By Marie Zenack
Charting the signs of our menstrual cycle is a good way to keep in touch with our bodies, our feelings, and our health. It is also a good way to predict our days of menstruation in advance, even if menstrual cycles are irregular, and to know the most fertile times if we are hoping to conceive.
Cervical Mucus: The sign that is easier to observe is the cervical mucus, since it is noticed in the course of daily activity. Fertile type mucus is produced by the cervix during the days when the ova are maturing and preparing for ovulation. This mucus is not only an indicator of fertility, it is essential for fertility. Cervical mucus nourishes the sperm, protects them from the natural acidity of the vagina, and guides them toward the ovum. Following is a simple way to observe and chart your fertile type mucus.
Pay attention to how you feel as you go about your daily activities. Just as you have learned to notice a certain wetness at menstruation, you will begin to notice a second wet time, but later in the cycle, and without bleeding. The second wet time is caused by your fertile type mucus.
Each time you go to the bathroom, wipe with toilet paper both before and after you use the toilet, noticing: a) the sensation you feel as you wipe with toilet paper, b) what is on the toilet paper. Chart what you see and what you feel in the following way. Or use any charting method that makes sense to you. 1) Menstruation: mark the days of bleeding in some way, such as coloring the calendar day red. 2) Nothing: if you don't see or feel anything outside your vagina, you can leave the calendar blank on those days. 3) Something: but if you see or feel something - anything -such as pasty or sticky mucus, or a feeling of wetness - draw something, such as a raindrop, on these days. 4) Slippery something: If the pasty or sticky mucus turns to slippery mucus or a slippery feeling, color the raindrop dark to indicate the slippery wetness.
After a few slippery wet days, the mucus may disappear or return to sticky or pasty. When it does, begin to count the days until menstruation arrives. In a normal fertile cycle, the time between the last day of slippery mucus or slippery feeling and the next menstruation is between 11-16 days. You will become quite accurate about your predictions after you chart for about three cycles.
The mucus is your most fertile time, since fertile type is produced during the days leading up to and including ovulation. But don't try to use this information for birth control unless you seek out a qualified teacher of fertility awareness or natural family planning. However, if you are hoping to become pregnant, charting the mucus and the dry times of the cycle will allow you to know your most fertile time. It will also allow you to predict your next menstruation with accuracy, and to begin a new and sensitive relationship with yourself.
Under the influence of the hormone estrogen, when the fertile mucus is present, we may feel courageous and loving. Men who bored us last week may suddenly appear interesting and attractive. Like Mother Earth in her rainy season, we are full of potential. We may also be interested in sexual activity. These emotions and reactions are caused by the hormone estrogen, which is getting us ready to have a baby, even though we may not want that for ourselves yet!
After ovulation, under the influence of the hormone progesterone, we may feel somewhat deflated compared to our wet, fertile time. Like Mother Earth in her dry time, we may feel quiet, with less energy. When menstrual bleeding begins, both estrogen and progesterone are at low levels. We may feel sensitive, solitary, or inward.
Generally speaking, dark red bleeding for about three days indicates that hormones are high enough to build a good uterine lining and nourish a fetus in the event of conception. However, more than three days of heavy bleeding can be exhausting. Three to five days of wet, slippery mucus 11-14 days before the next menstruation is a probable indicator of normal ovulation and a fertile cycle. Cycles are often 28-30 days from the first day of bleeding to the first day of the bleeding of the next menstruation. However, irregular cycles do not indicate infertility. If the time between the last day of slippery mucus and the next menstruation is 11-16 days, the cycle is probably fertile. Even if one cycle is not fertile, the next may well be fertile. Much depends on the stress we may be feeling. Keeping a chart allows us to keep all things in perspective, and feel our own harmony with all the cycles of nature.
Basal Body Temperature: If you are not sure you are ovulating, you can take your temperature. The body's resting temperature increases four-tenths of a degree Fahrenheit or two-tenths of a degree Centigrade under the influence of progesterone at ovulation. Observing this sign involves taking your temperature at the same time each morning before rising. (This is not as hard as it sounds. It takes less than two minutes and you can go back to sleep if you want.) To observe your temperature rise, buy a BD brand digital basal thermometer. This brand will give you a consistent and accurate reading. Other high quality brands of digital basal thermometers are also probably accurate, but have not been tested for fertility awareness. Make sure the battery is good. (You can replace it.) An ordinary clinical thermometer is not accurate enough for fertility awareness. Nor is the "ear thermometer" (tympanic thermometer).
Take your temperature every day immediately upon waking, before 7:30 a.m. The body's rhythms (circadian rhythms) fluctuate over a 24-hour period. Your temperature is lowest in the early morning and highest in the afternoon. Fluctuations are greater after 7:30 a.m. If you go to bed before midnight and wake up before 7:30 a.m., you will get the clearest temperature readings.
If it is not convenient to take your temperature immediately upon waking, you may take it during light morning activity. For example, if you need to go to the bathroom, you may take your temperature while getting up and using the toilet. But be consistent about the circumstances under which you take your temperature. If you take it during light morning activity, take it that way every morning. Don't take it sometimes before getting up and at other times during light morning activity. If you have sexual relations, take your temperature before.
Many women find that the digital thermometers require such a short time to use that it is easy to take their temperature before getting up. Take your temperature by mouth. Under arm and ear temperatures are not accurate enough for family planning purposes. The thermometer will beep softly several times before beginning to beep slightly louder and repeatedly. Keep the thermometer under your tongue until the louder, repeated beeps begin. You can read and chart your temperature as soon as is convenient after taking it. Your thermometer has a recall button that allows you to read the last temperature taken. Be sure to wash your thermometer after each use.
Your Temperature Graph: Put a dot on a graph on the spot corresponding to each day's temperature. Join the dots of consecutive days. If you do not take your temperature one day, do not join the dots across that day. Also write out the temperature numerically, to guard against errors in graphing.
Interpreting Your Chart: 1) Breathe and relax. Study your chart. 2) Can you find six low temperatures during the fertile mucus days of your cycle? 3) Draw a horizontal line at the highest of the six low temperatures. This is your low temperature line. 4) Draw another horizontal line four-tenths of a degree F. or two-tenths of a degree C. above your low temperature line. This is your full thermal shift line. 5) Can you find three high temperatures after the low temperatures? All of the high temperatures must be above the low temperature line. At least the third high temperature must be at or above the full thermal shift line. 6) This temperature pattern of low and high temperatures is called a biphasic pattern with a full thermal shift. A biphasic pattern with a full thermal shift confirms that you really did ovulate. A smaller, but sustained temperature rise also probably indicates ovulation.
If you are hoping to become pregnant, please pay close attention to nutrition. Look for unprocessed foods grown without chemicals. Exercise in moderation. Get plenty of rest. Avoid stress. Think happy thoughts. Pray for the child you desire, and begin sending your child love, now. Heal any hurtful feelings between you and your mate, and between you both and your parents. Your mate should avoid hot shower or baths and tight clothing, both of which lower sperm count.To increase your chances of conception, use the wet, slippery days for sexual relations.
If you have observed a biphasic pattern with a full thermal shift, and it is now 18 days since your last slippery, wet day, and menstruation has not arrived, you may feel confident that you have conceived.
Congratulations and blessings!
Marie Zenack is a teacher of fertility awareness and a facilitator of women's rites of passage who runs Earth Wisdom