Human Life Education

Chapter Thirteen: Do Women Ever Ovulate More Than Once During A Cycle?

Rudolf Vollman, M.D.
Question by Fr. Joseph T. Mangan:
[Explanatory note by the editor: Although what follows is common knowledge to family life educators, it is not always so among others. One mother insisted absolutely, for example, that ovulation can occur at any time of the cycle, and that she can prove it because she conceived one of her children on the last day before her menstruation. (!) For this reason the editor decided to include this note into the book. Dr. Vollman, now deceased, is the author of THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE, a definitive study of the cycle.]

Question by Fr. Mangan: I have read that the story that women can ovulate more than once within a given cycle is only an 'old wives' tale. But again I have read that it is to be presumed that women may ovulate more than once in a cycle. May I ask for a comment.

Dr. Vollman responds: I am afraid that I am the culprit who published the little note that women who suppose or presume that they ovulate twice in a month are reporting an "old wives" tale.

In recent years the veterinarian Joechle, however, has warmed over that old story based on case reports from the medical literature. Yet, he has been unable to present any controllable, factual evidence that women might actually ovulate more than once within a given menstrual cycle.

As far as we are concerned today, we have a rather consistent picture of what is going on within the ovary and in the ovulatory process. There is a delicate system of balanced mechanisms between the midbrain, the pituitary gland, and the ovary. Each plays not only a contributary or forming part to the process, each plays a responding function as well. As soon as one factor drops out along the line of operation, the whole mechanism will be disrupted and consequently ovulation will not occur at all.

If the program is running according to the regular pattern, there will be no other means except the stimulation of a maturing follicle, out of a group of follicles that are present and ready to be matured; one of the group is finally the one that ovulates.

The mechanism continues to function after ovulation by the production of a corpus luteum; this then produces a hormone which blocks the stimulating factors for subsequent ovulation.

It could not be otherwise, because at the same time as the corpus luteum functions, the uterine mucosa is being prepared for the awaited implantation of a fertilized OVUM. Implantation can only take place at a very special and short-lasting stage of the development of the endometrium.

Fraternal twins result from a nearly simultaneous ovulation of two follicles that have matured through the same endocrine stimulus.

There is no evidence that intercourse, or medication, even medication to induce ovulation, results in more than one ovulation process. The latter may induce multiple ovulations, taking place simultaneously within hours. Such simultaneous, multiple ovulations must not be confused with a hypothetic, erratic ovulation which should occur at different times within the same menstrual cycle.

Fr. Mangan: So the answer is then that the supposed several ovulations in a given cycle is an "old wives" tale?

Dr. Vollman: It IS an "old wives" tale (male or female).

Dr. Prem: I don't think that there will be anyone else who wants to comment after that complete answer of Dr. Vollman. But double ovulation does occur. We have fraternal twins, who are the produce of two eggs. But as Dr. Vollman pointed out, the two eggs will probably be released within a period of 24 hours time.

*Reprinted with permission from A READER IN NATURAL FAMILY PLANNING, The Human Life Center, St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1978.

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