Charting for fertility, the basics of the cycle
Before we get into charting for fertility and monthly cycles, I want to start with the problems we face with our current conventional methods of contraception as well as the basics of what happens during each point in our monthly cycle.
Problems with birth control
Many forms of birth control may affect our chances later on when we would like to become pregnant. They may also inhibit our bodies’ natural hormone production.
We women, though only fertile a few days a month, put ourselves at great risk trying to prevent conception when we don’t feel ready for a baby. Blood clots, strokes, severe pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine scarring with IUDs, and urinary tract infections are just a few of many risks involved.
Along with other methods of birth control that use hormones to prevent conception, the Pill can cause major problems with how our bodies work. To begin with, they cause a flood of hormones into our system that have a cascading effect on our bodies’ own natural hormones. This in turn causes excess hormones to be excreted by the body; and if our liver isn’t working up to par, this excretion doesn’t always happen the way it should.
Over time, it may also cause our bodies to slow down production of hormones. When we stop taking these methods of birth control, our bodies may be severely lacking and must then figure out how to balance themselves again. Depending on the specifics of each body and how long you take hormonal birth control, this can take anywhere from weeks to years.
The Pill also uses your body’s stores of vitamin B (specifically B6), an essential nutrient your body uses to regulate menstrual cycles. Deficiencies in B6 can be linked to a progesterone imbalance as well as poor egg and sperm development and a short luteal phase.
There are also ethical ramifications when it comes to hormonal birth control. You see, the Pill works in three ways: stopping ovulation, decreasing the amount of cervical fluid, and preventing the uterine lining from thickening to allow for implantation. The problem here lies within the uterine lining. If conception does happen to occur, a fertilized egg is unable to attach to a thin uterine lining and passes through the body when menstruation occurs. For those that believe that life begins at conception, this can change the way one views hormonal contraception. I know it did for me.
(I must also note that most doctors do not support this theory of the abortive effect of birth control pills as one in particular stated that if hormones had allowed for the release of the egg, than it would also allow for implantation. So do your own research and come to your own conclusions. I was also told by an OB that if ovulation were to occur, that it’s reasonable to also believe that because an egg was released, that the corpus luteum will make enough progesterone to thicken the uterine lining. This is good news.)
The Natural Monthly Cycle
Each month a woman’s body produces a hormone called the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (or FSH), which helps to mature the 15-20 eggs that begin growing in her ovaries. Each egg is encased in its own follicle, and these follicles produce estrogen, which is necessary for ovulation to occur. The length of time it takes for an egg to mature varies a great deal from woman to woman. Some women’s eggs are ready in as little as 8 days, and for some it may take up to a month to reach the same maturity.
During this follicular phase, levels of estrogen also increase and cause the woman to start producing quality cervical fluid. Sperm can actually live about five days after ejaculation when a woman’s cervical fluid nourishes and feeds it. So it’s completely possible to get pregnant almost a week after intercourse! Once your body reaches its estrogen threshold and at least one egg is mature, the Lutenizing Hormone (LH) kicks into high gear and causes the egg to break through the wall of the follicle and begin its route down the fallopian tubes.
Now that the follicle is empty, it then collapses, becoming known as the corpus luteum, and starts producing progesterone. The corpus luteum only has a life of 12 to 16 days, and this life span is known as the “Luteal Phase.” This phase of the cycle happens to be a bit more important than what happens before ovulation because of the production of progesterone. The production of progesterone will now prevent all other eggs from being released and causes the uterine lining to thicken for implantation until the luteal phase is over.
- Day one of the cycle (the first day of your period) starts the follicular (or estrogenic) phase and lengths can vary.
- From the day ovulation happens up until the last day before your period begins is the luteal phase.
- The luteal phase is not indefinite, meaning it has a finite life span of about 12 to 16 days.
- Once ovulation has occurred, the egg has a life span of about 24 hours (less time as we age and egg quality naturally goes down), after which it will either be reabsorbed into the body or be carried out by the menstrual flow if conception does not occur.
- If the sperm have had enough time to travel into the tubes and fertilization does occur (taking place within the fallopian tubes themselves), it usually happens within 12 hours post ovulation, as the quality of the egg begins to deteriorate over time.
- This fertilized egg will then be pulled into the uterus, and a few days to a week later this egg will finally reach the uterine lining and begins to burrow into it.
Now that the egg has burrowed into the uterine lining, it begins to release yet another hormone, called the Human Chorionic Gonadotropin—or HCG. This pregnancy hormone sends a signal back to the collapsed follicle (the corpus luteum) to stay alive past its normal 12 to 16 day life span. This happens so that it will continue to release progesterone, which in turn supports the pregnancy until the placenta can take over during the second trimester.
As women, we always know one thing about our cycle: when it begins. But how do we know when we ovulate? Check out the articles below for more information.