First Comes Love...

If you're friends with me on Facebook (or Instagram), then you've probably already seen this. Nevertheless, here is a short video Tim and I made. I think it's pretty great.


Best of Both Worlds from Danielle Stratford on Vimeo.



Well, We Live In New York Now.

Do you want to know how to move to Manhattan? Here's what we did.

Step One: get rid of all your stuff. Couch, dressers, your bed, dinner table, pretty much everything. If you haven't used it in the past year or two, just toss it.

Step Two: arrive in NYC, pay more than you ever thought you would be able to pay to rent a one bedroom apartment.

Take a look at all. of. your. stuff.



Step Three: Stop and ponder why you dragged half this crap in a moving van, up five flights of stairs, and into a tiny apartment that only has one closet.

No, not one living room closet and one bedroom closet and one pantry and one bathroom closet, ONE closet.

Step Four: get rid of more stuff. Like, a LOT more stuff. Books and moving boxes and more crap than we thought possible. And definitely get rid of the bikes.

(I know, I know...our hearts are broken. We love our bikes! But we have to store them inside the apartment, we have to drag them up and down several flights of stairs just to use them, we have to buy more expensive (and HEAVY) locks for them, and in the end they'll probably just get stolen anyway.)


Once we did that, then we still had to deal with the rest of the crap we still had. No one told us that moving into such a small space would not really feel like unpacking, just REpacking. Storing things under the bed, above the cabinets, under the sink, and packaging it all so it's relatively accessible but full to the brim. 



^^ Getting risers for the bed = one of the best ideas ever. 


The hardest thing about unpacking repacking was the constant moving of stuff. Stuff from one side of the room, to the other side of the room, to the other room, to the kitchen. There wasn't enough space to set it all to the side and work on one area--we constantly had to move the bikes to get to the closet, then move them back to move the couch in, then move the couch to fit the other furniture we had. It was like playing Tetris with our stuff, all day long. For three solid days.

After much blood, sweat, tears of frustration, hair pulling, and occasional grouchiness (guilty as charged), we did it. It took us hours of organization, sorting, compromising, and reordering, not to mention multiple trips to IKEA and BB&B. We finally have a fully functioning, organized apartment, just in time for me to start at the Apple Store and Tim to start his LLM program.

Tim and I both agree: there's something to be said for living in a small space. We had a massive apartment in Nashville, almost 1600 square feet. We had a whole other bedroom that we hardly ever used, two bathrooms, and an office. It was a fantastic apartment and we miss it. We miss the space, and the washer/dryer, and the central air and heat. 

On the other hand, we are absolutely in love with our apartment.


Even though there's no A/C. (Tim hates that part.)


Even though it's on the fifth floor with no elevator. (I hate that part.)


It's cozy and just the right size, now that we have a place for everything. There's no room to spare, but it feels just right. We are quite enamored.

















(Special thanks to Vika, who somehow managed to photobomb almost every. single. photo.)



^^ The view from our window, looking toward Central Park.



^^ Looking the other way, toward Riverside Park.


Moving to Manhattan is something I would never want to do again...but now that we've done it, I'm so glad we did. Tim loves it, Vika loves it, and even I love it. Seriously. Even though I thought I would hate it.

Now, who is going to come visit first??

How to Chart Using the Fertility Awareness Method

[UPDATE: Here's the actual chart, and here's the one with a lower temperature range! Enjoy!]


Now that we've gone through why it's important to chart, what the entire menstrual cycle looks like, and how to interpret your fertility signs, we're ready to actually start charting!



Before we dive in, I will say this: the Fertility Awareness Method is incredibly effective as birth control if you are willing to be diligent. It doesn't take much time or effort, but it does require consistent efforts day to day. If you are planning on using FAM as your primary form of birth control, I strongly recommend reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility or seeing a FAM instructor before you begin. I don't want to scare you, I just want to make sure you're taking the proper precautions. I have been using FAM for a year and a half now with no problems whatsoever.

Also, if you are already pregnant or if you use hormonal birth control, charting won't be accurate for you since you're not ovulating, so keep that in mind!



Should you use an app to chart your info?

There are tons of apps out there that track your fertility and tell you when your fertile windows are. While there are some great ones out there, not many of them are actually specifically geared toward tracking all three fertility signs.

If you're hellbent on using an app, look for one that allows you to easily record all three fertility signs (waking temperature, cervical fluid, cervical position), and make sure you're still paying attention to what your fertile signs are telling you. not what the app is telling you, since it may be wrong. Some good ones: KindaraReady to Groove, and Glow. However, I would strongly discourage you from using an app and tell you to chart on paper, at least for the first couple of months while you get the hang of it. I'd be the first one to tell you to use technology if I thought it would benefit you (hello, I work for Apple...), but in this case, I see it causing more confusion and work than it's worth.

As far as the paper charts, I've created a simple chart that you can download here  as a printable PDF.

(Don't download this one, click the link above. Click on this image to enlarge)

How the heck do you fill this thing out?

It may look a little overwhelming at first, but trust me--it takes about thirty seconds a day to record the necessary information. I usually fill mine out right before bed each night.





Start at the top of your chart, filling out your name, age, and the month and year. If this is your first month charting, start with a 1 for your cycle #. Then put the length of your shortest and longest cycles for the past year. (If you don't know, just leave them blank.)
Next, under the "Day" row, fill in the day of the week. Fill in the month and date underneath that. Skip the "Luteal Phase" row--we'll come back to that later.



You can put a diagonal line to start a new month, like 3/13 above.



Now that you've got the top filled out, you're ready to fill it out day by day. The red column highlighted above is where you would record the info for the first day of your cycle, which is also the first day of your period.




Here's what it looks like filled out. Let's go over the different entries.

In the temperature slot, find your waking temperature and circle it on the chart. Underneath that, you can record if you had sex that day or not. You can also record your cervical fluid--since this is your period, you'll fill in the corresponding box to record that.
You don't have to check your cervical position while you are on your period. If you're having any other symptoms, like cramps, bloating, or acne, you can fill that in as well. If you have any notes for the day, jot them in.


Voila! You're done for the day! Easy as pie.



 Here's what it looks like when you've been charting for a few days:


You'll connect your waking temperatures with lines. If your period gets lighter, you can do dashed lines instead of filling it in completely. 


After your period ends, you'll most likely have a time of dry or sticky days. To indicate a dry day, put a dash through the Period line.
Leading up to ovulation, your cervical fluid will start to get sticky, creamy, and/or eggwhite (fertile/stretchy).  Carefully record these sensations in your chart day by day.

Here's what it looks like when you've ovulated:


See the temperature that's higher than the rest? That's called your Thermal Shift. That is one of the signs that indicates your body has released an egg. The thermal shift is also the first day of your luteal phase, which you can mark by writing a 1 for that day in the Luteal Phase row.




As your Luteal Phase progresses, you can write out 1, 2, 3, and so forth in the Luteal Phase row so you can start to get an idea of how long your typical luteal phase is.
After your temperature shifts, you can draw your cover line. Your cover line helps you see when you're in or out of your luteal phase. To draw your cover line, take the six temperatures before the thermal shift (colored in with black above) and draw a line one tenth of a degree above that.
When your temperatures falls below the cover line (see the pictures above and beneath on day 29), your luteal phase is over and that day is the first day of your next cycle.


If you want, you can draw a vertical line to indicate that your cycle is over. Duplicate the last day's information on your next chart for Cycle #2.

There you go! You've officially charted for one month. 



If you're more of a visual learner, here's a five-minute video I made that covers the same basic information above. 




As you start charting, please feel free to reach out with any questions! I remember how confused I was when I first started, so if there's anything you have questions about, just let me know.

It was so amazing during my first month of charting to actually see my temperature shift and my body respond in predictable ways--I knew it was supposed to do that, I just didn't know if my body would do it. When it did, it was one of the most amazing feelings in the world. I hope you get to feel that as well as you start charting!



And if you haven't already...you should join the party on Instagram and Twitter!

All the cool kids are doing it. 

Interpreting Your Fertility Signs

[Are you just starting here? If so, you should stop and really start here and read those two posts first. It will be better that way. Trust me.]



You guys, we are almost ready to start charting. I know I promised you last time that charting was next, but I really thought this might be easier to digest if I divided it in half.

So, today we'll talk about how to interpret and read your fertility signs, and next time we'll talk about charting. I promise.

As I've mentioned before, pinpointing your fertile/non-fertile days rely on three primary fertility signs: your waking temperature, cervical fluid, and cervical position. Paying attention to these signals will help you understand when you can and cannot get pregnant.

Let's dive into them one at a time and take a look at how each sign changes over the course of your cycle.



HOW TO MEASURE YOUR WAKING TEMPERATURE

You will need a thermometer (kind of obvious, but you know...I thought I'd mention it anyway), which you can get at almost any grocery store or pharmacy. Most people have a thermometer hanging around, but check to make sure it's not just a fever thermometer. Fever thermometers usually go up and down in one degree increments (99, 100, 101, etc), and you'll want something more sensitive than that. Find a thermometer that goes up in tenths of a degree (98.1, 98.2, 98.3, etc) and you should be fine. You may have luck searching for a basal body thermometer.

Here are some guidelines to follow when taking your temperature:
  1. Take your temperature orally.
  2. Always take your temperature first thing upon waking, before you get out of bed. Don't get up, brush your teeth, shower, or eat breakfast.
  3. Get plenty of rest. Your temperature can be affected by less than three consecutive hours of sleep before taking a reading.
  4. Try to take your temperature around the same time each morning (within an hour or so).
That's really it--the biggest part is starting the habit of doing it. I'm not going to lie, it's become an addicting thing for me--I couldn't wait to see my temperature shift and know that I ovulated. Granted, I'm kind of a dork about it, but still. It's exciting.

You'll record these temperatures daily on the chart, which we'll go over next time.  Eventually, you should be able to see something similar to this pattern:
  • First half of your cycle until ovulation (Follicular Phase): range of low temperatures
  • Ovulation: temperature jumps 3/10 - ½ a degree usually the day after ovulation
  • Second half of your cycle until menstruation (Luteal Phase): range of elevated temperatures
  • First day of your period (Start of next cycle): temperature drops; period arrives
That's really all there is to it for your temperature until we get into recording your temperatures next time. See? Easy peasy! 



HOW TO TRACK YOUR CERVICAL FLUID

This is probably the part where most women may get squeamish, because I am going to tell you to check your cervical fluid every day, and preferably several times a day. 

I know, I know--it's weird, you may think it sounds gross, you've never had to do that before, etc etc. Let me just say this: once you realize that your body is not just creating weird fluids seemingly at random and you begin to see a clear pattern emerge, you will be blown away at how amazing your body is. You'll wonder why you never noticed it before, because the patterns will seem so clear to you in retrospect. If you can, I encourage you to work through any squeamishness you feel, and realize that your body is perfectly normal, healthy, and in all honesty, MIRACULOUS. 

With all of that in mind, let's move forward!

You can start checking for cervical fluid the day after your period ends. So, how do you actually check your cervical fluid? You can do it two ways: pay attention to the toilet paper when you wipe, or use your finger to check your cervical fluid. The latter is far more accurate and not as weird as you might think. Before you use the restroom, wipe or touch the vaginal opening and check for fluid. You'll be looking for four different types of sensations:
  • Dry: your vagina will always be slightly wet, but if there's no fluid you can see on your finger and it seems thin, this qualifies as dry. Wave your finger for a minute, and if the moisture easily dissipates, it's considered as dry.
  • Creamy: think lotiony. There's no stickiness to it, but it's more wet than a dry day.
  • Sticky: this can be gummy, rubbery, pasty, etc. 
  • Stretchy (egg white): as soon as you see this type of fluid, you'll know why it's called egg white. It's the easiest to recognize because, well, it looks like egg white--it's stretchy and clear. It's also the most important cervical fluid because it can indicate that your body is about to ovulate.
Once you start checking and recording your cervical fluid, you'll be amazed at how much information about your body is right at your fingertips. 

(See what I did there? So clever.) 

I know it's hard to talk about because we just don't talk about things like this, but take a leap of faith and try it. 

Your pattern of cervical fluid throughout your cycle typically looks like this:
  • First half of your cycle until ovulation (Follicular Phase): menstruation, then dry to creamy to sticky to stretchy (eggwhite)
  • Ovulation: 1-2 more days of eggwhite/sticky
  • Second half of your cycle until menstruation (Luteal Phase): usually dry, interspersed with sticky days
  • First day of your period (Start of next cycle): menstruation
As you can see, your cervical fluid has a lot to tell you about your own body. Don't discount its importance and its vital role in conception.

Another thing to start being aware of is something called your vaginal sensation. How many of us have been on our period and had this thought: "OH CRAP I THINK I'M LEAKING I'M PRETTY SURE I'M LEAKING WHERE IS THE NEAREST BATHROOM AND A TAMPON EVERYBODY MOOOOOOOVE!!" That sinking feeling of horror is because of your awareness about your vaginal sensations. Pay attention to it throughout the day; the more you practice being aware of your cervical fluid, the easier it will get. Do you feel dry? Do things feel slippery or wet? It may take some practice, but from personal experience, the longer you do this the more natural it will feel. After charting for a year and a half, it's like second nature now.





HOW TO CHECK YOUR CERVICAL POSITION

This last sign is an optional sign, but it's one that I would recommend using if you want to be the most accurate. It's also one of the most difficult signs to get a read on, so give yourself at least a cycle or two before you get the hang of it. 

If you're planning on using FAM as a method of birth control, in my opinion, you should be looking at all three signs. Your cervical position is a great "verification" sign that will back up what the other two signs are telling you. 

As you might remember from the menstrual cycle post, your cervix is the gateway to your uterus. It is found at the very end of your vagina. Your cervix is a ring-shaped muscle that keeps bacteria and other foreign objects from entering your uterus. Most of the time, it is closed and firm, but in the days leading up to ovulation, it withdraws further back into the vagina and opens up ever so slightly. This allows a bigger opening for sperm to get through to fertilize an egg. Around the same time, it also produces cervical fluid that provide easy channels for the sperm to swim up. Without an open cervix and fertile cervical fluid, the sperm stand no chance. 

To check your cervical position, wash your hands thoroughly and insert a finger into your vagina. Find the end of your cervix and note the position and firmness. Does it seem lower in the vagina than normal? Is it sitting higher up? How soft or hard does it feel? When your cervix feels firm like the tip of your nose, that is considered hard. When it feels softer like your cheek, that means it's soft. 

Remember, it will take you a couple months to establish a pattern of anything, so be patient the first couple months. You do not have to check your cervix while you're on your period; you can start checking it after your period ends and stop checking it three days into your luteal phase. You may find it easier to check your cervix in the shower, so you can start with clean hands and wash them right afterward. 

Your cervical pattern usually looks something like this during your average cycle:
  • First half of your cycle until ovulation (Follicular Phase): closed, low, and firm cervix, gradually opening and softening in the few days before ovulation
  • Ovulation: soft, open, and high cervix
  • Second half of your cycle until menstruation (Luteal Phase): closed, low, and firm cervix
  • First day of your period (Start of next cycle): closed, low, and firm cervix

And now you know way more than you ever thought you would know about your own cervix!


PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Here's how an average cycle will look with all three fertility signs put together:
  • First half of your cycle until ovulation (Follicular Phase): low range of temperatures, period to dry to sticky to eggwhite cervical fluid, closed firm cervix to slightly open
  • Right before ovulation: temps stay in a low range, sticky/eggwhite cervical fluid, cervix begins to open and soften
  • Ovulation: temperatures jump up day after ovulation, cervical fluid starts to dry up, cervix is open
  • Second half of your cycle until menstruation (Luteal Phase): temperature stays elevated, cervical fluid is dry, cervix is closed
  • First day of your period (Start of next cycle): temp drops suddenly, period arrives, cervix is closed

And that's a brief overview of how your fertility signs change in time over the course of your cycle! Armed with this information, you're ready to get down to the nitty gritty: charting your signs to start interpreting your own fertility cycle.


Remember...any questions you have you can throw at me! Find me on Twitter and Instagram at @Know_Fertility.  Keep an eye out for my next post on charting--it should be up in a week or two!

Your Menstrual Cycle, Explained

[Psst...if you're starting here, you should probably read this first!

Also, disclaimer: If you don't like talking about women's anatomy and stuff, you have been warned.]





If you're anything like how I used to be, your period was something that just showed up every once in a while. I'd start to get this feeling and think, "Huh...it's probably time for my period again sometime soon. I haven't had it in a while." Then I'd get my period.

Fast forward 3 weeks and repeat.

I didn't really know much beyond that beside the fact that it was a cycle, and at some point during my cycle I could get pregnant. I'd been told by OB-GYN's that there was always a risk for pregnancy at any point during your cycle--whether you're on your period or not. 

But mostly, my period was a huge black box of mystery. It came, it went, and then started all over again next month. What happened in between was...well, I had no idea what it was.

Hopefully by the end of this post, you'll know more than you ever thought possible about your menstrual cycle. It's not an exaggeration to say that knowing this information was one of the most empowering gifts of information I have ever received. Instead of a mysterious thing that just happened to me, it became something that I was completely aware of and thus in control of. 

So, how can this help YOU? Here are a few ways:
  1. You can know the date of your next cycle without having to worry about it coming during a range of dates (this is especially helpful if your cycles are irregular or unpredictable; even though the first half may vary, the second half of your period is almost always the same length in each individual woman).
  2. You will know several basic pieces of information vital to understanding your potential infertility: Am I even ovulating? Is my luteal phase too short to sustain implantation? Am I getting pregnant and mistaking it for a late period when I miscarry? 
  3. If you know when you ovulate, you know exactly when you can and cannot get pregnant each month. No more surprise pregnancies!
I could go on, but hopefully you see why knowing about this could be incredibly helpful to you. If nothing else, I hope you use this to become more aware of your body and yourself. It doesn't matter if you never decide to start charting; knowing about their cycles is information every woman should have.



In this post, we'll be describing a regular menstrual cycle, so this may not apply to women who have variations in their periods due to medication (including hormonal birth control), medical issues such as PCOS or annovulation, or otherwise irregular cycles. We'll talk about special circumstances in later posts.

First of all, we'll need to cover some basic female reproductive anatomy. It's important for you to know your internal and external reproductive anatomy, so even if you think you already know, I'd recommend going over it again anyway. I won't go into detail on the external reproductive anatomy here, but I'd take a look at this diagram if you need to brush up on what's where.



The internal reproductive system should look familiar to you (I hope).


I drew this in Illustrator while Tim was watching tv...needless to say, glancing at a computer screen with a massive uterus on it can be a little startling for husbands. :)

Besides looking like the face of a goat or possibly a really weird alien, your reproductive organs do a lot of really cool things.

Let's briefly go over the above terms, just so we're clear on where everything is:

Your Ovaries contain all of your eggs cells, and are about the size of an almond. When you are born, your body contains all the eggs it will ever produce.
Your Fallopian Tube connects your ovaries to your uterus--this is where the egg will wait for fertilization each cycle.
The Uterus is about the size of an upside-down pear. It's an amazing organ that can expand up to 500 times its regular size during pregnancy, and return back to its original size afterward. If an egg is fertilized, it will implant into the uterus to grow there.
Your Endometrium is a lining of blood that builds up in your uterus every month. If no egg is fertilized, it is shed and becomes your period. If it is fertilized, it grows thicker and helps protect and nourish the fetus.
The cervix is the at the bottom of your uterus. It is a ring of muscle that can expand and contract. There are ducts just inside the cervix that produce cervical fluid when you are about to ovulate.
And let's not forget the vagina! The vagina is the entrance to the cervix and uterus. It also has the ability to expand and contract, as well as produce its own fluids.



An average menstrual cycle is anywhere from 24 to 38 days long. Let's start with Day 1.





FOLLICULAR PHASE: MENSTRUATION TO OVULATION

The Follicular Phase, or first half of your cycle, can vary in length. It covers the time from the first day of your period until ovulation. The first day of your period is always the first day of your cycle. Usually, your follicular phase is anywhere from one to three weeks long. Because no egg was fertilized in the previous cycle, the unneeded endometrium has begun to shed itself, resulting in your period.

In the first few days of your cycle, the one of the ovaries starts to prepare about 15-20 eggs to be released, each egg encased in its own follicle in the ovary. The immature eggs develop slowly over the course of about two weeks. One egg is chosen to be released, and when it is mature, it bursts through the ovarian wall into the fallopian tube. Tada! Ovulation! The remaining 15-20 eggs that were in development are reabsorbed and disintegrate.

In the days leading up to ovulation, the cervix starts producing fertile cervical fluid. It is this fluid that allows sperm to live up to five days. Without this fluid present, sperm can only survive the acidic environment for a few hours--certainly not long enough to find and fertilize an egg.

The cervix also undergoes changes around ovulation. It widens and withdraws back toward the uterus. It is this change, along with your temperature shift and the presence of fertile cervical fluid, that will help you pinpoint when your ovulation occurs.

Immediately after ovulation (about 1-3 weeks into your cycle), the ovarian follicle that released the egg begins to disintegrate as well. As it dissolves, it releases progesterone, which will continue to be released for the next 12-16 days in the second half of your cycle (your Luteal Phase).

While your ovaries are busy preparing eggs and ovulating in the first few of weeks of your cycle, your uterus is simultaneously preparing itself as well. When your period is over, your body immediately starts to rebuild the endometrium in case of fertilization. The progesterone released by the ovarian follicle (which is now called the corpus luteum) causes the endometrium to thicken and sustain itself to wait for the egg to implant.


The second half of your cycle is called your Luteal Phase.






LUTEAL PHASE: OVULATION TO MENSTRUATION

While the Follicular Phase can vary from cycle to cycle in the same woman, the Luteal Phase is incredibly consistent. The onset of ovulation in the first half of your cycle can be delayed by stress, malnutrition, or illness, but once the luteal phase starts, it is virtually impossible to stop.

This is actually quite handy, though, because the end of the Luteal Phase marks the first day of a new cycle with the arrival of--you guessed it--your period. So, if you know the length of your luteal phase, you will always know the exact date of your next period. No more guessing!

So, let's talk about what happens in your luteal phase. Your luteal phase always starts after ovulation has occurred. The length of the luteal phase is usually anywhere from 12-16 days, although it can be as short as ten. Each woman's luteal phase length will remain consistent from cycle to cycle. Mine is always about 10-11 days, but yours may be a different length. Anything shorter than ten days can make it problematic to conceive, because it doesn't give the egg time to properly implant in the endometrium.

The length of the luteal phase is determined by the amount of progesterone released by the corpus luteum (remember that guy? The follicle that released the egg?). Like we talked about earlier, when the egg enters the fallopian tube, the corpus luteum stays behind and releases progesterone. It is this hormone that sustains the endometrium in case of implantation and pregnancy, causes changes in the cervix, and signals the cervix to start producing fertile cervical fluid.

The egg will only live for about 24 hours from the time it is released. Progesterone quickly prevents the release of multiple eggs after a 24-hour period, so that means that about two days after ovulation, you are completely infertile with no chance of pregnancy (until your next ovulation, of course).

Once the egg dies, the progesterone continues to be released by the corpus luteum for the length of the luteal phase. If the egg were to be fertilized, it is this luteal phase that would give the newly fertilized egg time to travel down the fallopian tube, enter the uterus, and implant into the endometrium to grow into a fetus. If implantation happens, the corpus luteum continues to release a hormone, but this time it is the more well-known hCG--the hormone that is used in pregnancy tests to determine if you are pregnant or not. This hormone suspends ovulation and tells the body to sustain the pregnancy.

If conception and implantation don't occur, the progesterone decreases. When no implantation is found, no hCG is produced and your body sheds the endometrium at the end of your luteal phase. You start a new cycle with the beginning of your period.



Phew!  We made it!! Your entire menstrual cycle, explained! That wasn't so bad, was it?


(Don't answer that.)


I'm planning on doing a video explainer of your menstrual cycle as well. As my sister wisely pointed out, it can be tough to visualize all the changes that are happening by reading a blog post. Hopefully I'll have that up within a week or so!

In the meantime, questions or comments are always welcome! If you're still confused about your cycle or have questions about something I didn't cover, please reach out and ask. I'd love to hear from you! You can find me on Twitter or Instagram at @know_fertility. I've had some really great questions from you already, and I love getting to hear about your stories, questions, and concerns. Keep it coming!


My next post will be about the how to's of actually charting your cycle. Now that we've gone over a lot of the basics, we're ready to actually dive in to charting. Are you ready? I'm so ready!

Fertility Awareness: Why It Matters

[If you have a uterus (or if you even care about someone who has a uterus), then you may be interested in this post. It's something I stumbled upon a couple of years ago, and I cannot overstate how much it has changed my life and my outlook on my own body.

If, on the other hand, you possess no uterus, you don't really like talking about women's health, or you get 
squeamish while discussing the wonders of the female body, you have my permission to skip this post.


Just know that I am sending my hairy eyeball glare to you through the internet. It's that important.]






Let's talk about charting your menstrual cycle. I know, I know--it can be a taboo subject. Some women find it downright uncomfortable. But hang in there with me.


First of all, why bother tracking your cycle at all? Here are a just a few reasons:

  • When used perfectly, the Fertility Awareness Method can be up to 99.86% effective as a form of birth control.
  • Since it is non-hormonal, there are no scary side effects like there are with the pill, the patch, the IUD, or other types of hormonal birth control.
  • Fertility Awareness is virtually cost-free (all you need is a thermometer, a piece of paper, and a pen), whereas birth control can range in price from $100-$1000 a year. It is available to just about anyone, anywhere. (Talk about really providing free birth control!)

If that's not enough to keep you interested, I hope you keep reading anyway--because fertility awareness can have an enormous impact on your reproductive health.

I first heard of tracking your cycle from a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I thought it sounded interesting--it was something I'd never heard of before.  I requested it from the library and had to wait about two months to actually get the book, since the waiting list was so long. Once I finally got it, I devoured all 428 pages front to back.


It absolutely changed my world.


I didn't think I was illiterate when it came to women's health and my body, but this book taught me things I had no idea even existed. Like the fact that your temperature changes predictably based on if you are pre- or post-ovulatory, and you can use this temperature shift to tell you when you ovulate. Or the fact that you can pinpoint a lot of symptoms by charting--things that affect conception, like a short luteal phase, miscarriages you may mistake for late periods, and non-ovulatory cycles where your body does not release an egg.

(If some of those terms don't make any sense to you, don't worry. I'll explain more about them later on. The main point is that it is possible to know a lot of really vital things about your own body without having to step foot in the gynecologist's office.)

Not only did the book teach me things I didn't know, it also dispelled a lot of old wives' tales and myths that I think most women still believe. Have you ever had a doctor (or someone else) tell you that women always ovulate on the 14th day of their cycle? Not true. Or that there is a risk of getting pregnant at any time during your cycle, not just during the fertile window? Also not true. Or, on the flip side, that you can only get pregnant on the day you ovulate? Again, not true.

It erased so many fears and concerns I had about the way my body worked. All those times I fretted and worried and wondered if I was pregnant at the wrong time, all because my period was a couple days late...only to find out I was worrying over nothing. I could have known all along. That is the power of fertility awareness.


And before you ask: no, it's not based on hokey weird pseudo-science, it's based on actual science and research.


I have been tracking my cycle (charting) for a over a year, and now I want to write a series of blog posts about how to get started. Today, I wanted to give you a brief overview of the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) and tell you why you might be interested in charting.

FAM is seen as a form of either birth control or birth achievement, depending on how you use it. It involves tracking three main signs (basal body temperaturecervical fluid, and cervical position) to help you track your cycle and fertile times.

Let's look at three examples and talk about why charting would matter in each scenario. We'll discuss women trying to concieve, women trying to avoid, and women who are trying to do neither.


Trying to Concieve

Trying to concieve is the most common reason for tracking your cycle, since doing so will help you pinpoint the times when you are most fertile. There are times in your cycle where it is impossible to get pregnant, as well as times where it is highly likely you will get pregnant. Charting your cycle will help you know (not just guess, or wonder, or hope) the best time to make babies.

In addition to that, it can be provide vital information if you are having trouble conceiving. If, like many women, you think you ovulate on day 14 but actually ovulate closer to day 18, you may miss your fertile window every single month, leading you to believe you are infertile when you may actually just be getting the timing wrong.  Some women have annovulatory cycles, or cycles where no egg is released--thus rendering it impossible in that cycle to concieve. Or they may have a short luteal phase, which doesn't give the egg time to properly implant.  Another rare option is that the woman actually is getting pregnant, but miscarries so early on that it is mistaken for a late period.

In any case, knowing why you are not able to get pregnant can provide peace of mind to you and, bigger still, vital information you can provide to your doctor to help pinpoint why you are having trouble conceiving.

One thing that is worth mentioning for people who are struggling to get pregnant: FAM is not promoted as a sure-fire cure all that will suddenly allow you to get pregnant. It can help couples who may be timing things wrong, and it can help you understand why you might be having trouble conceiving, but by no means am I saying that infertility wouldn't exist if only more women used FAM. Infertility is a real and incredibly difficult struggle, and using FAM may or may not help in certain cases of infertility.



Trying to Avoid Pregnancy

FAM can also be used as an effective form of birth control. How effective it is depends on how committed you are to charting, but most experts agree that it is on par with other forms of hormonal birth control like the pill.
So why would anyone bother charting instead of just popping a pill or wearing a patch every day? I can think of several reasons. For one, it's completely non-hormonal. I have nothing against hormonal birth control, and in fact many women need it to regulate otherwise painful periods. And, not being a doctor, I obviously have nothing more than anecdotal evidence about being on hormonal birth control, but it just doesn't sit well with me. Telling your body to suspend a major reproductive cycle seems very counterintuitive.  I would not be surprised if hormonal birth control makes it more difficult to conceive when you are ready to start trying. Using FAM, on the other hand, means that as soon as you flip the switch, you are good to go. No waiting for 6 months or longer for the hormones to be worked out of your system; you are 100% ready to go.

Again, there is very little research on whether or not hormonal birth control makes it harder to conceive when the time is right, but I can't tell you how many friends told me, "I never would have taken birth control if I knew I wouldn't get pregnant for months after taking it." They wish someone would have told them there was another way.

Three of these top four search results are contraceptives. Note: the Paragard is a non-hormonal IUD.

Another great reason to use FAM as birth control is that it's great practice to know what your cycles look like if you do want to use it to try and conceive. It can help you understand the rhythms in your cycle and pinpoint your most fertile days so that you can get right down to it when the time comes.


All Women

So let's say that you're not planning on having kids anytime soon (or are done with having kids), or you're not sexually active so you don't need it as birth control. Do you really need to chart?


YES. I think you still should.


(Let me qualify that: I strongly believe that every woman should at least know about the options of charting, as well as know in-depth information about their cycles and bodies in general. Some women would rather not chart, some women medically need birth control, and still others would just rather not have to worry about it, but if you can and you are able, I recommend it whole-heartedly. As long as you know the benefits of charting and you know enough about how your cycle works every month to make an informed decision on charting, that's good enough for me.)



Here's the great thing about charting, though: it doesn't matter if you're trying to avoid a pregnancy, trying to achieve pregnancy, are done having kids, or don't even have sex. If you have a uterus, then this applies to you. Tracking your cycle is an incredibly easy way to be in charge of and informed about a major part of your health.



One of the biggest things I gained from charting was a reverence for the way my body was designed to work. I felt empowered because I knew what my body was up to. No more wondering if you are normal. No more questioning out of the ordinary cervical fluid. No more hoping I wasn't pregnant (or hoping I was). No more guessing between a range of days when Aunt Flo was coming. I knew exactly what was going on in my body.

Not to mention, as I said earlier, charting can help you pinpoint symptoms of some major health issues that can happen regardless of your reproductive status. So yes--even if you've never had kids or you aren't sexually active, it can still be incredibly valuable to chart. 

I'll be posting a series of "how to" guides for charting in the upcoming weeks to help you get started, so keep an eye out for those. I'm really excited about sharing this with all of you.


In the meantime, this is really something I'd like to take seriously because I am very passionate about it. I've started a Twitter and Instagram account for helping women get started charting. I'll be sharing information on how to get started, as well as answering any questions that come my way. You can follow me on Twitter: @know_fertility or Instagram: @know_fertility .  I do love new followers!

One last thing: if you have any questions--and I mean ANY questions--relating to fertility, cycles, menstruation, etc, I would love to hear from you and help you get answers. Are you confused about the way FAM works? Have you been trying to get pregnant for a while and are wondering why? Do you have a question about your cycle? Any questions you have that you don't know the answer to, just ask! I already have friends texting me randomly to ask about their ovulation or why their temperature didn't jump at a certain time or what I think about their charts, so I might as well extend that to the whole internet!!!!!! 

(I will probably regret this later, but for now...whatevs.)

You can leave a comment below (anonymously if you wish), tweet at me, leave a comment on Instagram, or even email me at knowfertility at gmail dot com. 



Next post: details of exactly what happens during your cycle! (Spoiler alert: most of it will probably be new information.) Ready to read more? Click here!

Throwback Thursday, Journal Style.

You guys, I was reading through some old (OLD) journal posts the other day, from like 2006. Back when I was still in college. (Yes, I know...it was a long time ago.)

Anyway, I though you might enjoy reading a snippet of my heart locket girl diary from back in the day, in honor of Valentine's Day. So, I bring you: The Worst Valentine's Day Date Ever.

Me in 2006 with the Bad Dater. Too bad you can't see his eyes. You would have fallen for him too.

First, some background. I met Kyle* while working at my part time job at KBYU TV. I remember thinking he was beautiful.  A "I forgot my own name and now I'm saying idiot things and staring at your perfect eyebrows" kind of beautiful. Anyway, somehow we struck it off at work and he asked me on a couple of dates. At first, it was seemed like it was really going somewhere. He was nice and sweet, and--did I mention--ridiculously good looking.

On our first date he took me on a double date to a cool Italian restaurant in SLC. It was a charming little restaurant, and the dinner was going swimmingly.

And then...he had to promptly leave the table during the meal because of gastrointestinal distress.

For 20 MINUTES.

So, it was just me and this other rando couple, and worse yet, I'm preeeetty sure they were engaged. Or married. I just remember there was a lot of me staring at them awkwardly while they looked at each other. Yech. The worst.

(I wish I could tell you that the Italian date (or the one I'm about to tell you about below) is the worst date I've ever been on, but sadly, it is not even in the Top Five. I'll have to tell you about those others some time.)

Anyway, he ended up asking me out for Valentine's day, and this was the result. Enjoy, and feel free to laugh at my naiveté:


Well, Kyle called around noon before I went to work and asked me if it was okay if we could go to his little brother's basketball game for Valentine's day.  I was spooning with Hana, Steph, and Becca at the moment**, so I just said okay. 

When I hung up I was almost sure he was faking me out.  After all, he knew I didn't like watching basketball!  Not only that, but this is coming from the guy who took me to Mahler's Symphony! He knows how to be romantic.  So I knew we couldn't possibly be going to his little brother's basketball game.  Plus, I looked up the basketball schedule for Lone Peak, where his brother went, and they didn't have a basketball game that night!  Why would they, it's valentine's, after all!  I was sure that this was just some fake out and that he was going to take me to dinner, or to Color Me Mine, or something.

So we got in the car and we started driving toward Orem (that's where his little brother's supposed game was) and I was daydreaming about when we would arrive at the restaurant, and I would tell him that I knew we were going to dinner instead of his little brother's game, and that it was a good trick, that I was TOTALLY fooled (I wasn't going to tell him I knew because I looked up the schedule online)…and then we passed Riverwoods Mall. 

That's okay, I thought. There's still plenty of places to eat in Orem.  Maybe he's trying to make sure I really think we're going to his little brother's game.

Well, my bubble popped when we walked through the doors of Eagle Elementary School.  Turns out my detective work on the dates of the high school games had come to naught, seeing as this was NOT a high school game. 

Oh, no. 

It was a middle school game. 

His little brother was in middle school, not high school! Well, I was bored out of my mind!  Half of me wanted to chew Kyle out for thinking that I would have nothing better to do on Valentine's day than watch his little brother's middle school basketball game (okay, so I didn't have anything better to do, but still!). I was literally about to poke my eyeballs out, fake appendicitis, ANYTHING to not have to sit through the next hour and a half watching clumsy middle schoolers sweatily squeak around on the gym floor while my buns suffered from hard bleachers with no back on them. Worse yet, he was so into the (MIDDLE SCHOOL) basketball game that he barely made conversation with me.

I tried not to completely check out as I stared vacantly into space, clapping halfheartedly when they managed to throw the ball into the hoop. What a "date." I'm not really one for watching some sweaty, prepubescent 13 year-olds run up and down the gym floor while their parents scream at them from the bleachers. 

So, after that, we went to the malt shop and I got a shake.  It was okay, I guess.  

And there you have it, folks.  Now you can add "little brother's middle school basketball game" to things that you should definitely try to avoid on Valentine's day.

Yeesh.



*Name changed to protect the innocent
**What? We were four roommates, we liked to spoon. Stop being weird about it.

***Also, I just Googled him and he is still single. Although it looks like he travels the world now for fun and sees lots of awesome places and takes lots of National-Geographic-level photographs...but whatever. You know. I'm not jealous. Pfft.

Bluebird Cafe at Christmastime.

You've probably heard of Bluebird Cafe from ABC's Nashville (which is a great show, by the way). It features the Bluebird pretty prominently.

One thing you'd never guess by watching the show:

The Bluebird Cafe is nestled in a strip mall. 


That's right, a strip mall, people. 

It's flanked on either side by a baby boutique, home decor store, barber shop, and the AT&T store.  Verrry glamorous. By daytime, it looks dingy and unassuming, but once you're inside and the show's starting, it's an entirely different place. 
source
It's always been pretty hard to get tickets to Bluebird, since it's a pretty small place. It's gotten even more difficult now that it's become so publicized, and I felt lucky when we were able to get tickets right during Christmastime. The tickets went on sale at 8 AM Monday morning, and were completely sold out by 8:05. 

It's a small, cramped place, and you definitely don't go for the food. I mean, it's okay...but not anything life-changing. 

Bluebird is mostly for singer/songwriters, so you're mostly listening to the people behind the hit songs. I can't tell you what a cool experience it is to hear a song that you grew up singing along to, sung by the person who wrote it. Growing up in Idaho, I've listened to my fair share of country, and I've heard so many songs sung at Bluebird that I've heard over and over on the radio.

Even if you don't listen to or like country music, it's still an awesome place to go. Every time I've gone, it's been more of an acoustic session anyway, so it doesn't sound too countrified. And I've heard plenty of songs that weren't country.



It so cramped, you can hardly tell where the singers are, but the sound is good from everywhere. These guys were so amazing! They all went around the circle, taking turns to sing their next song, but in between there was plenty of banter and wit.




And now, for some (crappy) video from my iPhone! You may not have the patience to watch all of these, but trust me--they're worth the watch.

First of all, Tony Arata, who has written for pretty much all the country greats, sung a song recorded by my girl Patty Loveless, "Here I Am":




Aaaand my favorite singer of the night, Annie Mosher. She was the perfect mix of quirky and dark and funny and all around awesome. Plus, she had some of the best lyrics of the night. Seriously, can you just listen to this whole song:

(also, my apologies for the video being of the back of her head)




Here's another song from Annie, with a long (and funny) intro story.




Annie was by far and away my favorite of the night. Best thing about Bluebird: you can go straight up and talk to the singers after the show. (Even if they did want to escape, there's pretty much no where for them to go...they're surrounded on all sides. Ha.)  We congratulated Tony on his awesome singing, and I even got to go up to Annie and gush about how much I liked her music. 


(look, here is a picture of the front of her head!)

(well, really the side...but it still counts.)

Anyway, she was so sweet. I got a hug and a thank you and, because she liked me so much (b/c who wouldn't), she told me to go to the merch table and tell them Annie's your friend and she said to give you a free CD.

!!!!!!

She was the sweetest.


Anyway, if you come to visit us in Nashville, like, EVER, I will take you to Bluebird. And you will have an awesome time.

How to Make Orange Slice Ornaments.





My good friend Lucia texted me and asked if I would put up a tutorial for my orange slice Christmas tree ornaments.  I know what you're thinking--"Dani, you're telling me that your ornaments are so legendary that people beg you to post tutorials so that they can recreate your awesomeness in ornament form?"

The answer to that most profound question, dear reader, is yes. Yes they do.

They are incredibly simple to make, take almost no preparation, and can store easily for use year after year.

(In other words, if you somehow manage to botch this simplest of DIY ornaments, maybe you should just take it as a sign to stop crafting and DIY's all together. There are only so many crafts you can fail at before you realize it's just not for you. Just saying.)


Anyway, it all starts with an orange.


1. Your orange should look like this:


You'll notice it's round, and looks like an orange, and is fairly orange-y. So far so good.


This next part is a little tricky, but don't worry--after some practice, your skills will continue to improve.


2. Slice your orange into ¼" sections.



I know, I know...slicing things can be hard.


3. Next: place your orange slices on a baking sheet. 

And preheat your oven to 225°F.



I know, I know...so complicated, so many steps, difficult instructions, etc etc--but hang in there! You can do this! We are almost done!

5. Put the orange slices on the middle rack in your oven, then sit and watch them for 2-3 hours.

Okay, okay, fine--you don't HAVE to watch them the whole time.

But you should at least check on them every hour and flip them over.

Once they're about dry through and through, you can take them out and let them cool. They should be dry, not sticky, when they're cooled off. If they're sticky, they need a little bit more time in the oven.

6. Attach your hanger of choice, and voila!

Presto Change-o! You have a Christmas tree ornament ready to be enjoyed for generations to come!!*



They dazzle up any old tree with their stained-glass-look-a-like beauty. You will have the best tree in town! People will come from miles around to marvel at your tree! Pretty soon, you will be charging admission and selling hot cocoa on the side! You'll turn it into a lucrative business and make a BILLION DOLLARS!!!!!!!


(I expect you to send me a cut of the earnings, if this does in fact happen to you.)


Now, go forth, make ornaments, and be merry!


*Not that your grandkids will want your crusty old orange slices anyway, but you know. Just in case.