As our practice is evolving, Jenni and I are helping more people learn how to chart their menstrual cycle. This is a skill I think everyone who has a uterus and ovaries should learn how to do. It can help you know when is the best time to conceive a baby if you are trying to, and, conversely, not conceive if you are trying not to. Fertility charting has many names: cycle monitoring, natural family planning, and menstrual tracking, just to name a few. I have a fantasy that every middle school kid learns this skill to help them know their bodies better and feel like they have some control before and as they start to experience their sexuality.
A normal menstrual cycle length is 21-35 days, with 28 days being the average. It is measured from the first day of bleeding (cycle day 1) to the first day of the next bleeding. The menstrual cycle is regulated by hormones produced in the brain and in the ovaries. These hormones fluctuate throughout the cycle causing many signs for us to notice; signs that can tell us if our cycles are healthy and when we are most likely to conceive a pregnancy during ovulation. There are several different things to pay attention to during the cycle to help interpret the signs of ovulation. We encourage people to pay close attention to their basal body temperature upon waking first thing in the morning, their cervical mucous consistency and the look and feel of their cervix (yes, it changes!), and the rise in the luteinizing hormone (LH) in their urine (often referred to as ovulation predictor kits, or OPKs). We have been using these three clues to help people figure out when the best time to conceive by insemination or intercourse might be.
There are many great books about cycle monitoring that give thorough explanations of all the signs to watch for while cycle tracking, please see descriptions in resource list below. These books have charts showing how to read temperature variations throughout the cycle and share some of the other physical and emotional changes to notice during ovulation. The Beautiful Cervix project online has great pictures to compare with if you are viewing your cervix using a speculum, as some people choose to do.
To help people track their cycles, Jenni and I created a chart for our clients to use. Please feel free to download and use this chart for yourself. MB Fertility Chart
Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden, ND
A new book I just discovered. The author does an amazing job describing the hormones and their functions in the reproductive and endocrine systems and outlines specific ways to “fix” your cycle if it has strayed from normal.
A New View of a Woman’s Body by the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers
This older (1995) book is a fabulously detailed yet accessible book to have. Very do-it-yourself, and the illustrations and pictures are really good.
Taking Charge of your Fertility by Toni Weschler, MPH
This is an extremely thorough delve into cycle monitoring, get to learn so much that you didn’t know you didn’t know about your fertility cycle. Their website has lots of information as well.
Honoring Our Cycles by Katie Singer
I love this very simply explained way to watch for fertility signs; this is a great book with lots of pictures and charts.
A Cooperative Method of Natural Birth Control by Margaret Nofziger
An old classic, first published in 1976. This was the book I first used to learn about natural family planning when I was younger; it was the only book I could find on the topic!
The Moon Mysteries book by Nao Sims and Nikiah Seeds, and their Moon Cycle Chart downloadable chart http://www.moonmysteries.com/moon-cycle-chart
Many of the above books are written with heterosexual people in mind as the target audience. They are filled with great information, but if you would prefer less hetero-normative or gendered language, check out the fertility sections in these books and the following online resources:
The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy & Birth by Stephanie Brill
The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians: How to Stay Sane and Care for Yourself from Pre-conception through Birth, 2nd Edition by Rachel Pepper
My Period and Me: A Trans Guy’s Guide to Menstruation by Wiley Reading http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/11/trans-guys-guide-menstruation/
La Loca Loba has a 5week online course on RADICALLY AND CONSCIOUSLY MOONING: http://www.lalobaloca.com/radically-and-consciously-mooning-an-online-knowledge-share.html