are either engaged/married. All women really can benefit from knowing their bodies more.
      As far as having a family, I’ve got a while to go for that ;). I haven’t personally dealt with those kinds of questions, because I am not married, but I do think some Catholics push too far with NFP and family life. I believe it’s totally up to that family and God how many children they will have and when, etc.
      You don’t ever have to apologize about a long comment here! I love interacting with readers, so thanks :)

      • Some Catholics don’t realize how useful NFP can be for women’s health. They can also overemphasize the “moral aspects” to the point where they come across as very negative, preachy, and judgmental. I have also seen charting presented in a negative way in a misguided attempt to encourage couples to have more children.

        The approach can make all the difference. We both HATED Catholic NFP, but she was amazed by reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Once we could trust the science, we could look at the spirituality. Others have a faith experience first, then learn to appreciate the health benefits later.

        I do think a lot of how things are approached is generational. Our parents’ generation just doesn’t talk about these things. They may not be aware of the health benefits. Her Protestant mother charted for years, but didn’t mention a word of it until a few months before the wedding. My mother did too, but never said a word about it to either of us.

  3. Just want to add one thing. I’ve been charting since I was 19…I am 48 now…11 pregnancies and 9 full term births later. I have never had a 14-16 day phase between ovulation and menstruation. For me it is 9-11 days. So the woman who claimed to have conceived a week before her expected period may have been closer to a week than you imagine. This is why it is so important for women to get to know their own particular body and how it works, recognizing the tempo as you write, but not getting into a calendar method mindset.
    Great Article!
    (I have found that supplementing with magnesium often makes a difference in my migraines.)

    • Wow! I guess I should have clarified, my phase 3 is always 14-16 days. I forget that I have pretty text book cycles. (28-30 days, peak on day 11-13) Honestly, the “rhythm method” would probably be more accurate for me than a lot of women. But it’s nice to be reminded that everyone’s body is different!
      I’ll have to try the magnesium, I’m just getting into the diet, vitamin world of charting. It’s a long process, but totally worth it. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Hello! Marc Barnes here, wondering if we could repost this on 1Flesh.org (with the appropriate links to your wonderful blog, of course). If so, shoot us an email: talkto1flesh@gmail.com.
    Thanks and keep up the great work!

  5. Pingback: 7 Things Charting Taught Me | 1Flesh – Bring Sexy Back!·

  6. Great post!! Just an FYI, I don’t know what type of charting you do but I always was getting migraines in my luteal phase as well. I first learned the Sympto-Thermal method of charting but began using the Creighton Fertility Model of NFP and discovered through this method of charting (and subsequent blood testing) that I was deficient in progesterone. This deficiency was contributing to my migraines and effecting me in other ways as well, including my moodiness. The Creighton method of charting was able to medically diagnose health problems which, in turn, allowed me to have a “normal” pregnancy (if there is such a thing) with my last child (after 3 problematic pregnancies…1 of which ended in miscarriage). Charting has truly been a blessing to me and my health in so many ways.

    • I currently use sympto-thermal but would LOVE to delve into Creighton. The only thing holding me back is there aren’t any classes in my area and it’s a little pricey. But I hear many good things with Creighton and how it helps diagnose and treat issues. I think I may also be slightly progesterone deficient because phase 3 temps waver often. But I am so regular, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Anyways, thanks for commenting, I like to hear from people who have dealt with the same issues as me. If you don’t mind me asking, how do they “fix” a progesterone deficiency? (That area has always been a little confusing to me…)

      • I am also very regular despite having a progesterone and slight estrogen deficiency as well. What they have done to “fix” my lack of progesterone is on day 3 past my peak day, I begin taking an oral progesterone supplement. I continue to take it for a total of 10 days. Some women I know do shots or have to do vaginal inserts of progesterone. It has made a world of difference!

        As for the cost, I was able to find a Creighton Practitioner who was an MD so my insurance covered the cost other than a co-pay for my initial learning and chart review. That was a huge help while learning the method. I now go to an OB-GYN clinic that is NFP only and that utilize the Creighton model even though they are an hour and a half away. The drive for me is totally worth it and they are able to answer any questions that now arise and review my charts since I don’t need them reviewed as frequently.

  7. Pingback: Society for Menstrual Cycle Research : » New research on endometrial cancer, LARCs, and pelvic pain, & more Weekend Links·

  8. thanks for sharing this! i’m working on my fertility awareness educator certification and it’s always so exciting to find other women who are already charting and honoring their bodies in this way.

  9. Hi Cassie, I stumbled my way here from NFP and Me. Re: #1 and #3: my NaPro-trained family doctor “prescribed” me a supplement regimen of calcium, magnesium, and B6 to take in the end of Phase 3 and beginning of Phase 1. He said it’s helped some of his other patients with pre-menstrual migraines. I don’t have migraines but I do get terrible PMS which, he says, is caused by the same hormones. I’ve only done it for one cycle, but so far so good. Anyway, I don’t expect anyone to take medical advice from me (!) but it’s just an interesting example of how knowing what’s going on with your cycle–and having a doctor who understands it–can be helpful.

    • Thanks! I’m working on natural methods to balance hormones right now. Looks like magnesium and vitamin B seem to be the most popular advice. It makes sense that if migraines are related to a hormone imbalance of the menstrual cycle, that it would be related to PMS as well. I’ve also read that due to so many xenoestrogens (some in the environment that are near inevitable, some from processed foods, etc.) create estrogen dominance/progesterone deficiency in many women. It’s all very interesting stuff to me. Nice to meet another NFP’r :)

  10. Pingback: 7 Things Charting Taught Me c/o Cassie Wilson | Great Sexpectations·

  11. Pingback: That Passed By. . . This May Too | The Wine-Dark SeaThe Wine-Dark Sea·

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