After graduating from college, I worked at my parent’s senior health care center. While there, I met Rose, a physical therapist whom I became friends with. One day, while we were reviewing patient charts, she stopped what she was doing, turned to me, and said “have kids early.” “Huh? I’m only 21 and I’m not even married yet” was my reply. She said that if she could do it all over again, she would have started having kids earlier because “it was not easy.” She had focused so much on her education and career that when it came time to start a family, it was difficult. She felt extremely lucky that she was able to have one child.
I’m not sure why that conversation lingered in my thoughts throughout the years but it had a certain impact on me. I was married at 23 and spent most of my 20’s in school, focusing on my education. The years flew by and I was already in my early 30’s by the time I entered my residency program. At that point, I realized that it was time to start thinking about starting a family if I were to ever have children.
It was a weird feeling to try to get pregnant after spending my entire adult life up to that point trying not to get pregnant. Surely we were all brainwashed by our parents and sex education teachers to think that conception is easy and inevitable. It usually is….for teenagers. I have to admit that I was disappointed when I didn’t get pregnant the first few months of trying but my husband and I were optimistic that it was just a matter of time. But each month when my period arrived, it was a discouraging experience. “Not this month, not this time” I would say to myself when I saw the dreaded red stain.
Luckily, I stumbled upon a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility with over 2,000 5-star reviews on Amazon. Even with a decent science background, I learned so many fun and interesting facts. The book taught me a few simple techniques to track and analyze my reproductive cycle so that I could more accurately identify my most fertile days. Unbeknownst to me, the iPhone app that I was using to time my “fertile days” was completely off. After a few months of charting and analyzing my basal body temperature (BBT), I was able to accurately predict that I was pregnant even before I was able to confirm it with a pregnancy test.
The principles are simple but there are lots of little details and nuances. I highly recommend buying the book as a reference, but in a nutshell, you take your basal body temperature (BBT) with a digital thermometer first thing in the morning and track it on a chart. You do this for several months to get your “pattern” and to learn about your unique cycle (i.e. which day you typically have the LH surge and the length of your follicular and luteal phases).
The book also teaches you how to analyze your vaginal discharge, which I never paid attention to until I paid attention to it. As it turns out, there are different types of discharges (watery, sticky, creamy, egg-white) during the monthly cycle and when I became attentive to the changes, predicting my most fertile days was simple and easy. The book also teaches you how to check your cervix position, but I never bothered with that.
How I tracked my Basal Body Temperature (BBT):
I bought a basic basal digital thermometer for under $10 or you can get a fancy one.
I placed the thermometer, BBT chart (download it free here), and a pen next to my bed and took my temperature first thing in the morning, before I got up or moved around. Keep in mind that your temperature readings should ideally be taken around the same time each day. Obviously having a fever or alcoholic beverages the night before can affect your readings. I would note those things in the BBT chart.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility will teach you how “study” your unique pattern to identify your most fertile days. Remember that the BBT chart does not help to predict when you will ovulate. It is useful to confirm ovulation, after it occurs. Some of my friends bought ovulation prediction strips to help pinpoint ovulation but I didn’t do that.
At first I thought that taking my BBT and charting it every day would be a hassle. As it turned out, I didn’t mind the process at all and thought that it was rather fun and interesting to learn about my body. I felt empowered that I was literally taking charge of my fertility and as a result learned a great deal in the process.
I figured that even if I didn’t get pregnant after a year, my BBT charts would be a useful tool to help my doctor analyze any potential obstacles and to recommend specific tests. For instance, when I analyzed my own BBT charts, I determined that my luteal phase was bordering on the short side (I get my period 10-12 days after ovulation). According to the book, a short luteal phase of 10 or fewer days is a sign that your progesterone levels may be too low. Progesterone is a hormone that helps to maintain the uterine lining for the egg to implant. Thus, a short luteal phase can make it difficult to conceive. If your doctor saw that you have a short luteal phase on your BBT charts, he or she may recommend a blood test to measure your progesterone levels and perhaps prescribe medication to boost your progesterone level.
In short, the key to getting pregnant is mostly about timing. The book teaches you how to zero in on the short number of fertile days available each month to maximize your chances of getting pregnant. Charting your BBT is a useful tool to pinpoint any potential problems (such as a lack of ovulation) so that you can seek professional help earlier in the process of trying to get pregnant.
Have you read Taking Charge of Your Fertility? I would highly recommend it to any woman – from teenage girls to post-menopausal women – because the information presented is so fascinating.
Happy Chic Mom, a blog for moms
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*Although this post contains affiliate links to Amazon.com, I personally purchased the book and highly recommend it to my family and friends.