“You will end up getting pregnant, you know? Grow up! Be responsible!”
I remember shouting at one of my sisters about a decade back. How could the same person be sitting here, a decade later, even considering a paper-and-pen contraceptive method? To the 20-year-old me, hormonal contraception was not a choice, it was an obligation for every responsible woman.
But let me take you to how it all began.
It was a normal mid-week afternoon sometime in late September 2015. I called up my gynaecologist to book an appointment to have an IUD inserted. It should have been another routine call, only this time I was 32 years old, had been off the pill for a couple of years and had my last IUD removed 5 years prior to that due to an infection.
I was not delighted to have to go through this process again, but I had met this new man and decided to embark on a monogamous relationship with him. Kids were definitely off the cards so I felt that I had to protect myself and him, but my contraceptive choices were limited. And I hated them all: the pill, the patch, the ring, the IUD. Out of all them, the thought of an IUD was the best of the worst. So, I dialled her direct number.
Me: “Hey Niki, it’s Eirini here. I need contraception again; do you think I can come by Saturday for a non-hormonal IUD? Remind me again, do I need to be before or after my period?”
Niki: “Why do you want an IUD?” she asked calmly.
Me: “Cuz I don’t want the pill and don’t want a child.”
Niki: “OK, come by the office and we will discuss the options.”
Me: “But we will discuss and you will also insert it so I will be covered, right? I have to travel next week.”
Niki: “Yes, we can do that. “
So I went, feeling pretty annoyed about having to do this again.
Last time I had had an IUD inserted I was in my mid-20s, and I can clearly remember the whole experience. The nurse that had attended to me in London asked me if I had brought someone with me to take me home because “it might be painful in the beginning”. Damn right, it was! Not only did I not have anyone with me but I had gone there with my bike! She was right, it was freaking painful and I had to ride the bike all the way back home. Ouch! And truly, I didn’t understand why was all this happening?
At that moment I could not quite think of the benefit of sexual pleasure without the risk of conception; the pain was so excruciating the last thing I could think of was sexual intercourse.
And yet, I would choose the IUD over the pill – anytime. So here I was doing it all over again, a decade later.
Niki: “So tell me, why do you want an IUD?”
Me: “I don’t want an IUD, I don’t want a pill, I don’t want a patch, but I also don’t want a child and using condoms all the time defeats the purpose of sexual exclusivity, right?”
Niki: “You don’t want a child now or never?”
Me: “Oh come on, I don’t know… Now, I don’t.”
Niki: “So, tell me about this new guy? Where is he from again?”
Me: “He is German and we don’t want children.”
Niki: “Oh, he is German, so you can trust him!”
“You don’t need an IUD, let me show you what you can do.” she took a piece of blank paper.
“You take your temperature every day, you plot it on a graph, you also look at how long your cycle is, you then use two fingers to check your fluids every day. What you are looking for is stretchiness. Around ovulation your fluids will get very watery, you will notice the difference.”
“OK, so you do this… then that, then this, then that ….. and you know when you are fertile and when you are not. That’s it. Simple.”
Niki: “You speak good English, right?”
Niki: “Here, find these books and read them. If you still want an IUD, come back next week and I will give you one.”
Me: “Are you serious?”
Niki: “Yes, give it a try.”
Niki: “Do you want me to do a smear check anyway?”
Me: “No no.”
That was it.
Two minutes intro to natural contraception from my gynaecologist and I was out the door to contemplate by myself.
What had just happened? Why didn’t she just give me the IUD? Was I getting old all of a sudden? Wasn’t having a super-secure contraception the right thing to do? What now?
And what did she mean about temperature and looking at fluids? Isn’t that supposed to be unsafe and kinda hippie?
What do I tell him?
And most of all, how come I am walking out of here pain-free? I was meant to be in pain, I had prepared for pain.
I went online and started reading about this new thing called ‘fertility awareness method’. The web was full of info, but it came in a weird mix, ranging from blogs of people in flowery dresses talking about becoming one with the moon cycle to sites talking about teachings from the Christian Church.
There was also a very good mix of thermometers looking like they came straight out of the late 80s. Some had oversized huge pink buttons and others looked like old round telephones with a probe going into your mouth and a rounded device showing you a temperature on an unevenly big screen.
There were also lipstick-looking like microscopes where you would spit and then look through the microscope to see how your saliva dries up to determine your fertility. Some other devices asked you to insert a probe in your mouth and then another one in your vagina… at the same time!?! I never understood that one well enough.
I took a step back from the screen.
I took a good look at my desk. Sitting there was one of the latest models of an apple laptop, a kindle, a smartphone and a high-definition monitor.
My life was equipped with the best technology, optimising all the key info I needed into small devices. Devices that I can take them with me anywhere as I travel. I was completely paperless.
And yet, there I was, about to start tracking my fertility using pen and paper. Are we serious? I couldn’t possibly do this.
I had spent my 20s advocating about how important it was for all women to use the safest type of contraception. To the 20-year-old me, hormonal contraception was not a choice, it was an obligation for each responsible woman.
The 32-year-old me though, that particular evening, felt angry, confused, relieved and excited all at the same time.
I felt angry because it daunted me that I did not know before – I had no idea! Despite the travels, the education, the international friendships. I had no idea there was actually another option that was even worth considering. I kept thinking; and if this works, if this just works… it could have saved me pain and frustrations many years back.
I also felt confused about where to even start with this. What do I read first? How do I even start and what do I even tell him about this? Is this safe? What if we get pregnant? What then? All of this just because I don’t want hormones or a bit of IUD pain (it actually is excruciating pain).
And then, I felt relieved that I did not have an IUD inserted. I was relieved I did not have to have to anticipate the heavy cramps during the next period, the swollen feeling of bloatedness on the first weeks of insertion and the fear that I would feel it moving when having sex.
I must admit, I also felt excited to learn something new. I had always been a learning junkie and this seemed like quite an interesting world to unravel. I mean, it has attracted the religious and the very liberals at the same time so it was sociologically exciting, to say the least.
So, I called him.
“And yet, there I was, about to start tracking my fertility using pen and paper. Are we serious? I couldn’t possibly do this.”
Me: “(…) and she said I can take my temperature and look at my fluids and then we can know when I am fertile or not, and when I am fertile, we use condoms.”
Steffen: “Good, so you don’t need to have the IUD or take the pill, right?”
Me: “Well, yeah but…”
Steffen: “So let’s try.”
Me: “We try?”
Steffen: “Yeah, why not?”
Me: “Because I might get pregnant, that’s why!” I asked a tricky question.
Steffen: “But you said we use condoms when you are fertile.”
Me: “Yes, yes but maybe I get it wrong.”
Steffen “You won’t. Let’s try it. We can try it.”
Me: “But then we try properly, we read, we learn, we do everything. We do it together. I am not alone in this.”, (What?? Did I really say that?)
Steffen: “Sure, let’s try it.”
The next few weeks were a deep dive of ordering all types of basal body thermometers, buying books, reading blogs and re-reading them and charting.
Basal body temperature was a challenge to perfect, to ensure it fits with my travels, to interpret. But I had a plan and kept at it. Habits are built in 21 days and I was determined.
But looking at cervical fluids? Checking them, looking at them closely, examining them. That was a whole new challenge.
“To the 20-year-old me, hormonal contraception was not a choice, it was an obligation for each responsible woman.”
About two months after I had started charting my temperature, I went to spend the night at one of my cousins’ place.
Before falling asleep I emptied all my thermometers by the bedside table in her bedroom. I was using about four different ones at the time just to be sure I was getting the ‘right’ temperature. (Disclaimer: never use more than one thermometer, it makes no sense and does not increase accuracy! It just plays into your illusion of having more control, but you don’t.)
Dalia: “What are all these? Are you trying to get pregnant?”
Me: “No, the opposite actually.” I said somewhat surprised.
Dalia: “It can be used for the opposite?”
Me: “Yeah, well, we are trying it out.”
Dalia: “I only knew it can help to get pregnant. And does it work?”
Me: “Well, yes it does so far. It’s pretty crazy, but it works.”
Dalia: “And you, out of all people, trust this?”
Me: “I said, I am trying.”
Dalia: “And what do have to do?”
Me: “Here, you do this… and that then this… then that… and then you know if you are fertile or not.”
Dalia: “Pffff.. I forget to eat, it wouldn’t work for me, it is complicated.” she said with a smile.
Me: “Yeah I get it, but it gets easier.”
Dalia: “And are you like very very sure?”
Me: “Well, the books say…”
Dalia: “Books? You read books?” she laughed lovingly.
Me: “Yes, I did! They say I have to also check my fluids.”
Dalia: “Your fluids?”, now she was really surprised.
Me: “Yeah, they change around ovulation.”
Dalia: “And you do that?”
Me: “No, I have not done that yet.”
Dalia: “I thought we only have fluids when we have an infection?”
Me: “Apparently not, we have them every month.”
Dalia: “What kind of fluids? “
Me: “I have not looked closely yet…wanna see photos online?”
Dalia: “No no, I am fine, I wanna sleep peacefully!”
The next morning, all four of my thermometers showed a temperature rise, and apparently it was the right day to check my fluids. They were supposed to be loads of them, watery and stretchy. Photos online were explicit, to say the least, whereas drawings and blogs online were very confusing.
Books talked about all kinds of signs to use in order to track fluids well and by that point I had learnt different names of calling fertile fluids but had never actually touched them.
I was determined to try, so I went into the bathroom.
First off, I checked my underwear.
All the books said that fertile fluids come in abundance so I should be able to see them on my underwear.
They were there. Success!
They had been there before, only that this time I was looking for them! In the past, they were an annoyance and a reason to use a pad or change underwear often, but this time I looked, I didn’t just change underwear.
I looked for some time and thought – so if this is working, they are meant to come every month, once a month. And that’s when I am fertile.
Maybe that’s what my sister knew for years and never told me, maybe that’s why she never used the pill, maybe she just noticed her fluids every month while I was lecturing her about responsibility and maturity. Mental note to self “ask her if she knew”.
OK – so volume-wise, they were plenty so, check to that.
But now, I need to check for stretchiness. Whatever that means.
The instructions were clear, you insert two fingers and try to scoop out vaginal fluid, then try taking your fingers apart from one another and see if the fluid breaks. Fertile fluid does not break easily, it stretches longer than other fluids.
I had no idea what other fluids looked like or what my fluids looked like.
Two fingers in.
Mental note: it feels weird doing this. It feels almost medical but not as cold as an ultrasound probe.
Two fingers out.
Time to look.
They look nothing like egg white. They are definitely not as transparent and I have no idea if the way they stretch is supposed to be ‘fertile stretchy’ or ‘medium stretchy’.
Let me try separating the fingers slower to see if this stretches them more or less.
No idea. They stretch and then they break.
Two fingers in again.
Ok, another look.
Absolutely no idea.
But I can clearly say they are not as transparent as egg white.
That evening I checked again after a shower.
And the morning after, and the evening after that and for a few days pretty much every time I went for a pee break.
“They had been there before, only that this time I was looking for them! In the past, they were an annoyance and a reason to use a pad or change underwear often, but this time I looked, I didn’t just change underwear.”
And then I went onto an obsession of decoding these fluids.
I wanted to know what they are made of, if they are truly meant to be transparent which would mean that mine are somewhat different or that maybe I had something wrong with me. I wanted to know why they come, I wanted to know if they get affected by having sex, by having a visit to the doctor, by using lubricant, by getting horny, by masturbating.
I wanted to know what I should and should not do so that I get to see the ‘real’ fertile fluids.
I had to see the ‘real’ fluids to make sure that nothing was wrong with me and that I was truly ovulating.
I took online courses, I read more books and more blogs, I watched YouTube videos and I fingered.
Not for sexual pleasure but for self-discovery.
I spoke to every woman I was close to (and I come from a family of many women, so I spoke to quite a few).
I wanted to see if they had seen their perfect ‘fertile fluids’ and if they could describe them to me so I could compare.
The answers were vague. Some had only noticed them dried up on their underwear.
Some knew the medical side of them.
But no concrete comparison could be made.
I was on a mission though, I was going to look for them and find them.
So, I kept fingering and I kept looking.
A couple of cycles later, I remember clearly, I was waiting in a shopping line to pay at the supermarket when I felt that I had just peed on myself.
Like a little drain of pee fountain running out involuntarily.
But I knew, I had not peed on myself.
I was producing fertile fluids!
The books clearly say that.
The online courses too.
Blogs mention it too.
So as soon as I got home, I rushed to the bathroom to check.
Two fingers in.
Two fingers out.
And they were there – in abundance. My own fertile fluids.
Definitely not fully transparent but definitely stretching.
If I would move my fingers away from each other slowly they would stretch about 4cm apart before trying to break.
And these drops of fluid had the power of helping sperm race to my newly produced egg and begin a new life. And I was tricking them by recognising their power and avoiding making a baby. Bingo!
Damn, my body has so much power!
It always had.
The only difference is that now I had looked.
Note: Some names mentioned in my blogs have been changed to respect anonymity, the events, however, remain very radically true.
The stunning visuals used in this article are lovingly provided by the amazing work of Lalu Delbracio, whose art, in my opinion, is capturing the strength, fierceness and sensitivity of the female as a whole. You can find more of her work here: