Written by Michele Drake
You're new to fertility awareness (FAM). You'd like to learn, but you're not sure how. There are lots of instructors, but how do you choose one? How much might it cost and is it worth it? Or can you just teach yourself?
One option is to learn what you can on your own through reading, podcasts, and online support groups. Another option is to hire a fertility awareness instructor to teach you the method. Everyone deserves to understand how their bodies work! And because different people learn in different ways, there is no right choice. These are considerations most FAM users have to make. It can feel overwhelming to decide on a method of instruction. This blog post can provide some guidance for choosing between working with an instructor and learning on your own.
What are your goals?
Before you can decide whether or not to hire an instructor, you should consider your fertility intentions. Will you be charting for health, to conceive, or as your primary birth control method? In some situations, such as using FAM for birth control, the stakes may be higher than others. So one thing to consider is efficacy, which translates to how well you'll be able to accomplish your intended FAM goals.
All of the current fertility awareness as contraceptive efficacy statistics are from studies where participants learned from an instructor. We currently don't have any studies showing the efficacy of individuals learning on their own. This doesn't mean self-taught - or DIY - FAM is ineffective as a contraceptive. It just means we don't know if it is as effective as learning with an instructor.
When trying to conceive, you may feel less pressure about method efficacy. If you and your partner are otherwise healthy, you may not need to use your chosen method perfectly in order to conceive. In this case, learning the basics of a method to recognize indicators leading up to ovulation, as well as confirming ovulation likely happened, is usually enough to help you achieve your intentions with FAM.
Those charting to gather health information or to monitor a health condition may feel comfortable learning from a book or support group rather than learning from an instructor. However, sometimes charting with a health condition changes charts from looking "normal" or "standard" to being much harder to interpret, which is where an instructor can be very helpful.
What does an instructor do, anyway?
A fertility awareness instructor will teach you the anatomy and physiology of the hormone cycle, how to observe your fertile signs in a very specific way, and a set of guidelines or rules to use for your fertility intentions.
Most instructors will also teach you how to interpret your chart for hormonal imbalance, provide support through messaging for several months while you learn, and offer follow-up chart reviews. This follow up can be especially beneficial during the learning phase. Typical instructor support might include texting a photo of cervical fluid and getting specific feedback, sending a copy of your chart and getting answers about your temp shift, or discussing the risk level of having sex on any particular day.
How does it compare with teaching myself?
If you choose to learn on your own, you will need to decide on a method. You may not have access to the same variety of methods since many methods do not provide user guides without instructor support. Several excellent guide books have been written specifically for independent learners:
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
- Garden of Fertility by Katie Singer
- Fertility Awareness Mastery Workbook by Lisa Hendrickson Jack.
One complication of learning fertility awareness from a book is you may misunderstand part of it, and the misunderstanding will go unchecked. When using your self-learned method for birth control, a misunderstanding left unchecked can result in an unplanned pregnancy.
Some learners really benefit from community support. And where better to find community support than the internet? There are several charting communities online and we certainly couldn't list them all here. A few places to start on Facebook are:
- Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control
- Tempdrop Support Group (you must own a Tempdrop to join this group)
- The Period Club
How much will this cost?
Teaching yourself fertility awareness is extremely affordable. You will probably want to purchase a guidebook rather than borrowing one from the library, but the cost should be relatively low. Online support groups are usually free, but offer rules for a mixture of methods you may have to weed through.
The cost of working with an instructor varies. You are paying for their time, expertise, and education. Remember - their time also includes developing the course in the first place, and looking over charts you send before meeting with you, not just the time you spend face to face with them. Expect to pay somewhere between $200- $1,000 USD.
You might also consider your own time in your calculation of cost. Learning with an instructor will likely require significantly less learning time than self-teaching.
How do you choose an instructor?
Choosing an instructor can be tricky, especially because fertility awareness is an unregulated field. There are currently no legal licensing requirements or education requirements for instructors. Many instructors are highly trained in a specific method (or multiple methods) and may have practiced and taught for years. Other instructors may have read one book and started offering classes based on what they learned. And of course, there are many instructors who fall somewhere in between those two extremes.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! You might ask them where they learned their method, if they are certified by a fertility awareness institution, or what kind of teaching experience they have. It’s also worth mentioning while certification does show someone has spent a lot of time gaining expertise in an area, lack of certification doesn’t necessarily mean the instructor is lacking knowledge or experience.
If you have any health conditions or specific fertility challenges (i.e. currently breastfeeding, coming off of birth control, have PCOS, etc.), definitely ask questions about their experience working with people like you. A good instructor will be transparent about this rather than defensive.
So what’s the right answer? Self-teach or find an instructor?
The best part about fertility awareness is all users have the opportunity for informed consent and to make choices for themselves. There is no right way to learn or practice so long as you understand the benefits and drawbacks of each choice.
Michele Drake is a Fertility Awareness Educator and advocate with a passion for supporting people with their birth control choices. After witnessing many friends struggle to find their ideal method for avoiding pregnancy, balance their hormones, or achieve pregnancy, she was inspired to empower people with knowledge about their own bodies so that they may make informed choices about their health.
Michele offers one-on-one classes for natural birth control, conception, menstrual wellness, and achieving hormonal balance. She is also donation-based distance birth control doula support. You can find her through her website or over on Instagram.