When’s the last time you tried something new? It could be anything, even something small – like trying out a new recipe or driving somewhere you’ve never been before. Whatever it is, there seems to always be that humbling, clumsy moment where you miss the turn or take forever to measure out an ingredient. It’s not that you don’t know HOW to cook or drive, it just takes a little longer to figure out when you are using the skill in a different way. Well that is how I am feeling right now with post-partum charting! It’s not that I don’t know HOW to chart, but I am using my skills of temping, checking mucus, and charting in a different way than before. And I know I’m not alone – we have a buddy group on the forum for post-partum charting women and there have been a lot of posts lately.
Every woman cycles differently (hence the reason for not using a one-size-fits-all calendar method!) and that is certainly true in the post-partum period as well. For anyone who doesn’t know much about post-partum fertility, I will try to explain it briefly. (Keep in mind that I am not an instructor) Basically, a woman’s fertility can return fairly quickly after the birth of a child, but especially if she is breastfeeding she will often experience some delay in the return of her fertility for a more extended period of time. When fertility does return her cycles may be different than she is used to. Sounds simple enough but read those two sentances again and notice all of my vague qualifiers – usually, some, period of time, may be…because it varies so greatly! What makes this time tough to navigate is that one has to always be on the lookout for signs of returning fertility/ovulation. Often though, a post-partum woman’s body will gear up to ovulate and then will not, creating a yo-yo effect, mucus patches, confusion, and overall frustration whether the couples has discerned a need to postpone or not.
So how does my experience compare? This has definitely been the most challenging time in my charting history! This is partially because I will admit I was spoiled pre-pregnancy with textbook cycles. Using the sympto-thermal method I had a clear mucus build-up, a distinct temperature rise, and nearly identical cycle lengths. It was always the transition from Phase I to Phase II that was trickiest. But now that I’m postpartum that’s how I have to treat my body all the time! I have to behave as if I were about to transition from Phase I to Phase II on any given day (in case I do!). I’m just not used to the uncertainty. Not to mention I was and am out of practice after not having to chart for an entire pregnancy. AND, though my husband and I did discern a possible need to postpone pregnancy for a few months after getting married, we were actually pretty open from the start and “broke some rules” only a few months in, so in a sense I’ve never seriously postponed before.
I’ve found it is a lot scarier, for lack of a better term, when you are seriously trying to postpone pregnancy and you are not quite sure what’s going on with your cycle. Long story short (maybe one for another post!), I had to do some supplementing during my first few weeks of breastfeeding and so could not be completely sure of my fertility status from the very start. My husband and I feel strongly we are called to have several children. We’d like them to be somewhat close in age, but we also know we need to postpone for a bit right now for several reasons. In an attempt to continue charting, I kept an eye on my mucus sign but did not take my temperature because my sleep was so disrupted with a new baby. I also had no signs of fertile mucus so knew that ovulation and a temperature shift was highly unlikely. After months with no signs of returning fertility and finally exclusively breastfeeding with no solids or supplements, I gained more and more confidence that my cycle was simply going to stay away for awhile, maybe even until my baby completely or mostly weaned. Along with that, as my son grew a little older and out of the newborn phase, I decided the idea of another little one was not QUITE as terrifying as it had been in those first few weeks.
So, end of the story, right? Nope! After nothing, (nothing!!!) all the sudden there was something! I was surprised one day with very fertile mucus as if I were ovulating. I was out of town and hadn’t packed my thermometer so I just figured I’d wait and see if my period showed up a couple weeks later. Well it did, but it was only a week later. Not what I was used to for sure! I was honestly bummed, too – now that I was finally fully breastfeeding including nursing several times overnight and not yet giving any solids, THAT’s when my cycle returns?
I wish that was the end of the story! (…sigh…) After that period I assumed that meant my cycles had returned, right? Nope! I started temping and charting but I’m now back to having nothing again and my temperatures are kind of all over the place. So now…who knows? When will I start having a regular cycle again? Should I be expecting ovulation any day now or will it be a few more months?
Despite a frustrated-sounding post, it hasn’t been all bad. Physically, of course I don’t mind not having a regular visit from Aunt Flo, but spiritually, this time has really opened my eyes once again to the beauty of NFP and following God’s will for my family. It has reminded me of the great gift and privilege and huge responsibility that is my fertility. My husband and I have the capability of working with God to create new human beings! Through this process of being a little unsure and even a little clumsy, we have discovered how open to another pregnancy we really are. Turns out it’s more open than we thought. Despite my use of the word “scary” earlier in this post, we have felt a surprising sense of peace. I have a feeling if I wasn’t using NFP and didn’t know about my body I would truly be living in fear and would be actively doing something to make sure I didn’t get pregnant before I knew we were really, really ready. Instead, we are able to discern day by day how we feel about the possibility of God calling us to have another little one. I can’t say we are trying to conceive right now and I don’t know if my body is quite ready (see above), and someday we might have reasons to postpone long-term, but for now it’s been neat to watch this part of our marriage and charting unfold!