One of the biggest questions that come up for people considering using FAM for birth control is if they can use FAM with irregular cycles. The short answer is yes! There are many factors to consider, as well as why your cycles might be irregular, which is a bit tricker to figure out. This is why I encourage women to learn about their cycles and advocate for their own health.
Linear living means that we show up every day with the same energy level, motivation, and presence. Women are not linear beings. We are cyclical. Being a menstruator means that at some points of the month, we don't have the same outward, motivated energy as others, and we live in a culture that doesn't inherently value our cyclical nature. If irregular or absent cycles were your norm, and you thought nothing of it, that is perfectly normal. We are not taught to think anything of it!
FAM is not the rhythm method
There is a huge difference between FAM and the rhythm method. The rhythm method "guesses" when you will ovulate based on the idea that all women have a 28 day cycle and ovulate on day 14. The truth is that only a small percentage of women have cycles like this. There is no way you can "guess" when you are going to ovulate. You can have a sense, based off when your cervical mucus becomes more fertile, but you won't actually know until after the fact. This is why we chart our basal body temperature - it tells us retrospectively that we've ovulated.
If your cycles are irregular in that they vary in length, you can use FAM as birth control without any issues. Of course, learning will always be easier with a trained instructor who can guide you through the learning process as well as look at your charts once you've started charting.
What is a normal cycle?
A normal cycle depends on a couple of factors, that you can begin to track once you start charting your cycle. You will want to pay attention to length of cycle (remember that a cycle begins on day 1, which is the first day of full bleeding, and ends the last day before your next cycle). You will want to also pay attention to the length and flow of your period, as well as the length of your luteal phase (the time between ovulation and the start of your next period).
A regular cycle is between 24-36 days
A regular luteal phase is between 11-17 days
A regular period is between 3-7 days with one day of heavy bleeding
If you experience a heavy, painful period or severe bleeding, this is not normal! You will want to see support from a trained women's health practitioner. Additionally, if you experience extremely light, almost nonexistent periods, you will also want to seek out some support.
Where it starts to impact using FAM
If your cycles are irregular in that:
You go months without getting a period
You don't ovulate (goes hand in hand with not getting a period, you need to ovulate before you get your period)
Your luteal phase is very short
Your follicular phase is very long
When it comes to short or long cycles, using FAM becomes a little more tricky. This is because it either takes a long time to confirm ovulation, or because of the way your cycle is you may have less "safe" days - days where it is safe for unprotected sex. This just means that until you sort your cycles out, you may need to use barrier methods or alternative sex more frequently. The good news is, that working with an instructor will ease some of the difficulties that come with having cycles like these.
So what do you do now?
Charting brings attention onto your cycles. You may have had irregular cycles your whole life and not noticed until you started charting! I want to reframe this into a positive thing. If your cycles look like the ones I just mentioned, they are asking you to pay attention to something. You are being called to pay attention to your body and find the root cause of what might be going on.
Traditionally, with irregular cycles, women are perhaps offered some tests, and if there is no obvious sign of something awry, they will be offered the pill. The pill might bring some regularity to your cycles, but it will not heal the root cause of what's going on. As soon as you go off the pill, your cycles will go back to the way they were, if not worse - because the root cause was not addressed.
Taking a look at your cycles and health holistically is not the easy route. It takes time, patience and a whole lot of learning. But if you don't look at what's going on now, then when?
Wake up to your cycles
Irregular cycles are your personal wake up call to your body. While you're learning to use FAM with irregular cycles, I would highly recommend the support of a FAM instructor, who can help you both with the logistics of charting as well as how you can start healing your cycles.
You don't need to go it alone. There are many helpers who are trained in women's reproductive health from an alternative medicine perspective, as well as some doctors who are trained in this as well. Try and get as many people on your team as possible, and advocate for your own health by doing your own learning. (There may be underlying health reasons that do require you to seek professional medical help. Please do pursue that if you are in that situation!)