Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The 28-day Cycle

It can be challenging to successfully use NFP even when a regular 28-day cycle is present, but a basic understanding of how things work under "normal" circumstances is helpful even if you're not there yet. Someday you will be. In the most basic terms, here's what happens: bleeding starts, shedding the lining of the uterus so a new one can be "built." This usually takes about a week, sometimes a little less. On day 14, an egg is released from an ovary. If conception does not take place, the egg dies within 24 hours and 14 days later bleeding occurs, starting the next cycle. NFP involves the observation of fertility indicators and either abstaining from sex to avoid pregnancy or using that information to achieve pregnancy.

In greater detail:

The Follicular Phase
Day 1
This is the first day of menstruation, the day you count all other days from. Normally, a woman's period lasts from 4-7 days. During this time, the body is producing Follicle Stimulating Hormone(FSH), which does exactly what it sounds like: it stimulates follicles(eggs) on an ovary. Every woman has two ovaries, but ovulation generally takes place on only one ovary at a time. During this time(bleeding), estrogen levels are at a steady low and don't fluctuate much. This is important to know if you are taking any kind of medication which affects estrogen levels(or even eating a lot of soy, which raises estrogen levels) because it will impact your cycle. On the last day of bleeding, estrogen levels begin to rise. They continue rising until they are high enough to trigger the release of Leutenizing Hormone(LH), an event called the LH Surge(the most important piece of information in NFP). The LH Surge can last 24-72 hours, and triggers ovulation. This is significant because the LH Surge can be detected using a simple at-home urine test and, in my opinion, is one of the only fool-proof indications of what your hormones are doing.

Let me stress: the LH Surge is NOT the same thing as ovulation, it precedes and triggers ovulation. These hormonal reactions are fast and sensitive; they change hourly. Once estrogen levels are high enough to trigger an LH Surge, there is no going back. The LH Surge proceeds until high enough levels of LH are reached to trigger ovulation. Within an hour of LH peaking, levels of LH begin to drop off and ovulation occurs. The decline of LH after a confirmed peak indicates ovulation has begun.

The Luteal Phase
(the portion of the menstrual cycle which begins with ovulation and ends with Day 1 of the next cycle, usually 14 days after ovulation)

Day 14(usually)
Ovulation occurs. An egg is released from an ovary and is viable for roughly 24 hours. If conception does not occur, the egg dies, estrogen levels decline and in 14 days another menstrual cycle begins.

So that's what normally happens. For more in-depth information, go here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

An Introduction

Hello, friends! My hope for this blog is that it will be a place people can come for information and support about Natural Family Planning. As any of you who have tried it know, it can be a tricky business and my own experience with NFP has been challenging to say the least. If you are uncomfortable with very explicit anatomical information, this blog is not for you. If, on the other hand, you are in search of as much information as possible, read on.

There are lots of reasons for using NFP. While some couples use it in order to conceive, my application of NFP has been entirely to avoid pregnancy. I am not a fertility expert and would probably be of little help to someone who is struggling to GET pregnant. Infertility is simply not within the scope of my experience.

I decided to start this blog because I have encountered a staggering amount of misinformation regarding fertility, especially fertility and breastfeeding. One of my major frustrations with much of the current literature on NFP is that it assumes a woman is having regular 28-day cycles and is not breastfeeding; in my experience, most women who desire to avoid becoming pregnant look into NFP because they have a young breastfeeding infant and therefore their cycles are often irregular and difficult to track. I was one of those women. Jack decided he really didn't want to breastfeed, so I pumped. When he was three months old, I ovulated. I know that some women would be open to the idea of having babies that close together, but I wasn't one of them. The reasons for avoiding pregnancy vary from couple to couple and are a private decision. What I will NOT do on this blog is discuss the moral validity of avoiding pregnancy. This blog is not a space for moral debate, just information and support. For obvious reasons I will allow anonymous comments but you can also feel free to e-mail me directly. If you e-mail an interesting question I may address it in a blog post, but I WILL NOT use your name unless you specifically tell me that's okay. I know it's a hard subject to talk about and you might think twice about leaving a comment, but I want to encourage dialogue here. I have had some invaluable conversations with some amazing women which contributed to my understanding of how NFP works and how to make it work for me, an understanding which would be far less rich without those conversations. Sharing has been a powerful tool in my journey to understanding NFP, and I want to welcome everyone's voice in this conversation.

I've decided to start with a brief overview of basic fertility and then move into discussing issues outside of what I'd call "basic" fertility, which I feel is where the greatest lack of information is. I'll start that in my next post, but in the meantime I'd welcome any questions anyone would like addressed. I might not know the answer, but I'm a relentless researcher and would be happy to provide that support for you. Don't be shy!