The experience of menopause can be many different things depending on who you ask. To some, it’s just a natural life transition – a nuisance, a mystery, or even a relief. To others, menopause is a medical condition that causes unpleasant symptoms and requires medical treatment. Attitudes towards menopause influence women’s experiences as they encounter this phase of life. Research has shown that the positive and negative attitudes women hold toward menopause significantly impact their subjective experiences with menopause, with women who regard menopause as a natural life phase having more positive experiences with menopause and fewer unwanted symptoms.
Whichever way we interpret menopause, charting your fertility during this time can help you understand the changes that are happening in your body. Women may also effectively avoid pregnancy with the Fertility Awareness Method during premenopause, but depending on the types of cycles they're experiencing, the rules for doing so may require a little more diligence than usual.
The most common sign of menopause is menstrual cycle irregularities, with about 80% of women experiencing some kind of cyclic change several years before menstruation actually stops. Typically, women first notice their period flow becoming heavier and their cycles becoming shorter, with earlier ovulation and shorter luteal phases. This chart shows a typical premenopause cycle.
This chart shows a heavy menstrual flow, a fairly early ovulation on Day 10, and a short luteal phase – all classic signs of premenopause.
In Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler advises that avoiding alcohol and aspirin when you’re menstruating can help relieve some of the discomfort associated with the increased flow, as both of these drugs can inhibit blood clotting. If you find the increased flow difficult to manage, a menstrual cup can also help you manage your flow without the waste and hassle of pads or tampons!
As you get closer to menopause, the shortened cycles associated with premenopause are eventually replaced by increasingly long cycles as your body produces less estrogen. Charting your basal body temperature may reveal increasingly frequent anovulatory cycles, where your temperatures remain low throughout. The following chart shows the typical pattern of a woman getting close to menopause.
This premenopausal woman had a long cycle with intermixed sticky and creamy cervical fluid until she finally ovulated on about Day 25.
Avoiding pregnancy during cycles like these can be tricky due to the unending pattern of potentially fertile cervical fluid. Pre- and perimenopausal women can still naturally avoid pregnancy with the Fertility Awareness Method, but there are some special considerations during this time that need to be taken into account. In particular, women with cycles like the one above must apply the rules for using FAM during anovulatory cycles to effectively avoid pregnancy.
Although avoiding pregnancy during premenopause can be tricky during cycles like the one above, it may be worth waiting it out for a few months. As menopause gets even closer and you enter what's known as "perimenopause," your cycles will likely make one more shift. Where previously your cycles were long and irregular and filled with days of potentially fertile fluid, your last few cycles before menopause will likely dry up and you'll experience very little cervical fluid, making it a breeze to identify your safe days. The chart below shows the cycle of a woman experiencing an easy cycle with many safe days.
This perimenopausal woman experienced mostly dry days for the majority of her cycle until her fertile window opened on Day 24. She ovulated a few days later and then returned to her basic infertile pattern of dry days.
Every woman experiences menopause differently. But all women would likely benefit from learning to understand menopause as a natural phase of life that progresses in a predictable, systematic fashion and can even offer unique benefits - many menopausal women come to find that the peace of mind against unwanted pregnancy or a respite from menstruation are welcome perks. Charting through menopause may help you get a little closer with your body as you go through yet another phase of change.