Do You Even Chart?
Charting the menstrual cycle is something most women discover when they are trying to conceive a child- because in charting your cycle you are able to observe signs of fertility, and time intercourse to match the fertile window (hello, baby!). But did you know there are many reasons to chart your cycle that have nothing to do with conception?
It blew my mind, when I first learnt about charting the menstrual cycle, at 25 years of age. Twenty five years on this planet and I realized I knew basically nothing about my reproductive body, or the power of my menstrual cycle. The world I grew up in contained very little sex education, provided semi-reluctantly by a high school gym teacher. In North America we are bombarded with sexuality in the media and on television, meanwhile given almost no realistic or relevant information about our reproductive bodies, or our sexual health. I was body illiterate.
Charting my menstrual cycle has completely revolutionized my world, truly. I am incessantly learning more about more about my body, understanding its cycles and learning to tend to my own individual needs as they fluctuate throughout the month. Women are cyclical beings by nature. Like the moon, our hormones wax and wane throughout the month, and our menstrual cycle (and aptly referred to as our moon cycle) requires different types of nurturing as the month progresses. By charting your menstrual cycle you become body literate: you begin to understand the language of your body, which enables you are able to tune in and help your body thrive.
Read more on the cyclical nature of the feminine HERE.
Who should chart?
Every. Single. Woman.
By observing your body’s fertile signs and charting your menstrual cycle, you become body literate- you learn to understand the language of your body. And indeed your menstrual cycle is one of the powerful ways your body communicates with you. Menstruation is often referred to as the “5th vital sign,” and offers you absolutely invaluable information about the overall state of your body. Every single month you basically get a report card on how your hormones are doing. Whether you want you use fertility awareness to simply learn more about your body, to achieve greater health, to connect with your Self, to achieve pregnancy, or as natural birth control- fertility awareness, body literacy, and charting the menstrual cycle is a powerful tool.
Did you know that a bleed on hormonal birth control (hbc) is not in fact a “true” period? Bleeds on hormonal birth control (like the Pill) were actually included as a marketing tool to make the birth control resemble a natural period (thus feel more natural); but in fact you are not ovulating while on hbc and the bleed is just a result of shifting doses of the synthetic hormones. The withdrawal of hormones during week 4 of the Pill basically softens your thin uterine lining just enough to cause some withdrawl bleeding.
Considering the above, charting is not for women on hormonal birth control. HCB does not run your body’s natural cycle, and so the information being relayed by the body (symptoms, length of cycle, fertile observations, etc) are not reflective of your body’s true state. This is a really important concept and a massive misconception in the realm of reproductive health. Although the pill seemingly regulates your period- it actually does not; this fabricated period is (aforementioned) not a true bleed nor a reflection of your body’s state of health. When women get off the pill, all their pre-pill symptoms generally come flooding back (often worse than before). These forms of contraception do not fix hormone imbalances, they simply mask them. It can take years to recover a healthy period post-hormonal birth control, especially when you have underlying imbalances or health problems that were suppressed while on hormonal birth control.
See the bottom of this article for books + other resources about the impact of hormonal birth control, and resources to help transition you off of it.
What Is Charting?
Charting refers to the daily recording of your fertile observations, according to the rules of your preferred fertility awareness method (FAM). By observing and recording your basal body temperature, your cervical fluid, and the position of your cervix- you are able to know with up to 99% accuracy when your body is fertile. This is “fertility awareness”. By identifying your fertile window each cycle, you can choose to conceive or avoid pregnancy. Additionally, whether or not you are sexually active, charting your cycle enables you to gather invaluable information about your body’s current state of health.
There are many different fertility awareness methods out there to chart your cycle, but some of them are outdated. Like any scientific advancement, we are constantly learning more about how the human body works, and adapting our methodologies to new findings. An outdated method (yet still referred in modern day) is the the calendar method. The Calendar Rhythm Method uses past cycles to predict fertile windows for future cycles. This method is truly flawed, and fuels one of the biggest misconceptions about modern day fertility awareness methods. The key to modern methods (like the Justisse Method) is truly observing fertile signs moment to moment, and not making predictions. Since our menstrual cycles are dependent upon numerous variables (like stress!), your ovulation can never be accurately predicted. Even if you are extremely “regular,” it is imperative you observe your body in the present state it is in to make judgements regarding your fertility based on past observations.
Note: I'm pretty damn sure Tolstoy’s wisdom about living in the present wasn’t about observing fertile signs.. but his words are applicable. Accurate fertility awareness requires you to observe day to day to achieve your goals. To truly be aware of your body’s current state of fertility, there is no prediction involved.
Choosing which methodology works for you is a personal decision. My research led me not only to follow the Justisse Method, but also enroll in their two year post-grad program. Justisse is a secular sympto-thermal fertility awareness method taught to women, by women. Fertility awareness is historically very much intertwined with the Catholic church, as it has been taught throughout history to help married couples achieve or prevent pregnancy naturally (called “natural family planning”). The church actually played a big role in propagating information on body literacy to its constituents. One of the differences between the method taught by the church and methodologies like the Justisse Method is that the latter has no judgement on your intentions for learning the method, nor how you choose to use it. Church rhetoric is often intertwined with morality of sexuality, whereby non-secular methods of teaching offer no judgement on how you choose to use the method (like incorporating contraception during your fertile window to prevent pregnancy, or engaging in pre-marital sex).
The Justisse Method to me is about empowerment, self-awareness, and non-judgement; it's about using your newfound body literacy to make educated decisions regarding your body, your fertility, and your sexuality.
When should I start Charting?
Yesterday! No but really, charting is something many women learn about when they are trying to conceive a child, but the information you learn about your Self when you chart your menstrual cycle is invaluable at ALL ages and stages of our cycling lives.
Fertility is truly one of our vital signs of health. The body naturally wants to reproduce, it’s a part of our natural drives as humans. Whether things are working "well" or not inside, it is reflected in our cycle. Things like stress and hormone imbalances are directly influencing our cycles, so by becoming body literate you are able to tweak your lifestyle and gradually see the impact of your lifestyle decisions on the inner workings of your body. Charting your menstrual cycle means better understanding your hormones, and hormones affect everything.
Did you know that menstruation doesn't mean you actually ovulated that month? Ovulation can be delayed or skipped all together for many reasons, including hormone imbalances and stress. By charting your menstrual cycle, you are able to properly identify ovulation (and your the fertile window) which is useful information for conception, prevention, or simply to know that your body is in fact fertile (a major function of a healthy body).
Things like stress, caffeine, poor sleep habits can all delay ovulation, and cause fluctuating durations of your cycle. Hormone imbalances, viruses, change in diet or routine.. there are so many ways your outer world impacts your inner world- and by simply charting daily, you enable a really clear line of communication between you and your body. With this line of communication, you can better address what parts of your lifestyle are working in your favour, and which are not.
Did you know that your menstrual cycles have 4 distinct phases? Menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal.
Each phase of the menstrual cycle serves a different purpose in this reproductive loop, and brings on a different hormonal fluctuation, and a predictable energetic pattern. By knowing which phase of your menstrual cycle you are in, you can plan to give your body what it needs for that particular phase. Certain phases are higher energy- which calls for more movement and social time; while others require more rest and different types of nourishment. Your awareness enables you to plan accordingly to take advantage of more creative periods, and know when your body will likely be more social vs. introverted. Understanding what your hormones are going through can also help you tailor your diet/ supplementation that your body needs as it transitions from one phase to another.
By connecting to your body in this way, and understanding the energetic flow that your body undergoes each month- you begin to cultivate a new appreciation and understanding for your body’s wisdom, wants, and needs. By connecting with your body this way, you take back your power and you truly begin to value your menstrual cycle in unfathomable ways. Bleeding is a gift; by understanding the process of fertility and the magical nature of this process, you can tailor your self-care, and cultivate a deeper Love for your Self.
Many of us are raised disconnected and disempowered from our sexuality and fertility- it's time to change that.
How do i Chart?
This is something you want to get right. Invest the time (and ideally the money in a proper coach when you start off), because there are a lot of intricacies at first. Much like learning riding a bicycle or tying your shoe laces, it can seem overwhelming at first- but once you have it, you have it for life. The stakes are much higher when it comes to charting if you’re using it to prevent conception, but no matter what your intention is to learn- ensure you dedicate the effort in the beginning as to not develop bad habits when you might be using it for prevention later in life. The efficacy of the method relies entirely on how accurate you understand and practice the method- which is totally awesome and empowering, but emphasizes the importance of learning properly and truly applying yourself.
I am currently a student at Justisse International, a school entirely dedicated to holistic reproductive health, and teaching the Justisse method: a sympto-thermal method of fertility awareness that involves tracking basal body temperature and observing signs of fertility (position of cervix/ cervical fluid) to determine the fertile window. Since I am currently still a student of holistic reproductive health, I will abstain from getting into the actual nitty gritty of how to chart, but I will direct you to all the resources you need to educate yourself, and links to find a certified HRHP in your area. You can also work with an HRHP online, the HRHP that I work with (Amy) is on the East coast of Canada, we meet virtually through Skype.
There are many books and resources out there to get your started (see below), as well as app’s to help you keep track of your observations. To get started all you need is a reliable thermometer (like THIS one), and a proper understanding of how to observe and record fertile signs. If you’re tempted to use an app, I suggest you also get used to paper charting when you start off. Knowing both ways is useful (especially for when the apocalypse hits and we're reduced to technology-free lives,...you'll still be able to get your chart-on!). I personally use the Kindara app, and chart on paper using the Justisse Method charts (available on the Justisse website HERE).
Another benefit of working with a qualified coach is that they will be able to help you interpret your chart. Rarely are charts “textbook” cycles, because so many different factors impact your cycle every single month. By having an expert with clinical experience working with many women will help you navigate the intricacies of your monthly charts and better understand what you're observing. This is especially true if you are coming off of hormonal birth control, because your hormones can take a while to find "normalcy"- so having guidance from a professional can help ease you through this experience.
Do you chart? What is your experience, and what wisdom can you share with people who haven't yet started? Do you have questions? Comment below.
Resources to Take a Deeper Dive
The Justisse Method for Fertility Management: A User's Guide, by Geraline Matus
Sweetening the Pill or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control, by Holly Grigg-Spall.
Coming off the Pill, the Patch, the Shot and Other Hormonal Contraceptives, by Geraldine Matus.
Taking Charge of your Fertility, by Toni Weschler.
WomanCode, by Alisa Vitti.
Find a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner In Your Area
Justisse Directory, click HERE.
1. Justisse Healthworks For Women: Fertility Awareness Education, Natural Birth Control, & Holistic Reproductive Health.
3. Sweetening The Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control.
4. Learn the charting basics at Fertility Friday HERE.
5. Listen to a podcast about the basics of fertility awareness method/ cycle charting HERE.
6. You can order all Justisse products (including charts, thermometers, and books) HERE.
7. Taking Charge of your Fertility website.
- The Fertility Friday Podcast is a total gem for all things fertility, Lisa (who runs the podcast) is a Justisse graduate and the podcast covers topics ranging from how to chart, addressing hormone imbalances, how to use FAM to achieve or prevent pregnancy, and much more.
2. The Business of Being Born (a documentary on the commodification of birth/ prequel to the "Sweetening the Pill").