How to track your cycles and chart your fertility without going super insane

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Repeat after me: you are not your chart.
For folks who go the family planning route to conception (as compared to the “happy accident” route), tracking your menstrual cycle can be super, insanely useful. By using techniques like taking your temperature and observing your cervical mucus, you can start to get a pretty clear picture of when you’re ovulating, and and how to perfectly time your GOFing (“Goal-Oriented Fucking,” as I once saw it jokingly referred to).

So we all agree: Charting is a super, insanely useful way to get really amazingly in touch with your body and your cycles. But if you’re not careful, charting can drive you super insane. When you put a lot of time into something — taking your temperature every single morning, finger-banging yourself to check your own fluids, carefully entering data into a web tool, analyzing your intercourse — if it doesn’t immediately pay off, it can be emotionally and intellectually devastating.

I had moments of sobbing over my charts, feeling like a straight-A student who’d somehow failed at the science fair. “BUT LOOK AT MY CHART,” I sniffled to myself. “It’s perfect!” (It was indeed perfect, but my fallopian tubes were not… something charting was NEVER going to show me).

Based on what I learned during my 44 months of charting (…I KNOW), here’s a little guidance on how to chart without going super insane.

Be well-read

The charting bible is Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control and Pregnancy Achievement. This book is not only amazing for learning about how to chart to make babies, but also beyond valuable when it comes to preventing them. Buy it. Read it. Know it. Love it. Even though I’m now done with both baby-making AND birth control (thanks, broken fallopian tubes), I keep this book close at hand for friends.

Use technology

There are a bazillon ovulation tracking online tools you can use, and a billion more phone apps. Back in the day, I used an insanely ugly but functional tool called Fertility Friend. I don’t think I’d recommend it (seriously, it’s like the website that time forgot — shit looks like it was last redesigned in 1999! but I DO recommend finding one. Google “fertility charting website,” “fertility phone app,” and “fertility software” to find a ton of options. Try a few and see what feels right.

Shift your goal

Rather than focusing on the goal of MUST MAKE BABY (where each month you don’t get pregnant feels like a failure), try seeing the process of charting as a way to learn more about your body and its amazing biology. Viewed this way, every month that you chart is a success, regardless of whether a baby comes out of it. Even if you want to get pessimistic about it, and worry that you might be having fertility issues; cycle charts are super valuable when seeking treatment of any kind (western, eastern, or holistic). Your goal is learning about your body.

Don’t get trapped in the lines

Related to goal-shifting, it’s also important not to get so caught up in the dots and lines on a chart that you forget that our bodies are imperfect shifting sacs of fluid. You may have outliers on your chart. You may have mornings when you don’t chart at all. If your temperature is .01 degree off from what you expect, it’s ok. Try to keep perspective (and yes, it can be really, REALLY hard).

You are not your chart

Fertility and conception is somewhat out of your control. Charting your cycles is awesome and well-timed sex can certainly help you get pregnant, but the quality of your chart is NOT the quality of you. If you didn’t get pregnant this month, it likely had nothing to do with how well you charted. Charting may not help you get pregnant. It doesn’t mean you failed.

As someone who had 44 near-perfect charts, read all the right books, used all the right tools, took my temperature every single morning for years, and STILL couldn’t get pregnant, I worry when I see folks talk about how they read this book, used this tool, took this class, charted that cycle, etc, whatever, AND MAGICALLY GOT PREGNANT IN ONE MONTH! Some people get pregnant quickly, whether or not they read or chart or learn or prepare… just as some people who “do all the right things” might not ever be able to get pregnant.

Knowledge is power… but not happiness

This is how charting drives you crazy: it lulls you into a false sense of power. “HA,” you can sometimes tell yourself. “I charted the FUCK out of this month and have amazing color-coded graphs and numbers to prove my amazing reproductive powers!” And yet, there you are again with blood on your underwear and distinctly not pregnant. Yes, you have your chart… but no, you do not have the keys to the universe.

I don’t want to sound like I’m bagging on charting: I still track my menstrual cycles, because I like having a sense of what’s going on with my hormones and moods. I like feeling like I know my body in that way. But I had to learn the hard way that knowledge may be powerful, but it still doesn’t give you complete control over conception. In many ways, it’s just somewhat out of our hands.

Comments on How to track your cycles and chart your fertility without going super insane

  1. I charted my temps and CF for over 6 months before realizing that my CF pattern is super clear and correlated with my temps. Now I just track my CF using FemCal on my phone. I have been pregnancy free for over 2 years. (Of course I have the niggling fear that I’m really just infertile.)

  2. PCOS and highly irregular cycle folks – I had a lot of success with acupuncture and diet changes in terms of moving towards regularity. It can be really frustrating when people are telling you to chart and your “cycles” range from 8-78 days in length, but the acupuncture and diet stuff really made a difference for me. Even if it just helped take some of the stress of stupid charting off my shoulders and helped me feel generally healthy and better. In the end, I ended up going the Clomid route but not until after I was back on a somewhat normal, cycle.

    • Thanks for the info! When you say diet changes, what changes did you make? I’ve done low-sugar diets and the sort of standard lower-fat-intake diets. What worked for you, and when did you start to notice a change?

  3. I only track my periods right now, but I do it with the Android app My Days. It does have a spot to put in temperatures and all that, and I find the interface pretty intuitive!

  4. A quick tip, I used an special ovulating thermometer which had much smaller measurements compared to a regular one. It has much easier to record incremental temperature changes day by day and see a clear pattern.
    Like Ariel we ended up having to use ivf in the end, but it was incredible seeing how my body reacted to flu’s, travel and stress.
    I kept charting during the ivf (it helped me know when I was getting close to starting) but I should have stopped once the drugs kicked in…. On the day if my blood test to see if I was pregnant, my charts showed a temp drop ie I was getting my period. I cried all morning. The nurse told me that they’d basically taken over my body and natural methods may be mistaken… And it was! She rang a couple of hours later with a positive pregnancy test and I’m now 26 weeks, due end of august!
    But I’d still recommend charting….

  5. Goal Oriented Fucking… You just made my night. I’m trying to get pregnant with #2 and have found myself sucked into the crazy online baby communities that use euphemisms like BD (baby dance) and DTD (doing the deed). Would it be plagiarism to use this sometime?

  6. I just lent my copy of TCoYF to a friend, as I’ve been using the methods in there for contraception for about 9 months, so I’m pretty clear on what I need to be doing. I don’t think she’d ever heard of non-hormonal, non-barrier methods of birth control before, but it has absolutely saved me.

    Android users, I finally found a charting app that is fantastic. I’d always charted on my iPod touch, but now I can finally break free of the iOS for good. OvuView is free (+$1 to get rid of ads, and/or $3 to add a widget, password protection, and notifications, as well as a few other features; none of those features were something I needed, but I’ll give $1 to support the developers, and once I am ready to start GOFing, I may sign up for the $3 version as well).

  7. I’m on my second cycle of charting, and I think simplicity in a chart is a good thing. I’m using Fertility Friend. The first month they gave me a free VIP membership. It had lots of little icons predicting when you might be fertile, when you might ovulate, and rating how often you had sex during that window. I found it seriously stressful to see my body not matching up with that, or that we hadn’t had “enough” sex during the fertility window. Then, the free trial ran out, and the chart went to a basic calendar. Hurray! Now I can just rely on what my body is telling me, without a little icon nattering at me about what should be happening. I’m much more relaxed.

  8. Does anyone here use billings natural ovulation method?

    It what I was using before I got pregnant as a form of prevention. It’s super easy and not stressful in anyway, and it works just fine for people with irregular cycles. 🙂

  9. OMG, 44 months – that’s crazy!
    Just use one of the electronic devices. I have daysy (https://www.usa.daysy.me/), but there are tones more – a colleague has crearblue(don’t have the link right now, but you can google it).
    You’re very funny A

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