Guest Blog by Prema Gaia
After having tried various birth control methods ranging from ‘the pill’, to condoms, to methods recommended to me by my local herbalist, I was thirsty for a more empowered understanding of my body’s natural cycles and of natural alternatives and wisdom that would enable me to take charge of my fertility.
I had heard that the ‘Fertility Awareness Method’ (FAM) is a natural form of birth control, as effective as ‘The Pill’. I was inspired at the possibility of becoming fluent with my cycles and rhythms and gaining enough confidence in my self-awareness to say goodbye to artificial barrier methods and pills.
I was also intrigued when I heard that this method increases intimacy between partners, by attuning women more deeply to their body’s wisdom and healing gifts, ordaining in them the ability to share in the primordial healing energy of sacred union more freely, in an organic, unbarriered way.
Several months ago, I decided to do some private consultations with Fertility Awareness expert Sarah Bly, who taught me the fundamentals of FAM and I started charting my cycles daily and practicing the method.
My newfound attunement to my body’s cycles and intuitive gifts felt so edifying and empowering, that I decided to deepen in my knowledge of these teachings, by attending a weekend workshop taught by Bly called Womb Wisdom: Understanding Cycles of Fertility.
Sarah Bly has been traveling across the US teaching FAM, for seven years and is clearly very passionate about her work. Her background in midwifery, tantra & bodywork, teaching sacred sexuality and facilitating ecstatic dance events, combined with her own embodied presence and approach made the workshop juicy, interesting and lively.
Both the men and the women in the workshop were on the edge of their seats as Bly explained the details of how to track which times of the month are safe to have unprotected intercourse without the fear of unwanted pregnancy. We all wanted to know the answer to that first, but learned that the answer is different for every woman and every cycle. The two full days of information that was shared during the workshop plus daily charting and follow-ups combine to give a woman enough information to confidently know when she is fertile or not.
Bly shared personal experiences and teachings about female sexuality, fertility and anatomy with ease, grace, and a twinkle in her eye, which instantly created a resonant and safe container for candid discussion among participants. It felt like reclaiming a piece of my wholeness, to find myself in an environment in which I felt comfortable and liberated to discuss the wonders and magic of these engaging subjects in a spirit of openness, honoring and celebration!
The two main books that Bly and many FAM practitioners consider to be the bibles of fertility awareness are ‘The Garden of Fertility’ by Katie Singer www.gardenoffertility.com and ‘Taking Charge of Your Fertility’ by Toni Weschler. www.tcoyf.com
The Fertility Awareness Method, as taught in these two books and in fertility awareness workshops by Sarah Bly at www.graceofthemoon.com, teaches practitioners how to follow and chart their 3 primary signs of fertility: cervical fluid, basal body temperature & cervical changes.
The 3 Primary Signs of Fertility
We learned about the broad range of types and consistencies of cervical fluids that a woman may experience each month, ranging from extremely fertile fluid which has the appearance and texture of a raw egg-white, to the scant and pasty fluid that may be present on infertile days. Bly explained in detail how the pattern of cervical fluids may vary greatly from woman to woman and from month to month. Cervical fluid patterns can be a great indicator of hormonal imbalances, which can be a valuable call to action for dietary and lifestyle changes.
The second primary sign of fertility is daily checking of basal body temperature, first thing upon waking in the morning. Body temperature rises after ovulation and remains high for the rest of the cycle. For example, I’ve noticed that my temperature tends to be about 97.6 degrees before I ovulate and approximately 98.2 after ovulation. It is possible for a woman to release two eggs in one cycle, but if that does happen, both eggs will be released within a twenty-four hour period. An unfertilized egg can only live for a maximum of twenty-four hours.
A final and optional fertility indicator is touching and checking the cervix, in order to note the cervical changes that occur throughout the month. Around the time of ovulation, a woman’s cervix will become soft, will shift to a higher position in the vaginal canal, and will have a noticeably larger opening at the cervical os, through which sperm may travel.
The Wisdom of Fertility Awareness
With the help of charts and thorough discussion, Bly illustrated the four phases of a women’s monthly cycle: The menses phase, the ‘early dry days’, the fertile phase, and the luteal phase. We then went over samples of women’s charts to learn about some possible variations in the quality and length of a woman’s cycle.
Bly recommends emphatically that a woman complete a training session in the FAM, and chart her cycles thoroughly for at least three months before starting to rely on FAM as her primary method of birth control. Partners are also encouraged to attend the training, and workshops are often an equal mix of men and women.
In February 2007, the scientific journal Human Reproduction Today, published a report that one variation of the fertility awareness method has been found to be 99.4- 99.6% effective, when practiced correctly. Success in using the FAM method depends on willingness to study, learn, chart and follow-up with your teacher, along with psychological support from self and others (partner, teacher, women’s group etc.) and consistency of practice. Some intentional communities such as Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri, even have a ‘fertility awareness charting board’ in a community room where the women of the community can all track their cycles together.
Based on her experience of working with hundreds of women, Bly feels that “The birth control pill emotionally flatlines a woman in a way that supports her ability to participate in the workforce, but does not support the ecstatic or transcendent qualities of masculine and feminine union.”
The archetypal feminine life-force energy flows up and down in dynamic, creative waves, which polarizes and magnetizes the archetypal grounded and steady energy flow of the masculine.”
At this stage in cultural evolution many men and women are striving to anchor a consciously embodied balance of yin and yang energy. The tantra movement has helped its practitioners to connect in a more balanced and evolutionary way to both the primordial Shiva and Shakti (masculine and feminine) Universal energies.
However, as Bly explains, “When women are on the birth control pill, they are given a steady stream of synthetic hormones which creates a derived hormonal pattern and blocks the intuitive, responsive and variant qualities of a woman’s natural rhythms.”
The abrupt manner in which the levels of synthetic hormones are dropped off once a month, in order for the woman to menstruate, is quite jarring for a woman both physically and emotionally.
In addition to this, when discontinuing contraceptive medication, some women experience severe depression and other physical discomforts (upset stomach, headaches etc.) Infertility disorders produced by the pill may continue for a variable time after discontinuation of the medication.
A lot of my own inner work in recent years has been in processes designed to de-armor myself emotionally and spiritually so that I can drop into a more profound space of interconnectedness with my loved ones and with all of creation. A practice that enabled the removal of physical and chemical barriers during sacred union, to fully share in the joining of the healing masculine and feminine energies, felt like an expansive progression on that path.
This work that I had been doing towards de-armoring and accessing my body’s intuition, when combined with the teachings of Fertility Awareness, led me to unprecedentedly transcendent and healing experiences of Sacred Union as well as a noticeable change in feeling more embodied and grounded.
Women's Stories of Empowered Fertility
I was curious to speak with several inspiring leaders in women’s embodiment practices and hear their perspectives about Fertility Awareness and their own personal experience of coming into deeper attunement with their cycles and body wisdom.
Here’s what they had to say:
I come from a very fertile lineage of women. Basically every women in my family has about five children and when I was in my teens I also got pregnant and had two abortions which was pretty traumatic for me. I decided that if I was going to have a baby, I wanted to choose to do it when I was consciously ready to bring forth a child into the world.
I’m a big advocate of the fertility awareness method and have used it successfully for over ten years.
I have been on the pill for periods of time and my experience has always been that my sex drive was dramatically lessened; So that worked in keeping me from getting pregnant, but it really wreaked havoc on my relationships, my desire and my passion. Being on the pill I didn’t feel in touch with my femininity, my cyclical nature and my sexuality. It puts you out of touch with the natural feminine cycles, your own innate Goddess energy, which connects you to the cycles of the earth. That said, I definitely have no judgement if a woman chooses to be on the pill, and I want to support every woman’s choice.
A lot of what makes sexual union transcendant and transformative is the energetic connection between two people and much of that is transmitted through the skin and fluid. In Tantra the fluid contains the life essence and a lot of magical properties that are elixirs of vitality to the masculine and the feminine. So if you can be in a relationship that is safely and consciously fluid-bonded that is definitely ideal.
Amber Saint Germain, Evolutionary Life & Relationship Coach, Clinical & Somatic Therapist, and author of the book: Evolutionary Sexuality. www.amberstgermain.com
I really want my story to help other women not have to go through what I went through. As a dancer, I didn’t start bleeding until I was 18, sometimes I wouldn’t have my cycle for months at a time, and I never knew when it was coming or going. Until I met my current partner, almost seven years ago, I did not know what ovulation really meant and didn’t really know anything about my menstrual cycle. My cycle was totally haphazard and considered an annoyance and dirty. There was no one, until my partner came along, that I could talk to about my monthly experience.
I didn’t know that by paying attention to my cycle, I could take command of my fertility and prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately, due to this lack of information, I got pregnant, and it was very tragic. My partner and I found out about FAM in a book and I immediately went online and got in touch with Sarah Bly and started working with her.
An amazing thing happened: Once I started tracking my cycle, within a few months, I actually started having a regular cycle for the first time in my life.
Now that I track my cycle I also do my best to take moonlodge, (setting aside time for prayer and meditation during my menstrual time). I’m also so grateful that we are a generation that is reclaiming the power and the sacredness of moonlodge and the feminine mysteries. http://medicinemovement.ning.com/
Tenley Wallace, Founder of ‘Temple Tribal Fusion’ and Feminine Wellness & Vitality Coach www.templetribalfusion.com
I started practicing yoga when I was nineteen. At that time, I was on the birth control pill, was smoking and had a very different lifestyle. I had struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder, being obsessed with the numbers 4 and 8, as a way to try to create stability and control in an environment where I didn’t have any. Yoga helped me get in touch with my body and release trauma. Suddenly all that tension I had relied upon in order to function started to dissipate and it made me panic. Fortunately my yoga teachers helped give me tools to work through these changes.
In my twenties I stopped taking ‘the pill’ and became more aware of my cycles and how they affected my moods. Now that I’m fourty-seven and have been very conscious of my cycle for a long time, I can predict quite accurately when I’m going to ovulate. I’ve been in committed relationships for many years and have never gotten pregnant, which was my choice. I am not personally into any medication that’s going to alter the natural cycles of my body, although I definitely honor every woman’s right to choose.
The gravitational pull of the moon influences our mental health and wellness and I have a very intuitive connection with the cycles of the moon. I’m not surprised when I look up at the moon and feel a certain way that is a reflection of the moon phase.
My whole life is based on my intuition and when I was on the pill, there was an inconsistency, where I didn’t trust myself the same way. I was much more reactive and didn’t feel in the presence of the magic of Spirit in the same way. As I matured what became important to me was to be able to respond to life in accordance to what I was feeling in my body.
It’s vitally important for a woman to take responsibility for understanding her own unique rhythms and hormonal cycles. This is another essential part of yoga. I think it’s phenomenal that Fertility Awareness workshops are being taught and I think that these types of body-awareness classes should be a requirement in school. I would love for our thirteen year old girls to have the opportunity to dialogue about their bodies without shame.
Seane Corn, International Yoga Instructor and Co-Creator: Off The Mat, Into The World www.seanecorn.com
Our Bodies, Our Cycles
Bly teaches the Fertility Awareness Method as primarily a self-awareness practice to increase a woman’s connection and intimacy with her body. By studying the correct rules, this practice can be used for conscious conception as well as birth control.
Through speaking with several women from many walks of life who have studied FAM, I discovered that fertility awareness has been a gateway to many different experiences and awakenings.
The benefits they listed include accessing their body wisdom and intuition, deepening in transformational sacred union in partnerships, healing emotional trauma that has been stored in the womb, and feeling more in touch with their bodies and in tune with the cycles of nature.
The predominant sentiment was one of an overall sense of empowerment, gratitude for coming into contact with these teachings, and most commonly the question: Why was I never taught any of this stuff before!?
Guest Author: Prema Gaia
Prema Gaia is a magazine writer, heart-based publicity and business coach, dancer, yogini, world-traveler and Shamanic Priestess. Prema’s work is focused on raising awareness about people, movements and events that are transforming our world and uplifting our spirits, and she is especially passionate about working with Sacred Feminine visionaries. Her writing can be found in publications such as Spirituality & Health, Sage Woman, Conscious Dancer and South Africa’s Odyssey Magazine. Connect with her at: www.facebook.com/PremaGaiaWriter.