Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Herpes Is The New Black

March 12th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

Okay, the title of this post may have thrown you off, but hopefully it also lured you in so that you can hear me out.

What’s the story here? Just that herpes is way more common than most people realize, and that you can get it from people who may or may not even know that they have it.

 

Micrograph showing the changes of herpes simplex virus (HSV) – Photo by Nephron // Creative Commons 3.0

Herpes is a virus that causes outbreaks of blister-like lesions on the skin. Many people have had these on their mouth, where they are known as cold sores. When these same lesions appear on the genitals they are known as genital herpes. Technically they are two different versions of the same virus. HSV-1 is usually found in oral herpes cases. HSV-2 is usually found in genital herpes cases, but either virus can cause outbreaks in either location. Upstairs can go downstairs, and downstairs can go upstairs, as it were. Ahem.

According to the American Sexual Health Association, it’s estimated that about 50% of the adult population have had a cold sore on their mouth at some point in their life, meaning they have HSV-1. Half the population! That means that half the population could potentially give you genital herpes if they performed unprotected oral sex on you, so use protection, ask for your partner’s STI status well BEFORE you engage in any hanky panky, and don’t forget to ask if they’ve ever had a cold sore. If they have, you may be at risk to contract herpes. Unfortunately, most people who are infected with the herpes virus never show any symptoms, so even if they’ve never had an outbreak, they could STILL give you herpes.

According to the Center for Disease Control, around one in six people aged 14 to 49 in the United States have the HSV-2 virus, AKA genital herpes. One in six. That’s a lot. Same deal here, they may have never had an outbreak, but they can still give it to you, and YOU can have an outbreak! If you have one outbreak, you’ll likely have more, as the herpes virus will stay with you forever.The good news though is that the outbreaks tend to decrease in frequency and severity over time.

The best way to minimize your risk of getting herpes is to know the STI status of all your partners, and to know your own. You can (and should) be one of those awesome responsible people who doesn’t give their partners the surprise gift that nobody wants. Routine STI screenings won’t check for the herpes virus, so you have to ask for it specifically.

To get a test for herpes, ask for an IGG-type specific blood test. It will show if you have antibodies to either of the two viruses, and tell you which one, if either, you have. This test will only pick up the antibodies though, which take about three to four months after the initial outbreak to show up, so it isn’t 100% accurate. Just do the best you can. And always practice safer sex (no sex is totally “safe”).

Use protection when your partner’s STI status is unknown. That means dental dams for cunnalingus and analingus, and condoms for anal sex, vaginal sex, sex toys if shared between partners, fellatio, etc. And even if you DO use condoms every time, herpes has an asymptomatic shedding period, when the virus can be passed even if there are no sores, and only the part of the body that the condom is covering is protected, and herpes can be spread from scrotum to vulva.

But even if you do all of those things, some people will STILL get herpes!

I have four friends who I know have herpes. (All names have been changed to protect their privacy.)

Susie got an outbreak of herpes out of nowhere. Her ex-boyfriend had it, but she’d never had any signs of it. Six months after she left him she got her first outbreak.

How to Check Your Cervical Fluid When You Feel Like You Just Don’t Have Any

February 12th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

In an older post I wrote, I talked about how to check your cervical fluid with a folded piece of toilet paper or your clean fingers.

BUT! What if you’re doing that and not finding anything? What if you, like many women I talk to, think that they don’t have any cervical fluid?

Well, you’re in luck, because I’m about to explain how to measure your cervical fluid, even if it seems like you don’t have any! Are you ready for this? You’re so ready.

Adapted from a photo by Lamerie // Creative Commons 2.0

Things you’ll need:

  • Hand mirror
  • Clean towel
  • Soap and water

So … it goes a little something like this — CRAM YOUR FINGERS IN YOUR VAGINA! Just kidding. Not really. Kind of. Kidding about the “cramming” thing, but not about the “in your vagina” thing.

First things first, wash your hands. You don’t want to introduce any foreign bacteria into the vagina — it’s got a whole host of its own friendly bacteria that keeps things running smoothly, and you don’t want to upset the balance.

Now that your hands are clean … wait a minute! Okay, a lot of you reading this are probably very familiar with your vagina, where it is, how it looks, and every little nook and cranny inside and out. But some of you may not be. For those of you in the second camp, there is an extra step.

Grab a hand mirror!

Okay, was that hand mirror very dirty? Did you take it out of the woodshed or something? Is it your husband’s shaving mirror? If any of the above are true, wash your hands again.

Now get naked from the waist down — think gynecologist’s office, but significantly less unpleasant. You can leave your socks on. No cold stirrups (hopefully). Now sit or squat on a clean towel on the floor, and hold the hand mirror between your legs so you can actually get a good look at your vulva (external genitalia). As women, our genitals are positioned in such a way that they are very hard to get a clear look at without the aid of a hand mirror, so unless you’ve done this before, you may be surprised at what you see. Look at how beautiful you are! So many little folds of soft delicate skin, so many different shades of color. Vulvas come in all shapes and sizes and colors, and each are perfect and beautiful and packed with nerve endings, so don’t you even dare consider labiaplasty, even if the vulva you see in the mirror doesn’t look like the ones you may have seen in certain adult movies (or Canadian strip clubs). Yours is perfect. I promise.

Have a look and a feel around! Gently spread your inner labia apart and take a peek at what’s in there. You’ll see your clitoris, vaginal opening, and, if you have keen eyesight, the urethral opening. Neat, huh? You may even see some cervical fluid at the vaginal opening.

Now see where your vaginal opening is? Gently slide one clean finger inside, see how that feels? Okay, now you know WHERE to stick your finger when checking your cervical fluid internally.

Crouch in a squatting position, and place one or two (if they fit) fingers in your vagina, until you feel something like the tip of a nose (if you are fertile it might be much softer). This is your cervix! The place from whence all cervical fluid hails! The motherland!

Now draw your finger(s) gently out of your vagina and have a look at them. They will be slightly damp, because the vagina is a mucus membrane, like the inside of your mouth, so wetness is a given. Other than that, is there any “substance” on them? Anything that looks like grade school paste, or hand lotion, or raw egg whites? If so … there is your cervical fluid!!!! You found it! Hooray!

If not, you may be a) on the pill, b) in the pre-ovulatory infertile phase of your cycle, before you’ve started to make cervical fluid, or c) in the post-ovulatory infertile phase of your cycle, after ovulation, and your body may have stopped making cervical fluid for the remainder of your cycle.

If you don’t notice any, check again later in the day, and several times tomorrow, and every day after that! Soon you’ll have something to record on your chart!  :-)

Now you can stand up, wash your hands (again), pull up your pants (this step is critical), and go about your day!

Wheeee!!! Any questions on that? Ask me in the comments.

Cross-posted at Kindara, February 5, 2013

Getting Over The Pill

January 15th, 2013 by Kati Bicknell

Here’s a notion: Birth control pills are not the only way manage your reproductive health.

The pill came out more than 50 years ago, and at the time, it was a symbol of liberation and freedom for women. Suddenly, they no longer had to worry about unplanned pregnancy. It was great. But now that 50-year-old technology is starting to lose much of the appeal it once had.

Adapted from a photo by Jess Hamilton // Creative Commons A-NC-SA 2.0

Today many women get on the pill as teenagers to “regulate” irregular cycles, and they get off the pill in their late 20s or early 30s when they want to get pregnant. The unfortunate reality is many women find it’s not as easy as they thought it would be to get pregnant. Ten or fifteen years of being on oral contraceptives doesn’t “fix” an irregular cycle; it just kind of pushes the pause button on your reproductive system.

When you come off the pill in your late 20s or early 30s because you finally want kids, your body has to pick up where it left off when you were a teenager. Often women at this stage of their lives find it takes longer than expected to conceive and wind up on the assisted reproductive technology track — reproductive endocrinologists, expensive and annoying tests, procedures, hormone injections ,and all that jazz. And, heartbreakingly, after several years and thousands of dollars, that doesn’t always work.

The side effects of the pill are a real pain in the ass for many women, too. Weight gain, depression, loss of libido, and “not feeling like myself” (AKA “I seem to have gone insane”) are some of the more common complaints cited. In fact, a CDC report on contraceptive use states that 10.3 million women have stopped taking the pill due to side effects, or fear of side effects.

All women need a way to have children when they want them, and to not have children when they don’t. And they need to feel good about the whole thing — not freaked out, bloated and crazy. Imagine how the world would be different if this was a reality.

This reality is possible thanks to the wonderful simplicity of the Fertility Awareness Method — the technology behind Kindara. Instead of women’s reproductive reality being like this:  “Oh my god,  I don’t want to get pregnant” during her twenties, followed by “Oh my god,  I want to get pregnant NOW!” in her thirties, the Symptothermal Method makes it one question: “When do I want to get pregnant?”

Charting your cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method can help you achieve your reproductive goals without pills, side effects, or stress, whether you want to have kids in the next few years, in 10 years, or never. By charting your cycle, you will see if and when you are ovulating, and you will know when you are fertile, which is the trick to knowing when you can or cannot pregnant. Charting your cycle could help clarify issues that need to be remedied before you can get pregnant too. You can even confirm pregnancy with your chart. Exciting!

If women were taught the basics of Fertility Awareness as soon as they entered their reproductive years and knew that they could avoid or plan for pregnancy by charting their primary fertility signs (temperature and cervical fluid), they would save a lot of time, money, and stress.

What a different world we would all be living in if each woman shifted her thinking from “I need this pill so I don’t have unplanned pregnancies, and I need my doctor to prescribe this pill” to “I know just what is going on with my cycle at all times. I am calm, confident, and empowered. I manage my own fertility thank you very much, and I don’t need pills to do it.”

Now I’m not saying that oral contraceptives have no place in the world. They are a wonderful invention. Thanks to the pill, women today can take it as fact that pregnancy can be prevented easily and effectively. But because this is now a forgone conclusion, we are free to look for even better options — options like the Fertility Awareness Method that can prevent pregnancy easily, effectively, autonomously and without side effects.

Originally published at Kindara.com on December 15th, 2012

Do You Want to Have Kids?

December 18th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

I’m sure by now most of you have seen this video by Jonathan Mann and Ivory King, which went viral last week. Or at least I hope you have, because it is wonderful.

I went to Bennington College with Jonathan and have been enjoying his music for years. He’s been writing a song a day for over 1000 days straight, and he shows no signs of stopping.

Usually he writes about fun or silly things, like kittens in space. So naturally I was surprised on December 5th to see that his 1,435th song was called ‘We’ve Got to Break Up.’ It was, appropriately, a song about him and his girlfriend of five years, Ivory, deciding to break up because only one of them wants to have children.

I think this is one of the best videos I’ve ever seen, not just out of the Song A Day files, but anywhere, and not just because it’s catchy.

The choice to have children or not is immensely personal, and if a couple is mismatched in their desire to have children, one or both members of the relationship will ultimately be unsatisfied, regardless of the many loves, joys and other interests they may share.

This is a topic that needs to be discussed more openly and honestly, with each member of the relationship being clear about their needs and desires. If your life won’t be complete without hearing the pitter patter of little human feet, staying with someone who doesn’t want to have children is not fair to either person.

I think this is why ‘We’ve Got to Break Up’ has received so much attention. This important topic is so rarely talked about, especially in public, that to see a couple expressing their views on the subject is unexpected and compelling. The pain on both of their faces as they realize they must say goodbye to a loyal, loving, wonderful partner in order to lead the lives that ultimately will bring them happiness is heartbreaking, yet also inspiring.

In my opinion it deserves mentioning that it is Ivory who doesn’t want to have children. This goes against the grain of popular culture, where I feel like women are the ones who are expected to want to have children. One million extra bonus points for Ivory for being clear about what she needs. The fact that women can now choose when, if ever, to have children is freaking sweet! That’s why it’s so important that women realize they have this choice, and learn about how their bodies work, so they can have children if, and only if, they want them.

I hope that Jonathan and Ivory’s brave and open-hearted song to their friends (and, as it turns out, the world) will give more people the courage to have these difficult conversations with their partners.

How to Make Sure Your Period is Never “Late”

November 20th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

Have you ever been concerned because your period was late? I know I have. But I’m not anymore! And you don’t have to be either! And since I’m sure you’d rather not spend several days every month nervously pacing and counting dates backwards on your hands while glaring at the general vicinity where you guess your uterus is, I’ll tell you how.

It’s simple:

LEARN ABOUT YOUR BODY!

Your period is not a Rolex watch; it was not specifically crafted in Switzerland to accurately tell time. A woman’s reproductive system is designed to … wait for it … reproduce! It takes into account all kinds of things when determining whether or not “now” is a good time to try and have a baby, and not ONE of those things is what day it is.

“Oh rats! I’m late for … uh … me ….”  This is something your period will never say. Think about it for a second. Your period is late? For what? For itself? Do you see how insane that is?

Whether or not, and when, a woman gets her period each cycle depends on a slew of hormonal events, which can be influenced by many things, such as diet, environmental and emotional stress, and on and on.

So let’s take things from the top and see why you think your period is “late,” shall we?

To begin, there is a theory that all women used to cycle with the moon. They would ovulate at the full moon, and they got their period with the new moon. But there is some evidence that suggests that the amount of ambient light in your bedroom while you’re sleeping at night can influence your cycle, in the same way that the moon supposedly did.

So if we are basing the notion of a “standard 28 day cycle” off when we used to cycle with the moon, we’re all pretty much screwed! Think of your bedroom — your alarm clock, a charging cell phone, a streetlamp, a light from under the door because your roommate is on another ‘Friday Night Lights’ bender: most of us do not sleep in a room where the only light is moonlight.

To further confuse matters, women who are on the pill “get their period” at around the same time every month, but anyone who knows anything about the pill knows that is not an actual period. It’s a bleed caused by the body’s withdrawal from progesterone on the week of placebo pills.

So we’ve got these two things that mislead women into thinking that their cycle should be 28 days.  One of my colleagues who has been teaching the Fertility Awareness Methodfor years says that she’s never had a client whose cycle was the same exact length every single time.

Sample chart for Example 1
© Kindara, used with permission


Period not arrive when you thought it would? Let’s take a look at your chart, it could be several things:

If you actually learn about what is going on in your body each cycle, and chart your fertility using the symptothermal method, you will be able to see and understand what is actually happening with all your heretofore “mystery bits.”

1. You haven’t ovulated yet, which means that a period is a ways off.  You might experience breakthrough or withdrawal bleeding later, but this would not technically be a true menstruation.

 

Sample chart for Example 2
© Kindara, used with permission

2. You ovulated and are currently in your luteal phase, which appears up until now, to be of a normal length.  Depending on how long your luteal phases typically are, you could have a better idea of when to expect your period, and if that day passes with no period, let’s see what’s behind door number 3.

 

 

 

 

3. You ovulated and are currently in your luteal phase, which appears to be longer than normal, which could indicate pregnancy.  (Or in very rare cases, a luteal cyst.)

Sample Chart for Example 3
© Kindara, used with permission

You see, there is always a reason that your period has not come yet, if you’re waiting on it. Certainly, you could say I’m just arguing semantics, but the truth of the matter is that your period is never “late,” it is doing exactly what your body is telling it too. The trick is to understand your body, rather than blame it and stare wistfully up at the moon, hoping it will work its sweet, sweet magic on your uterus.

 

Chart your cycle, and you’ll always know what the deal is.

Doooooooo it.

Editor’s note: Click on images to view at full size.

“Here is the thing that is really driving me crazy about my goddamned IUD”

November 1st, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

“Population Bomb” by Jairus Khan // CC 2.0

Who among us wants to invite a T-shaped piece of plastic or metal to live in our uterus for the next 5 to 10 years, just for fun? No one! But if it’s to prevent pregnancy that’s a different story. IUDs may be uncomfortable and annoying but women still use them because they are so dang effective.

There are many ways to prevent pregnancy. Abstinence, Condoms, the Fertility Awareness Method, Birth Control Pills…and more. One form of contraception that has grown in popularity in recent years is the Intra-Uterine Device (IUD). One study found that teenagers who use long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) had fewer unplanned pregnancies. IUDs and sub-dermal implants are two LARCs. In light of this study, doctors have been recommending IUDs to teenagers as the most effective form of contraception. In the past, it was commonly held that only women who had already had children would be good candidates for IUDs, but today they are recommended for women regardless of whether or not they’ve had children. These devices are very effective at preventing pregnancy, and some even work without hormones. For many women, the IUD is a great option, effective contraception that they rarely have to think about.

But IUDs are not all butterflies and rainbows. I had one briefly, even after knowing my mom’s horror story with the Dalkon Shield in the late 60s. At the age of 27, I was done with the pill and all hormonal contraception, and as I didn’t have a history of heavy periods, my doctor said that the Paragard would be a good choice for me. So I got one. And…I freaking hated it! For the first three weeks after it was inserted, I had cramps so severe that even with intense pain killers, I found it hard to go about my life without thinking I was dying and/or wishing I was dead. My light 3-day periods turned into heavy 10-day affairs with crippling cramps the entire time. An additional unexpected and unpleasant side effect was a sudden inability to reach orgasm during sex. (Anyone else ever have this side effect?)

The one good thing about having the IUD was that one time when I sneezed while on my new heavier period and blood exploded out of my vagina like a gunshot wound, which I found HILARIOUS! But I digress…

A friend of mine says this about her Paragard:

“Here is the thing that is really driving me crazy about my goddamned IUD — my crotch has no idea what it’s doing anymore, and hence neither do I.”

Her cervical fluid is all out of whack, there is no longer any discernable pattern, so she doesn’t know where she is in her cycle. So, while she is using the IUD for contraception, and doesn’t need to chart her fertility for contraceptive purposes, the monthly cues her cervical fluid usually gives her about where she is in her cycle are no longer there.

She also brought up a study that found elevated levels of Mast Cells in the endometrium of women with IUDs. Mast Cells are what your body produces when it’s having an allergic reaction, like if you get hives after eating shellfish. So, are IUDs actually producing allergic reactions in women’s uteruses? That would probably help prevent pregnancy, but what about the woman who has to live with this every day?

Ultimately, I had my IUD removed after four months because I couldn’t stand it any more. All that blood and pain, and lack of orgasms, in a word, sucked! I really feel for women who have periods like this normally, it’s the worst! I was not going to subject myself to this if I didn’t have to.

Thinking I had fully exhausted all medical contraceptive options, I was resigned to using condoms or other barrier methods for the rest of my life. Luckily I didn’t have to do that! I soon found out about the Fertility Awareness Method and started charting my fertility. I can now have unprotected sex with my husband when I’m not fertile, and use barrier methods only when I am fertile.  It’s the best possible solution for us.

IUDs are very effective, but as my story shows, having one in your uterus can be pretty gnarly. In general, I am very glad that IUDs exist. The side effects of today’s IUDs are minimal when compared to the ones in the 60s and 70s, but that doesn’t mean that they are the magic bullet of contraception (see a recent post by Laura Wershler expressing some overlapping views). For me and many other women, the Fertility Awareness Method is a wonderful contraceptive. I want more women to hear about it so it can be brought to light as a serious contender for mainstream contraceptive use.

The Quest to Give Cervical Fluid a Name!

September 25th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

 

Photo by Acaparadora // CC 2.5

Cervical fluid, the sticky/creamy/stretchy/slippery substance produced by the cervix is arguably the most important substance on earth. Without it, the human race would be shortly extinct, yet not many people even know what it is. This is unacceptable, and you and I are going to change this.

In case you don’t know, Cervical Fluid plays a vital role in helping women get pregnant, avoid pregnancy, and figure out health issues, yet its name has remained merely a description. Cervical fluid is too important to be forever described but never properly named.

Cervical fluid is incredibly valuable. Without it, life as we know it would literally cease to exist. Fertile cervical fluid keeps sperm alive once it is inside the vagina.  It provides nutrients, a hospitable alkaline environment, and aids in transportation. Cervical Fluid helps the sperm survive, sometimes for up to five days, while waiting for an egg to be released. Cervical fluid is like a soccer mom, providing snacks, protection, and transportation to the sperm, while they are on their way to the big game.  Without her, there would be no game, and getting pregnant would be virtually impossible without outside intervention.

And that is just ONE of the many ways cervical fluid makes our lives richer. It also tells an awful lot about the state of a woman’s hormones, which can play a key role in many health issues.

OK, so we’ve established that cervical fluid plays a vital role in the continuance of the human race, not to mention women’s health.  But with just a description for a name, we are faced with an intractable communication problem: unnamed bodily substances have a particular propensity to make people uncomfortable, and currently many people get scared off or grossed out by cervical fluid’s various descriptive identifiers.

You’ll hear it referred to as “Cervical Mucus”, “Vaginal Discharge”, “Vaginal Mucus”, and the slightly less gross-sounding “Cervical Fluid”. It’s not fair.  What if semen was called “Testicle Mucus”, or “Penile Discharge”?  Imagine if saliva was called “Oral Mucus”, or “Mouth Discharge”?  It’s not, for a reason! Even feces gets its own name!  You don’t often hear it referred to as “Solid Anal Discharge”. Each of these substances has an important role to play in the health of the human body, and hence, they have been given names, not just descriptions, so that we can acknowledge and understand them.

This quote from The Simpsons episode The Principal and the Pauper  illustrates my point:

Lisa: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Bart: Not if you called ‘em stench blossoms.

Homer: Or crapweeds.

Marge: I’d sure hate to get a dozen crapweeds for Valentine’s Day. I’d rather have candy.

Homer: Not if they were called scumdrops.

You get the point.  Something can be lovely and beautiful and wanted, but if you call it by an unappealing name, no one is going to give it a chance.

Now, I personally LOVE cervical fluid. It has taught me a great deal about my fertility and my health.  It’s a crime that this stuff is not more not widely popular. I posit that if cervical fluid had a more euphonious appellation, people would be more interested in hearing, talking, and reading about it.  Which would lead to understanding and wider acceptance. This Quest to name Cervical Fluid has broad-reaching social implications. With wider understanding and acceptance of this most sacred substance, women would own their fertility again. The sense of panic and confusion that many women experience when thinking about their reproductive health would diminish and eventually vanish.  There would be fewer unplanned pregnancies and more wanted pregnancies. More wanted pregnancies would lead to happier families and, ultimately, a happier world!  For the betterment of women everywhere and the world at large, cervical fluid needs a name of its own!

I propose we give cervical fluid a name within six months. I will be working towards this goal. If you want to help, please leave your thoughts about this and your suggestions for cervical fluid’s new name in the comments below. Together, we’ll make history.

Fertility Charting Is the Way of the Future!

August 29th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

The Quantified Self is the idea that by tracking things about your body you can live a happier and healthier life. Hardware devices like the Fitbit and Withings scale measure your daily activity and weight respectively so people can set and reach activity and weight goals. Apps like Lose It are tapping into this idea using a software-only approach: Lose it helps you lose weight, not by putting you on a diet, just by having you keep track of everything you eat. Every day you enter all the foods you eat into the app, and it tells you how many calories you consumed. You can also put in how much, and what type of exercise you did each day, and Lose It tells you how many calories you burned.  The result is you can see the amount of calories you burned, relative to the amount of calories you took in.

I have several friends who swear by this app. Lose it isn’t telling you anything you don’t know (eat less, and exercise more if you want to lose weight), but what it is doing is making it very easy for you to see how your actions are affecting your weight in a specific way on a daily and even moment by moment basis. In addition to achieving goals, quantifying the self leads to a sense of confidence and control where before there was confusion. And in doing so it makes us feel better.  This is the crux of the quantified self movement. Recording and analyzing everyday data can help us win at the game of life!

As my friend Lauren Bacon has pointed out, fertility charting fits right in to the Quantified Self movement. Women who chart their fertility record their waking body temperature, cervical fluid viscosity, and other data each day, and over the course of each menstrual cycle get a detailed picture of their reproductive health, and sometimes more!

Kindara Screen Shot © Kindara 2012

Cervical fluid viscosity is a proxy for estrogen level. Basal body temperature is a proxy for progesterone.  And as any high school student can tell you, hormones are powerful influencers of how we feel, think and act, and why our bodies do the things they do.  Just imagine if your menstrual cycle, and all the fluids, feelings and fluctuations that went along with it were no longer a mystery.  Imagine knowing just what was going on, and why.

By recording your daily fertility signs a whole world of possibility opens up for you! While it’s true that fertility charting can be, and often is used to achieve or prevent pregnancy, the benefits of it don’t stop there. Fertility charting can answer important questions about our ovulation, luteal phase, cycle health, thyroid function and more.  I have friends who have finally figured out the root of several food allergies, from charting their fertility.  I myself have learned that a diet high in animal fat keeps my cycles regular. One reason I’m so excited about what we’re doing at Kindara is that as more and more women start quantifying their fertility, we’ll start to generate new knowledge about fertility for the benefit of humankind, creating a virtuous feedback loop that will help each woman feel calm and confident with her fertility in her specific situation.

I envision a future where more and more women are taking an active role in their own health care with fertility charting.  How about you? If you’re currently charting your cycle, tell us in the comments what you’ve learned so far, and how it’s changed your life!

Bring on the Fat!

July 31st, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

I’ve been doing research on my own menstrual cycle for almost four years, charting my cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method.

 

Photo by Pete&Brook // CC 2.0

My cycles have always been wacky. I got my period when I was 11  but bled only a couple times a year, until, at my doctor’s suggestion, I went on the pill at 18, to “regulate” my cycle.  At 26 I learned that the birth control pills didn’t actually regulate my cycle, they just covered up the real issue.  I was determined to let my body find its own natural cycle, so I went off the pill. I wanted the option to have my own children someday, and with my dubious state of fertility, I needed to give myself a head start on having a healthy cycle.

I didn’t find much information about cycle health for a while, but when I was finally introduced to Toni Weshler’s book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, I felt that  I had found the key!  I was fascinated to learn that with just a few simple actions each day I could get a clear picture of my cycle health. I started charting right away and did my best  give my body a shot at having a “normal” healthy cycle, exercising, eating healthy, trying different herbs and foods. But nothing seemed to make a lasting difference.  I would still only get around four periods a year.

This year in February I went to China, so Kindara could take part in the Haxlr8r start-up accelerator program. I was shocked when within two weeks of arriving in China, I ovulated, after not having my period for six months. I don’t generally ovulate in the winter, so I thought maybe this was just the end of that drought, being as it was March. But then I ovulated again in April, and in May, and in June.

The only thing I could point to that I was doing differently from what I had ever done before was eating lots of weird meat. In China it seems that no part of the animal is wasted. I had countless meals consisting of mostly bones and/or animal fat. In fact the regular “meat” that I was used to in the States didn’t seem to exist.  Everything was either bones, organs, or fat. This was pretty unnerving to me at first, but I slowly got used to it. So I kept it up. When we came back to the states in mid-June I made an effort to eat meat at least several times a week, the fattier and weirder the meat, the better!  And that’s hard to find here. But my efforts seem to be working, I ovulated in July as well!  This makes five months of regular cycles, for the first time in my life.

This is incredible, and I never would have had such a front row seat on the action if I wasn’t charting my cycle. I seem to have cracked the code on what my body was missing. And this means that I should have an easier time getting pregnant, if and when I decide I’m ready. My procreative power is now in my own hands, and I love it!

Adventures in Building a Fertility Awareness Charting App

June 20th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

I’m obsessed with fertility charting, and in my search for a Fertility Awareness app that met my needs, my husband and I created one.  The most important thing to us are our users, and their feedback is gold. We learned the hard way that women want to chart on their phones, not their computers. We want to avoid the mistake of thinking “we know best” again.  So what our customers say to us is taken very seriously. But sometimes they ask for things that we don’t want to give them!

I received a question from one of the women who downloaded our app, asking me if there was a way to enter temperatures measured to the 1/100th of a degree, (like 97.34).  She didn’t want to round to the tenth of a degree (97.3)  and risk throwing off her chart.  We thought we understood her concern.  If you’re taking your temperature every morning, you want that exact temperature to go in your chart! Rounding seems like it might throw off the chart. Right?

Well that depends on if you’re measuring in Fahrenheit or Celsius.  If you’re measuring in Celsius you must measure to .05 of a degree to catch the temperature shift.  In Fahrenheit you only need to measure to tenth (0.1) of a degree. Measuring to the hundredth (.01) of a degree is too small of an increment to make any important difference on your chart.

When charting basal body temperature (BBT), the bi-phasic temperature pattern over the course of your cycle tells you if you’re ovulating, when you’re ovulating, and the length and health of your luteal phase.  Post-ovulatory temperatures are usually around 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the preovulatory temps.  0.3 is larger than 0.01 by a factor of 30. This means that measuring to hundredths of a degree is not necessary to catch the temperature shift.

Typical Rounding Scenario

This graph shows a typical bi-phasic temperature pattern, clearly confirming ovulation.  The red line was graphed using temperatures that were accurate to the 1/100th of a degree.  The blue line is graphed using those same temperatures rounded to the 1/10th of a degree.  As you can see, the difference between the two lines is not enough to obscure a temperature shift on a chart.

We had a moment of deliberation… do we tell our user to just get a different thermometer?  Do we tell her to round her temperatures?  That didn’t seem like great customer service.

We realized that the solution is not to simply tell this woman why what she was concerned with didn’t matter.  From her perspective, rounding temperatures is a pain in the ass and she doesn’t want to do it!  THAT “pain in the ass” factor is the problem that we have to solve.  So, with this realization we decided to add the ability to chart in hundredths to our development plan.

Even though measuring to this accuracy isn’t necessary, if adding the second decimal place on our data screen makes it easier for women to get their data into the chart, we’ll do it!  We want all women to have access to the yummy benefits that are to be had from charting one’s cycle, and we are committed to removing the barriers to that, however it must be done.

 

Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.