Know Thy Cycle, Know Thyself
ovulatory cycle & pregnancy
Ilyse Magy talks about how she took the mystery out of the menstrual cycle with a book called, "Fertility Awareness Method." By tracking certain metrics daily, she learned why her body is doing what it's doing and can conduct her sexual and emotional activity accordingly. She presents this important project at the 2015 Quantified Self Conference.
Hi! I track my menstrual cycle. We can also call it a fertility cycle, the repeating sequence of symptoms surrounding the release and dissolution of my eggs. May goal is to not fertilize those eggs but you could certainly use that data to do the opposite. Regardless whether your sex or sex practices pose such a risk, this is amazing data to know about the human body and why people do what they do.
What started for me as a method of birth control has really turned into a way of life. I struggled like a lot of people to find a preferred method of contraception. Hormonal birth control pills made me an absolute wreck. If they helped me to have more care-free sex, it was more at the price of caring more about absolutely everything else.
I have friends who swear by hormone free IUD’s, saying that the cycles of pain that it takes to get used to it are totally worth it. Even my gynecologist assured me that in the event of a societal collapse, in which healthcare was no longer available but I still wanted to procreate I could indeed remove my own IUD, I was still too chicken to get one.
For a while I sort of winged it with condoms, but then I started a serious relationship. Things started moving pretty fast, and within three months I got my first smartphone. It was the only way to stay on top of the constant texting. It also empowered me of finally trying the fertility awareness method. It’s popularized in this book by Toni Weschler and it’s exactly what it sounds like, awareness of when you’re fertile. See, a human egg, once released from the ovaries only survives for 24 hours. Human sperm in a hospital environment can survive for up to five days. That means there are six days in every cycle where you even get a chance of conserving. Fertility awareness method, means tracking symptoms to know precisely when those days are happening using data and not assumptions.
Let me be clear about one thing, fertility awareness is not the rhythm method. The rhythm method has you counting days starting from your first day of your period, arbitrarily of what your cycly might actually be doing. This is a terrible way to avoid pregnancy and it’s not an efficient way to get pregnant either.
So there are two main things I use to track my fertility and that’s temperature shift and cervical fluid. I have a thermometer by my bedside and I take my temperature first thing when I wake up every morning. I’m looking for a shift, and this shift indicates that I’ve already ovulated. Once you ovulate, your temperature spikes and your temperature stays high until you get your period and your cycle restarts. If you have 17 days of high temperatures, it’s probably time to take a pregnancy test.
This is because while the first half of your cycle before ovulation can vary the second half is usually always the same amount. This is because your body is looking for optimum baby making conditions. So usually this is around day 14, but it can be day 10, day 18, or day 52. But once you ovulate, you always get your period a set number of days later. This varies from woman to woman but is usually consistent across her cycles.
The other important factor that I chart for is cervical fluid. This is the stuff that they taught you in school to call discharge, as if your vagina is randomly expelling for no good reason. In fact the presence and consistency of cervical fluid also maps to your cycle. You usually see the presence of it a few days after your period, and it follows the sequence of sticky to creamy to egg white watery. And egg white watery stuff is like a slippery slide for sperm. That’s when your fertile so you’ve got to watch out.
It took me a while to get me the hang of charting all this stuff, but once I did it gave me a window not only into my vaginal environment but into my emotional environment as well.
See, I used to get really sad, and these days a lot of them were right before my period, so I could chalk them up to PMS, but not all of them were. But I learned that after a while of charting, my saddest day was actually about 10 days before my period, which was indeed premenstrual because it was after I ovulated.
Just knowing that was hugely empowering to be able to work through those times. But I started to notice something else was up. See, I also was spotting for up to a week before my period and my luteal phase, that amount of time after I ovulate was on the shorter side. It was more like 10 days instead of the typical 10 to 15.
I went back into this wonderful bible and I realized that this actually be because my progesterone was going too low in my second half of my cycle, which can be from a vitamin deficiency.
I started taking a supplement and within two cycles, my luteal phase went from 10 days to 16, which was a freaking Quantified Self miracle and I also feel a lot better to.
I also know from charting that there’s a week every cycle where I feel really great. I’m gregarious, I have tons of energy. It’s because my body wants to make a baby but I’ll take the good feelings.
Now if you’re going to track, it’s important to do research before committing to the tools that you use. I used Femcal, and they sort of neglected to IOS 8, so now I have 36 poorly formatted PDFs that, that if anyone wants to help me turn into CSV files let me know.
I ended up switching to Kindara which was a blessing in disguise. It’s a really great tool. Their place is to chart all of the things you need to chart, and you can even add custom data, so you can actually tune into what’s happening in your cycle. And there are places to add things like emoji’s just making it lots of fun. The charts that are created this way are really beautiful and you can also export them in CSV files.
But one thing that I really love about this tool is that actually a community feature, where you can share your chart or look at other people’s charts and give feedback because this is a pretty complicated methodology.
What I also love about the community feature is that it might be one of the least troll free places on the internet. Where else could women share data about their unprotected sex and not be slut shamed for it. There’s also amazing acronyms like TTA for Trying To Avoid, TTC for Trying To Conceive or PIV for Penis In Vagina.
So once I started charting I was pretty amazed by what I was learning but also kind of mad that no one ever told me this stuff before. It’s human anatomy and maybe it’s too tied up in sex that in education we just feel like we have to avoid it, but this is really how the human body works.
I want to be more open about my cycle. I don’t want people to dismiss my emotion and saying oh it’s just that time of the month. But I want to be able to look at you and say I’m sorry I burst into tears but I just entered my luteal phase. After all, if you had a puppeteers hand up your butt controlling your movements, wouldn’t you want someone to tell you that? I thought hormones were that for me for a while, but through charting I’m the puppeteer.
Thank you so much and don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to talk about this stuff, and I’m also doing a breakout session at four o’clock if you want to brainstorm more tools for this kind of thing.