When I started planning for what this personal column would evolve into over time, I knew my journey to better understand the reproductive continuum and its ever-present impact on my life would include, at some point, testing my fertility… I haven’t – yet. While I’m a firm believer that it’s better to know what you’re working with while there’s time to prepare (and I have no reason not to think everything’s just fine), this year’s been a little too much for me to handle any self-imposed, potentially bad news. So, consider this diary entry a preparatory step before I’m ready to expose an integral piece of my future that, until very recently, I rarely stopped to think about.
I’ve been on some form of hormonal birth control or another for over 8 years now. And for all that time, it’s “done its job.” That is to say: I haven’t gotten pregnant. But at the same time, that “job” has come at the consequence of denying my body a real period and the natural hormones that generate a normal, unrestricted menstrual cycle. My IUD has all but stopped my period for the past several months, and while there was a time when I would have loved not to worry about PMS and heavy bleeding and buying/changing tampons, my work in the reproductive health space over the past year has opened my eyes to the possibility that there’s a cost to the “get it and forget it” method of contraception that’s dominated my body for almost a third of my life. I’m still years from wanting to start a family. Nevertheless, I’m ready to actually get proficient in the reproductive system I’ve been repressing out of fear of what I didn’t know.
I’m beyond fortunate that my work at Mama Glow has introduced me to a community of professionals, brands, and activists who insist upon the reclamation of one’s true and complete agency over their body as a fully informed self-advocate. If you’re still reading this and feel like you’ve been living in similar ignorance when it comes to fertility awareness based methods (FABMs), here are some of the biggest things I’ve come to know so far:
– The odds of getting pregnant in a given month are around 20%, and the same approach used by couples when they’re aiming to conceive can (in reverse) be used for pregnancy prevention. My sex “education” growing up centered around the fear that if you have sex, you will get pregnant, so I’ve always opted for the contraceptive with the highest statistics for successful pregnancy prevention by shutting off my body’s capacity to ovulate.
The fact of the matter is, however, that just as cycle tracking is used by people when they’re aiming to conceive, it can be an effective (and hormone-free) method of preventing pregnancy. Sure, I’ve been keeping track of my cycle via an app on my phone since college, but that data’s really just been there to assure me that I’m not “late” (and to let me know when I shouldn’t risk it wearing light-colored pants). In addition to consistent cycle tracking and knowing when you’re in each phase of your cycle, brands like Daysy have developed technology that can, with great accuracy, inform you of when you are and are not likely to get pregnant. With temperature readings each morning, Daysy evaluates your data and lets you know with a simple red or green light what your fertility status is on a daily basis.
– Women’s menstrual cycles influence us far beyond our reproductive systems. I’ll be honest, even once I knew that I could rid myself of the synthetic hormones that are quite literally “controlling” my body and prevent unwanted pregnancy, that knowledge alone wasn’t enough to turn me off from having my IUD replaced next year. After all, I know for a fact that I don’t want kids in my 20s, and another 3-year IUD would keep me worry-free until 30. So, what really swayed my decision? When I heard Alisa Vitti, author of WomanCode and In The Flo, introduce a crowd of women to their infradian rhythm.
Essentially, your infradian rhythm is the second biological clock women have access to throughout their reproductive years, operating in tune with your monthly cycle. Vitti blew my mind as she explained that, for each phase of your cycle, there are certain foods you should be eating, exercises you should be doing, and ways in which you should be spending your time. She referred to it as our “superpower,” maximizing our fluctuating hormones and brain chemistry shifts to be the healthiest, happiest, and most productive versions of ourselves. Here’s the catch: when you’re on hormonal birth control, you don’t have a real menstrual cycle, you don’t ovulate and are therefore shutting down access to your infradian rhythm.
As a career-oriented, ambitious woman who, try as I might, never quite seems to have enough hours in the day to get it all done, I am sold on the scientific revelation that women can use our periods to work smarter, not harder. And knowing that without hormonal birth control, I could be accessing a healthier, more creative, more badass version of myself (who’s only going to be around for as long as I’m menstruating) … Yes, of course, sign me up. I’d love to meet her.
– Even if my biological clock is “ticking,” I have options and I have time. “Kids in my 30s” is the present game plan, and I know it’s a comfortably broad and attainable life goal. Even so, I’d be lying if I said 2020 hasn’t sent me down the rabbit hole of mapping out just how many years I actually have as a mid-to-late-20s woman who, while comfortably single, is living through a time when coupling up and settling down feels next to impossible with no end in site to the present reality we’re living in. It’s hard, in times like these, not to feel like you’re “falling behind” on all aspects of life, family planning included – even if you’re thinking about it in the hypothetical. Not to mention, social media’s making it look like every celebrity in their 20s has up and decided to become a parent this year.
The fact of the matter is: I have time to figure it all out, and neither I nor any other person navigating a similar phase of life needs to feel like prioritizing ourselves, and our careers, and our relationships is selfish, or at the expense of a future we know we’ll want one day. And while I started this rather convinced that I wanted to “know” what lies ahead when my fertility becomes something I want to lean into instead of away from, what I feel now is that fertility awareness is really about utilizing and prioritizing what I know about my body, honoring what I’m capable of as a woman, and trusting that, in due time, I’m equipped to accomplish everything I’ve set out to — becoming a mom, including. And if it turns out that conceiving, when I want to, will take a little extra work and effort, I can trust the present advancements in assisted reproductive technology, as well as holistic and mental health support, to guide me.
This journey’s only just beginning. Please join me for our Mama Glow webinar, DEMYSTIFYING FERTILITY FOR MILLENNIALS, on October 28th at 6:30pm ET. Register here!