I hope that you enjoy this journey and that it brings you something you were looking for, or maybe you weren’t. My goal is to one day have enough folks that want to do participate, all ranges of age, gestation status, ethnic backgrounds, gynecological histories etc and one day be able to put this research into an accessible situation to bring education that doesn’t exist to anyone that wants to learn. There are things like “My Beautiful Cervix” and a couple of other cervical awareness websites… but not nearly enough comprehensive information. I also hope to bring awareness to the medical field and anyone practicing in “women’s health care” (or reproductive healthcare for folks with internal anatomy) and be able to approach them as individuals and not like a number on a chart or spreadsheet, to actually listen to them when they sate something is off with their body because all bodies are different and the person that owns the body generally knows better about it than the person that sees it once in a blue moon in the mix of hundreds of other bodies. That there are normal, vast changes that happen each day that are in variations of normal and more. My hope is this inspires you to go forth and really connect with your body, learn your normal and to be able to better advocate for yourself whatever that may look like. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s normal and you don’t even have to go as far as demanding to place your own speculum for an exam (although that’s empowering as all get out and I love doing it). Even if this only helps just one person find their voice in their health care, in their autonomy, in their story, in their rediscovery of their body… it would have been worth it.
Note: This does look a bit better on a computer screen than a mobile device.
Each morning, I would take a pipet to sample saliva from under my tongue before eating/drinking anything. At night before bed I would speculum myself and photograph my cervix as well as feel for position, openness and softness. Each night I would wear my tempdrop to track my BBT (Basal Body Temp) and I would then mark all data in the kindara application to track. I also would take a swab of the cervical mucus each day but that yielded relatively no change and I have decided to throw that data out since it gave me relatively no information microscopically.
- Tempdrop – basal body thermometer (BBT)
- Kindara – cycle tracking app on iPhone
- Welch Allyn size Medium speculum (Large for 2 of the days my cervix was high and retroverted)
- Welch Allyn cordless speculum light
- iPhone 6 plus – cervix photos
- Canon 5D mark IV with microscope lens – photographing spit and cervical mucus slides.
- Amscope microscope with trinocular head
- Glass slides
- Handheld mirror to visualize cervix
- Pipet (disposable) to obtain saliva from under the tongue
- Bulk ovulation strips that I bought on amazon.
I am a cis gendered white woman that has a very regular cycle and no indications of prior or current gynecological issues. I’ve never had an STI, I’ve never had an abortion or spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) and I have never had surgery on any part of my reproductive anatomy (except oocyte donation but that’s a small needle that goes on either side of the cervix into the ovaries). There were 2 nights that my tempdrop malfunctioned and did not give me data so I do have 2 missing temperatures, which is a minor hindrance and does not affect data enough to be an issue. Anther limitation: it turns out it’s not all that easy to photograph your cervix solo, so the photos are not exactly the same but you’ll get it.
My Gestational status is G2P2002 (Pregnant 2, births 2, SAB 0, TAB 0, living children 2)
I am 30 years of age and started menstruating around the start of high school. And have fairly mild periods other than the full, heavy feeling, some minor cramping and I always get a migraine due to the hormonal fluctuations and rapid vasodilatation around my period.
My seemingly ‘insane’ out there study (that totally fits me if you know me):
What prompted me to do this project? When I was growing up, the changes in my body felt weird, foreign and like something was wrong with me. I had a horrible version of sex ed both times it was taught and even with very sex positive and open parents, I never got a comprehensive sexual education and definitely nothing about pleasure or how the body ACTUALLY functions. The moisture between my legs was always called “discharge” and left it with a dirt/infectious connotation to the point where I always thought there was something wrong with my body. Like I always had an infection because I always had this ‘discharge’. That is… unless this discharge appeared at the arousal from a man, then it was okay because it was lubrication for a penis and nothing wrong with that right? *insert eyeroll* What was wrong with me? Why am I so gross? I never even realized it was cyclical with various textures and amounts, just that I always had this infectious, disgusting, constant problem. And the only thing I knew about a cervix was that when I was 22 and 25 someone had to poke at it for a baby to come out and that it was too far to the left.
Fast forward to 2 babies later when I was about 26… I was deep into finding my way to the world I work in now when I came across a discovery on none other than Facebook. It was an article about how female bodied individuals are never taught about the changes that happen during their menstrual cycles. It went on to describe that this ‘waste’ my vagina was excreting was actually an indicator of fertility status! What?! Yes folx! The ‘discharge’ is actually cervical mucus and has an incredibly important role in your life whether you are trying to get pregnant or avoid it. Also contained in this gold mine, was a diagram of the changes your CERVIX goes through during your monthly cycle and what these changes also represented. It also allowed me to discover that I didn’t have a weird cervix and that it was normal for it to not be straight up the middle and that it moves! Then I discovered the Fertility Awareness Method (or FAM) version of birth control. I was essentially doing a basic form of this because I never liked the limited experience I had with hormonal birth control (HBC) and since my cycle was so ridiculously regular I was able to successfully avoid being pregnant (except that one time with my second when I knew I was ovulation but someone didn’t listen… anyway… insert: my second child…literally). So with this new FAM thing, I decided that I would learn more because I was already pretty in tune with my body’s signals for ovulation because I get cramps on the side I’m to ovulate on but I still never knew when to expect my period and even if I was super careful when I was sexually active I was always worried about an unintended pregnancy. I also had been having symptoms of a depression that would come and go which made me curious if there was any correlation to being linked to my cycle. Onward.
I got in some Facebook groups about FAM and I bought the FAM bible (Taking Charge of Your Fertility) and I was blown away. So simple. So incredible. And all data you ever needed to see how your body works is right at your fingertips, sometimes quite literally, which we’ll get into in a bit. I know it isn’t for everyone, but Fertility Awareness Method, when done correctly, actually has similar statistics as using a condom and there’s zero side effects.
I honestly, felt like a whole world opened. I felt a clarity I didn’t know I was missing. And I will forever remember the first time I actually felt my cervix (not in labor… which I did with my 2nd). It feels really nothing like what the books say. It was off to the left, hard, firm, and about 2 knuckles up or medium height. It was like meeting an old friend I didn’t know I missed. Along with touching it, there was also an answer to why I couldn’t get my menstrual cup to not leak and it was because of the cervical placement. It answered some questions about sensations during sex, both good and bad. The final thing it did, was this incredible change that I never knew existed! Each time I’d feel my cervix, it would feel completely differently and each time I’d check my cervical mucus it would be different in consistency, clarity, color, smell etc. I was falling in love with myself as a female bodied person with this superpower that was kept from me. It opened up the door to loving my body for it’s growing humans and birthing ability as well. It was like the societal barrier was torn down and I had this strength that had been suppressed. This new confidence that came with it was so yummy. Then, came probably one of my favorite parts about this whole experience. I bought a speculum, and I got a flashlight and a mirror, and I was able to visualize this mysterious being that had been elusive in my healthcare journey, in sex ed, in books, in biology, in other education… my cervix was really left out in my life and yet such a crucial point to my very being as a female bodied person. It’s a gateway and an exit, a sphincter yet not, it holds life or blocks it, can provide pleasure or pain. There are so many things a cervix does and yet it’s functions and availability are essentially erased to the lay person.
Let’s get back to why we are here. I decided to do a project to demonstrate just how amazing the changes are daily. Starting with the 1st day of my period, I would open up the gateway and photograph my cervix, take saliva samples (because as you’ll see, this too changes with our hormone cycles), felt for cervical position and openness, took my Basal Body Temp, track my migraines, other data about my cycle and compile it here for you to view.
Below are the pictures of my cervix taken daily followed by an explanation. Enjoy and warning, there’s obviously graphic content.
What you have just seen is me cervix over 29 days. You can see in the 1st photo that my cervix sits posterior and up high as it starts a cycle, and as it goes towards ovulation it heads to pointing more direct, gets really open, soft and the mucus becomes clear and runny, ready to accept sperm.
The 1st 4 photos are during my bleed, you then see that the mucus turns dry for about 2 days with a true dry day on CD 6. Dry days are important because without the presence of cervical mucus, there’s almost no risk of getting pregnant because sperm needs mucus to survive the journey to the egg.
Then cervical mucus starts to build in the preovulatory phase, also known as the ‘follicular phase’, during which, estrogen is the dominant hormone and encourages the development of the egg to be released. It starts off as a bit creamy, which isn’t super fertile because it’s a bit thicker and sperm has a tough time getting through it and gradually builds to slippery/wet/stretchy which we call ‘egg white cervical mucus’ or EWCM, which is an indicator of peek fertility. CD7-14 you can see this gradual build and change until CD15-19 you can see how clear and runny the mucus at the cervical os is. You can also see that my cervix looks super soft and the os (opening) is really, really open compared to before and after.
Fertile mucus is generally present for 5-7 days. During this time, you have the highest chance of pregnancy and this is the ideal mucus that sperm can survive the journey in. This fluid is also alkaline in nature and matches the pH of seminal fluid. If you go back, on CD 20, You’ll notice an immediate thicker, sticker looking fluid. This signals that the fertile widow is ending. Then it transitions immediately after to staying thick, yellow, sticky, even dry and the pH of this fluid is actually more acidic and is designed to kill off any remaining sperm.
Around CD 20, you’ll also notice that my cervix looks dry, hard/firm and the cervical os has now reverted back to closing. I actually really love these photos as well because if you look at the bottom of my cervix, you can actually see just how vascular the tissues of the cervix actually are! You can clearly see the capillary beds. This is the reason why there can be bleeding with sex, when your cervix is dilating in labor there’s blood and when a placenta has attached over the cervix, why there can be some spotting/bleeding in early pregnancy.
Around CD 25, the mucus gets thicker as progesterone increases to hold a pregnancy (if applicable) then gets slicker again the last day (CD 29) as progesterone drops for menses. On CD28, I found it really interesting that I had a slight trickle of blood at the os, but did not actually start a full bleed for 2 more days.
If you take a deeper look at the chart I posted, you can see how my cervix fluctuates with the hormonal changes during the cycle as well as when I get migraines due to hormonal changes effecting my body. You’ll also be able to see where my progesterone kick into high gear known as the luteal phase. Progesterone is a heat increasing hormone, thus, post ovulation your basal body temp will actually be markedly higher if you have normal hormonal levels. This can also show indications of progesterone deficiencies if your temp doesn’t stay above the cover line or your luteal phase lasts less than 10 days, which is the least amount of days an egg needs to have successful implantation post ovulation.
Below is a diagram of my cervix with labels to better acquaint yourself with the basic anatomy. And below that is a photo of the capillaries present in the cervix as well as a graph to show a typical hormone shift pattern.
This final bit is about spit and how it also changes based on hormonal changes in the body:
This isn’t as reliable as tracking your cervix but it is a neat bit to throw in. When a female bodied person approaches ovulation, there is a gradual increase in the estrogen. Then the “estrogen surge” happens and there is an increase of salinity in their saliva. this creates changes in the structure of the saliva – it appears as distinct crystalline patterns called “ferning”. Below is 29 samples of my spit, taken sublingual 1st thing in the morning before contamination. Please note that An estrogen surge or ovulation may not occur in all cycles for all folks hence the reason that it is less reliable. When it’s present, it’s very accurate. Things that may interfere with the results: pregnancy, menopause, or hormonal imbalance, supplemental estrogen, and recent discontinuation of birth control medication. In continued absence of any ferning, your body may not be producing sufficient estrogen. I have included 2 different magnifications a X4 and a X10 for each day. This is still something I am studying, so I don’t quite have as much information but felt it important to include. In the saliva, you can actually see a gradual build and then decline in crystalline structure, which is neat. I also feel like my body attempted to ovulate closer to CD 12 as I did get an almost positive on my ovulation strip but didn’t get an actual positive until a few days later so it’s interesting to see the ferning building around those days as well. Below there’s 2 columns. Each row is a day and the left if magnification X4 and the right is magnification X10.
This is all I have for now. I have really, really enjoyed seeing the changes in my body. I hope this brings some body awareness to those that have been lost or feel totally separated from their internal anatomy. Another wonderful this I had happen on my journey, through mutual friends I met this badass woman who owns Embodywork in Los Angeles . I joined her in a session she has named ” Taking Back the Speculum” which has also been life changing! She provides speculums to the group, goes over anatomy of vulva owners and then teaches everyone in the room how to place a speculum and view their cervix! This helps in so many ways including when you go to a physician for a PAP, you can now confidently place it yourself and avoid the pain and discomfort these types of procedures usually bring. You can take back part of your body that has felt elusive and regain autonomy over your own body. (Which is a whole other set of things meant for another entry.)
I really, really hope you enjoyed. I know it’s long and I appreciate the time you took to read through. Please feel free to reach out if you have questions, comments, want to participate etc.
Brieana is a Student Midwife, Birth Doula, Photographer, Mother of 2 and general nerd. She lives in Los Angeles, Ca and hopes to use her education journey to bring accessible and easily understood education to others. To help folks regain autonomy and to provide respectful care in the aspects of reproductive health including well-person, birth and postpartum.