Really Understanding Your Cycle

We have not been educated to really understand our menstrual cycles. When we’re at school, we tend to focus on two topics – periods and pregnancy. We learn what a period is, and we learn that when it’s missing, we’re probably pregnant. We’re then taught we can get pregnant any day of the month and are terrified into taking the pill at the earliest opportunity.

The pill isn't a magic fix

From that point onward, many of us remain in a medicated state. Sometimes assuming that our persistent period problems (despite the pill promising to fix everything) are just down to being a woman and that’s how it is. When we eventually come off the pill and are flooded with symptoms, we blame it again on being a woman and either get back on the pill, try to get pregnant or soldier on, trying to seek advice and support as best we can.

But really understanding our cycle? Knowing what our hormones are doing for us throughout the month? Understanding why our cycle is irregular or why our period blood is clotty? We don’t really get taught that until we start doing our own research.

While, of course, this is not everyone’s experience and certainly, the pill has its place and serves some of us, it’s not the ideal solution for everyone. It can leave us removed from our body and unable to make sense of symptoms when we’re no longer on it. It also robs us of the knowledge and awareness of how good a healthy menstrual cycle can feel!

This is the case with many of my endometriosis health-coaching clients. Often they’ve been on the pill since they were a young teenager, some as young as 13, in order to manage their heavy periods, their period pain, or irregular cycles. Now they’ve tried to come off the pill in their mid-twenties or early thirties because it’s no longer helping them or they’re having adverse side effects, and all hell has broken loose. This is when we work together to really, really understand their cycle and work out what’s going on.

The Fertility Awareness Method

Whilst there are many other elements of hormonal recovery and balancing, such as gut healing and reducing inflammation, I also like to refer my patients to the Fertility Awareness Method. This is a form of natural contraception, though I’m not sharing it with them for that reason (as I’m not a licensed FAM practitioner), but rather as a wonderful opportunity to truly get to know their own cycle and its patterns.

The FAM allows a person to see the actual times they’re ovulating and menstruating (rather than using a prediction app) by recording their basal body temperature (their temp on waking), their cervical fluid, and the position of their cervix. In terms of tracking their period, often monitoring their temperature and cervical fluid is sufficient.

Using this method, my clients have been able to identify issues like hypothyroidism (low basal body temp), lack of ovulation (no rise in basal body temperature during ovulation and lack of ovulatory cervical fluid) and vaginal infections (green discharge). Coupling these signs with symptom tracking, we’re often able to identify hormonal issues such as low progesterone or excess estrogen, which can contribute to problems like missing periods, heavy periods, painful periods or clotty periods.

Learn more

To start learning about the FAM, I recommend listening to these two podcasts by Nicole Jardim and The Free Birth Podcast and I’ll dive deeper into how to track your cycle in future articles.

So how about it? Is it time to take charge of your own menstrual education?

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