Fertility Charting for Beginners

Today’s post is going to be a guide for fertility charting for those who just want to be educated about their bodies, ultimately with the goal of conceiving. I took Human Reproduction as my capstone senior year of college and that was the first time I realized how little women are taught about their own bodies, so when it comes time to try and conceive a child we can often be surprised when it doesn’t happen after having unprotected sex for the first time.

When trying to conceive (TTC) I feel like there are generally two different categories of people – the
“not trying, not preventing” crowd and the charting crowd, which obviously can be split into various degrees. Both ways are valid ways of conceiving but for women with various health conditions or have had trouble conceiving in the past, charting can be a more definitive way so see what’s up with your cycles.

This is going to touch on some of the basic things that you can chart when starting your TTC charting journey. This isn’t going to go in depth on things like menstrual flow changes or luteal phase or other things. You can make charting as simple or complicated as you want so today we are just going to cover some basics. I really recommending using a paper chart from the book “Taking Charge of your Fertility” or the Fertility Friend website and app.

PERIOD

The first most basic thing you’ll want to chart is the day your period starts and stops. The first day of your period is considered  “Day 1” of your cycle. The textbook example of a cycle is usually 28 days but there is a lot of normal (and abnormal) variation that can make this number inaccurate for many woman. If for some reason you don’t have a period (like me, due to PCOS or other issues), you can still track the following changes, just note that you may or may not ever be ovulating. We might cover this in another post.

TEMPERATURE
Your basal body temperature is another thing you’ll want to keep track of daily. Subtle changes throughout the month can clue you in on the start of each new phase of your cycle. In order to get the most accurate results, its important to record your temperature first thing in the morning. For the first part of your cycle, you may see some changes from day to day but overall you’ll hover around the same average unless you’re ill. During ovulation, the temperature will drop slightly followed by a rise in temperature the next day that is sustained until the end of the cycle.  It’s a common misconception, I think, that the spike in temperature signals ovulation but actually, it signified that it has already happened. The rise in temperature after ovulation is the start of your luteal phase.

You can use any kind of thermometer to chart temperature, typically the infrared forehead kind are not recommended. I find orally to be the easiest for me. Readings with two decimals are preferred but the cheaper thermometers usually only go to one decimal place which can be sufficient for most.

CERVIX
For many woman, temperature charting, or temping, can be enough to help you determine your most fertile days. For others, temperatures aren’t so clear and other signs are useful in determining when ovulation has occurred. Checking the cervix requires getting up close and personal with your body on a daily basis so if you weren’t comfortable with touching yourself before, you will be after charting. No pun intended. There are three main things to take note of when checking the cervix – position (and opening), texture, and fluid. Often it takes a cycle or two to really get used to the changes and what they feel like.

To check your cervix, you’ll want to insert a clean finger into your vagina at about a 45 degree angle towards your back. The cervix is round and honestly sort of looks and feels like the head of a penis. First take note of the position. If the cervix is high, you’ll have to insert almost the entire finger to be able to reach it. At a lower position, it is much easier to reach. You’ll also want to feel around for the opening – is there a small hole or is it closed? Next, gently press on the cervix and note its texture. Is it soft like a flaccid penis? Firm like a hard penis head? Or somewhere in the middle? If you don’t know what a penis feels like then perhaps think of the difference between your lips and the tip of your nose. Finally, swipe a finger around the cervix and inspect the mucus. Cervical mucus is categorized as either dry, sticky, creamy, watery or egg white. In general, around ovulation the cervix will be soft, high, open, and wet. Watery and egg white mucus are considered fertile, with egg white being the gold standard. Egg white mucus is easily distinguished by its ability to stretch between your fingertips without breaking. This should not be confused with arousal fluid, which is different although it has a similar consistency.

OVULATION TESTS
Ovulation tests are typically referred to as OPKs or ovulation predictor kits. Most drugstores sell some form of these but typically its more cost effective to buy the strip tests in bulk online from somewhere like Amazon.  These work very similar to pregnancy tests in that you dip the stick into a cup of urine, wait a set amount of time, and read the result. The different is that for the strip type tests, two lines does not always equal positive for ovulation. Ovulation would show the dark control line as well as an equally dark test line.  If one of the lines is fainter than the other, this is not a positive test.  OPKs are useful if you find your cervical signs and temperatures don’t match up. When the ovulation test shows positive, it usually means you will ovulate within the next 24 hours, not that you are currently ovulating.

WHEN TO HAVE SEX
All the statistics say that sperm can live in the vagina up to five days but really this is under ideal conditions which not everyone has. Experts agree that you have the highest chance of conceiving when you are intimate two days before, the day before, and the day of ovulation.

RESOURCES
Taking Charge of Your Fertility book
Cervix photo gallery (NSFW)
Lots of great resources and community for voting on your test if you can’t tell!
Fertility Friend log

How I worked through my anxiety and planned my wedding

As some of you may know, I got engaged at the end of April of 2015.  My boyfriend and I had always had open communication on the subject and knew we wanted a summer wedding. We weren’t concerned about a long engagement considering we had been long distance for so long.  Unfortunately, a summer wedding didn’t work out so my next choice was October.

I wasn’t one of those overly excited bridezillas.  In fact, I dreaded the idea of planning the wedding and avoided it at all costs.  At first I thought it was because I was second guessing my fiance somehow.  After a lot of soul searching, I realized it was because I was overwhelmed by idea of planning and figuring out details.  I was never one to fantasize about my dream wedding so I had no idea what I wanted.  I ultimately decided a simple beach wedding was the way I wanted to go. So I looked at a packages in the Carolinas, Georgia and Flordia despite my family and friend’s pleas to have the wedding in Missouri or Illinois.  My fiance and I decided on an October date in Charleston and had everything all lined up.  Then the anxiety settled in once again.  Here’s an example of 10 seconds worth of thoughts that went through my head every time I tried to finish plans:

“How many people should we invite? I don’t really want anyone to come.  He does.  If we don’t invite his family they will be offended.  But why can’t we just elope? But I don’t want to deal with everyone being mad at me.  Okay so just parents and siblings, But then thats five people just from his side. And then you have to invite grandparents.  And can you invite grandparents without inviting aunts and uncles? What about cousins? Okay now the guest list is really big and I don’t want all those people to come.  I won’t be comfortable and will just be stressed the whole time.  What about a reception? If its a small number then we can just…not…right? How small is small? But if we are making people travel then we have to provide them with cake or something…Oh. Now Granny says she wants to make the cake for us. Okay, I guess Granny is invited now…” etc, etc.
Anxious overwhelming thoughts went on like that for months.  We never finalized the October date and lots of tears were shed and my fiance and I fought about when we would have our wedding.  I knew he was taking it personally.  I wasn’t trying to put it off. I wanted to marry him, but I couldn’t control my anxiety enough to take things one step in at a time.  So he decided we could put it off until I felt better.  School started up in the middle of August, we moved apartments and I was able to get a doctor to prescribe me a different brand of anti anxiety medication.  Things were starting to improve a little bit.  My fiance had finally agreed to live with me before marriage, something he had always been opposed to and I think that ultimately helped me relax a little bit.  I was trying to conquer too many obstacles at once and my mind was getting overloaded.
At the beginning of October, we picked a date in November on a whim.  We told close family members six weeks an advance and purchased a wedding package near St. Augustine, Flordia.  My mom was mildly irritating at us spending $3000 on a packaged wedding.  She didn’t understand why I just couldn’t have planned the same thing myself for a cheaper price.  I’m sure I could have, but I explained to her that I couldn’t handle all the planning and the stress of figuring out details was making me dread my own wedding.  
Not to say that a packaged wedding didn’t come with its own stress.  We had a slightly unpleasant wedding planner after ours randomly disappeared on maternity leave without notice. There was an issue with billing due dates and we were stressed and having to put up half the cost of the wedding on short notice.  We procrastinated vow writing, music picking, and wedding band buying – not because we didn’t want to be with each other but I think because I was putting so much stress on everything being perfect.  I didn’t want to plan details but I had this notion that this was my wedding day.  It was only going to happen once and everything needed to be how I wanted it because I wouldn’t be able to ever experience again or go back and fix things if it didn’t work out.  That’s one of my major anxiety triggers to date.  The idea that its my “only chance” to do something so I have to see everything there is to see and pick everything there is to pick so I don’t feel disappointed or regretful.  The fact that this was such a big life occurrence made it all the more worrisome.
Ultimately, this story ends on a good note.  Alex and I got married on November 13th, 2013 at 4pm at the River to Sea preserve in Marineland, FL.  It was mild with a breeze, the sky was clear and the sunset was a gorgeous mix of orange and purple.  We had 12 guests in attendance. My parents, my mom’s husband, and my brother along with my husbands parents, sisters, and grandparents.  Yes, we had to deal with some of his family members expressing distaste over the guest list and location and there was also an issue of a certain someone recording the ceremony even though we requested this not occur, but these issues were dealt with in a respectful manner (or brushed off) and everyone moved on.
My bouquet was perfect, my dress fit, my hair that I had done myself looked lovely and it was a beautiful ceremony.  All the things I had thought were going to be big issues like not knowing where to stand or what to do if I was wearing a veil and it was windy – were all simple things that came with ease on the actual day of the wedding.  I pride myself on the fact that I was uncharacteristically low maintenance on my wedding day for a typical bride.  My hair was kind of done on a whim because it didn’t turn out like I wanted and I was able to move on without stressing over it.  I put on my fake nails the 2 minutes I had before getting in to the car to head to the beach.  My dress hem was a bit too long but I didn’t trip nor did I have to walk down the aisle with my dress hiked up in one hand.  My father even made it on time to walk me down the aisle.  During the ceremony my veil was flying all over my husband-to-be’s face so I immediately just took it off and handed it to his mother, no big deal.  I wasn’t nervous, I was comfortable and happy.  My husband cried when he saw me walk down the aisle and I cried when he sang me his vows.  It was beautifully perfect.
The moral of the story is that it sucks to have anxiety and depression when you have such important things going on in your life.  It affects your motivation and your ability to be proactive and productive.   Don’t automatically assume you’re having cold feet if you’re putting on planning. Its okay to take time and reflect on what you really want and don’t want to stick to it.  Its okay to have to make adjustments to traditions because your social anxiety permits you from having a 200 person guest list.  Its okay not to have a bridal party or send save the dates or have a fancy reception.  The people who matter to you will show up, your husband or wife to be will love you and thats all that matters.  Saying “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is easier said than done but I promise the day isn’t in the details. <3