The Secret World of Trying to Conceive

Secondary school sex education would have you believe that you only have to be half naked with a boy to end up getting pregnant. And (possibly as a consequence) most of the women I know spent the better half of their early adulthood doing everything in their power not to get pregnant. I was certainly one of those women that doubled up on contraception “just to be sure”. (But then, back then I really didn’t want a baby.

I’m sure, however, that I also, remember being taught about the female reproductive cycle in secondary school biology (although maybe it was only at A-Level, or even undergraduate physiology) so I was aware that there is only a very short time frame in which there is a risk (or chance – depending on your viewpoint) of becoming pregnant. But when you’re avoiding pregnancy like the plague, the facts don’t slot together. The mantra “it only takes one time” sticks, and there is no reason to be thinking about which week is the week where pregnancy may occur.

Once you actually want a bun in the oven, of course, everything is different. For most of us at least, the idea of falling pregnant being a case of having a single quick fumble suddenly seems enormously laughable. Months of unprotected sex with not even the merest sniff of a morning after pill still yield nothing, and that fertile week is suddenly all you think about.

The thing is, trying to conceive is ultimately such a personal thing. Sure, there are plenty of forums out there full of women all pursuing the same goal, but they are without exception pretty anonymous. Hardly anyone uses their real name, and being behind a screen makes it easier to be open and honest. But virtually nobody, it seems, talks about this stuff openly in person with people they know.

Surprising as it may seem, given my candour here, I’m no exception. I get asked at least 5 times a week (the joys of working with the public) whether we’ll be having another. And despite the months of trying already behind us, almost without exception I mutter something non-committal like “maybe one day” or “yes, but I’m not ready yet, one is enough hard work”.

The efforts and struggles of trying to conceive are all too frequently hidden away.

Perhaps it is because the act of making a baby is ultimately very personal. It’s about you and your partner, and something you want to do together. Admitting that you are trying can also feel like holding your hands up and saying “yes people, we’re having lots and lots of sex”. We’re adults, and it’s normal and healthy in a relationship to have plenty of sex, but there is nothing that draws attention to it quite so much as talking about trying to conceive (if you discount having actual public sex, but fortunately not many people are in to that, and if you are I’m betting people knowing about it is the least of your concerns!) It is also in no small part because many people don’t want the “pressure” of people waiting and anticipating, or even outright asking if you are up the duff yet, never mind the unsolicited advice to “just relax” (as if it were that simple!).

Behind closed doors however, there are literally hundreds of couples riding this roller coaster without feeling able to talk about it. Living their lives in two week blocks. Two weeks where you know for sure that you are not pregnant, and that start with sadness and end with impatience waiting for the egg to drop. Then the “two week wait” where the “am-I-aren’t-I?” dilemma reigns, counting down the days until you will find out.

There are women out there carrying out personal science experiments in their bathrooms. Peeing on sticks and in plastic cups to find out when their hormones are surging as an indicator that ovulation is imminent. Women whose first waking action is to measure their temperature to see whether ovulation has indeed occurred. These are definitely things most people don’t chat about over their coffee.

And it’s a world which has its own code too – 2WW, OPK, BBT, HPT, BFP. It really is a secret world that no one could have imagined when they were sitting in their school science laboratory hearing all about the facts of life and how not to get pregnant.

And you know something? I don’t think it helps. I think the school student in us probably did have a better chance of making a baby without all the silent obsessing. All the waiting and hoping. All the disappointment. And even all the tools available that are supposed to help. What really is the point of knowing exactly when you ovulated if you are having regular sex throughout your cycle. Do you really need to know the actual day if sperm would have been ready to meet egg anyway?

I think what would help is making trying to conceive as normal a part of day-to-day life as saving up to buy a house or working towards a career promotion, and I wish it was easier to be honest about the journey. Internet forums are one thing, but they are not really a substitute for a face to face discussion about feelings, that doesn’t require a dictionary to translate. Hiding it away isn’t helping.

So in that spirit, I’ve decided to start talking about trying to conceive in real life, away from the web. I don’t want to be told to “be patient” or “just relax”, or to be judged because so many people have been trying so much longer and I should be grateful that I already have a child (of course I am, to suggest otherwise is just plain rude). But I’m fed up of being part of a secret world that does nothing but fuel anxiety.

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