5 questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking about switching fertility awareness methods

Learning about your fertility and deciding on a fertility awareness method to chart your cycle is a big (and sometimes intimidating!) decision. After all, what you learned in health class back in high school probably didn’t cut it. To make it even more challenging, the wide variety of fertility awareness options aren’t even mentioned most of the time in your annual visit to the OBGYN.

But what happens when you choose a fertility awareness method, learn it with an instructor, and are still confused and frustrated about your fertility?

Maybe you’ve realized that the method you learned doesn’t integrate into your life well. You’re forgetting to check your signs of fertility like the method requires, and even though you’ve learned a fertility awareness method, you feel just as in the dark as before about your reproductive health.

Or perhaps you’re logging your fertility diligently, but the fertile symptoms are still cryptic or inaccurate due to things out of your control. For instance, if your fertility awareness method requires a hormonal test or temperature check at a certain time of day, traveling, sleep schedules or sickness make that impossible. You may be wrestling with fears of failure, despite your best efforts.

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You might be practicing fertility awareness with your spouse, and fertile signs and method rules are surfacing communication issues in your marriage. If you’re using a method to avoid pregnancy, you and your spouse could be frustrated with the lack of available days for intimacy due to fertile signs. Or, the price point of more expensive methods of fertility awareness could be lending to money arguments when you sit down with the budget.

Although it’s not the correct answer for every woman or couple, changing up your method of fertility awareness could be the answer to these questions and frustrations. And, let’s be honest, that can sound exhausting when you remember all the work it took to learn your current method and incorporate it into your daily life.

Emily Frase has learned three different types of fertility awareness methods and is now a devoted Marquette user. She’s also the mother of two surprise babies. Her friend, Mary Bruno is an adoptive mom, infertitle, suffers from endometriosis, and is a Creighton practitioner.

These two women are on opposite ends of the fertility spectrum. But those experiences (and differences) are exactly what inspired them to co-found FAbM Base, a fertility awareness database where science and faith intersect. They’re not only passionate about sharing information about fertility awareness, they also want to do so in an honest and accessible way.

I knew that Emily was the person to speak into the reality of switching fertility methods after her own experience of doing exactly that twice. My conversation with her reminded me of the importance of understanding the “why” behind your thoughts of switching fertility awareness methods.

Here are five questions she recommends thinking through if the idea of switching fertility awareness methods has been on your mind.

What is my relationship with my body?

If your first introduction to natural family planning was a brochure from your church with a couple holding hands and skipping through a field of flowers, the daily reality of fertility awareness can be a bit jarring. Checking your fertile signs every day, or sometimes multiple times a day, depending on the method you learned, can be inconvenient.

If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, your increased sex drive during ovulation can feel challenging and unfair. When you want to be intimate with your spouse, your chart says you can’t. But when your chart gives you the green light, your desire for that intimacy has waned. And since women experience a fluctuation in their hormones while men don’t, this frustration can be hard to communicate to your spouse.

There are also heavy crosses like hormonal imbalance, deeper reproductive health issues, miscarriage and infertility that charting your fertility can bring to light.

This frustration with your fertility can lead you to believe the lie that your fertility is bad, or that your body is to blame for this tension. If you’re married, this tension can spill over into your communication with your spouse over your shared fertility as a couple.

But God created your body (including your fertility!) and called it good. Regardless of your vocation or season of life, your fertility is a gift, not something to be ashamed about.

If you’re a single woman, fostering an awareness of your fertility and a healthy and wholesome understanding of the way your body works can be an immense help as you strive for the virtue of chastity. “The reason you might be more susceptible to temptation during some of your cycle and not as much in others is because of your ovulation,” Emily shared. “When you’re aware of your ovulation, you can also become more aware of triggers. This means it’s important to find a fertility awareness method where you can accurately identify your fertile window.”

Your fertility awareness method of choice should be something that fosters your appreciation for your body, not something that leaves you feeling ashamed about it.

Am I in a season of transition where another fertility awareness method would serve me better?

Many women decide to change methods of fertility awareness during seasons of transition. This could include transitions like marriage, moves across the country, pregnancy and health concerns.

It’s important to remember that just because you’re considering changing fertility awareness methods doesn’t mean that the one you’re stepping away from is inherently bad. When Emily sits down with married women who are considering changing fertility awareness methods, she reminds them that they “married their spouse, not their fertility awareness method.”

It could be that your current method of fertility awareness just isn’t serving the season you’re in now. It might have served you in the past, and something different may be a great fit for your current season of life.

Am I creating my own cross?

Struggling with body image, tension in a marriage, and fear are all things that the Lord didn’t have in mind when it came to the original plan for our lives with him. Thanks to original sin, suffering entered the world.

It can be tempting to stick with a fertility awareness method that is a struggle, even if it’s creating tension in yourself or in your marriage, because you may think that as a Catholic woman, you’re supposed to embrace suffering. You may wonder if this challenging experience is just the Lord inviting you to take up your cross.

While today’s culture tells us to avoid suffering at all costs, the temptation some Catholics face is to idolize suffering. But Emily reminded me that suffering is not good, nor was it what God originally intended. She pulled a book off her shelf that she’d been reading and read me the following passage:

“The natural thing to do in the face of suffering is to remedy it,” writes Father Jacques Philippe in his book, “Searching for and Maintaining Peace.” “If we have a headache, we should take an aspirin. But there will always be sufferings that have no remedies, and these we must make an effort to accept peacefully.”

Are there ways that you can aleve or remedy the suffering you’re experiencing in your current method of fertility awareness?

The answer to the questions you have about your current method of fertility awareness may not be switching methods, or at least not right off the bat. It could mean having an honest and vulnerable conversation with your current instructor about your experience. Or maybe the answer lies in meeting with a new instructor who explains your current method in a way that connects more with your learning style.

Do I feel ashamed for wanting to learn a new fertility awareness method?

Maybe you know the reasons why your current method of fertility awareness isn’t working for you. Perhaps you’ve gone so far as to research other methods that are available and know which one could have some answers for you. But you’re worried about making the switch because you don’t want to offend your current fertility awareness instructor.

“Most women don’t feel comfortable walking away from a fertility awareness method because they’re worried that they’ve failed. They think that they should have been able to get through this rough season and figure it out,” Emily explained. “But they’re also worried about breaking up with their instructor. There’s a real bond established between a woman and her fertility awareness instructor.”

Changing fertility awareness methods may mean a vulnerable conversation with your current fertility instructor, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve failed or that your instructor is a bad person. The simple answer could be that your current method of fertility awareness isn’t working for you.

Do I think my fertility is something I can control?

Maybe a conversation with a girlfriend about her fertility awareness method has left you wondering if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. If you’re married, you may hear a friend talking about having more usable days for intimacy when navigating a season of avoiding pregnancy, which could sound like the answer to your frustration with your current method of fertility awareness.

But don’t make the switch to a new fertility awareness method because you’re looking for something easy, or you’re looking for a way to control your fertility.

“Your motivation for switching fertility awareness methods shouldn’t be easiness,” Emily explained. “Every fertility awareness method is going to bring you face to face with the reality of your fertility, and that’s all about relinquishing control. There’s nothing easy about that.”

If you’re looking for an easy method of fertility awareness, you’re going to come up empty. “Your fertility is something you observe, not something you control,” Emily reminded me in our conversation together. There are an incredible amount of fertility awareness options out there, and it’s good to want something that integrates into your life well. But regardless of whether you’re frustrated with complicated rules or confused by fertility awareness protocols, remember to be on the lookout for a solution that is simpler, not easier.

If the next right step for you in this discernment is gathering more information, visit the FAbM Base website. It’s full of great resources, including an overview of the different methods available, a database of available instructors, and first-hand accounts of method users and instructors about why they chose the method they did and how it’s working for them!

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