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 and ending up in therapy like I did.
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.
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.
This post was originally published on Offbeat Families in 2011. If you want more, check out our archive of trying to conceive posts over there. You can also follow Offbeat Families on Facebook for a guided tour of the site’s deep archives.