An update on charting

At the beginning of the summer, I had a slight breakdown over the fact that I was 72 days into my cycle with no end in sight. I had had a false positive ovulation test (which, when I go back to look at the pics, actually does not look positive at all) and was bummed by the fact that my period hadn’t arrived yet. After reaching out to a forum of local ladies, I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and purchased a basal thermometer to start tracking my basal body temperature (BBT). When I started charting, I was full of hope and optimism – this would be the thing! This would help! This would shine a light on the mystery that was my reproductive system.

Three months later, some of the illusion has worn off. There are aspects of charting that truly are helpful, but other parts don’t seem to be. Now, I should preface this (for anyone out there with a regular cycle) that this is coming from a woman with highly irregular cycles. As you can tell from the archives, I was already more than 70 days into a cycle when I started charting. That cycle lasted a ridiculous 148 days and only ended because I was prescribed progesterone. I’m half way through my next cycle and will likely rely on the progesterone pills to bring this cycle to an end as well. So, take all of this with a grain of salt that it might work better for you and your body.

What I found helpful:

Charting and fertility awareness method basically boils down to paying attention to the subtle changes the female body goes through each cycle. There is, obviously, an emphasis on natural clues to fertility. I found this to be really helpful because I, like I’m sure thousands of others, wasn’t very knowledgeable about what goes on down there. I knew the basics, but not much else. The discussion on cervical fluid, for example, was very useful. I had no idea that the different textures indicated which phase of my cycle I was in. I started paying much closer attention to this. In my case, it’s shown me how often my body has tried to ovulate (even though it hasn’t been successful, many of the symptoms are there as it tries to) and reinforces all those almost-but-not-quite-positive ovulation test results I got.

The TCOYF also showed me just how easy it is to throw off your cycle and that it’s actually ovulation that’s critical to the timing of your period. I always thought that the timing of your period was random, so being stressed or sick around that time could delay it. Turns out, it’s the timing of ovulation that’s random. Your period always follows ovulation by 12-16 days (the luteal phase), though a specific woman’s luteal phase is typically the same number of days. Thus, it’s easy to delay ovulation with stress (and this will delay your period), but once ovulation happens, your period’s due date is set. The more you know!

The pitfalls:

As I said, when I started charting, I thought it would be this amazing tool, a clear look into my cycle. Reading through TCOYF basically promises it will be. However, tracking my BBT hasn’t been all that useful for me (and again, this might just be my body). I have a myriad of complaints, but they all come down to the fact that it’s kind of hard to see a pattern. TCOYF stresses that you shouldn’t try to analyze each specific day’s temperature, but that you should take a step back to analyze the trend. Overall, you should see lower temps pre-ovulation, followed by higher temps after ovulation that drop off if you’re not pregnant or stay high if you are.

But the problem is, “higher” and “lower” are all within 1 degree. Yes one. As in, my highest recorded temperature during the ten days I was on progesterone (which mimics the luteal phase and is the hormone that actually causes the raise in temperature) was 98.81. My temperature this morning, pre-ovulation, was 98.03 and yesterday’s was 97.54. Because we’re talking about such a small difference, seeing the trend can be challenging, even without all the noise that daily life causes. (Wake up an hour late – temp’s off. Wake up two hours early to pee – temp’s off. Cat sleeps on your chest – temp’s off. Consume an alcoholic beverage before bed – temp’s off. Violently snooze the alarm – temp’s off. Actually, all of these should say might be off because there are times when it doesn’t seem to have an affect and you just never know when that might be.)

Now for me, tracking BBT has always been a supplement to my ovulation test kits. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable relying on it as my primary birth control. I just don’t have a regular enough cycle to make sense of the “trend.” Perhaps, if you truly are viewing the highs and lows over a single month, it might make more sense. (I suppose I’ll get a chance to try that out this month when I start the progesterone pills in a few days.) However, I’ll probably continue keeping track of it because it could possibly still be useful, in hindsight of course. And, perhaps after a couple of years at it, I’ll know my body well enough to be able to see those patterns.