When Trying To Conceive Takes Over
Simonne Walmsley continues her story on trying to start a family, and asks what happens when trying to conceive threatens to take over a relationship.
Human beings are a relatively infertile lot. Our fertility compared to other mammals is laughable. For most mammals, the chance of becoming pregnant each cycle is about fifty percent, but humans are around half that. So it's quite conceivable (pardon the pun) that trying to become pregnant may take a little time.
Once you make the decision together that you want to have a baby, it's probably the first time since high school biology that you've given the process much thought, other than keeping things crossed from month to month that your contraceptive method (pills, injection, condoms etc.) has done its job. So, you brush up on the basics - the hopeful mummy and daddy have special cuddles at the right time in the hopeful mummy's cycle, egg meets sperm, sperm fertilizes egg, fertilized egg implants and Bob's your uncle - and it all seems pretty easy and straight forward. Then, a week before your period is due you start itching to take a pregnancy test, sure that you are pregnant.
In practice though, conception is a complex business, with a very small window for success each month. A fertile couple in their mid to late twenties having sex regularly have a twenty to twenty five percent chance of conception each month (although on a slightly more cheerful note, at least ninety percent of these couples would be expected to conceive within twelve months!)*.
The thing is that, even if you are a fertile couple, you could realistically be looking at sitting around waiting for that positive pregnancy test for a year or perhaps even a little longer. The general response to that is… Aargh! Because, of course, the other thing is that you have decided that you want to try for a baby, and you want that baby now.
Momentum and excitement over this new step in your life will usually carry you through the first one or two cycles, but often by about the third cycle, you're starting to get impatient and frustrated, and you're wondering why it hasn't happened as easily as you thought it would. Over night, there are pregnant women and babies everywhere, and you keep hearing stories about, 'accidents' and couples finding out they're pregnant as soon as they start trying. If you're still waiting for that positive pregnancy test at the six to nine month mark, you may be starting to struggle emotionally and those monthly disappointments when your period arrives will be getting harder to deal with.
So, what do you do to get from cycle to cycle, through the roller coaster ride that is trying to conceive, and out the other side with your sanity in tact? Well, since I've long lost my own, I'll pass on advice other people gave me (I'm kidding! Sort of).
As incredibly difficult as it is, try not to obsess (did you notice how very carefully I avoided saying 'just relax'? I'm too new to this column business to be getting threats of bodily harm), because it will make you unhappy, and add stress to your baby-making journey. It is so easy to let trying to conceive take over your life, especially if you are charting temperatures and monitoring all things cervix related. You wake up, take your temperature and plot it on your chart, already starting the day focusing on becoming pregnant, and chances are that throughout the day you'll probably dwell a bit on the morning's temperature and your emerging chart as well. From there, at some stage during the day, you will take note of the texture and appearance of your cervical mucus, and maybe also check your cervical position. If it's getting towards the middle of your cycle, you're possibly pulling out your Ovulation Predictor Kit as well. So, in the course of the day, literally from the time you wake, you are continually focusing on trying to conceive.
There are so many things you can do to optimize your chances of successfully tracking ovulation, and therefore pinpoint the best time in your cycle to go at it like bunnies. But, the problem with these things is that, although they help you get to know your cycle and your body, they can cause you to become tense, worried and stressed, even depressed. In fact, a lot of fertility specialists recommend that once you have a basic handle on your cycle - that you are ovulating, and the timing of ovulation in your cycle - to put these things aside, and just have sex regularly throughout your cycle.
Another cause of stress when trying to conceive is when sex becomes all about making babies, and not about the two of you enjoying each other. It's very easy to get into the habit of checking days off in your diary and 'doing the deed' just because you're ovulating, taking a bit of a 'what's the point?' attitude at other times. Although guys can be quite cheerful about lots of enthusiastic sex in the first few months, if sex starts to be initiated with you checking the calendar and announcing 'I'm ovulating we'd better have sex' that's when our boys can begin to feel 'used and abused' as it were. For them, it shifts things from having some fun and pleasuring their wife to inseminating her and then going back to whatever they were doing before they were interrupted.
Then, there's getting through the end of your cycle, which can be incredibly tough because you hold onto such hope for a pregnancy during the month. You've done everything right - focussing all your energy on becoming pregnant; you've just spent the entire duration of the 'two week wait' holding your breath, trying not to do a pregnancy test at least until there is a snowball's chance that it will give you a positive result if you're pregnant. Many symptoms of PMS are so similar to early pregnancy symptoms, a lot of women (myself included) are guilty of over-focusing on PMS symptoms that have always been there, and hoping like crazy that the symptoms not just PMS. I don't think it's really until you chuck your contraceptive method out the window that you start to notice how sore your breasts get leading up to your period, or that in the day or two, or even week beforehand you are battling nausea, certain smells are registering differently to normal, and a whole host of other things. When you've been experiencing these things leading up to your period, and keeping everything crossed (twice!), the disappointment can be really crushing if your period arrives, as usual, on the dot. Or, even worse, it's late!
It's not easy, but it really helps if you can develop a bit of a system for distracting yourself, and limiting those enormous TTC ups and downs. It does help to focus on and make the most of your time together as a couple before there is a baby on the way, and of course, there are also things that you can do for yourself, as the person who will probably suffer the worst ups and downs, to help you get from one cycle to the next. It's indulgent, sure, but why not?
* For more advice go to: fertilityassociates.co.nz