I was standing near the waiting room of my car dealership when I felt something drop out of my body and into my panties. I knew immediately that it was my Nuvaring and my first reaction was to roll my eyes. I went to the bathroom and threw it in the garbage, voluntarily opting for a few weeks of celibacy until I could figure out my next step. One thing was sure, I was finally done with birth control.
That was thirteen years ago and, looking back, I can't be anything but grateful for that slightly embarrassing memory so long ago that led to making a change. I had been on and off birth control since I was 16 years old. From the pill to the patch to the ring – each one with its own set of problems. Either my acne increased, my periods got worse, or I was screaming at whatever significant other I had at the time. It was a constant nightmare. I knew I wasn't anywhere near ready for kids, so I felt trapped in the endless cycle of trying whatever new product my gynecologist recommended to me.
After I threw out my Nuvaring, I went home and started doing some research. What else was out there? As I looked, I kept coming across something referred to as period tracking or the rhythm method. It's a completely natural approach to family planning – whether or not your goal is prevention. I asked my gynecologist about it and her response painted a grim picture. She said it was very risky and if done wrong could lead to pregnancy. The flip side to this of course, was that if this method was done right – it could lead to a very happy vagina.
I was ready to take a risk.
The Rhythm Method For Natural Family Planning
The "rhythm method" is basically a process of recording what your body does both before and after your period every day for a few months, sometimes more. This helps create a clear picture for when you are fertile and when you are not. For example, I know that when my breasts are swollen and tender, I'm ovulating. I know that during that time I'll need to avoid crowds, and practice patience. I know that my period will start in 4-6 days and I know that if I want to have sex, it should be protected. For me, figuring this rhythm out took about 6 months of laborious note-taking, but the reward has been more than worth the effort.
When I first started out I kept a journal on my laptop that recorded symptoms, including how I felt emotionally and physically. As time went by, I tried various apps like Spot On from Planned Parenthood. My cycle changed a bit after I had my first child (who was planned) so I found myself having to do the research all over again after I gave birth. I imagine I'll have to go through the process again if I have any more children and then (much) later when I'm premenopausal. All in all, through several partners in over a decade of sex – the rhythm method has been my saving grace.
The prescription drugs we're told are so reliable, really aren't when you consider the side effects. The Nuvaring that so rudely slipped out of me that day was later recalled because it was causing deadly blood clots. Then, a nationwide panic followed after the pill that 16% of the female population takes was mispackaged, causing an increase in pregnancy. We haven't even gotten to the emotional and psychological effects of messing with our hormones. New York Times just dropped a mini documentary about a woman's experience with birth control that sounds a lot like my own.
Jumping from one solution to the next, then trying it out until you find yourself falling apart.
I lost relationships, friendships, job opportunities all because I was hopelessly depressed and wrapped around the finger of my menstrual cycle. The only thing that ever gave me peace was releasing myself from its hold entirely.
Natural Family Planning Is Taking Reproductive Health Into Your Own Hands
The biggest benefit to shaking off the birth control shackles is that I took my health into my own hands. Recording my body's changes for 6 months taught me a lot about myself. During that time, I abstained from sex every other month so I could compare my body's reaction to sex. I learned that depending on what part of the month I had sex, my period would be different. If I drank an excessive amount of coffee or alcohol, my period would last longer and be heavier. I learned to tend to my ovulation as a period itself. Resting more, eating differently, and putting my emotional needs first during those few days. When I did this, it seemed to dictate the rest of my month.
The only problem, and it's quite a doozy, when it comes to the rhythm method is the very real risk of slip-ups. First of all, no one says practicing the rhythm method is an invitation for unprotected sex. In fact, I reflect fondly on several conversations with past lovers in which I explained I don't take birth control and empowered them to take some responsibility and have condoms on hand. This method should always be accompanied with a condom when the sex is casual or the relationship isn't monogamous. That goes with every method of birth control. Slip-ups include the possibility of getting pregnant. As much as I would like to ensure every woman that she won't get pregnant trying this method, I can't.
The results are up to how willing you are to commit to the process and how much birth control is affecting you negatively.
However, there is a way to fool-proof the rhythm method and that's by simply taking your temperature. Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) is your body's temperature when you are at rest, basically the purest reading unaffected by activity. This temperature drops a few degree points before your ovulation and then rises when ovulation is over. There are several devices on the market that offer an easy-to-use product that require you to take your temperature every day upon waking so that it can, very accurately, tell you if you are ovulating or not. The devices can can range in price from $14 to $500 depending on the type.
Whether you choose to try the rhythm method on its own or with a basal reader as a safety net, I encourage every woman reading this to get to know her vagina much better. To understand the rhythms of her hormones and emotional needs, to learn how her environment affects her insides, and to take the power of her future fertility out of the hands of pharmaceutical companies and into her own.
Featured image by Megan Madden / Refinery29 for Getty Images
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