Sympto-Thermal Manual, Part 1

Sympto-thermal manual here. The manual recommends learning with the assistance of a qualified sympto-thermal instructor, but we are not losers and weenies, we are pirates and renegades, and we shall go it alone.

website here.

The first two pages are just charts, and while they are very colorful their presence makes me want to throw in the towel and drown my sorrows in rum.

Now it’s going into how to read the cycle chart, but except for the little emoji symbols it remains hateful in my sight. There are emojis for vaginal wetness and a little heart one for sex, which, ok, weirdos.

Also: “Here you find classifications of your cervical fluid, called elixir (necessary for the survival of sperm.”

*raspy witch voice* “the elixir of liiiiiiiiife, my chiiiiiild.”

If I ever become a saint I want to be one of those weird popular cult medieval saints with freaky miracles, whose incorrupt body perpetually dispenses cervical fluid with healing powers. (From across the water I can hear Italian cardinals drawing up papers for a new canon enabling the Vatican to preemptively bar certain people from canonization. Suppressing the sacred feminine, AS IS THEIR WONT.)

Nice inter-NFP burn here: “Some programs pretend to indicate your next period. This is impossible.”

Seriously though, I hope this all goes on an app or something, or for what else do we march ceaselessly towards the singularity and the rise of the machines? Although in that case I should probably get a smartphone.

Ah ok, yes, this manual is definitely referring to online charts found on sympto.org, which is kind of nice. I’m not going to start actually filling in charts till the start of my next cycle, but this seems like it might be a good place to do it.

I like the fact that they have both a temperature curve and a place to record cervical mucus–also a space to make note of possible disturbing factors.

Ok, that was the introduction, now we’re in the manual proper.

“In this entirely new presentation of the STM based on sympto, our Foundation has taken much care to integrate many educational tools and technological innovations made possible by the Internet as well as by the app industry. With the instructions given in this manual, any web developer would be able to reproduce our system.” Yes, yes, servile machines to do my work for me, this is all I want from NFP.

But apparently we’re still going to do manual charting.

Also “The general overview was also especially written for men who should at least be aware of the STM.” Speaking of which, my parents always advised against long engagements (+9 months), and the thought of them generally gives me stress hives, but that is an argument for them: intentions declared to point where having your man help chart your fertility is appropriate, but time to actually get good at it without…uh, newlywed pressures. Or maybe we need to bring back niceties of pre-marital commitments and stages of publicity, like “having an understanding.”

“The old age of ‘cycle computer’ (e.g. Persona, Clearblue, LadyComp, Petite Sophia, etc.) still continues, even though they do more harm than good. They pretend that they can “learn” from your individual cycle observations and establish “true stats” in order to interpret the data in the most optimal way. This is preposterous.”

SHOTS. FIRED.

It continues:

“Any temperature taking can be disturbed by an interfering incident, for instance insufficient sleep, and any interference has to be corrected retrospectively as soon as it shows up in an aberration of the temperature curve: the compromised temperature value has to be put “into brackets”. No engine can recognize such an event. The STM is in any case the ultimate negation of any kind of ‘forecasting’ cycle theories. It is the only correct answer to all the failing rhythm theories.”

So if I am understanding correctly, the claim here is that ClearBlue etc tries to establish an average or normal pattern of fertility for you, of which you can then predict the onset. STM relies on in-the-moment symptomatic data? This makes sense, although it still looks like sympto.org expects you chart your temperature in a pre, post, or peak fertility window, which presumes you know which one you are in beforehand? I have not, however yet fooled around with the charts, and may be misinterpreting one or more statements, or otherwise just being dense.

I suppose the only thing to do is try both, and see which, or both in conjunction, works best for me.

Ah, ok, I think this answers one of my questions:

“When it comes to effectiveness it suffices that you can say “today I am fertile”, or “today I am not fertile”, as opposed to when you will possibly ovulate in x number of days.” So you can tell based on your symptoms where in the pre-peak-post section you fall on that particular day, and chart accordingly.

“The day of ovulation can only be identified by ultrasound but never by external symptoms nor by any kind of forecasting algorithm. The reason is easy to grasp: The first part of the cycle, dominated by estrogen, is easily influenced not only by external events, but also by internal, emotional pressure.”

Huh.

This manual is talking a lot of smack about other methods, which makes me slightly suspicious of too hard a sell. But on the other hand registering for sympto.org was free.

“On sympto.org you can learn to master independently what no computer can do for a woman:”

Haha, know what else no computer can do for a woman?

Moving on,

“a) Enter correct observations,

b) Use the icon language appropriately,

c) Identify past temperature interferences in your cycle due to unforeseen events,

d) Decide if these compromised temperature values must be placed in brackets and adjusted retrospectively.”

The first two make sense to me, the last two are confusing. What is this retrospective adjustment? It sounds extremely tricky.

“Cycle theory, even though proven, and its best interpretation tool are only prerequisites for STM success: The deciding factor is your willingness to integrate these elements into your life and apply them correctly. ”

I don’t know what this means but it makes me

They say to start by entering every possible observation while still learning, and then, when one has grown in confidence and competence, to pare down to the strict number of symptoms necessary. I hope they differentiate more clearly what qualify as pertinent observations, else I suspect I shall end up writing a short novel every morning for quite some time.

In a plug for sympto, which refers not to the method but either to the website or the app, I can’t tell which:

“sympto will motivate you with educational messages, or correct you with error prompts”

I like the sound of that last part.

Next we go through arguments for STM in what is apparently a deep and contentious divide between methods structured around predictive cycles and methods structured around in the moment assessment of fertility. Not particularly useful to those of us watching at home. They make reference to the Döring-Rötzer day, which sounds like the name of an X-Files episode. Apparently it is the name of the day “which under normal circumstances opens the fertile window.”

Oh, this sounds good:

“For a breastfeeding mother, a message will notify her in time when she has to switch from the breastfeeding program to the default Companion mode.” I had wondered about that, what happens when you’ve just had a baby and either your cycles are going berserk or you don’t have a period at all. Do you have to learn a whole new method in a few months?

“Lastly, a crucial element of the STM is your dedication to observing your fertility signs: Regrettably, this useful body literacy is not taught in schools.”

I know, I’d be so much more on top of this had I nuns grading me on it.

Now it goes through all the factors which can, if too severe, render symptoms impossible to read. Also stressed is the need to use STM competently for effectiveness, which, well, baby steps.

Then more about unhealthy habits or relationship stresses that charting can expose.

“It is paramount to discuss your love relationship monthly, openly and thoroughly with your partner.” The SymptoTherm organization, if the phrase “love relationship” did not clue you in, is based in Switzerland

“A man displaying a lack of solidarity in following the STM indicates a relationship in need of improvement.”

INDEED.

“A better couple relationship and better health are the main objectives of the Symptothermal Method, which is really a lifestyle.” Oh, please don’t, “really a lifestyle” is the single biggest possible bummer phrase for any given health/wellness practice.

“You can achieve true autonomy beyond completing cycle charts: After some years of regular, systematic charting, you can learn to sense the rise and fall of your fertility. You may stop taking your waking temperature and use a special setting on sympto, called Billings Mode Program. Eventually you may not even need to enter any cervical fluid observations or to keep record at all.”

Is this one of those things where if you eat right and exercise two hours a day MAYBE you’ll end up looking like Kate Middleton?

sympto guarantees effectiveness, sympto provides certainty.” Sympto will carry us from a past of cringing humiliation at the hands of foreign powers into a glorious national future of magnificence and strength!

“This lack of enlightenment reminds us that we are still waiting for the liberation of the female.” Preach and testify, sympto.

Oh, and apparently they compare apps on their website, which is very helpful!

This manual’s sections are marked with stars and daisies and bubbles in psychedelic colors, it’s kind of great.

Now we’re in an overview of the sympto-thermal method. Sympto’s the mucus, thermal’s the temperature change in conjunction with which it’s interpreted. In unclear situations you can check the cervix, which sounds terrifying to me, and breast tenderness, PMS, etc can also be helpful.

Then illustrated cervices at various degrees of fertility, complete with dying sperm.

“or you can use the app. sympto processes all your data and calculates your fertile and infertile days with Swiss precision.”

I guess it is probably right and just that the Swiss are the ones developing NFP methods.

Then it explains that the app displays four fertility ratings, pre-fertile, fertile, highly fertile, and post post fertile. Of that last:

“The sun icon with the yellow and pink background represents dryness: nothing can grow in a desert.”

This manual is amazing.

So apparently you only have to take your waking temperature during the 7-11 blue fertile days?

Then more stuff about counselors, sharing your charts with other health-conscious women, and some stuff about men’s participation, mostly gentle side-eye at and random assertions about them.

sympto is very attractive to men” know what else is very attractive to men?

Ah, I slay myself.

Then some appreciation/consternation re the Vatican, coupled with more random statements that sound a bit…lost in translation, or something.

“Men do not like the condom. Why forbid something you don’t like? From an anthropological and pastoral point of view this prohibition is self-defeating.” What are you even talking aboutyou goony Swiss cheeses.

Ok, now we’re into the good stuff, waking temperature.

In the sample chart, there are six days of low temperatures, followed by a high temperature spike. The app draws a green cover line over the low phase. 4-6 temperatures are required to interpret.

Taking your temperature between waking up and getting up, within a span of 1 – 4 hours is sufficient. Thus you can enjoy petting with your partner before or while you measure your temperature.” Apparently your partner is a 50s teenager or a dog.

also: Adequate temperature recording is the most important thing to do when starting the STM and using the sympto app.

“Consider the printed records of your charts to be as valuable as bonds… ” I get it, I get it, you’re Swiss, but not all of hail from the country of Bankers to the World.

Skipping the part about getting pregnant for the moment.

We can also skip a lot of stuff about hormones and how they work, because it was covered in the Marquette manual.

“You do not need to buy LH sticks.” They really hate that ClearBlue.

“When choosing manual (pencil and paper) charting, you have to write down your PD sign on a paper chart. Cycle charting is the most effective way to know everything about your cycle at a glance. These charts, like real bonds, should be kept in a safe place.”

Again with the bonds! Also, I am confused–if paper charts are so valuable and irreplaceable, why am I having the app do my charting for me? What are you not telling me, sympto? Regardless, I suspect the app would far surpass me in both clerical consistency and interpretive competence–I guess paper charts are useful too in developing some of that competence with the safety of a backup.

It seems that recording vaginal sensation is pretty important, which depresses me, as I always second guess myself on that kind of stuff. The relevant sensations here are dry (D), humid (H), moist (moist apparently does not get a letter, only a water drop emoji), and lubricative (L), not, as you might have guessed, choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic.

“As soon as these crypts start producing life elixir, you will feel moist or a sensation of humidity, charted as H (humid) and your fertile window opens. This sensation is inside your vagina. Nothing is seen; nothing can be touched. It is entirely a bodily sensation. The H duration can last for hours or more than a day. It is usually followed by the sensation of lubrication (L), a very distinctly runny-wet feeling inside the vagina. When you have this sensation, cervical mucus will be identifiable outside the vagina as well: a feeling of slipperiness on the labia can thus be confirmed by the tissue-paper exam.”

Luckily, you can also use external observation.” You want to be sure whether you can really see your life elixir. Examine whether or not the tissue glides over your labia.”

“Learn at this sacred place of your womanhood to feel the quality of your elixir.”

OH MY.

The categorization of mucus elixir and how to test it doesn’t really differ from Marquette’s.

E=opaque, lotiony or creamy

sE=stretchy, transparent, egg white

yE=crumbly, sticky mostly yellowish

Ok, I am editing what seem the pertinent points of the next section into a quote..

Your fertile window already opens with the first sensation of H, sensation of humidity, and not only with “E” observation. Some women however never have this sensation and their fertility thus starts with E observation. PD (peak day) is the last day with external sE or E discharge. The internal sensation of H or L is not vital for determining PD. The internal feeling is important to determine the beginning of fertility, and for indicating highly fertile days.” You become infertile 2-3 days after PD.

Also pictures demonstrating types of mucus, probably a useful cross-reference when testing.

“After a few cycles of observing your life elixir, you will learn to identify your PD: The essential differentiation you have to learn is between sticky and creamy . The correct PD identification belongs to the more demanding aspects of the STM and is a major learning curve.”

Reminder that PD can only be identified retroactively. The day after, you mark a “1” on your chart and note that the day before was peak day. If you are using the app, you just mark elixir quality and note change to dryness and the app will mark PD for you. After PD, 1, 2, and 3, you are probably no longer fertile on the evening of day 4. However, you need temperatures to confirm. With temperatures, the end of fertility can sometimes be identified on day 3.

Then some sample charts, which have to be seen to be helpful.

Apparently the Döring-Rötzer day takes its name from a German researcher who discovered that ovulation is always preceded by at least 5-6 fertile days, no matter how short the cycle. There is both a small Döring-Rötzer day and a big Döring-Rötzer day. The way they are describing it is very confusing, but it seems as though the big DRD is the opening of your fertile window, and during your first learning year of 12 cycles, is automatically assumed to be at the 6th day of your cycle, for safety. The small DRD during this learning period falls between day 7 and 11. What the small DRD signifies exactly I cannot yet discover.The formula for determining DRD here is: day of first temperature rise minus 7.

In rare cases, temperature may spike extremely early during the first 12 cycles. In this case, the big DRD will shift to day 5 or earlier. The fertile window will be correspondingly longer, and the small DRD will occur before the big, rather than after. If your first 12 cycles show an extremely early rise, this rule for setting the DRD will apply indefinitely, leaving you with as few as 3 pink infertile days.

However, in most cases, after the first 12 cycles you will end up with more than five pink infertile days.

I am not sure how much I need to know about any of this, and the app is looking better and better, but I am enjoying references to “the big D.”

Because this manual is over 100 pages long, I’m going to break off here and pick up again tomorrow.

Fertility Awareness Open Thread, Brought to You by Anais Mitchell

I know a woman, possibly also secretly a superhero, who is training to be a doula (a non-medical point-person for general support during pregnancy and childbirth). This means, among else, that she gets to terrify men on the subway with her doula training book featuring women in various states of undress and dilation.

I am very jealous.

I was also struck, as we talked, by the vision of an alternate reality in which my convent school (open thread soon for recovering and nostalgic graduates of convent schools?) did not abandon its flaccid “health” curriculum after two semesters, but had an entire senior year dedicated to our reproductive systems. We’d learn the latest methods and technologies for fertility awareness, we’d learn how to chart our cycles; we’d have doulas and gynecologists give guest lectures, we’d read Woman, an Intimate Geography together; we’d hate it and say it was gross and protest with all the force in our kilted bodies, but dammit, we’d face the wide world with a new-found respect for and confidence in them.

Unfortunately, the closest we got were routine public service announcements asking us to please, stop changing in the hallway.

The idea of learning the mechanics of NFP when one is about to get married or has just gotten married seems insanely stressful to me; more importantly, even if I become a nun or confirm my spinsterhood in cats, I want to know how my body works.

So tell me, what do you know about fertility awareness/NFP? What do you want to know? What frustrates you or makes you curious? What are some good resources, especially for people who are not yet forming families or maybe break out in hives at phrases like “couple to couple”?

Specially petitioning Kassie, the queen of knowing cool stuff about fertility (also the queen of putting up people who were planning to sleep in Port Authority), married ladies who Know Things, doulas in training, Addie who is both a married lady and writes for this blog what??

We’ll set the appropriate ambience with some Child ballads. “Child” actually refers to the compiler, though given the recurring motif of pregnancy, it could as easily to subject matter. Thanks, William!