Paging Rosie: Fertility 101
I can’t tell you the number of times though that I have heard “I’ve been trying my whole life not to get pregnant and now that I want to, I can’t”. Indeed, we are taught throughout much of our teenage years that having unprotected sex will surely get you pregnant. I think most of us, before we embarked upon the journey of trying to conceive, were working on the assumption that any time you have sex, there is a high possibility of getting pregnant. I think it is this misconception which results in so many people I know being so disappointed and bewildered when they stop using birth control and don’t get pregnant right away. It still shocks me how little knowledge most women (and certainly men) have about how to best get pregnant. Perhaps it is some high school sex ed cover-up so that everyone isn’t going at it like rabbits! Fear after all, is a great deterrent! Well, I thought it would be worth having a little refresher in Fertility 101 so that you can decide whether the time it is taking you to get pregnant falls within the normal realm of difficulty (or ease, if you’re lucky), or whether it’s time to consult a specialist and get a little more help.
First of all, it is important to have sex regularly. I know, I know that sounds so obvious. But if you’re honest with yourself, a lot of couples are not having sex as regularly as they could be. If you don’t know when you are ovulating, you are going to increase your chances of getting pregnant by having sex every other day or at most once a day (any more than that is actually counter-productive! For more info on that, visit this blog by Dr. Grunebaum).
Know When You Ovulate
Knowing your ovulation cycle is going to be very helpful. Sperm can survive around 3 days (5 at absolute most) and you can get pregnant if you have sex 3 to 5 days before you ovulate. You can also get pregnant on the day you ovulate – but not afterwards, due to the life span of the unfertilized egg and the length of time that fertilization actually takes. So, really, there is a window of approx 5 days each month when you can actually get pregnant and it is mighty helpful to know when this is.
This can be determined in a number of ways. Some women know the signs of ovulation and can feel it happening, but for most of us the easiest method of all is to purchase some ovulation predictor sticks, which are sold in drug stores and supermarkets in the same aisle as the pregnancy tests. These ovulation predictors alert you that you are about to ovulate in the next 24-48 hours. By having sex during this period, you will also increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Don’t Obsess! (Easier Said Than Done, I Know)
One thing to keep in mind: while ovulation predictor kits are incredibly helpful when you are unclear about when you ovulate and can take the guess work out of determining your ovulation cycle, they are easy to obsess over. It is so much easier said than done, but try not to let them rule your life. If you find out you’re ovulating and your partner is away on a business trip, try to take comfort in the fact that you are ovulating, and that it will happen again next month; this month is simply not meant to be. Or, even better, distract yourself with a large glass of wine!
If you use these ovulation predictors and find out that you are not ovulating, this is important information. It is not possible to get pregnant if you are not ovulation, so you will need to seek the advice of a specialist to find out why you are not ovulating.
Testing, 1-2-3: When to See Someone
Many people think fertility issues occur only in women. In fact, many infertility issues in couples are also because of things going on in the man. If you are having trouble getting pregnant it is imperative that both the man and the woman go for testing.
On average, it takes a healthy normal couple under the age of 35 around 6 months to conceive. If you have been trying for up to 12 months, most OB-GYNs will recommend that you see a specialist. If you are over 35 and been trying for 6 months unsuccessfully, then a specialist is usually recommended at this point rather than waiting the full 12 months.
By “specialist,” I mean a Reproductive Endocrynologist. Although they are often dubbed “IVF doctors,” it is important to understand that these professionals do many things other than in vitro fertilization. There are a number of less invasive procedures and medications that can be used to help fertility before you get to IVF. Far too many women are afraid to seek the advice of these fertility specialists as they think they only offer one type of solution.
On Pins & Needles
Many doctors also now recommend acupuncture to assist with fertility issues and regulate ovulation, among other things. Be sure to ask your doctor about this and other non-traditional medical approaches if you are seeking to get pregnant.
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The most important thing to remember is that, when it comes to fertility, you have the facts to be able to make the right decisions for your body and for you and your partner – and when you need more information, you know who to get it from. The process of getting pregnant can make even the best of us feel as if we have no control, so the little bits that you can have a say over, and the knowledge you have, will help you feel more empowered.
Good luck on your journeys, and sending baby dust to you all!