Why I’m In Love With FAM
Original painting by Henri Matisse
If you’re a woman of reproductive age in the 21st century, you have probably used some sort of birth control to avoid pregnancy. You probably have also been told in school or read on the internet about the methods available to prevent pregnancy and have a stress-free sex life. Somewhere included in that long list of birth control methods, stands FAM, the Fertility Awareness Method.
In all honesty, this method was something I had only a vague idea of. Something I either associated with pre-historical women, my great great grandmothers or extremely religious women that tracked their cycles because there was no other alternative. Turns out I couldn’t be more wrong and fooled. Which is only natural because no one ever told me anything evidential about it.
What is FAM and how does it work?
Fertility Awareness is a method based on the observation of our daily fertility indicators. Signals that our body gives us — or not — during the menstrual cycle. It crosses several fertility indicators: basal body temperature, cervical mucus and cervix.
What happens is we ask the question “Am I fertile today?” every day and those indicators will answer the question. It is useful either for those trying to get pregnant or trying to avoiding it. By observing our body’s indicators daily, the failure rate and second-guessing of other methods is removed from the equation.
FAM has absolutely no correlation with the phases of the moon, nor it protects us from STD’s. The basal body temperature must be taken every single day after a good night of sleep (at least 5 consecutive hours). The cervical mucus changes its appearance throughout the cycle. And the cervix’s (lower part of the uterus) firmness, height and openness also vary.
How effective is FAM?
Throughout history, bad practices and religion ended up bringing a lot of misinformation, which led to a high level of distrust about the natural monitoring of fertility.
It would be nice to say these are old times, but that couldn’t be far from truth. The calendar method, for instance, which is also “natural” is the foundation of dozens of mobile apps, that claim to be “unsuitable for women with irregular cycles”. These apps somehow predict we always ovulate in the middle of the cycle, which is not only a silly assumption, but a recipe for disaster. The result? Unexpected pregnancies and more bad reputation for way more rigorous methods, such as FAM.
The most surprising thing is how even gynecologists, claim that this method has a success rate of about 60%, which seems to be generalized, at least in Portugal where I live in.
But let’s move on to the facts: With perfect use, the level of efficacy of FAM as a contraceptive method is of about 99%.
When I say perfect, I mean a method is only a method because it has rules. Just like a woman needs to remember to take the pill everyday at the same time, on FAM the indicators need to be observed every single day. You fail to follow the rules, and you’re playing with luck.
Another fundamental fact: nobody gets pregnant if they’re not fertile. If you got pregnant, you were certainly fertile that day, and just couldn’t read the indicators.
It is not for everyone.
A contraceptive method needs to be suited to a woman’s wants and needs. It needs to suit our level of commitment and knowledge that we have or want to have of our bodies.
After having had a negative experience taking the birth control pill for about four years, I did my research about all other methods. I was sure I wanted a non-hormonal method, which left me with the copper IUD. However, I felt that option would bring me more anxiety: the insertion, how it could move, painful periods, etc.
I found FAM to be ideal for me, at this point of my life. While I respect the rhythm of my body, I observe what it says and how it works, and it dazzles me how much I learn.
Although it can be great for some women, FAM is not ideal for women who travel constantly or don’t sleep at least 3 consecutive hours per night because taking our temperature every other day is not enough to monitor that indicator. It is not ideal for women who are not willing to consistently check themselves, and learn about their bodies. And that’s totally fine.
It goes beyond contraception.
To me, the best thing about FAM is how aware I get to be of my body’s signs. I recently found out I had the tendency to have polycystic ovaries, and saw a naturopathic doctor. I started a treatment to regulate my hormones naturally, through acupuncture and vitamin supplements. And I feel great so far.
While the pill has served me for four years, being hormone free truly feels like a breath of fresh air.