Written by Christopher Kelly
Dec. 21, 2015
Julie: Hello and welcome to the Paleo Baby podcast. As usual, I'm Julie Kelly. Today, I'm excited to be joined by my friend who has joined us in the past, Torea Rodriguez, who is a fellow functional medicine nerd. And we decided we wanted to do a podcast today all about the fertility awareness method. Welcome, Torea.
Torea: Hi there.
Julie: Do you want to talk about yourself a little bit? Do you want?
Torea: Of course, I always wanted to talk about myself. I'll tell people who I am. So my name is Torea Rodriguez and I blog over at torearodriguez.com and I work with people one on one that have autoimmune disease and employ basic diet and lifestyle coaching just like you and Chris do and functional medicine testing and that kind of thing. And one of the big things that really come up with autoimmunity and just health in general is hormone imbalance and female hormone imbalance and Julie and I have liked to geek out on this ourselves so we decided that we'll record something and share it with you.
Julie: By geek out you mean I send you my fertility awareness method and ask you if I'm ovulating.
Torea: Something similar to that. I mean, it's all about teaching each other and learning what this is all about.
Julie: No, I think that's great. I think for those of you that don't know what we're talking about, we're talking about, you might hear it referred to as FAM. We want to differentiate it from what some people think of as the rhythm method. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about something very specific called the fertility awareness method. And we'll get into that. But I think one of the main reasons is what we should talk about now, kind of why we want to about this because I think there's some really specific things that apply to a lot of you whether you are trying to avoid pregnancy or trying to conceive or maybe you don't know. But there's a lot of benefit that can come from following the fertility awareness method. Should we talk about what it is?
Torea: Yeah, I think we should give a general overview so that people have an idea of what we're talking about.
Julie: Let's do that before we get too far into the whys. Do you want to talk about it for a second?
Torea: Sure. I'll describe it just off the cuff of my understanding of it. Fertility awareness method for me is using various biological markers to track our hormones throughout our menstrual cycles so that we can understand what's going on with our body. And the way that it works is that it uses three specific markers, one of which is basal body temperature, the other one is cervical fluid and the consistency of such fluid and then cervical position.
And with the three of those markers, you can easily identify when you are ovulating and when you are fertile and when you are not fertile. And what I was surprised to learn is how many days of the cycle we're not fertile because I grew up in grade school, whenever they give you those classes -- do they even do that anymore? Probably not.
Julie: Very, very different than -- yeah.
Torea: So we grew up in an era where they actually came in and gave us education on tampons and pads and all this crazy stuff. Well, basically scare us and tell us that you're basically fertile from the time you start bleeding to the time you stop bleeding and it's like 30 years.
Julie: If you look at a boy, you'll get pregnant.
Torea: And if you'll look at a boy you're going to get pregnant. I always thought that we were fertile all the time. And what I realized is that we're really only fertile for a very small window and that was huge for me because I'm dating trying to avoid persons. But yeah, that's how I describe it. How do you describe it?
Julie: I think very similarly. I discovered, you introduced this to me after we met. I've already had my daughter for nine months when we met. And I was just somebody that was kind of winging it a little bit in terms of avoiding pregnancy because I had been off hormonal birth control for probably a little bit over seven years before I had my daughter. I think I was doing it to a point but I was using probably not very good information because I wasn't really collecting any of the statistics. I just kind of knew my body and I kind of knew what some of the signs were and looking back and reading over FAM and what it is and how it works, I was like, "Wow, I'm really lucky that I didn't get pregnant sooner."
Torea: Yeah, there's some windows there that can be a little tricky.
Julie: Definitely. And I'm not saying that Ivy was a planned pregnancy but she wasn't completely an unplanned pregnancy either. But no, I love it because of some of the other things that it provides in terms of understanding one's own health and in taking a little bit more control over, of your reproductive health which I think is beneficial to everyone whether or not you're trying to conceive.
Torea: Yeah, absolutely. We have too many women these days that are receiving the exogenous hormones through birth control pill and IUDs and this, that and the other and they get to a point in their lives -- and usually I see them when they're 30 or 40 and all of a sudden their hormones are completely unraveling.
And part of the problem is because they've been on this exogenous hormone. It's not the only problem. There are other factors, let me be really clear, but part of the contributing factor there is that they've had this external influence to their hormone cycle that may or may not have been very helpful.
Julie: I think there's also just an extreme lack of education and that's something that is talked about in the book extensively and how--
Torea: Which book?
Julie: In the fertility awareness method book, sorry. It's called Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I always want to call it something else.
Torea: It's by Toni Weschler. And we'll put a link to it in the show notes.
Julie: In the show notes, definitely. It's a great book but one of the main themes throughout is this how women have been steered down this path of mis-education and also down this path of just divorcing ourselves from our bodies in a way, and handing it over to whoever our practitioners are. And some women get lucky and they find a practitioner that is open and kind and will teach them about their bodies and give them back that power.
I think, unfortunately, the vast majority of women are not that lucky and it takes them either having an unplanned pregnancy or not being able to conceive or having some other health issue arise in order for them to realize that they need to take back that control or take back that power and really learn what's going on with them. So, for me, I think it's a great educational tool to learn about your body.
Also in just regards to the hormone thing, I mean, we work with people all the time and the number one thing that I'm constantly having to deal with women specifically that I work with is: I've been on the pill for 15 years and I really feel like I should be off of it but I don't want to have a baby or I want to get pregnant and I'm just coming off 20 years on the pill. What do I do? Is it going to work for me? It's scary because I don't know. We don't know what the hormonal birth controls are doing to us and, I think, we're only on the cusp of learning all the dangers of them and all the possible side effects. This is definitely something I encourage all women to look into and research for yourself. We're going to talk pretty broadly today about fertility awareness.
Torea: Yeah. This isn't a how-to guide.
Julie: This is not a how-to guide. I just really wanted to introduce you to it, to the topic, because I think it's something that we're going to come back and it's always something that I recommend to clients. So I wanted to introduce it to you so you can do your own research and then, hopefully, in the future I'll have a fertility awareness method coach because there are coaches out there, really good ones. Or maybe even the author of the book. We'll get her on as well to talk more about the how-tos and whatnot. But today, it's an overview. Yeah, should we talk a little bit about the whole system and what it's looking at, each piece of fertility awareness, how you monitor or what you're looking at in the fertility awareness?
Torea: Yes. I think that would be -- One thing that I wanted to get across today is what is a day in the life of using fertility awareness method and how does that contrast to taking a pill or having an IUD or whatever. And at first it seems like a lot and there are three different things that you're monitoring. Like I said, it's basal body temperature, cervical position and cervical fluid. And it seems like a lot that really once you get to know your own body it takes me all of -- I think the longest piece is taking my temperature because I've got a slow old fashioned thermometer. So that's the longest piece. The rest of it takes ten seconds throughout the day. So it's just a matter of remembering to do it.
And we are in, thank God, the technological age and there's an app for your smartphone that reminds you how to do this and charts everything for you so that you're not having to chart everything yourself. And so it really is super easy. There are rules that you have to learn like what defines, what are the signs that mean that you're fertile or not fertile? So you need to understand what those rules are, which is why there's coaches out there.
I had a coach when I first started and she worked with me for six months. I was able to share my charts through this app to her and she was able to give me feedback. And the agreement was during that period of time we're going to use condoms for the whole month, rather than just in the special windows, until I could start predicting have I crossed into the fertile into non-fertile window myself. And she just coached me and taught me how to do it and quizzed me in of those things. It was great. That's why there's coaches out there. Once you get the hang of it though, it's like brushing my teeth, really.
Julie: Yeah, it becomes part of your daily routine.
Torea: It totally does.
Julie: It's like anything. It's difficult until it's routine, which I say a lot.
Julie: Because everything is that way.
Julie: What drove you to want to do this as opposed to being on hormonal birth control? Because I think that's a really good way to start to understand the contrast between the two.
Torea: Yeah. So, I had been on hormonal birth control since high school. I'm 44 now and it was in probably 2007 that I started using the NuvaRing because I was tired of the pill. I was having some side effects from the pill and wanted to try something else and that sounded really convenient to be able to use the ring and then skip periods. I was always after that whole skip period thing. And used it for about a year and really started to have some severe side effects. I started to get hot flashes. I started to get ovarian cyst and really started to feel like I was falling down the hormonal flight of stairs.
And it was about the time that I got diagnosed with autoimmune disease too so there was a lot of stuff going on at the same time but definitely the whole hot flash thing, when you're 30 -- It was 30 something. It was in my late 30s when I was having hot flashes. I was like, "No, no, no, no, wait. I'm not ready for this whole thing. What the heck is going on?" And that's when I worked with my OB-Gyn and we evaluated what are the options. I decided to try an IUD. We did the procedure to insert the IUD and I went into complete vasovagal response and turned white, stayed white on the table for three and a half hours and she wouldn't let me get up and finally she said, "No, your body is rejecting it."
So we took it out. Pretty much I'm not one of these people that can do an IUD and I wasn't really left with anything but condoms at that point. And it became a conversation with my husband of like, "Okay. Is one of us ready to go the surgical route?" That was what was left. And so we just decided that we were the couple that while we didn't want to have kids, we weren't ready to say permanently no. So we decided that we would check out fertility awareness method and that's when we started using it.
It's been great. We're totally happy we did. We haven't had to go through the surgical means and we're still trying to avoid and that's probably how it's going to be. It really turned out to be a non-invasive, non-hormonal, non-chemical way for us to achieve what we want to achieve.
Julie: That's awesome. That's really cool. I mean, similarly, I guess, I was same. I was on hormonal birth control, always the low dose of hormones. I have varicose vein in my leg and I had it since I was probably, I don't know, 17. And so I didn't really understand though the connection between varicose veins and the possibility for blood clot until I was probably 22. And that was only because I just happened to -- I was really struggling with birth control.
I had gone off the pill. I had gotten the patch. I went through the patch first and that really destroyed me. I mean, I gained 15 pounds. I had horrible acne. I was just a royal horribly miserable person to be around. Just no consistency of mood. I mean, I was a wreck. I was happy one minute and depressed the next minute. It was awful. I did that for probably three months before I needed to just quit. And my nurse practitioner recommended the ring instead so I went from the patch to the ring and it was a huge improvement health wise.
But I was on that for probably six months when I switched -- My nurse practitioner retired and I got a new nurse practitioner and she went through my chart because she was new and she put two and two together that I had this varicose vein that I reported and I was on the ring and she's like, "You need to get off of this immediately because the risk of blood clot are so high are you are predisposed to this." And on top of that, she recognized that I had migraines and so this was another sign that none of this was good for me.
I'm really grateful that she was with it enough to recognize all of these things because it was pretty terrifying. And that was the point where I just said, "You know what, enough with the hormonal birth control." Funny enough, my dad had always been against hormonal birth control because his mom had breast cancer and he always encouraged my mom not to be on hormonal birth control. My dad is not somebody that talks about this kind of stuff.
And before I went to college he was upset when he found that I was on hormonal birth control. Not because I was having sex but he was just frustrated that I was putting these things in my body. And I always thought that was weird wise thing for him to -- He was ahead of his time in terms of all that stuff.
Yeah. So I was happy to be off of it because I felt like, okay, my family will be happy I'm not on this stuff anymore. I'm happy that I'm not on it. But I was really left -- I went off of it and she told me to go off of it. She didn't give me a good solution other than condoms for not getting pregnant. And I had a steady boyfriend. We ended up getting engaged. Obviously, we're not together now but that was frightening to me. Like, okay, so I'm out on this ledge. Like this is my only option. And I feel like a lot of people are like that. Like there is nothing else. This is it.
Torea: And while it's an option, let's just face it, it's not the best.
Julie: It's not the best.
Torea: It's just not.
Julie: It's not.
Torea: That's part of the whole attraction to being on the pill or an IUD or whatever, is that you don't have that extra--
Julie: Exactly, yeah.
Torea: In a way, I mean--
Julie: Third party?
Torea: I don't know what else to call it. It's like, oh, things are getting all nice and steamy and let's pause for a moment and engage with some -- yeah, anyway, whatever. We don't need to go into the graphics. But the point is, is that when you're left with just the condom you're also left with somebody else in your relationship.
Julie: Yeah. And it's a conversation you have to have. Well, I think condoms are a great solution for a lot of problems but it's important to point out that they're not for everybody and you should have another option and this is a great one. So that's why we're talking about it. So now that you know our true stories, do you want to talk about how it all fits into this picture?
Torea: Yeah. So let's talk about the picture. We're going to link to it. But if somebody is listening now and they're next to a computer, you can go to kindara.com/science.
Julie: That's the app that you can use on your phone or in the computer to track your BBT and your cervical position and your cervical fluid and it keeps track of it in a nice lovely way.
Torea: And the lovely thing about what we're looking at is that's an infographic that's interactive and you can evaluate and see the different relationships between the temperature, the different hormone levels that are happening across the month and what's happening with the ovulation and what's happening with the cervix position and the fluid itself. So it's really a nice way to track all of those things and understand what each one looks like when you're in these different phases of your cycle. It's fascinating. I mean, you can really see how you can tell if somebody has balanced hormones just based off of temperature alone because they overlay at the two graphs, one on top of the other.
Julie: Right. I think it's also just fascinating, the cervical fluid thing is what always blows my mind because it's just I was definitely this person. There's a couple of great anecdotes in the Take Charge of Your Fertility book about women thinking they have horrible infections or something was wrong with them or they were completely like a leper basically because they had this fluid that must be not normal because it either smelled weird or whatever. I was definitely one of those people. For the earlier part of my adult life thinking there's something wrong me, I don't know what it is but I was too ashamed to ask about it and I certainly didn't want to Google it.
Torea: We didn't have Google back then, by the way.
Julie: No, we didn't have.
Torea: We used to go out--
Julie: I'll just put my head in the sand and pretend this isn't happening to me.
Torea: Yeah. I had a girl friend in high school that certain part of her cycle every month and she didn't really track it so she wasn't aware that this was happening in a cyclic basis. But she had so much cervical fluid in the middle of her cycle that she ended up needing to use panty liners and she thought something was completely wrong with her because now this stuff is coming out. She was like, oh yeah, there's just something wrong with me. Her dad was a doctor for crying out loud.
Julie: It's awful. I mean, you think about all the years we spent beating ourselves up for one thing or another and then you just add this to the mix an it's just like--
Torea: I think one of the best things about reading the book for me was just like, "Oh, you mean this was really normal?"
Torea: I finally felt normal.
Julie: Yeah, exactly. Same here. It was just like why -- So I'm like on this mission now to educate Ivy. I've told you some funny stories. Really my daughter is two.
Torea: Your two-year old daughter.
Julie: And I'm really open and honest with her about everything and she's, like most moms can relate, you're never allowed to go to the bathroom by yourself. She's always in the bathroom with me. She fully understands what those -- She doesn't fully understand but she has been completely exposed to tampons and periods and all of that. And she asks a lot of questions. She's my little why girl.
So yeah, I'm really open and honest with her. But it's like my mission in life for her to fully understand her body well before it starts to do the wild crazy things that it does. I want her to see this stuff coming and I want her to be excited about it because I think it's incredible what our bodies can do if we want it to do that. But I want her to always own her reproductive health. And so that was what I was like reading this book going, "Oh my god, this is going to be so awesome to teach Ivy all of this stuff before she ever has to wonder about it."
She is going to be the weird girl who's like instructing all of her friends. Like, "You don't know what your basal body temperature is? What was it this morning? What was it last week? You don't have a thermometer under your pillow?" I'm excited because it's really valuable information. If nothing else, if it can make somebody feel normal for the first time and just not like a leper, then I think it's great. But yeah, the cervical fluid, I think, is -- yeah, because I was the same thing. It happened every month but in my head it was like, "Oh my god, it's happening again." But I had no idea when it was happening or--
Torea: Right. Maybe we should back up a little bit and kind of describe the whole cervical fluid thing.
Julie: Yeah, I think that's a really good idea.
Torea: What happens is we go through these periods of having some cervical fluid and not having cervical fluid. What's interesting is that when you start looking at the consistency of that fluid you can actually tell when you're ovulating, which I was just blown away by but it is one of the signs that points to ovulation. And there are times where you have a lot more than others. I just thought things were just off and weird or whatever. I didn't really understand but now I understand.
So that's what we're talking about, is like you notice either from the marks on your underwear or what shows up on your toilet paper or even if you want to do a self inspection, you can do that too, and you notice basically when you are having more or less and that's kind of what you're tracking. It's just a really cool way to understand what's going on with your body and also know that you're not this weird freak that's ever--
Julie: Yeah. I think one of my biggest objections when you first pointed this out to me and I started reading the book and I was like, "I have to do what?" Because in my head, I was just like it's not something I'd ever done.
Torea: And what did I tell you that you had to do?
Julie: You had told me that I had to check my cervical position and I was just like, "Well, how am I supposed to do that? How do you know that?" And I was like, "Oh, you literally have to physically check your cervical position." So yeah, you have to use your finger and you have to get comfortable with your body and you have to figure out where your cervix is and I was a little freaked out mainly because I have this fear of my cervix because the first time I went and got my first Pap smear, I was 15, and I had a midwife because I went to this practice where there are midwives and there's practitioners and one or two doctors.
It was a great practice but I didn't have my normal midwife. I had a different one. She came in and it was the first time I met her so I was really nervous and she does a whole Pap and I'm laying there and I looked down and she's making this very perplexed face. I literally said, "Excuse me. You cannot do that."
Torea: Because now I'm freaked out.
Julie: Now I'm freaked out. And she goes, "Oh, you have a long vagina and a crooked cervix." And I was petrified because I was -- What? Am I good enough to be able to have kids? Is that what you're telling me? Am I deformed? Do I have some birth defects? And I was literally sweating profusely. She's like, "Oh, no, everybody is built differently," whatever. But she literally let me lay there and wriggle around and freak out for a good five minutes before she explained that it was perfectly fine. So I have this tremendous fear of it causing me problems or grief in some parts of my life.
Torea: Yes, yes.
Julie: So anyways, now I've conceived fine. I had a baby fine. No problem. But getting to know my cervical position was a little bit daunting because I was like, "Well, I have this condition. I have this crooked cervix condition. Am I going to be able to do this?" It was daunting.
Torea: How do you feel now?
Julie: I feel great. I feel like I finally own my cervical position. I feel like finally we're buddies. We get each other now. We understand each other. And that's great because I also took that information into account when I was finding it and I think I gave myself a little extra time to make sure that that position of my cervix matched up. So like you have to figure out the length of your cervix because it changes positions. It's either high or low throughout the time of ovulation. And so as you're figuring out your particular cervix, you have to--
Torea: Which takes a couple of months, by the way.
Julie: It does.
Torea: And this is why there's coaches because not everybody is designed the same way.
Torea: Not everybody is going to measure in the same way.
Torea: And literally, I mean, this is how graphic it gets, but literally I'm measuring the depth based off of where my knuckle gets when I'm checking for cervical position. That's just how I do it but other people do it other ways. Yeah, you have to get to know what that is and what that pattern is for you because everybody is slightly different.
Julie: Right. So I bit the bullet and I decided to just go for it and I'm glad that I did because now I have this better understanding. I'm not freaked out by the weirdness of my cervix. It is what it is and I'm sure lots of people have crooked cervixes but nobody ever told them they had a crooked cervix so I should just get over it.
Torea: Well, I mean, if we really think about it, one person diagramed the position of this cervix. It's probably a male in the 1800s and that became "normal" and so now everybody has crooked cervixes.
Julie: Yeah, everybody has crooked cervix.
Torea: Is it cervixes or cervix?
Torea: I have no idea.
Julie: I don't either.
Torea: Anyway. So cervical position again is another way to know when you're ovulating. So usually what will happen is the cervix will retract when the ovulation is occurring and it will descend when there's no ovulation occurring. So understanding that is another sign of ovulation tells you when you're fertile.
Julie: Yeah. It's pretty crazy. And I never knew that literally until I read the book that the cervix move as you ovulated. Never knew.
Torea: I never knew it moved. All I knew is that sometimes sex was painful.
Julie: Yes. Exactly. So that was another thing.
Torea: Seemingly randomly painful. And I couldn't figure it out. And now I understand that it's because I was close to ovulating so better be protected sex during that period of time. And hitting the cervix, unfortunately, and that's a little bit painful sometimes.
Julie: Yeah. Or sex is more enjoyable because of the position of the cervix, and also the lubrication of the cervical fluid. There's lots of things that we could learn about our sexuality from this.
Torea: All these questions about, well, why am I person who has dry vagina most of the time?
Torea: Because you're perfectly normal.
Torea: When you have dry vagina most of the time, there's nothing wrong with you. You don't need this extra -- Lube might be fun.
Julie: I mean, we've covered a lot of ground. I don't know how specific we want to get about this but--
Torea: Well, let's also just cover basal body temperature. We've talked about it but how it changes and how it indicates ovulation is you'll be tracking your basal body temperature. For those of you that don't know, that is your temperature when you first wake up in the morning before you've gotten up to go pee. And you try and do it, if that's what you do in the morning, most people do, what you're trying to do is you're going to try and take your temperature at the same time every morning because your temperature will start to rise in the morning and it will get higher so you want to keep that consistent from day to day to day.
But based off of where your temperature is, you can actually see these rises in temperatures and dips in temperatures that will also give you an indication and positive confirmation that ovulation is about to and has occurred so that you know what that window actually is for ovulation. That's the, if you haven't figured out, that is the high fertile time, is that around the ovulation, the plus or minus three days or whatever it is.
Julie: And I found that most comforting once you start to understand, like get familiar with your temperature and you can almost predict it and it's that data that changes. It's like, "I knew that was going to happen." Once you start to get into that rhythm of understanding, what's going to happen or being able to slightly predict what's coming.
Torea: Or waking up in the morning and suddenly having a drop and you're like, "Oh, today is the day the period is going to come."
Julie: Yes, which is also very--
Torea: And you know that ahead of time before you leave the house and leave all of your stuff behind. It's awesome to know that this is going to happen to you.
Julie: Yeah, yeah. You start to feel a little bit more like a magician or sorcerer sometimes. You have a little bit more power over the whole thing.
Torea: That's right.
Julie: Yeah. I think that that's really interesting. And then do we want to talk about the estrogen and progesterone, the shifts that take place during and what you can expect?
Torea: Yeah. I think it's important especially since you and I deal with hormone imbalance so much. So, yeah, why don't you give an overview of what that looks like normally and then I can talk about some of the things that happen when it goes around?
Julie: Sure, yeah. So before you ovulate and in most of your cycle, I guess is the best way just to say that, the beginning half of your cycle, estrogen and progesterone are kind of cruising along side by side. Estrogen is higher than progesterone. As you're coming up to ovulation, your estrogen will spike and your progesterone will be flat or quite low.
Torea: It stays even.
Julie: Yeah, it stays even. And then as you ovulate, progesterone is going to start to rise and estrogen will start to decline and they cross right in the middle of ovulation.
And the reason for that, obviously, is you want -- maybe it's not obvious. You want progesterone to raise in effort to sustain the pregnancy. It's progesterone, pro gestation. It's pro pregnancy.
Torea: It's what helps keep the egg implanted and ready for fertilization.
Julie: And then after, if you ovulate and it's not fertilized then progesterone will drop and estrogen will start to rise again and the cycle continues. So it's that kind of ebb and flow of estrogen or estrogen and progesterone that dictates the balance of hormones in a woman. And so typically, I mean, I can't speak to your practice but in our practice we often see a lot of estrogen dominance. The women really low in progesterone which is obviously a problem if you're trying conceive, you need progesterone, but you also need progesterone to moderate mood and to really just -- You need a healthy balance of both what it is.
But you really want this rhythm more than anything to be stable and consistent and predictable because it's when those things get out of balance that we start to see hormonal issues that are often major complaints of women that we work with. Understanding how that works and understanding how it plays into both your temperatures so you can start to see early signs of hormonal imbalance and then also how it plays into the other factors that you use in fertility awareness method.
If you use it for nothing other than figuring out if your hormones are unbalanced or trying to balance your hormones, it's a great tool for that. Regardless of the reproductive part, just managing your hormones for your everyday life, like that's another great tool for that. One of the things that we often have to have women do is a month long hormone panel where you have to spit in a tube everyday for 28 days and--
Torea: And trust me, that is one of the worst home labs to do.
Julie: Yeah. It's painful. I mean, not painful.
Torea: Not painful. It's just pain in the rear end.
Julie: But mentally, it's pain in the butt. It's way worse than taking your temperature every day. So it's a great preemptive strike towards your hormones instead of going the hormone panel route first.
Torea: Yeah. One of the reasons we ran that hormone panel is to understand the curves of estrogen and progesterone throughout the 28-day cycle or 30-day cycle. Being able to just track it with this at home without having to spit in the tube every day for 28 days is really great because we can actually see if you're charting it in an app like Kindara, you can actually see if somebody is having a premature progesterone peak that extends way longer than it should. Or you can see if somebody is having a double estrogen peak which is also common. So you can actually see that in the chart without actually shelling out a bunch of cash just to have the privilege of spitting in the tube for 28 days in the row.
Julie: And the other benefit to this is that you -- We've talked about this but it's -- When you are a passive participant in your health, when you are just relying on your healthcare practitioner to look at your labs or give you a Pap smear and tell you everything is fine or the very most do a blood panel and say, "Oh, everything is fine and you're within range, come back and see me in ten years when you've got something wrong with you," you're really missing out on really owning your health. And you're also losing the opportunity to catch a lot of things probably early on that your healthcare practitioner maybe won't catch.
And so it's really kind of taking back that power and allowing you to hold your own healthcare card. You should be able to tell your doctor, "You know what, something is off here. I'm not ovulating when I should. I haven't a regular cycle. I think it's because I have a progesterone spike really early or I think it's because I might be estrogen dominant." You will become fluent in your own reproductive health. I think that's huge, being able to own that and not take it for granted.
I think a lot of practitioners are sometimes taken aback when we come to them and we know a little bit more than they do even. And so it might be a good thing though to start that conversation. Do you need to find another practitioner that understands you and understands that you have a vested interest in your own health and you're not just going to wait around for them to tell you that something is wrong?
Torea: Two things that I want to give an example of how fertility awareness method has helped me just in my own health. Once I started charting, I started realizing that I was having premature signs of perimenopause. Not something that somebody wants to hear at 40, that they're going to have to go through menopause.
We really hope that that hits us around 50. And so just by looking at the charts and understanding that there was an extension of my post or my luteal phase that shouldn't have been there and understanding that there was something wrong with the hormone balance, one way that I was able to work with a naturopathic doctor to get them in balance. So we were able to supplement and get that corrected. So that's been great.
And then the other one was what I was telling you earlier is I went to my OB-Gyn for the standard checkup which is now every three years which is kind of cool, Pap every three years, which is awesome. But anyway, I went in for my standard check up. Sorry, it's Pap every year exam. Every year. Pap 3 exam every year.
Julie: Got it.
Torea: Anyway, I went in for a standard check up and she said, "Oh, we don't need to do a Pap." And I said, "Oh, well, I think I have a cervical cyst." And she just looked at me and her jaw drops to the floor and she's like, "What?" I said, "I think I have a cervical cyst, can you check that out?" And sure enough, she does the exam and she says, "Yeah, you've got a cervical cyst. In the 35 years of my practice, you are the first and only patient to self-diagnose a cervical cyst." So this is how intimate you become with your bodies that you can notice these things. Those cysts are small but just because we have so many nerve endings on our finger I can detect it even though they're super duper small.
Julie: Wow. Yeah. I can't really sing the praises enough. I'm trying to go through in my head like what some of the objections or concerns or questions that people would have about it and what would hold people back.
Torea: What were yours?
Julie: Like I said before, I was a little bit daunted to that whole task of getting to know your body and actually physically feeling the cervix and finding it and knowing where it was and like, "Is that it? Is that short or is that long? Is that high? Is that low?" Figuring out your own normal was really daunting to me. So just reading the book and understanding and just practicing. And I think one of the benefits to it is that it forces self care. It forces that time during the day like, "No, I'm going to take a shower and I'm going to do my thing." Like I got to figure this out.
It adds a layer of self care every day that you're at least thinking about yourself. And as mom and as somebody that's busy and have a business and all of that stuff, that's really important because sometimes it's not in my calendar and it's not something that I'm thinking about. But at least I have this one little piece of the day where I am thinking about my own health. And even if it's just that five minutes, I think it's really important. So that's one layer.
And then another thing which is the time commitment. Is this going to be some major thing that I have to think about? Yeah, for the first couple of months, when you're trying to figure it out, it is a little bit time consuming. But it's also really fun because it's new and it's exciting. It's like gadgets. You have this cool app that you're tracking it on and you're waiting to see what it looks like. You're waiting to see what your chart looks like. And there's a great online community where you can ask questions on Kindara and you can work with other people. We got to talk about it so that was fun.
Torea: Did you use a coach?
Julie: No, I didn't. You were my coach.
Torea: Was I your official coach?
Julie: You were my official coach, yeah.
Torea: Yes. I used a coach for the first three months. And that was really great because I didn't know anybody else. I mean, it was great that you had a friend that knew about it and could use the friend as a coach but I didn't have a coach, or sorry, I didn't have a friend who knew anything about it and just having somebody that I could send an email to and say, "Hey, this is kind of weird or is this weird?" I mean, usually most of the questions, as you're learning this, is: Is this normal? Is this weird? Or what does this mean?
Julie: Am I interpreting this right?
Torea: Exactly. And so that part is super easy. I think for a lot of people, one of the concerns that they have is, is it even reliable? Like if I'm trying to avoid pregnancy, am I going to be successful avoiding pregnancy? A lot of the studies are just the same as any other contraceptive method, which has the huge disclaimer of "if used correctly." So, if you take that pill every day and don't miss one or if you use the condom correctly then it's going to be 99% effective. And that's exactly what this is. There is a period of the cycle that is highly fertile and if you are going to have sex it's recommended you use condom. Otherwise, you're going to get pregnant.
So depending upon your goal, that maybe the time or it may be the time to maybe go out to a movie and not fool around or it may be time to use a condom.
Julie: Roll the dice.
Torea: I would use a condom. You might say roll the dice. Yeah, so there is that period of time. The wonderful thing is that my husband and I have a lot more freedom to be sensual with each other without having that third party called Mr. Condom. And even if there's a few days during the month, it's only a few days during the month.
Julie: Yeah. I think we found too that it's kind of nice to be able to say like, "Not tonight but guess what, Monday is." You know what I mean? It's much more -- I think it opens up a different level of communication with your partner because they know that you know and if you involve them and you can -- I know that you've said before that you can share your chart with your husband if you don't want to have to always be the one communicating when is a good time. You could even just like share your chart or share your app with your husband so that he knows when the window is. Yeah, I think--
Torea: Some spouses get so excited that they hand the thermometer to the wife.
Torea: "Here, honey."
Julie: On the other hand, if you teach them how to do this, they will always know when the window is. Yeah, whatever you need to do for your particular situation. Yeah, I think that level of communication is great. Yeah, regardless of what your goal is, whether it's getting pregnant or not getting pregnant, you have the power, you have the ability to say. So you have the effectiveness. I don't buy that it's not as effective. It's just as effective as any other method. It's as effective as you want it to be.
Torea: That's right. I've had some clients be concerned around, "Well gosh, am I going to find out that I'm more screwed up than I think?" That is a concern when they start. But when they start to understand how empowering it is to really understand their body and understand that, yes, are your hormones out of whack right now, fine. But that's how you and I are trained, is to help people balance their hormones naturally and get things back on track. And once they're able to get things back on track and they're empowered by being aware of what's going on with their body then they feel way more empowered once they get used to it.
Julie: Yeah. And one caveat to all this is specifically for people who are thinking about becoming pregnant or struggling with fertility or you're one of these women who you have worked really hard in your career and you're finally like at a place where you're thinking about having kids and maybe not completely advanced maternal age but you're approaching advanced maternal age, if you don't know this stuff, you have to. It's required reading at this point because it's true. I mean, it's frustrating for me to see women who are coming in to this fertile time or a time where they'd like to be fertile and they're basically starting from square one.
And I don't blame them. It' not their fault. But I'm saying now you know and you got to do better. Like once you do better, you got to do better. And you have to take this control because if you're just going to rely on -- if you're going to go right from being off the pill to wanting to have a baby, to jumping right to a fertility specialist who is going to want to do IVF or some other fertility treatment with even more hormones involved, if you're going to skip, you could skip all of that. And this is a lot less expensive than IVF. This is a lot less expensive. And a lot of times, this is all it is. It's just you don't know when you're ovulating.
Torea: The investment is a thermometer, folks. That's it. The app is free. And so the investment is a thermometer.
Julie: Yeah. We're kind of in the middle of creating a fertility program for people. And this is going to be baseline. You've got to have the months worth of BBT before we can even start working with you because you've got to know that stuff. You've got to have at least this much information. I think we're going to do a lot of good. I think for anybody who is thinking about getting pregnant, start here. This is the most basic way. I think a lot of women, because it seems -- It's partially because it's we're just more aware of people's fertility issues now. But I think it's also obviously become a bigger problem as well.
But I think a lot of women, I know at least five women who just assume they're going to have fertility challenges and I think it's just kind of by proxy because you know at least three or four people that have had fertility issues so you're a little bit scared going into it, like am I even going to be able to have a baby? Start here. Learn this stuff first and answer some of those questions for yourself before you set yourself up for disappointment. Because the stress of wondering, the stress of worry about can I or can't I get pregnant can sometimes be enough to prevent you from getting pregnant especially if you have mild hormonal imbalance issues anyways.
Torea: Well, I'm glad you brought that up because one of the things that I learned from my coach and also observed in my own charts is that stress can prevent ovulation entirely. And if you have a completely stressful beginning of the month in the follicular phase or the pre-ovulation phase, you can delay ovulation or you can prevent it entirely for that month. So oftentimes the length of our cycle can be affected by the stress that is encountered before you ovulate.
And so if you've got 28-day cycles and then all of a sudden you have this 35-day cycle and you're like, "What the heck was that about?" And if you think back, chances are some kind of stress that occurred. In the day and age of chronic stress that we're in, this is part of the effect that it has on fertility in general and being able to become pregnant, is this chronic stress. Not only is it important to understand your cycle, it's also important to understand the other lifestyle elements that go into it.
Julie: Exactly. Because there's something that you can do. You have power in all of those -- You have power in all of these areas. You have so many things that you can change and affect yourself before you go down the route of IVF and invasive treatments or surgery and all of those things. And you can investigate those things not only from the fertility awareness standpoint but you can investigate them on the part of your partner as well. Because men who are under stress, I mean, that affects sperm quality.
There's a lot of other pieces and parts that you have a lot more control over than you think you have. I definitely encourage anyone that's considering, concerned about your fertility one way or the other, this is the place to start. I can't recommend it enough. Before we get too crazy, I think this is a great place, like a good stopping point.
Torea: No, I think this is great. Like we said in the beginning, we wanted to give you guys a general overview of what the benefits were or fertility awareness method and how much more broad those benefits are other than trying to conceive or trying to avoid. I mean, it's great as a birth control method. But it's also fantastic as a means and insight to understanding your own body and understanding the biochemistry of what's going on under the covers, which is so huge to general health.
Julie: Is that a pun?
Torea: Apparently so.
Julie: I like it. Well, where can people find out more about you and how to get in touch with you?
Torea: Yeah. So you can find me at torearodriguez.com and there will be a link to that in the show notes because I know it's very hard to spell. And also check out Kindara, which is kindara.com and that's a great place to get started with the app and they've got a ton of great information about fertility awareness method.
Julie: And there's a great graphic on that I'm a little bit obsessed with that's right on the main page when you go to kindara.com that we were talking about earlier that has your basal body hormones, the ovarian cycle and then your urine and cervical fluids. So it kind of walks you through each little piece. And so I definitely think you should check that out. As usual, you can email me questions if you want me to do another show about fertility awareness method. I think we'll do more of the bits and bobs kind of how to show coming up. I'll see if I can find a great expert to come on and talk about that.
So if you got specific questions, please email me, email@example.com and let me know. And the other questions about fertility as well. I'm working on some shows, getting those in the pipeline. So let me know what you've got. Thanks, everyone.
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