This is a guest post by Michelle of Endless Strength in the Women Speak on NFP series. In this series you will hear from women using various methods of NFP, some to avoid pregnancy, some trying to conceive, and their experiences.
Disclaimer: This series is not meant to be a substitute for any method of training in NFP! If you are interested in one of the methods introduced in this series, please contact a certified instructor for information about training in that method of NFP.
My husband and I have used NFP to space and grow our family for almost 12 years. We have five children here with us, and one in heaven, but as I’ve written before, we don’t have a large family because NFP has ever failed us. The first NFP method my husband and I learned was the Sympto-Thermal Method (STM) as taught by Couple to Couple League at the time. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the way we were taught because they had some Theological “oomf” behind them. This appealed to our intellectual desire to understand the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality and not simply do NFP because we were told to do so. Understanding God’s plan for marriage and sexuality has kept us motivated and rooted in faith with regard to NFP over the years. Without the theological understanding, we might have given in to the frustrations and opted for something non-natural (like sterilization or contraception).
It’s easy to get sucked into “method wars” among NFP’ers. I try not to do that anymore. But early on, when I heard about Marquette Method, it was often accompanied by a comment about how it’s not necessary to spend all that money on an ovulation monitor when you can just monitor your physical signs and get the same result. I found out 8 years after we started using NFP that the Marquette Method was actually a better fit for me, considering my body, my lifestyle and our family set-up. At one point, I regretted the superiority mentality of STM over Marquette because I encouraged my sister to just “learn her physical signs” and not to spend that money on a monitor…and I think ultimately, she has found Marquette method to be a sanity-saver for her as well.
Let’s face it – no matter how much instruction some of us receive, we may never achieve perfect understanding of our physical signs of ovulation/lack of ovulation. Some of us have stubborn bodies with hormonal deficiencies (or oversupply) that mess with things like mucous and temperatures. And in that case, using sympto-thermal method can be an exercise in complete madness and frustration.
Take me, for example. In all the years I got up early to take my temperatures, I had maybe 2 cycles of a verifiable thermal shift that could indicate ovulation had occurred, and both of those times I had actually gotten pregnant. Additionally, I am one of those people that has frequent mucous and I never really understood the difference between fertile and non-fertile. I wanted it to be dry, or not dry. Fertile time or non-fertile time. I wanted something very cut and dry that could help me determine where I was in my cycle.
During the post-partum check-up after my fourth child, Marquette was conducting an efficacy study on the Clear Blue Easy Fertility Monitor. My doctor told me about the study at my 6-week post-partum check, so I went to the website to check it out. Compensation for participating in the study was a free Clear Blue Easy Fertility Monitor and $10 for each of the 13 cycles we would chart for them while participating in the study. This was a way to get the monitor without paying for it! We signed up and were placed in the “monitor” group (the mucous-only group was the other option). This meant that we were to use the monitor only to determine our fertility during the 13 cycles and make our decisions on intercourse based on our goal of avoid/achieve and what the monitor indicated as far as my fertility. There was a little bit of anxiety putting our faith in the monitor, but considering we’d been putting our faith in my ability to read my body’s evasive signals for so long, we decided it was worth a shot.
How does the monitor work? Every morning the woman uses a test stick to collect a urine specimen and then places it into the monitor. (The woman can urinate directly on the stick or it is also recommended to collect the specimen in a small cup and hold the stick in for 5 seconds.) The monitor measures hormones in the urine. The monitor will register a LOW, HIGH, or PEAK reading based on hormone levels. The trigger for a PEAK reading is a surge in the amount of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) in the urine, as this LH increases dramatically and rapidly when the ovary is about to release an egg through the follicle. The trigger for a HIGH reading is an increase in estrogen found in the urine, which can happen in the days leading up to ovulation. If one is relying only on the monitor, and wishes to avoid pregnancy, the safest way to do this is to avoid until PEAK has been reached and waiting until the evening of the third day past PEAK. (This is in similar to the strict avoidance rules for STM…identifying a peak day and counting three days past it with a verifiable temperature shift.)
The monitor isn’t the only way to determine fertility when using Marquette, though. Mucous readings can still be helpful. Personally, I track both mucous and monitor readings, although if there’s a difference between the two indicators, I side with the monitor more often than not. The use of the monitor actually solidified my understanding of what was going on with my mucous!
What I’ve learned using this method is that my normal cycles entail ovulation about 4-5 days later than what most text books consider to be “normal.” I actually usually get a PEAK reading on my monitor after days 14 or 15 on most cycles. At first, I was frustrated when I wouldn’t have a HIGH reading by day 12 or 13 because I kept thinking I should be ovulating by day 14 – there must be something wrong with me if I’m not ovulating the way the text books say I should. But using the monitor now for almost 5 years, and reviewing my charts, I see that 75% of the time, I get a PEAK on day 16 or after in my cycle and 20% of the time my PEAK comes on day 20 or after. This means my cycles average 31 days in length.
The nitty-gritty about how to use Marquette First of all, click this link to get the Marquette manual found at the Marquette NFP site. Obtain a CBE Ovulation Monitor and get a box of 30 test sticks. Follow the instructions about setting the monitor up. You will start on the first day you have bleeding for your period. I often set the monitor to day 1 on the first full day of bleeding. When you set the monitor, whatever time you do it, will determine the window of time you have to test every day when the testing starts. I typically reset my monitor around 6 a.m. This means my testing window is from 3 a.m. until 9 a.m.
If you use the Marquette website for charting (you will have to create a profile for this) the algorithm will start your fertile time on day 6 for the first 6 cycles. On the very first cycle you use the monitor, it will ask for a test beginning on day 6, so you will wake up that morning and pee on a test stick and complete the test. You will repeat this every morning until you get a PEAK reading. (Yes, since you are starting day 6, this means you could have 10+ days of tests that first cycle.)
Once a PEAK reading occurs on the monitor, DO NOT DO ANY MORE TESTS THAT CYCLE. The monitor is set up to default to a second PEAK the next day, then a HIGH the day after that followed by a LOW on First PEAK plus 3 days. There is no need to continue testing. Even if your body ovulates twice, the doctors say the science shows the second ovulation happens within 24 hours so even if you wait until 2nd PEAK plus 3, you should be clear for avoiding conception.
The algorithm available on the Marquette site for charting will take in consideration the previous 6 cycles to set the beginning of the fertile phase. Due to my late ovulation pattern, many times the algorithm sets the fertile time beginning on day 9 or 10.
I think it’s important to note that I am not successful in breastfeeding my children, so I do not use the breastfeeding protocol, also available at the Marquette site. According to my doctor, Marquette provides the least amount of abstinence during the post-partum and breastfeeding time. Many times couples don’t use all the days available to them as they are wary or just getting used to the method. Now that we have used it after three of our children, we are much more comfortable trusting the signs observed by the monitor and engaging in post-partum intercourse sooner than we ever did with the sympto-thermal method. I find that most of my own hang-ups have nothing to do with whether I know where we are in the cycle, and I couldn’t say that when we followed the symptom-thermal method.
Marquette is a Sympto-Hormonal method of NFP. It’s that cut and dried method I wanted. My hormones indicate ovulation or they don’t and I am very happy with the monitor and the accuracy and confidence it has given us.
Michelle is a Catholic wife to Craig and mother to five (with another one in heaven). She is a work-outside-the-home mom who enjoys running and crossfit and trying to keep up with all of the many activities in her household. Michelle blogs at Endless Strength.