I had a weird conversation with my mum today on how to calculate your ovulation period and menstrual cycle. It all started when she found a condom in my bag. I really do not know what she was searching for but, there it was. I tried to explain that it was a sample that I collected from a reproductive health talk show at the market but she did not believe me. Then she started her drama:
“Come madam, we have been together in this house for almost a month and you have not complained of menstrual pain or requested for money to buy sanitary pad, am I missing something?”. “No Mummy, I saw my period before I left school and it has not come yet, and by the way, I don’t usually have menstrual pain”, I replied. She was not satisfied with my answer, my mind told me she was looking for a fight.
She asked again, “Diva, are you sure you are not pregnant?” “Pregnant? Mummy, I have not done anything”. “Really, anything like what? It seems you even know more than I do”, She decided to probe further and asked me the duration of menstrual cycle. I told her 4 days and she said I was wrong. 4 days is the duration of my menstruation also called period or menstrual flow which can last from 3 to 7 days. The cycle on the other hand is calculated from the first day of one menstruation to the last date before the next one. It varies from one woman to another but usually ranges from 21 to 35 days with an average of 28 days.
She brought a calendar and told me to try to recall the first day of my last period. The good thing is that I remembered because I was stained badly on that day and had to go to the matron to ask for the hostel key during school hours, it was on the 23rd of March. She marked it on the calendar, for someone whose only words to me when I saw my Menarche (the onset of my menstruation which is supposedly the most significant event of womanhood) were ‘Congratulations dear!’, I was amazed that she suddenly wanted to teach me. Her hypothetical calculation went thus:.
Assuming the first day of your last period was on the 23rd of March and you have a 28day menstrual cycle, then your next menstruation is expected on 20th of April. If you have a 24day cycle, then it is expected on the 16th of April. The first day of your menstruation marks the first day of a new cycle. This date is usually predictable depending on the regularity of the cycle but some factors can alter it like stress, use of contraceptives and diet but note that cycles can be irregular for a few years when you just start menstruating and regularize over time.
I was happy we were finally talking about the ‘sensitive’ issue, then she asked me if I had any question. I really wanted the conversation to continue so I asked her, “Mummy, what’s the science behind the menstrual cycle and how do you calculate ovulation period? She sighed and said, “The body of a woman was designed to carry, nourish and bear young ones hence its unique features.
The female reproductive system has 2 key features, the uterus also known as the womb which is supposed to house the developing fetus and the ovaries which produce the female eggs. From adolescence when menstruation starts at about age 12 to menopause when it stops at about age 45-55, the uterus in the female body prepares monthly for fertilization and implantation of egg. If fertilization does not occur, the lining of the uterus is shed. This shedding is known as menstruation.
The menstrual cycle is an interplay of hormones controlled by the Hypothalamus and Pituitary glands in the brain. It has about 2 key phases separated by the ovulation. The first day of your menstruation is considered the first day of the new cycle and the follicular phase. During your menstruation, the hypothalamus sends signals to the Pituitary to produce the Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone causes 5 to 20 follicles in the ovary to start developing. This is the follicular phase.
A follicle is a fluid-filled sac that contains an immature egg. Maturing of the egg causes an increase in estrogen level which causes the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for implantation and also causes the Pituitary to release Luteinizing hormone (LH). LH when it reaches the ovaries causes most developed follicle to burst, releasing the egg in it. The release of the egg is called Ovulation. The now empty follicle called the Corpus luteum continues to secrete estrogen along with the other follicles but also secrets Progesterone which prepare the uterus for pregnancy.
This second part of the cycle after ovulation is known as the Luteal phase. This released egg is viable for about 12 to 24 hours during which fertilization can take place if it comes in contact with sperm cells. If the egg is not fertilized however, the egg and corpus luteum die along with the other follicles that developed, the levels of Progesterone and estrogen fall and the uterus lining shrinks and shed off. All these, together with blood and fluid are shed out of the body as menstruation.
Ovulation is usually characterized by slight increase in body temperature, breast tenderness, bloating and a thin, clear, slippery, Vaginal discharge that looks like raw egg white. This discharge is cervical mucus signaling fertility. It usually occurs about 14days before the start of the next menstruation. So, for a 28day menstrual cycle, ovulation will be in the 14th day which is the middle of the menstrual cycle and for a 24day cycle, ovulation is most likely to occur on the 10th day.
I was about to stand up when she asked me, “Diva, are you still a virgin?” For some reason I became upset because I just felt the conversation had gone too far. She did not wait for me to respond, she said, “I will go ahead and teach you about fertile and safe period: Fertilization of the egg on the ovulation day and subsequent successful implantation leads to pregnancy. Fertilization occurs in the presence of sperm cells.
Sperm cells are viable for about 5 days in the body. Condoms when used efficiently can prevent pregnancy and STDs but they are not 100% efficient and can sometime break during sex. If sperm cells are still viable when ovulation period is still on, it can result in pregnancy. As such, the fertile or unsafe days are 5 days before your ovulation which id day 14 of a 28day menstrual cycle and 24 hours after ovulation before the egg dies.
As you know, you are a unique individual so you need to study your body, document your menstruation and ovulation period on a calendar so you can better understand your cycle.”
She noticed I was getting tired and said we will continue the topic on Ovulation period another day.