Featured photo by Manki Kim
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When you feel ready to become a parent, you know, INTENTIONALLY (aka on purpose), the process can feel WAY more difficult than anyone ever mentioned in high school health class. Getting pregnant, even without any conditions that affect fertility, can take months. The waiting is the WORST. You can follow every tip you can find and it still comes down to a waiting game. Waiting for your fertile window, waiting 2 weeks before you test, waiting for your period (because of course it would be a few days late) and waiting for the next month if it’s not successful.
It’s an exhausting waiting game, especially when you are so ready to start a family. It’s emotionally draining. It can be draining on your sex life too because something that was once intimate and, dare I say, FUN, becomes more like work and preparation and “completion” (that’s almost as bad as moist, lol).
So many people don’t know the science of conception and, to be honest, I get it. Coming from the South, my education about human reproduction was not exactly robust. I was told not to have sex until I was married because I would probably get pregnant or an STD and my life would be ruined. While it’s true that sex is the main cause of pregnancy and STD transmission, that’s not really the whole story (Not to mention the plethora of problematic issues associated with that mindset). Thankfully, I’ve always had an interest in human biology and ended up working in the prenatal genetics field. This information would prove handy when my husband and I wanted to expand our family.
Ovulation Is Everything
In a perfect scenario, this is how the biology plays out:
Ovulation occurs, meaning a woman releases an egg from one of her ovaries. It travels down the Fallopian Tube (where it will actually be fertilized by a sperm) and then the embryo (egg + sperm) travels to the uterus where it implants into the lining.
While it’s true that having intercourse, just once, CAN cause pregnancy, it’s more likely (statistically) that it will take several tries. When it comes down to it, conceiving is all about proper timing. Most women have about 4 fertile days to get pregnant, referred to as your fertile window (although sometimes the window is cited little longer at about 6 days). Your window starts BEFORE you ovulate. The egg doesn’t really last for very long if it’s not fertilized and your partner’s sperm can actually hang around for about five days waiting for it (kinda weird to think about, I know). So if you are waiting until you ovulated to “baby dance”, you are more likely to miss that window of opportunity.
If You Want to Get Pregnant ASAP
I get it. Maybe you’ve been playing the “if it happens, it happens” game for long enough. Maybe you think you aren’t getting any younger and it’s a bit of a now or never situation. Whatever your reasoning, I understand. Every cycle is another month (or more for some of us) of anticipation, “work” and impatience.
Tracking and Charting
First and foremost: track your cycle. The most important thing to track is the days of your cycle. This gives a clear indication of regularity, which is super helpful in determining when you are most likely to get pregnant. I’m a pretty big fan of Fertility Friend. You basically use an app and it converts everything into a chart. They also offer a lot of resources and forums all about trying to get pregnant. There is a basic (free) version and a VIP (paid) version. I used the VIP version because it was only about $45 per a year and it offers a lot of extras.
Another app that I liked was Ovia Fertility. They are part of the Ovia health trifecta which includes a fertility app, a pregnancy app, and a parenting app. They have some similar features and community resources.
Ovulation tests use urine to test for levels of particular hormones, particularly LH (Luteinizing hormone). The LH surge is an increase in the hormone right before the release of an egg (ovulation).
I used these LH and HCG “cheapies” to test for several cycles. You are supposed to use one a day at the same time every day. The more LH is present, the darker the line will be. Once you start to see a fair amount of color in the test line, you assume that you are approaching your LH surge and are in your future window. The HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) strips are pregnancy tests. While I think this is a good deal, the color of the line is subjective. Also if you have certain conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (like I did) you are very likely to experience persistently high LH values, so these would not be helpful. I included them because after I received a prescription to control my hormone levels, I was able to successfully use these to conceive.
If you don’t want to deal with the subjective lines of the cheapies, Clearblue Digital Advanced Ovulation Tests are a good choice. In addition to testing for two hormones (LH and estrogen), the digital results give you a flashing smiley face for rising levels and a solid smiley face indicating likely impending ovulation. You can also use the same digital reader over multiple cycles. However, if you have PCOS you may get flashing smiley faces for an extended number of days without a peak day indicated due to consistently elevated LH (and likely estrogen) levels. After my prescription to control my ovulation, these worked well and I conceived while using them.
You can also find single tests at the Dollar store for, you guessed it, $1 each. The cheapies linked above are still more economical.
You’re going to need to get pretty up close and personal with yourself for this one. Basically the mucus at your cervix changes in appearance and thickness depending on where you are at in your cycle. This is a direct response to specific hormones being elevated at different times.
Essentially, when you are near ovulation, your mucus will be thinner and clearer. The term most often used is “egg white mucus”. It creates a better environment for sperm to enter the uterus.
Basal Body Temperature
Testing your basal body temperature is going to be another up close and personal with your lady part task. A basal body thermometer is slightly more accurate than a typical thermometer. It may also have a softer tip since you are likely going to be inserting it into your vagina.
You will need to test in the morning after at least 3 hours of interrupted sleep. Ideally, you will do this before you even get out of bed. Your temperature should be relatively consistent until you ovulate. Then there should be a half a degree to a whole degree INCREASE in your temperature that should last through your cycle. This method will not detect impending ovulation but it works as a way to “confirm” ovulation occurred.
Fertility Safe Lubrication
Many Lubricants used for intercourse contain a spermicide. Even things like saliva aren’t particularly good for sperm. To create the ideal conditions (pH, viscosity, etc), it’s best to use a Fertility Friendly lubricant. I used Pre-Seed and did conceive while using it (in conjunction with various other methods). They provide an applicator and instructions to insert before sex. Personally, I thought the amount was a bit much and made for extra cleanup afterward, so I just lowered the amount that I used each time.
Waiting and more waiting
Let’s say you’ve been trying for a while and it does not seem to be working. Most health providers won’t really get into a fertility workup (blood tests, sperm count, vaginal ultrasound, etc.) until you’ve tried for a specific amount of time. It’s a year for women under 35 and 6 months for women over 35. It’s not like it should take a shorter time after you turn 35, it’s just the age where egg count and quality start to diminish, so you need to be seen sooner.
Regardless of your age, having to wait that long before you can start looking into your fertility can be excruciating. I know it was for me. I kind of knew something was off as my cycles were longer and not particularly regular. I’m not going to get into the reasons why you might not be getting pregnant. I’ll save that for a later post.
Here’s the thing, it helps to start this process with the proper information, so you don’t freak out when it doesn’t happen instantly. That being said, you may have to get REAL comfortable with your body in ways you weren’t expecting. Listen to your body, try to keep your stress in check (I know, I know, so much easier said than done), share your emotions and find support when you need it.
It can be a real mother of a ride.