My first normal cycle
in Not a Diet
I’ve made no secret on my personal blog of the fact that I want to get pregnant soon. Our plan is to start trying to conceive in a few months. In the meantime, I wanted to get my body ready for pregnancy as much as possible. So, last month, I stopped taking the pill and started charting. (Since we aren’t ready for pregnancy just yet, we’ve started using condoms.)
Charting is fantastic, not just for pregnancy achievement or prevention but for general awareness of your body and your cycle. A few months ago, I bought the book that explains everything about it, Taking Charge of Your Fertility (also recently mentioned here by Christine). A month ago, I printed off some blank charts from the author’s website. And when I started my period, instead of refilling my pill prescription, I began to chart.
The basic way that charting works is this. You track two main signs, cervical fluid and basal (waking) body temperature. You can also track your cervix position, but I don’t do that. The cervical fluid tells you when you’re getting close to ovulating, letting you know when to have or avoid having sex, depending on your pregnancy goals. The temperature confirms that you have, in fact, ovulated when you think you have (important because the body can produce cervical fluid in an effort to ovulate but then not actually hit the hormonal threshold required to ovulate, making you think you’ve ovulated when you haven’t). The temperatures also tell you the length of your luteal (post-ovulatory) phase.
So, here are some things you can learn from charting:
- Whether you’re ovulating.
- Whether you’re producing fertile-quality cervical fluid that will aid in conception.
- Whether your luteal phase is long enough to support implantation (the phase need to be at least 10 or 11, sometimes 12, days long in order for implantation to occur successfully. If yours is shorter, this could indicate low progesterone levels, which can create fertility challenges).
- When you’re going to get your period (even if your cycle is irregular, the irregularity all happens between the start of your period and the day you ovulate. Your luteal phase is consistent from month to month. So, once you’ve ovulated, after the first month you’ll know pretty much to the day when to expect your period).
The way you tell when you’ve ovulated and the luteal phase has begun is through what’s called the thermal shift. Basically, from the day your period starts until the day or so after you ovulate, your waking temps will be lower (mine hover around 97.3). After you ovulate, the increased progesterone causes your waking temps to go up (mine are usually around 98.0) and stay that way until the start of your next period.
When I read the book, I didn’t really believe that it would happen that way for me. I looked at all the examples of the charts in the book, including the standard charts and the ones showing irregularities and potential fertility issues, and I was convinced that my chart would be a total mess of confusion, with only one thing clear: my cycle was not straightforward.
I actually have a fair reason for believing this. My period has been wildly irregular since I got it for the first time at age 13. Only the pill has ever given me a regular cycle. Sometimes my cycle was 30 days. Sometimes it was 45. Once I didn’t get my period for four straight months for no apparent reason (and it was not that I was pregnant).
According to my endocrinologist, a lot of this irregularity can be chalked up to my thyroid condition. I didn’t get diagnosed with hypothyroidism, or get treatment for it, until after I’d been on the pill for years. According to her, I was probably not ovulating at all even before I started on the pill, due to my thyroid condition. And I had no idea.
Plus, I’m overweight. Certainly I’ve lost a lot of weight (more than 70 pounds!), but I’m still overweight, and being overweight can lead to hormone imbalances that also impact your fertility.
And, to top it all off, I was coming off the pill. Most people’s cycles regulate within a month, maybe two, of stopping the pill, but I have friends whose cycles took over a year to return to normal post-pill. It can definitely happen. And given my previous irregularities, I figured it would happen to me. That’s part of why I stopped the pill several months in advance of when we think we’ll start trying to conceive.
So, I stopped the pill. For the first time since I began treating my thyroid condition, I allowed my cycle to do its natural thing. I charted it all, and told myself that I wouldn’t read into anything. Ovulation, no ovulation, short luteal phase, what have you… if it happened this month, it didn’t mean it would be an ongoing problem. It could just be residual effects from the pill.
But it turns out, I didn’t have to worry about any of that. I charted every day, carefully noting every relevant sign and descriptor. And I watched my cervical fluid start, and become increasingly more fertile-quality, for a week. I could tell, toward the end of that week, that I was ready to ovulate. I saw my waking temperature rise from 97.3 one day to 97.9 the next, and knew I’d hit my peak fertile day. And then I kept charting my
temperatures and saw a perfect 13-day luteal phase, before my temperature dropped back into the low 70s and I started my period again. My full cycle was 29 days. I ovulated on day 16.
I don’t think I can even adequately describe how happy this makes me. I know that so many women face fertility issues, and I have always assumed that I would be one of them. And I don’t know–maybe I will be. There’s a lot of potential fertility issues that charting can’t detect, and certainly it doesn’t tell me anything about my husband’s fertility.
But all preliminary signs are good. I’m ovulating. I have normal hormone levels. There are zero red flags on my chart. My body has regulated its own cycle, and all I’ve had to do is sit back and watch.
For the first time that I can remember, I feel like my body is normal. Like it is healthy, and it can do what needs to be done. It might not look quite the way I’d like it to look in a perfect world. And there’s a lot more I can do, and am doing, to improve my health.
But I am healthy. And for the first time, my cycle reflects that.