How my homesteading journey began
I fell in love with the idea of “homesteading” nearly 10 years ago. At the time I didn’t really know there was a name for it. I just knew that I wanted to live as self-sufficiently as possible. To raise my own food as much as possible so that I could know exactly what I was eating to nourish my body. My husband and I dreamed for years about buying land, building a cabin, gardening, and raising animals. I remember going to the bookstore to look for a magazine about log cabins and coming across The New Pioneer and Mother Earth News magazines. On the phone with my husband, I said, “apparently there’s a name for what we want to do, it’s called ‘homesteading’.”
We purchased a few subscriptions and spent several years reading and planning. Researching various areas of our state and looking for affordable land. In the fall of 2016 we finally found the perfect starter home. A small vacation cabin on 10 acres of land in the mountains of northwest Virginia. I purchased my first small flock of chickens the following spring, the first of many more adventures in homesteading.
It’s been a slow start
With the prohibitive costs of fencing halting plans for more livestock, and fulltime jobs keeping us away from home more often than not, we haven’t been able to do as much as we hoped.
But, we’ve done what we can where we can. Gardening herbs and vegetables on our deck, away from hungry deer herds until fences are figured out. Supplementing mountain clay soil with heaps of wood chips and mushroom spawn to create a beautiful dark compost perfect for growing. Cutting standing dead trees for winter firewood, our only source of heat. And hauling fallen dead trees into hügelkultur mounds for future gardening projects. Slowly, slowly upgrading the vacation cabin for full time living (hello, frozen exposed plumbing!). Not to mention attempting to keep all sorts of predators away from the chickens; foxes, hawks, coyotes, bears, and more.
The natural path to natural health
My desire for a natural life is so innate that when faced with chronic health issues, choosing to manage them naturally just made sense. I’d always had an affinity for the topic of health (just ask my family about my childhood). Since my late teens or early twenties, I enjoyed studying and experimenting with herbs and supplements. The fertility awareness method was just the natural conclusion to self-sufficient living and managing health naturally.
I’d read about the fertility awareness method on and off for years and just shrugged it off as something I didn’t have the patience for. I used it loosely throughout the process of my PCOS diagnosis in 2014, and by late 2017 finally decided I wanted to commit to fully learning it so I could use it to manage my hormonal health while preventing pregnancy naturally. It was easier than I ever realized and opened up a whole new world for managing my health and fertility.
“Do you know what they call people who use the fertility awareness method of birth control? Parents.”
Because I know you want to say it.
Let’s just get this out of the way. You’ve probably heard this joke before. Sometimes “fertility awareness method” is replaced with “rhythm method”, or “natural family planning”. But the joke is lame either way. Let’s talk about the facts for a minute.
Fertility awareness is a method of observing your fertility signs and charting them to determine when you are fertile, and also to identify ovulation. The fertility signs you observe, and how they’re charted and interpreted, depend on the specific method used. Ultimately, interpreting your charts gives you all the information you need to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally.
A little history
Fertility awareness methods have been around for decades. The rhythm method is what the average person thinks of when they hear “fertility awareness” or “natural family planning”. In the early 1920s, Dr. Kyusaku Ogino discovered that ovulation occurs between the 12th and 16th day before menstruation. With the understanding that cycle lengths vary, formulas were created so that a woman could calculate her potential time of ovulation and know when to avoid intercourse in order to prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately, this calendar based method, though revolutionary, was fallible. It didn’t take into account actual fertility status or the fact that women’s cycles can change at any time.
The connections of basal body temperature and cervical mucus changes to the menstrual cycle were discovered in the 1800s. In the 1930s, development of natural family planning methods based on actual fertility signs began. Development and research has occurred over the decades and we now have multiple methods to choose from! Most with a proven minimum of 98% perfect use efficacy rate and a maximum of 100% in motivated populations.
So yes, the rhythm method frequently fails, it doesn’t work for most people. It’s best not to assume that you have perfect cycles. And although the rhythm method could arguably be considered a “fertility awareness method”, it’s not what I mean when I talk about fertility awareness. See my post, Getting Started with FAM, for a more in depth look at fertility awareness.
A sustainable choice for homesteaders
Only two tools required
The main method of fertility awareness that I use and teach is the double-check symptothermal method. This method involves charting your basal body temperature, cervical mucus, calculation rules, and optionally cervical position, to determine when in your menstrual cycle you are fertile and when your fertility has ended. I teach the method as developed by the Natural Family Planning Teachers’ Association of the UK. A very similar double-check symptothermal method was studied over a 20 year period and proved to be 99.6% effective at preventing pregnancy with perfect use.
I like this method because the combination of temperature and cervical mucus make it easy to manage my hormonal health, as both can give indications of health status. Though I, and most people, chart in a phone app, it can easily be done on paper. Paper and a basal body thermometer are the only tools you really need for this method. And you can easily purchase a basal body thermometer online or from most drug stores. You can prevent pregnancy naturally with a thermometer and a piece of paper (and of course, knowledge of how to use them properly). Doesn’t that sound great? An easy choice for any homesteader wanting to prevent pregnancy naturally.
Only ONE tool required
Another popular method I teach is the Billings Ovulation Method®. This method is super simple and only requires you to observe your discharge and cervical mucus changes. No thermometer required for this one. This method is one of the oldest in existence and was developed out of a need for something better than the rhythm method. Developed by Drs. John and Evelyn Billings (a neurologist and pediatrician respectively) beginning in the 1950s, the Ovulation Method has been studied all over the world. It is one of the most studied methods and has even shown a 100% perfect use efficacy rate in a study done in China.
The Billings Ovulation Method® is the simplest to use in any living situation. Although apps are available for use with this method, paper, beads, or even flowers can be used! This is my top recommendation for any homesteader looking for the most self-sufficient method of birth control, simply because it requires only your own body.
Why not to use hormonal contraception
First of all, I fully believe women should choose for themselves what is best for their body. This is meant to be informational and not a judgment on anyone who still chooses chemical birth control. I know not everyone is informed about the negative impacts chemical contraception can have.
Hormonal birth control actually suppresses your natural hormones. The bleed experienced during the placebo week is not true menstruation but a withdrawal bleed due to the drop in synthetic estrogen. It works by stopping you from ovulating and dries up or thickens your cervical mucus to prevent pregnancy. This might be great in practice but in actuality, you’re stopping a very important process, the natural fluctuation of hormones. Our natural hormones, phase lengths, time of ovulation, and status of fertility signs can all give us very important information about overall health status.
It can take up to a year or more for cycles to regulate after coming off of birth control. Not only that but it can have long term effects on the cervical crypts that produce cervical mucus. Cervical mucus is essential to sperm life and conception.
Hormonal birth control actually raises your risk of breast and cervical cancer, stroke and cardiovascular problems. It can also cause deficiencies in vitamin c, B2, B12, B6, folate, magnesium, zinc, Co-enzyme Q10, and more. Beyond that, the environmental impact is terrible.
Are you ready to take control of your fertility?
Whether you are trying to prevent pregnancy, trying to conceive, or just looking for a way to manage your health naturally, fertility awareness is a great tool that can help you reach any of those goals! If you’re motivated, it’s easy to learn and adapt. However, it is most effective when learned with someone trained and certified to teach.
I offer free introductions in which I go over the basics to get you started. Group classes that provide a fun environment, learning and discussion with others while learning fertility awareness in depth. And I also provide one on one personalized teaching, as well as health support.
If you prefer reading and learning on your own, the only book I recommend is Natural & Safe: The Handbook: Family Planning with Sensiplan. *Be aware that the efficacy of teaching yourself to chart your cycle to avoid pregnancy has never been studied and would not be included in the efficacy rates mentioned above.
What do you think? Are you ready to learn fertility awareness? Do you already chart your cycles? Let me know in the comments!