The first time I saw his chart—yes, his—I giggled.
My husband and I had a long-distance engagement; he lived in Washington, D.C., and I lived in Austin, Texas. We were learning how to chart my fertility via Skype with an instructor in Ohio. I had the official chart, stickers and all, and he had a scanned copy.
He did his best to follow along … with Crayola markers. His chart was largely illegible, with scribbles of color in every box where a sticker was on mine.
I had to give him an A+ for effort. He was really into this. It had actually been his idea to learn fertility charting in the first place. “You can even tell when a cold is coming on!” he used to say, with the same enthusiasm other guys have for the capabilities of their new A/V systems.
Well, the cold prediction thing really never panned out for us, and his enthusiasm for charting has been tempered over the years by the sheer busy-ness of life, but I cannot overstate how much a difference it makes that my husband is on board with fertility charting.
I can imagine that some guys honestly wonder what they can actually do when it comes to fertility charting. “It’s about her body, right?” They might feel uncomfortable or even squeamish about the bodily processes involved. And I get that. I really do—there’s something entirely other and personal about things like menstruation, mucus phases, and cervical checks. Guys will never experience these things themselves. And the way men have responded to women’s “moods” over the years indicates that, in general, they believe they are up against a total mystery.
They might be surprised to learn how much they can do. And as far as mystery goes, they might be surprised at how the clues offered in fertility charting can help them better understand and love the women in their lives.
So what exactly can a guy do when it comes to fertility charting?
First and foremost, he can learn.
At bare minimum, a guy can learn the basics about women’s fertility cycles by attending an introductory class or reading an overview of the various methods of fertility charting.
Optimally, he can attend classes and follow-ups along with the woman. It’s one thing to know the general basics of fertility charting—it’s quite another thing to better understand a specific woman. Actively learning alongside her as she learns to chart her cycle not only helps her feel like she’s not in this alone—it also helps a man better appreciate who she is.
“I want to know as much as I can about her as a person, which includes her fertility, so I can love her that much more,” said one husband at a natural family planning Q&A panel I attended last year.
A.men. (He’s a keeper!)
Second, he can keep the conversation going. Some guys are going to be a little squeamish about “mucus” and “menstruation,” especially at the outset. (Whether they should be is debatable, but it is understandable.)
In the meantime, they can ask questions like, “So, what do you find interesting about these classes/about what you’re learning?” “Do you notice that the different phases of your cycle affect you in other ways—for example, emotionally? Your motivation? Your energy levels?” And the biggie—”Is there anything I can do to help during those different phases?”
True story: More recently, I have been noticing some pretty intense mood shifts during the latter part of my cycle. One day, my husband came home and walked into the kitchen to find me (absentmindedly) brandishing a knife and exclaiming, “Guess what?! I think my PMS symptoms are getting worse!”
Ever since, he has taken to bringing me flowers on days he anticipates might be rough. That’s love. (Or maybe survival.)
The reality is, even if guys never experience menstrual cycles firsthand, they will experience their effects on a daily basis. Open conversation about these things is a sign of support, care and acceptance. Even if the conversations start out on the more awkward or lighthearted end, they pave the way for more serious—and more necessary—conversations later.
Third, he can keep the chart. This may mean setting an alarm and taking her temperature every morning at the same time and marking it on the chart (sympto-thermal methods), or asking her at the end of each day what her most fertile signs were and marking the chart accordingly (ovulation methods). For those who prefer the digital route, an expanding number of fertility apps give couples new options for collaborating to make sure each day’s signs are recorded.
The benefit of helping to keep the chart is that the guy knows exactly where she is in her cycle without her having to tell him.
Often men’s participation in fertility charting gets reduced to a single question, “Is it a go day?” I think that’s such a shame. The chart can tell him so much more than whether she’s fertile or not.
Googling “men and NFP,” I ran across this story of a husband who picked up on his wife’s unusual job stress by paying attention to her charts. Another man I know used to brag about how his wife didn’t believe him when he told her, based on her chart, that she’d better take some feminine products along … until her cycle started later that day.
It’s about understanding, communication, and mutual responsibility.
You know, all of those things that make a relationship work in the first place!
That’s not to say that fertility awareness is the key to a good relationship. Can a couple set aside charting and still strive to know one another, openly communicate, and take mutual responsibility for their life together? Absolutely. Those good habits are foundational to, not dependent upon, a couple’s use of fertility charting.
But give me the choice between “Mr. Way Too Into Fertility Charting Guy” and a guy who couldn’t care less what phase I’m in, and I’ll take my husband any day.
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