"I'm on hormonal birth control and I'm interested in switching to FAM. When should I start?"You've done your research, read the books, talked to other people who use FAM, and you've made up your mind that you want to give it a shot. Maybe you are on hormonal birth control, have been in the past, or have never been on it. No matter the situation, a question that comes up often in my DM's and in Facebook groups that I am a part of, is when do I start charting?
Where to begin
There are a couple things you will want to get in order before you make the switch to FAM. You will want to find yourself a Basal Body Thermometer (different than a fever thermometer - it will read to 2 decimal places), as well as something to chart with - whether that is a paper chart or an app. In terms of learning the method, you will want to go the instructor route (check for a list of instructors, or take a look to see when I am offering my next natural birth control course) or teach yourself by reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility or other resources. I recommend getting the support of an instructor, even if you have done your own research and read some of the main books out there on FAM. The reason for this is that instructors can help you make sure you have everything marked correctly for the most effective method, and they can interpret your charts for hormone imbalance or other concerns.
When can I start?
You can start charting as soon as you've got yourself a thermometer and a chart! Day 1 of your cycle will be the first day of bleeding, and the last day of your cycle is the very last day before your next period.
Can I start while I'm on hormonal birth control?
Understanding how your fertility works will help you understand how your method of birth control is impacting your fertility and your cycles. With hormonal methods of birth control (including the pill, hormonal IUD, patch, ring or implant), they prevent pregnancy by doing a couple of things based on your chosen method. They can stop the process of implantation by thinning your uterine lining, impact cervical mucus to prevent sperm from staying alive, and stop ovulation all together so an egg can't be fertilized. Hormonal birth control does this by replacing your natural hormone production with synthetic hormones. When charting your cycles with FAM, you will be charting your fertility biomarkers, which just means the expression of your hormone levels through BBT and cervical mucus. These 2 biomarkers will tell you where you are in your cycle when you measure them.This means that if you are on hormonal birth control, charting your BBT or your cervical mucus won't do you much good, other than helping you get into the habit of observing them. You can go off hormonal birth control at anytime and use a barrier method to prevent pregnancy, as well as support your body to recuperate after coming off the pill. Keep in mind, that you can also start preparing your body to come off the pill prior to taking the last pill in the pack or getting your IUD removed. Supporting your body before coming off the pill might help ease some symptoms you experienced prior to going on it in the first place.
Why do we hesitate to go off HBC's?
We have been told our whole lives that we can get pregnant at any time during our cycle. There are a couple issues with this. First off, it's a fear-based tactic that plays into our fear of sex + our bodies. Secondly, it simply isn't true. With the max 48 hours that the maximum amount of eggs can live, plus the 5 days that sperm can stay alive in cervical mucous, takes us to 7 days that we can get pregnant per cycle. While a woman's fertile window may vary person-to-person, it simply isn't possible to get pregnant every day of your cycle.We are conditioned to fear pregnancy, our fertility, our bodies, our cycles. This fear shows up in many ways, including our fear of getting pregnant. When you have doubt around coming off your method of birth control, and you still don't want to get pregnant, keep this in mind. Just like using FAM requires a paradigm shift, coming off HBC's is a bit of a challenge to the general norms around birth control. We are told that we have to be on some kind of medication or device to be responsible sexual humans. Contrary to what your doctor might say, there is no "good" time to come off, you can simply stop your chosen method and use a barrier method or alternative sex to avoid pregnancy.You might also be told that you can get pregnant right after coming off the pill. This does a huge disservice to women. While you technically can get pregnant the cycle after you come off hormonal birth control, more often than not it can take several cycles for your fertility to return, and for you to have healthy cycles. We should be advising women who want to get pregnant to come off hormonal birth control 6-12 months before they want to get pregnant.
It's normal to still have doubts
Considering all of the conditioning we have around hormonal birth control and being responsible, it's normal to feel a little wary before you come off your method of contraception! Getting some supportive people in your corner, whether it is hiring a fertility awareness educator, finding a women's health practitioner, or finding a group of folks where you live who are open to or use FAM can help you feel more confident in your decision and help you stick with it. You can check when I am running my next online group course, Cycle Love, which will help boost your confidence in the method and give you everything you need to use FAM effectively.