Ovulation, pregnancy testing, assisted conception
For most of those trying to conceive, they assume that falling pregnant will happen easily and in the blink of an eye. Teen girls are educated quickly and thoroughly about the various forms of contraception and they know every method under the sun for not getting pregnant. But what happens when the tables are turned and you’re trying actively to conceive? This is one expectant mother’s account of her early fertility journey.
Negative, negative, negative. I thought we’d never get there.
If someone had asked me how I thought I would feel when my partner and I were trying to conceive our first child, I would have given them a list of words:
- Slightly scared
And I could probably have given a list of words as to how I would not feel:
- Low mood
Little did I know.
I’d read the books, seen the information online and listened to the podcasts. We were ready. I knew we were. After ten years of making sure that I did not fall pregnant, it was time to forget about contraception and concentrate on making sure that I did get pregnant. In the first couple of months everything was how I imagined; we were excited, giggly and very happy. I’d invested in ovulation testing strips so I would know for sure when my fertile days were, and as long as I was doing that, I thought I may as well get some pregnancy testing kits too. I’d need them before long.
Regular as clockwork
I was wrong. Very wrong. Despite there being no contraception, my period arrived bang on time each month. I knew that I was ovulating, but the pregnancy tests remained unopened in the bathroom cupboard. I couldn’t understand it, I’d been doing everything recommended for women trying to conceive. I was eating a good and varied diet, I was drinking plenty of water and no alcohol, I was taking prenatal vitamins and getting enough sleep.
After three months, I visited my GP and explained the situation. He smiled and told me, “Don’t worry. You’re young, you’ve only just come off the pill, it can take between 6-12 months for your periods to become regular.”
“But they are regular! I’m just not getting pregnant.”
I asked for fertility tests but he refused, apparently we needed to have been trying to conceive for a year before there would be any investigation.
“We would refer earlier if you were over 36 or there was another reason why you may be having problems, previous chemotherapy or something like that. But in your case, you’re both healthy and twenty-five is no age to be worrying that you’ll never get pregnant.”
It felt like forever, but actually, the months passed quite quickly. I began pregnancy testing every month, just in case, but it was a futile operation and I stopped, not least because it was costing me a fortune and each negative test became a sizeable chunk taken out of my resolve. We both felt sad and worried, but it was good to know that help was only just around the corner.
Are we infertile or not?
When we finally got them, our fertility tests revealed nothing. Mark’s sperm count was fine; one sample had provided 50 million sperm in total and the their motility, volume and morphology was good. I had a healthy reserve of eggs, I was ovulating and my fallopian tubes were functioning just fine. There was no reason why we couldn’t conceive, it was so frustrating.
After a few more months of trying, and becoming increasingly jaded by the whole process, we decided that assisted reproduction could be the way forward for us. I was experiencing all the words from my negative list of feelings and none from the positive one. I had blithely assumed that a healthy pregnancy would fall into our laps on the very day that we wanted it. I was naïve. Very naïve.
So we started thinking about Plan B.
The long journey takes its toll
IVF seemed like a big, scary world – until we started researching. We were familiar with the straightforward IVF process: harvesting of eggs and sperm, mixing them together outside the body, allowing them to fertilise and then replacing one or more blastocysts (the first, pre-embryonic stage of development) into my womb. But what we didn’t know was that there were less invasive things that could be tried before full blown IVF was considered.
This came as a relief to us because the whole process was becoming a bit clinical and sterile. Sex was no longer fun and bringing us close together; it was formulaic – done at the right time on the right days because that’s when we needed to, not because we wanted to. Any spontaneity had virtually disappeared by this stage of our infertility journey and, inevitably, it was taking its toll on our relationship.
Rather than go straight for IVF (which, I admit, was tempting) we decided to start with the least invasive process first; IUI (intrauterine insemination).
This would involve a sperm sample from Mark which would then be placed directly into my uterus, the idea being that my egg was more likely to be fertilised if the sperm didn’t have to make its own way there.
My menstrual cycle was tracked, I had blood tests to check my hormone levels were OK, and scans to determine the condition of my uterus, i.e. whether everything was normal in there and my endometrium (uterine lining) was thick enough to support a potential pregnancy. All seemed fine.
On one hand, IUI felt like a bit of a cold process compared to my romanticised expectation of conception, but on the other hand it was reassuring. We knew that our bodies were functioning as they should, the doctors had told us that there was technically nothing to stop me becoming pregnant and I had seen the inside of my womb with my own eyes.
It was very comforting to see where our baby would be developing. We tried to stay positive and relaxed throughout the next stage, which was the two week wait to see if I was pregnant. I’d been told to carry on as normal and while it was difficult not to think that I should spend fourteen days lying flat on my back with my legs in the air, the doctor assured me that it would make no difference – we already knew that the sperm had been safely deposited where it needed to be.
Positive, positive, positive
In our case, we were the lucky ones. I became pregnant on that first cycle. After two weeks I had begun to feel slightly queasy and the pregnancy test showed two, thick lines. I was definitely pregnant!
We hadn’t quite had the journey to conception that we’d anticipated, but suddenly, we didn’t care about the route. The fact that I was pregnant was enough and we also had the reassurance of knowing that if we had further problems in the future, the medical science was there to help.