By day 2 of trying for a baby I thought – oh right, I’m pregnant now. Two weeks later, having spent much of that time re-imagining the next 9 months as a pregnant woman, I was totally perplexed when a very unwelcome “Aunt Flow” arrived right on schedule. How could I not be pregnant? I’d removed all the usual obstacles that had successfully barricaded out those tiny unwanted visitors for years – this time they were actually invited and not one of them had the decency to fertilize my egg. So rude. It took several months of reproductive disobedience before I was forced to accept a somewhat unknown phenomenon – making a baby is hard.
15 years ago, I was being scare-mongered by teachers at school into believing that any fleeting encounter with a male would result in pregnancy and yet here I am, doing absolutely everything (and more) that these teachers warned me would make a baby and I got nothing… Every rumour that I’d heard during my younger years suggested that sperm were powerful enough to practically leap through the air and penetrate several layers of clothing to find an egg. Every magazine I read had stories about women who had been completely stunned by what they called a “surprise pregnancy”. Even doctors told me time and time again that abstinence was the only foolproof method of contraception – “no amount of pills or barriers will be 100% effective in stopping the sperm from meeting the egg blah blah blah”.
This was supposed to be easy – so terrifyingly easy that I’d spent a decent chunk of my adult life living in fear of accidentally becoming pregnant via some unfathomable contraceptive loophole. Infertility was not something I’d learnt about.
Now, for the first time, I’m learning what our bodies are up against – even in the best possible, most healthy and complication-free circumstances. So here are 4 fertility facts (obtained from the NHS website) that you only really find out if pregnancy still hasn’t happened despite throwing all caution to the wind and standing on your head every night:
1. The window of fertility for a woman is pretty small
Men – you are fertile allllll the time. Every day, every night, whatever the weather, whatever your mood, when you’re old, young, when Mercury is in retrograde……all the time.
Women – you on the other hand, are only fertile a maximum of 5 days each menstrual cycle (typically the 3 days prior to ovulation, the day of ovulation itself and possibly also the following day) and it takes A LOT of scrutinizing, peeing on ovulation sticks and temperature taking to pin-point that time frame… Just to add even more ambiguity, your fertile window can change each month – it can change if you’re tired or stressed or if your diet changes, it can change if you’re feeling unwell or you’ve travelled across a time-zone… and it can change just because your reproductive system is a diva who likes to keep you on your toes.
If you’re happy to have sex twice a day, every day, then you’ll probably be covered wherever the fertile window falls but for everyone else – it’s best to do some tracking so you know where to put in the most effort… so to speak.
2. The odds are stacked against us from the word go
You can track everything to within in an inch of your sanity, get all the baby-making done at exactly the right time and have text-book perfect fertility signs/test results and you will still only ever have a 25% chance AT BEST of conceiving each cycle. That’s it – 1 in 4 – those are the best odds we’ll ever have. Did you know that in a healthy sperm sample, most of the sperm can’t swim, aren’t strong enough to fertilize an egg or are already dead before they leave the male body? And did you know that the ones that do make the cut get killed off by the female body’s defense system before their journey has even begun? Seriously Mother Nature, it’s like you don’t even want us to reproduce.
3. Getting pregnant and having a baby are two very different things
For some, getting pregnant isn’t the issue but staying pregnant is. It’s estimated that as many as 1 in 8 pregnancies will end in miscarriage and whilst this makes it sound quite common, it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. So if you think about what the sperm has to go through to get to that elusive eggo – just think of that as “Level 1” in terms of a pregnancy. My heart aches for those who’ve reached Level 1 (or beyond) and not taken home a baby 9 months later.
4. And then there’s the unexplained…
Infertility doesn’t always end up being a diagnosis that has a root cause, rhyme or reason. Sometimes it is simply unexplained. Both the male and the female can be healthy and have everything functioning and performing exactly as it’s supposed to and yet they just can’t conceive a baby. This was a concept I was entirely unfamiliar with. I always assumed that anyone struggling with fertility was given a reason for it – it never occurred to me that you could be diagnosed with “unexplained infertility”. But you can.
So there you have it – what so many sex-ed teachers didn’t tell us… and I get why. I’m glad that I’ve spent all these years blissfully ignorant to how difficult trying for a baby might be because there’s a part of me that wonders whether if I’d known, I might have rushed into things at the wrong time or taken chances with the wrong person.
I take great comfort in knowing that I’m now in a place in my life where everything is ready – as ready as it’ll ever be – for a family; I take happiness in knowing that I’ve travelled to places that I never would’ve gone to if I’d already become a parent and I take enormous pride in knowing that I’m on this mission as one half of a pair bound so tightly that we can take on anything the future throws at us.