Maybe other women already know and understand much of the information in this book; that would be awesome. But for ladies like me who somehow missed the boat on an in-depth understanding of the menstrual cycle and how women's fertility really works (despite gobs of knowledge about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding and a mother who was very open about body/reproductive knowledge), here are some intellectual hors d'oeuvres.
- The 28-day cycle is a myth that impacts a variety of women's health care standards. Menstrual cycles are as individual as fingerprints. By keeping track of key fertility signs, you can get to know your own cycle.
- Women typically release one egg a month, occasionally two. That egg is viable for a very short window of time, about 24 hours. Men produce hundreds of millions of sperm every day. It is entirely possible to know when you are fertile (ie, could become pregnant) and when you are not.
- The time between menses and ovulation is variable. It could change every month based on what's going on in your life. If you are sick, stressed, travelling, or exercising vigorously, ovulation could be delayed.
- The time between ovulation and your next menses, or the luteal phase, is generally not variable month-to-month for a given woman. A luteal phase averages between 12 and 16 days between women generally. If your luteal phase is 13 days, then it may occasionally be 14 or occasionally 12, but will not vary beyond that.
- If you are keeping track of your key fertility signs and know when you ovulated and how long your own luteal phase is, then you will actually know if your period is "late" or not. Let's say your period starts on April 1. You get sick a week later, and then you are really stressed out from school. You notice that you don't ovulate till around April 25. You know that your own luteal phase is 15 days. So, you are not surprised when your period doesn't show up until May 10--giving you a 40-day cycle that is completely normal.
Wow. Whether you are trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy, that knowledge of when your period will come is wonderful. In the example above, a woman who is not keeping track of her fertility signs may have been really excited, expecting that she's achieved a pregnancy she wanted. When her period finally arrives so "late", she and her husband might feel disappointed. Another woman with that same 40-day cycle who is not keeping track of her fertility could have purchased several pregnancy tests in a fit of paranoia that she's become pregnant when she was not quite ready. When her period arrives, she will feel relief--but will be just as susceptible to pregnancy paranoia the next time ovulation is delayed for some reason.
You can only really know when to expect your period if you know when you ovulated and how long your own personal luteal phase is. If you're trying to get pregnant, you can only know when to time your baby-makin' if you know when you're going to ovulate (And guess what? Ovulation predictor kits* don't necessarily help with that). Toni shares stories of couples trying to get pregnant who had been very diligent about making time for love about two weeks after the woman's period (based on the the mythical 28-day cycle), but who had not achieved a pregnancy. If a woman ovulated at day 11, then they would have missed the ball! Or if a woman ovulated frequently at day 20, they would have been too early! Toni points out that a couple could make love twice a week for a year and not get pregnant because they are missing when the woman ovulates every single time. Such a couple might think they have fertility problems, when actually they just don't know enough about the woman's cycle. Toni also talks about how many fertility treatments are timed based on the 28-day cycle and the problems and misfires and expense that can subsequently result.
Oh and speaking of 28-day cycle problems, guess what else is based off of it? PREGNANCY DUE DATES. If a woman's last period started February 1, her due date will be calculated from February 14, according to the 28-day cycle. But if her ovulation was very delayed and she didn't ovulate until February 28, that means her due date is off by two weeks. That means that if her care provider insists she is induced at 40 weeks, she could actually be getting induced at 38 weeks. What if that baby naturally would have gestated till 42 weeks? Then baby has been born a month early, and will suffer for it. Every day in the womb makes a difference. How many "failed" inductions that resulted in C-sections were inductions that didn't work because they were actually happening at 36, 37, or 38 weeks?
Toni also talks at length about the inequality of manufactured birth control, how it is essentially all geared toward the woman; how even though women are the ones who are only fertile a couple days a month, we are the ones expected to live with all of the horrible side effects of birth control. As another incentive for reading the book, let's just say that Toni has a little parody of the IUD called the IPD, and it is so vindicating and hilarious.
Basically, when women are actively keeping track of their fertility signs (waking temp, cervical fluid, and cervical position), and timing unprotected intercourse for when she's infertile (which is the majority of the time), then Fertility Awareness is a completely free method of birth control that is just as reliable as condoms. That is, if you are using the Fertility Awareness Method taught in the book with exactness, you have a 2% chance of getting pregnant. Using condoms with exactness, you also have a 2% chance of getting pregnant.
I ponder at length about lost body-knowledge. I have been aware of our culture's lost knowledge about birth and breastfeeding for a while, and now I realize we have also lost knowledge about the most basic elements of the menstrual cycle. A woman's body is not just this mysterious, unknowable thing that has to be reigned in with drugs and devices! We can and should know our own bodies and our own cycles.
I realize I didn't even attempt to explain what the key fertility signs are or what they indicate (though I was fascinated to learn about how the cervix changes position cyclically with ovulation!) That is because this is a complex topic, and I don't want anyone to be tempted to run off and try to use FAM as birth control with a couple fun facts. These are hors d'oeuvres. Please, go to the library or a bookstore and sit yourself down for the main course. It will give you the most nourishing and delicious self-knowledge you have ever consumed.
*You may view all of this with skepticism, thinking of someone you know who got pregnant unintentionally while using "natural" birth control. Likely, they were using an ovulation predictor kit, which doesn't give enough warning before ovulation; the Rhythm method, which is based off the 28-day cycle and does not require a woman to keep track of her own fertility signs; or the Billings method, which only monitors cervical fluid and is thus incomplete and prone to slip-ups. Toni's Fertility Awareness Method is rigorous, detailed, and very individualized, and again, has the same clinical effectiveness as condoms for contraceptive purposes. Don't knock it till you've tried it.