Monday, 5 August 2013

My love-hate relationship with BBT

I've been tracking my cycle for about 8 years (or most of my post-pubescent life if you include circling a date on my calendar with a red pen - but I didn't keep those, that was just for month-to-month use). For 7 years I used an online program named "mymonthlycycles" that was good but had the most obnoxious pop-ups. I've printed out the data so I never need to go back. When I started trying this time around I had a smart phone and tried using some apps instead. The first few I tried were garbage, either that or I didn't get the hang of using them properly, but all the data from the first two months entered was lost. Then I made a breakthrough. I discovered Fertility Friend. I had tried basal body temperature charting before, using pencil and paper. If you've never charted basal body temperature, it's based on the basic principle that during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, estrogen is dominant and rising as the dominant follicle grows. This increasing estrogen causes other changes to occur that can also be charted - namely to the cervical position and fluid. Then, when ovulation occurs, the follicle that released the egg becomes what's called a corpus luteum, which produces progesterone instead. The abrupt shift from an estrogen producing follicle to a progesterone producing corpus luteum causes an abrupt shift in the basal body temperature, the body's temperature at rest. The role of progesterone is to prepare the body for pregnancy and it's also to blame for all those fun pms symptoms and early pregnancy symptoms we can't distinguish from pms symptoms. So when charting, you look for a series of lower temperatures followed by a series of high temperatures. The last day of low temperatures is the most likely day of ovulation.

I was charting before I conceived my daughter, but ironically not the month she was conceived. To make a long story short, we were going camping and I didn't want to bring it with me so I didn't bother. Fertility friend had a great online tutorial that helped me get back into the practice, and by entering the data in the app, all the guesswork was taken away. It was so easy. I just set my alarm, enter the data, and voila! It took no time to pin my ovulation day and know my luteal phase length. Then came the first time I was "one day late" and the temperature was still high. It came on month 6. I had one day of serious excitement followed by devastation. Instead, I had to accept my luteal phase had a margin of error. Two months later the same thing happened, high temps for one extra day (from 12 to 13, and now 14). What the heck, right? I was going crazy. I thought my pregnancy tests were defective so I went to the store and bought the premium tests. Still negative. I just didn't get it. Then four reasonably normal but disappointing months. I was truly getting the hang of this charting though. I no longer needed ovulation prediction kits, I knew when it was happening as it was happening. I was in tune with my body. I also didn't need to waste any money on early pregnancy tests, my chart always delivered the bad news with the same temperature drop on the same day. One month, I was even one more day late, but that time the temps were low so I didn't get excited. I didn't know what was going on, but assumed it had something to do with vitamin experimentation. I had mastered the art of temperature charting. But I was determined to keep at it. All that time and effort, I wanted to see my pregnancy chart. I didn't want to stop charting and then get pregnant (although if I thought it would work I'd try).

So why is it a love-hate relationship? I love the sense of control and knowledge it gives me. I know when to expect the cycle end, within a day. I hate that randomly it will throw me a curve ball, give me false hope. I know that the most likely explanations for those two wacky months are either changes to my vitamin regime or a small short-lived corpus luteum cyst. Or the least likely given my blocked tubes - a failed implantation. False starts, as I like to call them, are incredibly common. It's the same reason why not all the eggs retrieved and fertilized for IVF will grow. Some eggs are duds. Some sperm that make it to the finish line are still duds. Some don't come together properly. Most don't make it, and we never know. Estimates are as high as 75% or as low as 40%, but it's pretty hard to get a good estimate.

I love the consistency of most of my charts. I hate the odd-ball charts. You want to read into them. Like today... I'm 13 days post ovulation so I should be flatlined at 36.5 or so. Instead my temperature shot up this morning. I got excited of course and ran to pee on a stick. Negative, no doubt about it. Then I heard number one daughter coughing and realized my allergies, which have been unbearable all summer but vary day to day, might not be allergies (this weekend anyway). The last time I had a cold (Feb - 2-3dpo), my temperature spiked the same. It must be that, right? I have two blocked tubes, that is the only reasonable explanation for such a high temperature so late in the cycle.

And this is what I hate. I'm expecting to see red every time I go to the bathroom today. I don't need a virally-induced temp spike giving me false hope. I love you Fertility Friend, I love the various features in your charting app and on your website, and I've relied on you for more than a year now. But I need to quit you. I put a lot of energy in hopes of seeing a pattern emerge that was different from the rest, one that you would change from a black line to a green and congratulate me on my pregnancy. But with two blocked tubes, that's just not going to happen. I can hold onto hope in the back of my mind that it's a misdiagnosis, that only one tube is hopeless, but I can't fixate on it day after day as I have.

It's also very hard to put fertility challenges out of your mind when you have daily reminders of your cycle day. When you are charting, you have a daily reminder. I would spend hours on the site, and others, obsessing over every sign. Until I get my first IVF treatment, my sanity needs me to move on. If I magically get pregnant when I'm not looking (some call this stop trying and you'll get pregnant - BS if you ask me), I'll be mad that I didn't capture it on a chart!

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