This is a guest post by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack. I was recently interviewed by her about birth control options and fertility awareness, check it here.
I can honestly say that one of the greatest gifts I have had in my life is learning that I could use my own body as birth control, for free, and in a way that is more effective than the birth control pill. I consider myself to be extremely lucky to have discovered the fertility awareness method when I was 19. I really dodged a bullet, so to speak, because I have never actually used hormonal contraceptives for birth control. That doesn’t mean I’ve never taken the pill though.
Like many women, I was put on the pill around age 15 or 16 because my cycles were extremely painful and heavy from the very beginning. Without steady doses of drugs throughout my period (ibuprofen was my go-to) I wasn’t able to leave the house due to the crippling pain I experienced every time I bled. I know now that my diet of hormone laced meat and dairy products, highly unstable vegetable oils, and my excessive sugar intake significantly contributed to my problematic periods, but back then I didn’t even have a computer, let alone internet access so I was limited in my ability to gather information. I had no idea why my periods hurt so badly, I definitely didn’t know that they could be healed naturally, and neither did my doctor. Even though more than a decade has passed since then doctors continue to prescribe the pill as the “cure-all” for every type of menstrual irregularity under the sun. I’d argue that on some level we all know that the pill doesn’t cure or fix anything, because we know that the moment we stop taking it any issues we were having just come back worse than they were to begin with.
I was fortunate to grow up in a household where taking pills everyday was definitely not the norm. My parents were skeptical of the concept of taking pills every single day, especially when you’re not sick. So I always thought of the pill as a temporary solution for my pain problem. Looking back I had a great deal of wisdom because I knew that periods shouldn’t hurt and something was wrong, but I didn’t know how to fix it. When I left home for University I decided that I wasn’t a kid anymore and it was time for me to pull up my big girl panties and try to fix my period issues. I had also been concerned that there was a deeper issue at play because most of the women in my family had struggled with fibroids at some point of their lives. I was painfully aware of the degree to which this condition had negatively impacted the women in my family in terms of their quality of life as well as their fertility over the years. I always knew I wanted children someday, and I was scared that the pill would screw up my reproductive system more than it already was.
Ironically when I was actually ready to start looking at birth control options I went off the pill. I didn’t actually trust the pill for birth control. I had never taken it for birth control so I didn’t take it at the same time every day, I often forgot to take it, and the thought of stressing myself out day in and day out not knowing if I could possibly be pregnant didn’t appeal to me at all. In addition, for all the reasons I just mentioned, I knew that I wouldn’t feel comfortable using the pill unless I was also using condoms every time. The way I saw it, if I was using condoms anyways, and they are 98% effective, why do I need the pill? Then I discovered the fertility awareness method.
I think I first discovered fertility awareness when I was reading a book called Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio. She actually came to my University to do a talk and read some excerpts from her book. She mentioned somewhere in her book that women aren’t fertile all the time and your body signs can be used as a method of birth control. I was floored, and amazed and pissed off all at the same time. I couldn’t believe it! After years of being taught that I could get pregnant every single day regardless of what was going on, in an instant I discovered that there are only about 5 days each cycle when I could actually get pregnant.
I was pissed. Why had no one told me about this? Why did I have to spend half of my life being terrified of my own body when someone could have just told me that I’m only fertile when I have cervical mucus? Or better yet, that there is only a 12-24 hour period where conception is even possible since ovulation only happens once per cycle? Why didn’t anyone tell me what cervical mucus was? I spent years thinking there was something wrong with me because I didn’t know what that “gross wet stuff” on my panties was. Why hadn’t anyone told me that if I learned how to interpret my fertile signs I would have birth control freedom for life?
What is birth control freedom for life? Once you learn the fertility awareness method you will always have a highly effective, natural, hormone-free method of birth control at your disposal. You don`t ever have to feel like hormones are the only reliable option. You learn that your body isn`t actually a mystery. You learn that each cycle has the same stages that repeat over and over again, and once you learn to interpret them you can easily identify which days you`re fertile and which days you`re not. Then you get to decide what you’re going to do about it.
From the moment I discovered the fertility awareness method I was inspired to learn as much about it as possible. I ran out and bought Taking Charge of your Fertility by Toni Wechler, and I discovered a group of women who taught Fertility Awareness on my University campus and I started attending meetings. I shared my knowledge with all of my girlfriends, and I started making charting books for them to record their fertile signs (this was back in the day before everyone had a smart phone!). I spent several years working as a volunteer teaching women to chart their cycles using the Justisse Method of cycle charting, and I’m still working to increase awareness because most women still have no idea how their bodies work.
After learning about the fertility awareness method I knew that I would never take the pill again. Why would I inundate my body with hormones every day of my cycle when I’m only fertile for about 5 days of it? If you think about it convincing every woman that she is always fertile is highly profitable. In order for most of us be willing to submit to taking hormones every single day of our lives we’d need to be highly motivated to do it, so why not tell every woman that she has to constantly be afraid of getting pregnant because she is fertile every day? Great marketing isn’t it? Unfortunately I don’t think most women get a chance to learn that there is only a small window of fertility each cycle until they start trying to conceive.
I wish I could say that I started charting my cycles and everything was easy, my cycles were perfect, and my period pain went away, but that definitely didn’t happen. Charting my cycles allowed me to see how bad my cycles actually were. Charting helped me to identify that I had low thyroid function, and it helped me to track my progress as I worked on improving my health. My cycles remained outside the parameters of “normal” for several years. My cycles were often extremely long ranging from 40-45 days, I often had scant (very little) cervical mucus, and my periods continued to be excruciatingly painful and heavy for several years after going off the pill. In my post Fix your period I detail a wide range of dietary and lifestyle changes I gradually adopted that finally allowed me to heal my periods and experience normal healthy cycles for the first time in my life. When I was ready to start a family I knew exactly what days I was fertile, so I didn’t have to figure out when to “try” for a baby.
I have come full circle, from having no idea how my body works and suffering with ridiculously painful menstruation to knowing where I am in my cycle every day and having normal healthy periods. I am extremely grateful for that. Although the fertility awareness method of birth control won’t work for everyone, I very much believe that every woman should have the opportunity to learn exactly how her menstrual cycle works. It is totally unethical to market hormonal contraceptives to women based on the lie that we are fertile every single day, and I wonder what would happen if more women knew how their menstrual cycles actually work.
Lisa has been charting her cycles using the fertility awareness method for over 13 years. After experiencing a great deal of dissatisfaction with the pill, Lisa discovered the fertility awareness method just when she was looking for a highly reliable and hormone free method of birth control. After learning the method for herself she was hooked, and she started teaching women to chart their cycles with a group of like minded women. Lisa trained with Justisse Healthworks as a Justisse Body Literacy Advocate and she is passionate about educating women about the fertility awareness method. Lisa is also the founder of fertilityfriday.com and more recently the Fertility Friday Podcast.