Fertility Tracking 101

When doing something unknown, it is a natural reaction to do something to give yourself the feeling of control. That control, you think, might lead to a little understanding. Maybe a little less anxiety when things go wrong, as they tend to do.

So when I decided to go off hormonal birth control, it was largely driven by the fact that I’ve never actually had a normal period. I’ve been on the pill for 15 years. So, do I ovulate? What is my cycle like? Will I even have periods at all? Echoing fears of infertility.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to determine what your body is doing.

Also, I think it’s worth noting that by no means it any of this necessary to conceive. Plenty of people start families without knowledge of any of this. But for me, I like to understand and see this stuff.

What follows is my understanding of fertility tracking. (TMI to follow, I am not a doctor, blah blah)

So, the idea with a basal thermometer is that it is a more sensitive measuring device (reading 98.62º instead of regular ol’ 98.6º), and that your ‘base’ temperature fluctuates during your menstrual cycle. Tracking the subtle ups and downs can help determine ovulation (releasing of the egg from the ovary, and thus making it available to being fertilized), implantation (when fertilized egg making its cosy home in the uterus), and menstruation itself.

Just as you wake up in the morning and around the same time every day, jab a thermometer in the back of your mouth ’til it beeps (a minute or so), record it in any of the various fertility apps (more on that later), and look at the data pattern overall. The typical temperature pattern reads as lower just after your period ends, then a temperature spike of .4º or so just after ovulation, and then as your period begins the temp goes back down again. If you successfully fertilize an egg, the temp stays elevated, and you might see a little ‘implantation dip’ after the spike for a day or so.

So that’s just one part of tracking. There’s also cervical mucus (CM). Yes, it is what it sounds like. The consistency of your CM changes throughout the menstrual cycle as well. Just after your period, it’ll be sticky and tacky. At your fertile phase, it gets looser, wetter, and stretchy like egg whites, or even just plain watery. In addition to that, whether your cervix is easy to reach or not can also tell you about your fertility. If you have to reach in far to touch it, you have a high cervix placement and you’re likely to be fertile. A low cervix, close to the opening, means less fertile.

A quick swipe with your fingers can tell you all you need to know. Your ladybits will be seeing a lot of action, so might as well get acclimated to the landscape. There’s no time like now to get comfortable with your body, right?

And then there are the pee-sticks. To be clear — there are two types of pee sticks. Ovulation tests (OPKs), and then the one you’re probably thinking of is pregnancy tests. They test different hormones. I nabbed a box of Easy@Home off Amazon once we decided I’d stop the pill, and it was gathering dust in our bathroom for a few weeks. They are, as the name suggests, quite easy to use. Pee in a cup, stick the one end in for 3 seconds, wait 3 minutes, and see if a second line shows up. With both tests, you will always see the control line. With an ovulation test, a second line needs to be as dark or darker than the control in order to be considered positive. With pregnancy tests, if you see a second line at all you’re pregnant (which is why people will post ‘squinter’ tests for to see if there is a very very faint line present).

So if you get a positive OPK, you’ve already released an egg. The trick is, eggs are only feasible for like 12 hours. So figuring out exactly when ovulation happens is key, so you can actually have sex before you ovulate. Which is why you don’t rely on OPKs alone — they only tell you after the fact. But by gathering all the data and figuring out your trends, you can figure out when you need to do what.

I’ve been using 3 different fertility apps to input my data and see what they say. I’ll describe here my thoughts on them so far, almost a month and a half into using them, and still not having had a completed cycle. (not my charts shown)

Kindara fertility chart

Kindara: So far, not gonna lie, my least favorite. It is the most aesthetically-pleasing, that is for certain. But it gives me almost no insights into what’s going on. I put my data into it, I look at the chart… and… I stare at a chart I barely understand. What can I expect? What might I be on the lookout for? What else is happening in my body right now? How do I know when is the best time to try for a baby? Nope, nada, nothing. Or, I guess, if there is… I have been using this app every day and never found it. I’d have uninstalled it if I wasn’t in the habit of putting data into it already. Eh.

Fertility Friend chart

Fertility Friend: By the LEAST aesthetically-pleasing app I’m using, but it’s been the most helpful. It’s easy to customize the interface, there’s loads of data and things to compare it to, plus forums. And, there’s actually a little fertility predictor that starts to tell me when I might be fertile. There was a whole email course that came to me, day by day, that told me everything about charting and interpreting the data. I’m so grateful for that! Plus, it gives super-clear “Crosshairs” to pinpoint when exactly it thinks you ovulated. No confusion there!

Ovia fertility chart

Ovia Fertility: I’m on the fence about Ovia. It’s colorful and makes a fair attempt at being a good-looking application (though a bit distracting), and I love the jovial tone. But it’s a little.. shallow? Not sure if that’s the right word. I’ll enter data and it says “It’s great that you’re eating cheese, cheese is good for you”. Like, what does my eating cheese have to do with anything? It’s just so obvious they’re getting data for the sake of data. It just doesn’t seem super personal. That said, it does do a decent job at explaining what’s going on, what part of my cycle I’m in, and what I should/could be doing.

So, there’s all that. It seems like a lot to take in, but really it’s become a good part of my daily routine. Take my temp when I wake up and enter it in, check CM when I get home if I feel like it. I’ll probably take OPKs a bit more often now. It gives my busy mind something to pay attention to, but not to the point of obsessing over, so I’m happy.