It’s been a-year-and-a-half now since I took my last pill back in 2016. I remember the day well. I woke up on the morning of a new pill packet and decided “screw it” – I’d had enough of them and it’d only been 10 months!
By this stage I had changed from my previous happy self into an emotionless zombie – I was simply floating through my days in a strange sense of detachment while periodically experiencing anxiety attacks. Plus, my hair was thinning and I was developing hyperpigmentation on my face.
I had never wanted to go on the pill in the first place, but condoms weren’t cutting it in the honeymoon phase with my new boyfriend. I had taken the morning-after pill twice in the space of about three months (oops!) and I just couldn’t see any other way around it.
"I felt like a cloud lifted from my head." Image: Supplied
Thankfully, as soon as I stopped the pill I felt like a cloud lifted from my head – so much so, that people commented on how much happier and more present I seemed. And a few weeks later, I finally stumbled upon some information that completely blew my mind.
“You don’t need to use synthetic hormones or IUD’s to avoid pregnancy” said my work colleague Summer.
What?! That didn’t seem right, but Summer was adamant.
It turns out, she was right. There is something called the Symptothermal Method that has been studied to show a 99.6 per cent perfect-use effectiveness rating, and a 98.2 per cent typical use effectiveness rating to avoid pregnancy. That typical use effectiveness rating is higher than the pill which sits at only 92 per cent.
The Symptothermal Method is a form of fertility awareness. You take note of the look and feel of your cervical mucus every time you go to the bathroom, and you take your basal body temperature every morning before you get out of bed. You might know cervical mucus as “discharge”, but it’s actually very healthy and changes from dry or sticky to wet and slippery as you become more fertile leading up to ovulation. Your basal body temperature is your core body temperature at rest, and it rises after you’ve ovulated.
These two biomarkers tell you when your “fertile window” opens and closes every menstrual cycle. There’s only about 6 -9 days you can actually become pregnant - and that takes into account the lifespan of sperm, too. With this information you can decide to use a barrier method or abstain while you’re fertile, or you can schedule sex to increase your chances of conceiving!
I learned all this while reading a book called “Taking Charge Of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler. I then went and spoke to my GP about it and it turns out that she herself had used fertility awareness for over 20 years both to avoid getting pregnant, and then to fall pregnant when she was ready! Honestly I don’t think I’d ever been so shocked in my life. I couldn’t fathom why us women had been kept in the dark for so long about how our bodies actually work.
I soon found out that I wasn’t the only one. Summer introduced me to a Facebook group called “Fertility Awareness Method Of Birth Control” and I discovered thousands of other women using the Symptothermal Method. Personally, I see this as a bit of an uprising as women around Australia and the world are getting sick and tired of being told that it’s just our lot as women to endure crappy side effects in the name of sexual freedom.
Curious to hear an opinion from someone qualified in women's health, I reached out to Sydney Naturopath and author, Lara Briden.
Lara said, “I’m a huge fan of modern fertility awareness methods such as the Symptothermal Method. They’re far more reliable than the old rhythm or calendar methods because they use the scientific observation of body temperature and cervical mucus. For example, one study of women trained in the Symptothermal Method found it to have a perfect-use failure rate of just 0.4 per cent, which is pretty close to the 0.3 per cent for perfect use of the Pill. In my upcoming book Period Repair Manual, I recommend Fertility Awareness as the best of the non-hormonal methods of birth control. I also recommend it to many of my patients”.
It makes sense then, that so many Australian women from all different walks of life are turning their backs on hormonal birth control for a more natural approach. Many of them were kind enough to share their experiences with me.
Emily, a 31 year old from Sydney said, “I came off the pill when we decided to try for a family, only to find out I had PCOS and erratic cycles. The Symptothermal Method has finally given me knowledge about my cycles and my body - I’ll never be using an oral contraceptive again. Every woman should be taught this method!”
Summer, a 29 year old Australian living in London said, “About four years ago I came across the Symptothermal Method. Since moving overseas and other stresses, my cycle had been negatively impacted. Charting allowed me to see that something was wrong and find natural ways to heal. It’s such a great thing for women and their partners to learn”.
Nat Kringoudis, founder of women’s health centre The Pagoda Tree in Melbourne, said “I’ve been practicing the Symptothermal Method for well over 10 years. I have two children, both conceived very quickly after trying (testament to knowing my cycle) and I know my body well enough to use this practice to prevent pregnancy. This is very important to me since I’m not wanting any more children. I believe the biggest gift women can have is understanding their cycles and what their body is telling them each and every month.”
Jenna from Tasmania had a slightly more complex story and said “I was put on the pill to suppress symptoms of my rare, inherited bleeding disorder (Von WIllebrand Disease - VWD) as a teen. After 13 years, I had a handful of side effects, as well as the hormones in the pill no longer suppressing the VWD symptoms. Now, after 3 years post pill, the symptoms of my condition are well managed through other medications. Using the Symptothermal Method has allowed me to avoid pregnancy and side effects, and gives me useful information for my medical team about the state of my health.”
Tilpa local Sylvie, said “After suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks while on hormonal birth control, my partner and I decided to try something different. We used the Symptothermal Method to avoid pregnancy for more than a year until we decided we were ready start a family. The knowledge we gained made the process of trying to conceive much less stressful and we are now expecting our first child!”
Kirsty, 36 of Sydney said “I was getting concerned about the everyday things that interfere with our body chemistry; like endocrine disruptors in products and plastics, and hormones in meat, but I literally had a foreign object wedged into my body pumping out stuff I knew nothing about. Ignorance might have been bliss for a long time, but learning the Symptothermal Method has given me really powerful insight into how my body works. I feel so privileged to have this knowledge and to be a part of the awesome community around it.”
The overwhelming mood was of positive change. It was clear these women felt the same way I did: empowered through newfound knowledge about how our bodies worked.
It dawned on me that men are fertile 24/7 and women are only fertile for about a week every month – so why are we the ones that have to grit our teeth through IUD insertions and arm implants and Depo injections and little Pills that make some of us sad? Go figure, but these are the questions I ponder while I fall asleep at night.
Synthetic hormones and non-hormonal IUD’s work fine for most women and can be important tools for some health conditions. But I think we all deserve transparent information - not only about their side effects, but that there IS another way.
For more from Jessie Brebner, visit Pen and Paper Fertility.