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Hi, pod fam! 

When this podcast goes live, I’ll be on my way back/just returning from my solo trip to London. It’s already been such an INCREDIBLE experience (thank you for all your tips and insights; can’t wait to share some of my own after this). I’ll be telling you all more about it for sure! 

But before we get to that, we’ve got a lot to unpack—and I don’t mean just my luggage. It’s been a HEAVY couple of weeks, especially in regards to women’s health. Right now, more than ever, women have more awareness of, fear about, and tons of complex emotions about their reproductive health and rights.   

With that being said, I originally had this episode planned for later in the season, but it really feels like the perfect time to share this convo about taking control of your fertility and understanding the “fifth vital sign” (your period). My goal is to share as much info as possible about fertility/cycle awareness to help you feel more empowered and in control of your menstrual cycle and overall health.

Bringing allllll of the juicy women’s health knowledge this week is Lisa Hendrickson-Jack. Lisa is the creator of the Fertility Friday blog & podcast and best-selling author of The Fifth Vital Sign. She is a certified Fertility Awareness Educator and a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner. I’m so honored to have her walk us through the basics of tracking your fertility and supporting your menstrual cycle & overall health.

Whether you’re trying to get pregnant or avoid it, these tips might just change your life. Our bodies are powerful AF and they are expert communicators. We just have to learn to be better listeners to really take ownership of that innate power. Ready to find out how? Let’s get juicy!

Lisa’s Journey With Birth Control & Reproductive Health

Heavy, painful periods -> doctor’s office -> put on the pill with no convo about side effects

Sound familiar? Yeah, because same. I also got put on the pill as a teen with no real concept of what I was signing myself up for. It temporarily solved some problems, but it also created other ones that I wasn’t prepared for.

Anyway—even though the pill “fixed” (aka masked) her symptoms, something didn’t feel right. Lisa knew that whatever was happening while she was on the pill was not her real period. And as someone who knew she wanted kids one day, paired with a family history of fertility issues and fibroids, she decided to stop taking the pill when she was 18.

Of course, when she went off the pill, all the pain and heavy bleeding came back in full force (IYKYK), but she was determined to understand and improve her fertility and overall health, and she got there (took a lot of Advil and patience, but she got there). Helping herself led to a desire to help other women understand their bodies, too. Empowered women empower women, am I right!

Potential Side Effects of Hormonal Birth Control 

I can’t talk about The Business of Birth Control documentary enough. Highly recommend watching it if you want to learn more about birth control. And our fabulous guest Lisa just happens to be featured in it! One of the things the documentary opened my eyes to was the insane list of potential side effects birth control pills and other forms of hormonal birth control can cause. 

Now, this is not to knock birth control pills (because some women find them necessary and do just fine on them). It’s to make others aware of the potential issues because like Lisa and me, SO MANY women and girls are prescribed these without knowing the risks. We should all be empowered to be our own best advocates.

With that being said, Lisa walked us through some of the potential risks:

  • Ovary shrinkage (!!) – Studies show ovaries can shrink by up to 50% on the pill (it doesn’t appear to be a permanent effect, but it can take months to normalize after the pill)
  • Clitoral shrinkage – Might be why some women have a harder time orgasming while on the pill (or can’t orgasm at all) 
  • Lower libido 
  • Potential pain with sex
  • Lower free testosterone (significantly lower)
  • Depleted nutrients – The pill can severely deplete nutrients like vitamin B6 and magnesium
  • Blood clots (and associated risks like stroke or pulmonary embolism)

And let’s talk about the lie we’ve all been told that “birth control makes our bodies think we’re pregnant.” That’s not true. What it actually does is shut down ovulation (which is an essential function for hormone regulation and can affect other processes). But basically we’re forcing our bodies into a state similar to menopause. Think: lowered production of natural hormones, vaginal dryness, depression, anxiety, etc. 

The Fifth Vital Sign – What Our Periods Can Tell Us

We monitor our body temp, pulse, respiration rate, and blood pressure regularly. If something’s off with one of these, it’s a sign that something’s off internally. Your period (and the rest of your menstrual cycle) is like a fifth vital sign with a ton of clues about what’s going on in our bodies. 

Here’s what a healthy period should look like:

  • LENGTH – Somewhere between 3–7 days (average is 4–5)
  • COLOR – Should be some variant of red (not too dark)
  • FLOW – Should start off moderate to heavy and gradually taper off 
  • PAIN – Pain is very common, but it’s NOT NORMAL (sign of inflammation)
  • CLOTS – Ideally, you should have no or few clots

And here are some things to look out for during the rest of your cycle:

  • LENGTH – Should be 24–35 days between cycles (the start of your period = start of a cycle)
  • FLUCTUATION – It’s normal for cycles to fluctuate within that range, but you shouldn’t see more than a variation of ~8 days between cycles
  • CERVICAL FLUID – Should experience 2–7 days of noticeable cervical fluid as you approach ovulation
  • DRY DAYS – Should have “dry days” (no noticeable cervical fluid) for a few days after your period + between 12 and 14 days between ovulation and your period 

A few signs that you might not be ovulating correctly (usually a symptom of low progesterone):

  • Short luteal phase (the time between ovulation and your period)
  • Premenstrual spotting (especially for multiple days)
  • PMS (any moderate to severe symptoms)

Hormone-Supporting Food Habits (& What Lisa Thinks About Caffeine) 

We need food for overall hormonal health. More importantly, we need the right nutrients to support our bodies with hormone regulation and follicular development/ovulation. Fueling yourself properly should lead to more energy, blood sugar regulation, better hormones, and better menstrual cycles. 

Lisa’s tips: 

  • Aim for 3 meals a day
  • Don’t skip breakfast (we generally don’t eat enough to make up for skipped meals)
  • Eat protein, fat, and carbs at every meal (especially if/when you exercise)
  • Consider not drinking coffee (while she doesn’t tell everyone not to drink it, it can have big effects on your adrenals, hormones, and appetite and is often linked to progesterone issues)

What is the Fertility Awareness Method?

It’s a hormone-free, totally natural way of taking control of your fertility. When used correctly, it’s highly effective at preventing pregnancy, and it can also be used in the opposite way to help increase your chances of getting pregnant. Lisa has used it as her primary method of birth control for nearly 20 years! 

It’s helpful if you are: 

  • Actively avoiding pregnancy 
  • Coming off of birth control 
  • Actively trying to conceive 
  • Planning to conceive in the near future
  • Just trying to figure out what is happening with your cycles

Essentially, it’s a way to take control over your reproductive health and learn more about how your body works. SO cool.

The fertility awareness method works by tracking your cervical mucus, basal body temperature (temperature when you’re fully at rest; as soon as you wake up in the morning), and cervical position. This will help you learn when you’re ovulating and to really get in tune with your body’s ebbs and flows (and any signs that something’s off).

How to Get Started With Fertility Awareness:

This is something anyone can do—and you don’t need any fancy tools or apps (just a thermometer and something to take notes with). Buuuut there’s a bit of a learning curve, and even though it can be super effective, it’s gonna take time to get there. 

Here are some tips from Lisa to get started:

  • Dive into any available resources (we’ve got a bunch listed below!)
  • Plan for a minimum of 3 to 6 cycles to learn the method (for birth control purposes, barrier method during that time so you’re not relying on fertility awareness right off the bat)
  • Get support (Facebook groups, coaching programs with certified instructors)
  • Recognize your role (you’ll need to understand how it works, which days of your cycle you’re fertile, the rules around it, etc. for it to be effective)
  • Track things manually (don’t rely on algorithms; apps can be great for tracking data but not as reliable for predictions)

Phew. SO much JUIIIICY info this week. I hope you find this helpful, and I can’t wait to hear about your own fertility awareness journeys!! I’ll leave you with two myths we really need to bust:

  1. It’s not possible to get pregnant during the second half of your cycle (once you’ve confirmed ovulation by cross-checking your cervical mucus and basal body temp)
  2. Periods don’t have to be so painful (and they really shouldn’t be!)

As always, tune into the episode for allll the juicy goodness in this ep! Be sure to share your thoughts with me on IG: @shoporganicolivia.

xoxo,

Olivia

Connect with Lisa Hendrickson-Jack, FAE:

Follow @fertilityfriday on IG

Listen to the Fertility Friday Radio podcast

Access the free Fertility Awareness course

Order her book, The Fifth Vital Sign

Visit her website

Recommended Reading/Viewing:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler

It’s Not That Bad – Poem by Chloe Grace Laws

The Business of Birth Control Documentary

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