One unexceptional morning during my last year of university, I dragged myself out of bed to the campus gym for a morning workout on the elliptical. I was watching Dawson’s Creek on the overhead screen, reading the closed captioning when the most peculiar thing happened. The letters on the screen began moving and shifting in front of my eyes. I felt funny and did a few double takes before realizing that something was very wrong. In a state of confusion and, I suppose, denial, I kept on with my workout and watched as my vision deteriorated from moving letters to a strange zig-zagged view of Pacey and Joey’s first kiss to an eventual complete loss of peripheral vision. Thankfully, the symptoms were temporary and I was able to get myself to a clinic where, upon description of the event, my doctor instructed me to immediately cease my prescription for birth control pills. The types of things I’d experienced were consistent with a significant increase in the risk of having of stroke, and I was stuck reconsidering my birth control options.
Not long afterward, I came across a poster advertising a free seminar on fertility awareness. Dubious but curious, I decided to attend. In an incredibly informative two hour session, I learned all the ins and outs of something called the “Billings Ovulation Method,” which was developed by Doctors John and Evelyn Billings in the 1950’s. Billings is a form of fertility awareness in which cervical mucus –the body’s most reliable signal of fertility– is observed and monitored throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle in order to prevent or achieve pregnancy.
The cervix produces different types of mucus over the course of a cycle that can be observed quite easily at the opening of the vagina either via sight or sensation. In particular, women who utilize this method are on the lookout for the tell-tale egg white-like mucus that signals ovulation. The presenter was excellent, very thorough and scientific. Still, in those moments, I remember thinking two things: 1.Cervical Mucus? Ew. And 2. Could I really trust this to work?
In the absence of a better alternative, I decided to give it a try. At the time, I was dead serious about not getting pregnant so I executed the method with absolute biblical diligence. I charted daily, followed all the rules, doubled up with a barrier method at times, and even purchased some of those ovulation pee sticks to confirm my observations. As time passed, my confidence in the method grew and three months in I felt comfortable ceasing all the extras and relying solely on my body’s signals (still carefully charted) to avoid pregnancy.
While my confidence grew, so did my firm belief that, applied diligently, this method was absolutely as effective as anything on the market***, and my commitment to sharing this powerful knowledge of fertility with other women also increased.
Well over 10 years in, I am happy to say that I have enjoyed a hormone-free, healthful method of birth control that has both successfully prevented pregnancy and helped me conceive my three beautiful children with ease. The Billings Method has the added benefit of enhancing my relationship with my partner who has never left the onus of birth control on me and who has honed a few tricks to ensure that riding out the monthly ‘dry spell’ of my ovulation is a pleasure!
Fertility awareness has actually changed my relationship with myself. Paying attention to my body extends beyond my fertility. I am acutely aware of the many physical, emotional, behavioral and sexual changes that cycle along with it, and of course, with that knowledge comes power. In tune with things like my sleep patterns, feelings of arousal (or lack thereof), appetite and moods, I can channel my cyclical strengths and also to be generous with self-nurturing. At the risk of sounding trite, I would say that fertility awareness has deepened my connection to the unaltered essence of my female power.
Like any method of birth control, fertility awareness comes with its own unique challenges. It requires daily diligence, commitment to alternate plans during fertile periods, and, certainly, a partner who is willing to participate. I’m under no delusion that these things may be a tall order for some, but whatever your situation, and regardless of whether or not you choose to utilize fertility awareness as a birth control method, I maintain that a deeper knowledge and connection to one’s own body is a powerful tool for anyone…
*** ‘Fertility Awareness Method’ is a blanket term for any method of birth control that utilizes the body’s natural signs of fertility, of which there are many, to achieve or prevent pregnancy. The execution and effectiveness of these different methods vary greatly. This article speaks specifically of my experience with the Billings Ovulation Method.