Friday, March 21, 2014

Thoughts On The Calendar Method

Over the last few months I’ve talked to several women who have told me that they “count their days” as a natural form of birth control. By this I assume they mean they are practicing some form of the calendar or rhythm method. These methods attempt to use past cycles to predict when a woman will ovulate and by abstaining from intercourse during this time each month. I would like to make something clear: although “counting days” can sound a lot like Natural Family Planning (NFP), it is actually very different and a lot less effective. Here is why:

1- The calendar method assumes a “normal" cycle with ovulation occuring the same day each month, typically day 14. In reality, even with a very regular cycle, a woman’s ovulation day can be days earlier or later than this, and can fluctuate depending on diet, stress and other factors – making the calendar/rhythm method even less accurate. And if a woman does not have a “normal” 28-day cycle, proper NFP methods become even more important.

2- The calendar/rhythm method leaves out several important factors. For instance, some women think that they can have intercourse up until the time they’ve ovulated. This seems reasonable because, how can pregnancy occur if there’s no egg yet for the sperm to fertilize? But sperm can live up to 5 days after intercourse, making the few days leading up to ovulation part of the most fertile phase – even though the egg is completely absent at the time of intercourse. Add to this the fact that the woman's egg can live for up to 24 hours after ovulation and you have a window that’s even harder to predict using the calendar or rhythm method. These factors are crucial in determining a woman's actual fertile time.

3- By miscalculating a woman’s fertile time, the calendar/rhythm method may actually lead couples to have intercourse during the days that pregnancy is most likely to occur.

4- It is possible that the calendar method may lead couples to abstain for longer than necessary since it is based on the woman's past cycles, not her current fertility signs.

Overall, the calendar method just isn't very effective. It’s an outdated guessing game that leaves couples at the mercy of a calendar. Although the calendar method is often equated with Natural Family Planning, NFP is actually very different. Instead of using past cycles to predict fertility, NFP uses a woman’s current biological indicators to determine when she is actually fertile. The difference between the two methods is evident when we examine their effectiveness rates-- NFP is 98% effective while the calendar method is only about 80%-90% effective.

For more on the effectiveness of NFP see my past blogs or read more here.

Friday, August 23, 2013


We arrived safely in Barcelona at 9am this morning (3am CLT time). After running back through the airport to get our itenerary that was accidentally left on the plane, we took the metro to an outdoor market to find some cheap lunch.

After lunch we walked around town and saw some neat shops and the Christopher Columbus Memorial.

Next we visited Sagrada Familia, a cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi. It was more modern than any other cathedral I've visited, but just as beautiful.

After dinner we visited Santa Maria Del Mar, a cathedral built in the 14th century.

To end the day we stopped at a cafe for some hot chocolate before heading back to our room. It's currently 9pm here and we are both ready for bed thanks to the jet lag. It was cold and rainy today; we're hoping for better weather tomorrow.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Natural Family Planning Made Easy

Over the last year Mark and I have had the opportunity to introduce several of our friends to Natural Family Planning, including three engaged couples. If I have learned one thing from this experience it's that NFP can get very confusing very quickly. In this post I hope to lay out the basics of NFP in an attempt to make it less confusing for those of you who are in the process of learning. This is by no means an extensive explanation of how or why NFP works, but it will give you an overview of the most important information you need to know to get started. I can not stress enough how important it is to do further study for yourself if you choose to make NFP part of your marriage. It is important to take a class, meet with an NFP doctor, or at least buy a book on the subject to learn more. I always tell couples that one of the reasons Mark and I are so confident in NFP is because of how much we have studied it-- we have taken a class together, I met with an MD for several months to review my charts, I bought a book, and I have an NFP-certified RN I still contact with questions occasionally. Basically, we've had several experienced medical professionals patiently and graciously teach us everything we need to know. So if you want to feel confident about NFP, I recommend doing more than reading this blog.

I must also add that although NFP can be used to achieve pregnancy, this post is geared towards those who want to use NFP to avoid pregnancy. It is also important to note that the rules and observations for postpartum women are slightly different than the ones listed here.

 Let's get started.


One of the things that is great about NFP is that it doesn't cost very much. There is only one item that you really need to buy--a basal body thermometer. The total cost should be $10-$20, depending on which thermometer you buy. Here are a couple that have worked great for me:
In addition to a thermometer you may choose to buy a fertility monitor. This isn't absolutely necessary (NFP is still 98% effective without the monitor), but it does give you extra assurance, which is especially nice when you are first learning. My NFP instructor recommends the Clearblue Easy Monitor. It is a little costly upfront, but after the first couple of cycles you do not need to use it nearly as often, so you do not need to buy refills every month. I only have to buy refills about every 4-5 months. Again, this isn't a must-have.

Lastly, if you don't start off by taking a class right away, at least buy this book. It will help with unexpected questions.

Cycle Basics

The first step to learning NFP is understanding the cycle a woman's body goes through approximately every 28 days. Knowing this pattern is key to understanding when a woman is fertile, and therefore able to become pregnant. During her cycle a woman has her period, which is usually 5-7 days. After this, she is infertile for the several days leading up to ovulation which usually happens around day 14. During ovulation an egg is released from the woman's ovary which lives for 12-24 hours. This is the only time during her cycle that a woman is actually able to become pregnant. This event is followed by another infertile period.

The Fertile Window

NFP works by identifying when a woman is fertile each cycle (her "fertile window"). This allows couples to choose to abstain from intercourse during this time so that they don't conceive. The length of a woman's fertile window is usually about one week long, give or take a day or two.

Identifying the Start of the Fertile Window

At this point the natural question should be, "So how do I know when I am fertile so I can know when to abstain?" The answer is quite simple--cervical mucus (CM). My apologies to the gentlemen, but this is very important.

Through the course of her cycle a woman will observe several different kinds of CM. It will begin to appear several days before ovulation and start out sticky before turning creamy, and then to an egg white consistency. Egg white CM is the most fertile kind and it exists for the purpose of keeping sperm alive.

Without the presence of CM sperm can only live inside the woman for a matter of hours, but if the sperm is met by fertile CM then it can live for as long as 3-5 days. This means that if a woman has sex several days before ovulation her CM may keep her partner's sperm alive long enough for it to still fertilize the egg once she does ovulate. 

The rule is simple: Couples wishing to avoid pregnancy should start abstaining as soon as cervical mucus is present because this means ovulation is approaching. 

I don't want to gross anyone out with a picture, so if you need help identifying the different kinds of CM, click here.  

Identifying the End of the Fertile Window

The fertile window ends after the woman has ovulated and the egg has had adequate time to die. Because the egg can live for 12-24 hours, it is best to wait three days after ovulation has occurred before resuming intercourse. 

This is where the thermometer I mentioned earlier comes into play. A woman can know when she has ovulated by tracking her basal body temperature (BBT, or in regular people terms, her waking temperature).

During ovulation the woman's body releases a hormone (progesterone) which causes a rise in body temperature. Once a woman sees this rise in her temperature she has ovulated. After recording three consecutive temperatures that are higher than her previous six temperatures, couples can resume intercourse. The temperature pattern may look something like this:

Again, the rule is pretty simple: You may stop abstaining three days after your temperatures rises because this means that ovulation has occurred and the egg has had enough time to die. 

A Note on BBT
 Taking your temperature really isn't that difficult, but here are some important things to remember:
  •  Use a Basal Body Thermometer, which can be found at any drug store or online.
  • Starting the day after your period ends, take your temperature every morning when
 you wake up. For the most accurate results, try to take it at the same time each morning 
(Your temperature goes up the later you sleep.) 
  • Take your temperature before talking, eating, drinking, or moving around too much 
for best results. 
  • Record your results on your chart. (Most thermometers have a recall option, so you don’t 
have to write the results down right away.)

Remembering your mucus pattern and temperature each day is going to be really difficult if you don't record it on some kind of chart. Thanks to modern technology, charting is actually very easy. There are several free charting websites such as and apps like FertilityFriend and Kindara. With the push of a few buttons you can record your temperature, mucus observations, and when you have intercourse. These apps also allow you to record fertility monitor results, pregnancy tests, mood, amount of exercise, medications, and just about anything else you can think of. They are very easy to customize, and did I mention they are free? 



Overall, NFP is pretty easy once you get a hang out of it. The rules are simple: Begin abstaining whenever CM is present. 
Stop abstaining 3 days after ovulation (which can be determined via BBT). Chart it. Repeat.

Want to learn more by taking a class? Find one here.
Want to meet with an NFP-only MD? Find one here.
Want to know how I got started on this crazy adventure? Read about it here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Paris Highlights

The unending staircase that led to our 4th floor apartment
Arch de Triomphe
Eiffel Tower

Paris Pantheon
The Louvre
Musee d 'Orsay

Mona Lisa
Paris opera house
St. Chapelle

Sacre Coeur

Thursday, May 23, 2013


The Alps in Switzerland are possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Mark rented a loft for us to stay in that had a perfect view of the mountains from our bedroom window. Even though we did not do very much while we were in Grindelwald since Mark's knee was hurt (and everything was VERY expensive), we did enjoy taking the bus through the valley, walking around our little town and to the grocery store, and looking at the mountains from our front porch and window. This was the most relaxing stretch of our trip.

We only went out to dinner once during our stay to try a tradition Swiss meal-- hash-browns, eggs, Swiss cheese, and sausage. 

The loft we stayed in was part of a 200 year old house. The couple we rented from was very sweet and even got us a free bus card and personally drove us to and from the train station. 

The first day we were in Switzerland we saw this outside of our bedroom window after a light rain.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

English Garden pictures, Munich

Here are some pictures from our day at the English Gardens in Munich.

Naked man in the park!

Taking a nap


We arrived in Munich yesterday around noon via train. We grabbed a sandwich at the train station, packed our luggage into a locker, and headed straight to the Dachau concentration camp memorial.

We spent over three hours at Dachau walking around and reflecting at the memorial, watching videos, and listening to our audio guide. It was a very enlightening and heavy experience.There were several journal entries from prisoners posted around the sight that were very difficult to read. I often found myself amazed at the hope, courage, and sense of justice present in the letters as the prisoners wrote about caring for other inmates, honoring and encouraging one another, and praying. Mark and I had an interesting conversation during our bus ride back about the similarities between Dachau and the present day holocaust with the unborn happening around the world today.

It was cold and cloudy all day which seemed fitting.

Today we spent most of the day at the English Gardens in Munich. Tomorrow we leave for Switzerland.

If you would like to see more pictures check out Mark's Facebook page. I've been having a hard time getting my phone to post pictures.

Peace and Love, 

Work Makes (You) Free

Jewish Memorial

Bath House

Gas Chamber

Bath House

Pistol Range