Friday, September 14, 2012

Adventures in Postpartum Charting

In case you haven't yet seen them, you should visit 1flesh.org and iusenfp.com. They are awesome, and I am so excited about what they are doing to spread the word. Whether you are trying to conceive or trying to avoid it, these sites will give you a fresh perspective on the question. Just as I very firmly believe that a woman's body can do all sorts of wonderful things during pregnancy and childbirth, these sites extend that principle all the way back to pre-conception. ENTER, stage left, Natural Family Planning!

My husband and I have used NFP since we were first married six years ago. We have never had to try very hard to conceive, so unlike many diabetics who have trouble getting pregnant, I have had the opposite problem. NFP is awesome for how it respects your body AND respects your need to space your children OR helps you conceive if you're having trouble, but after a few months off and a baby it's...a little bit confusing.

First, a brief history of how I ended up with three children. (The short version is...well, everyone should know that short story).

After my first child was born, my period came back when he was 6 months old. My husband and I then decided that we didn't really care all that much when we had another baby, and lo and behold, a short few weeks later, I was walking to a drug store on my lunch break, squeezing in a trip to the bathroom at work before my lunch hour was up, and seeing two little lines on a chalky white strip.

After my second child was born, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to rely on a half-hearted, "I'm breastfeeding so I'm immune to pregnancy" attitude to prevent conception, so I decided to actually chart. I picked up my charting tools again just before my 6-week postpartum visit, and found out that it was a little more difficult than I had anticipated. My temperatures were everywhere, my mucus was always sticky and sometimes smelly, and I was all like...what? 

First of all, my postpartum temperatures were everywhere because my sleeping patterns were so irregular. If the baby happened to go to bed early and I could sneak a glass of wine (aaaah...), my temperature was elevated in the morning (d'oh!). If I happened to sleep in in the morning because both babes decided to sleep an extra hour (aaaah....), my temperature was off (d'oh!). The uncertainty meant we were spending more time abstaining than we needed to, and even when we didn't, we were never quite sure whether the temperature patterns were actually reflecting ovulation or exhaustion.

Second of all, my sticky, smelly, white mucus was actually a yeast infection (sorry, TMI, but I want no one to go uninformed about these things). I had never had one before, and my theory is that it may have been related to everything that happened down there...bacterial and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and birth and all that. Besides that, diabetics are more prone to yeast infections than other women. This is where the cervical checks come in for me, to confirm whether I'm ovulating or just have a yeast infection.

Thirdly, seminal fluid looks exactly like the most fertile mucus. So if I went from dry one day to "super-fertile" the next day, usually all I had to do was try to remember what I did last night, and after a little reflection, I was able to breathe again. But curiously, seminal fluid would sometimes continue to show itself for a few days after marital relations, not only in the one day following. Interestingly, seminal fluid also has the same effect on the cervix as ovulation does, so cervical checks following marital relations only led to further heart palpitations. Alas, it only means that I could not use the cervical check following marital relations to determine infertility. I just had to wait for a few days of dryness to come back.

Lastly, cervical checks showed me very clearly what kind of mucus I had, and then some. What I mean is that if I had fertile mucus, I would almost definitely see it on my fingers following a cervical check. But what I mean by "and then some" is that I occasionally saw stuff on my fingers following a cervical check that was, in fact, a light, normal, infertile mucus pattern. For me, it looked like small (think bell-pepper-seed-sized or grape-seed-sized) clumps of white stuff, usually only one or two clumps per check, if at all. I can only assume these are the equivalent of vaginal boogers (white blood cells clumping together and getting ready to exit your body).

Uh...I can't believe I just said that. I think I may have just weirded MYSELF out.

In any case, after a few months of observing this trend, I was able to distinguish "vaginal boogers" pretty clearly from fertile mucus. Fertile mucus always showed up in more abundance (a gloopy glop closer to the size/volume of a small pumpkin seed), either upon wiping after using the toilet or cervical check.

Are you creeped out yet after this discussion of cervical mucus, yeast infections, seminal fluid, and vaginal boogers? My profuse apologies, if so. I'm just hoping my experience can help elucidate the signs and symptoms for other women in the postpartum period. Believe me, as a Type I diabetic, I know how important it is for women to be able to plan conception carefully, and that includes recognizing the signs and symptoms after birth!


So to sum it up, I ended up rejecting temperatures altogether in favor of a mucus-only method of NFP. I also learned more about cervical checks and how to use them to confirm when I suspected ovulation was complete (this is a very useful tool and most methods don't make use of it, but I highly recommend it). I discovered a normal, non-fertile, light mucus pattern that was easily identifiable, but only after I'd been seeing it for a few months. As a result, the only surprising thing about our third conception was that it happened the very first month we stopped not trying to have a baby.

So we're at it again, and hopefully my experience will help anyone who is struggling to get to know their amazing fertility again after birth.

2 comments:

  1. I just found your site and LOVE IT. My fiance and I just finished our 2nd out of 3 NFP classes with the Couples to Couple League organization. I just got off birth control pills 2 weeks ago, so my body is all over the place right now. On top of that, I was dx with PCOS in 2007, so I'm anxious and excited to keep charting and see what happens. I cannot believe I found a T1D/NFP blog!!!

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    1. Happy to help, and glad you found us! We'll be interested to hear about your experiences. NFP/T1D has been a *great* combination for me; learning about my fertility AND my blood sugars has helped me understand the other a lot better!

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