Fertility Awareness

I had trouble falling pregnant quickly. Here is what I would do differently if I had that time over again.

This morning I woke up in sunny Australia as the proud mother of an exuberant, funny, almost-one-year-old little boy. To look at him in his high chair eating toast and watching Play School you’d have no idea it took two years to conceive him. He’s perfect – I just wish he’d come into our lives sooner and with less emotional trauma. I had trouble falling pregnant quickly and have no specific medical reason why. What I do know is there are many things I would do differently if it happened again.

I was 31 and relatively healthy, as was my husband (a serving member of the Royal Air Force). Many of my friends had conceived within a few months of trying, so why would I be any different? Six months flew by and it was easy enough to stay positive and keep trying. We did the usual internet research to better educate ourselves about conception and find out what we could do to increase our chances: vitamins, loose underpants for my husband, supermarket ovulation tests, not moving after sex. Nothing. Each period and failed pregnancy test brought me to tears, and my husband and I spent hours blaming ourselves and apologising to each other for our ‘failure’.

After 18 months we visited our GP who conducted initial tests before referring us to a fertility consultant at the local hospital. I endured invasive tests including a hysterosalpingogram – but nothing could be found. We had ‘unexplained infertility’ and our next step was IVF. No other treatments offered by the public health care system were appropriate and we were not told of any other options.

I was absolutely petrified. My health suffered, as did my work, so I quit my job and started a freelance business. Thankfully, just prior to submitting an application for IVF funding via the military to support costs of $3,500 per cycle, we fell pregnant naturally.

Yes, it eventually happened. Yes, stress played a part. But what if I’d taken a few extra steps earlier on? We’d like another baby, but this time I’d do these things differently to fall pregnant more quickly:

  • Remember how difficult conception is. When you delve into exactly how it happens you realise that there is so much happening that works against that little egg and sperm. It really is a miracle that it happens at all, and miracles take time. Around only 15-20% of healthy couples will be successful in conceiving each month, with 85% having conceived naturally in 12 months.
  • Recognise what stress does to my body. Stress and fatigue are a known enemy of conception, but I didn’t understand quite how much as explained in this post. I knew that there were certain things you could do to improve your preconception health, but even the best treatment options can’t be effective if you’re exhausted and anxious. It took extreme measures after 18 months of trying – namely, quitting my job and putting exercise and yoga first – to really make a difference to my energy and mental health, and consequently my reproductive health.
  • Learn how to monitor my cycles properly. I did use supermarket ‘stick’ ovulation predictor kits but didn’t feel they were particularly accurate. I now recognise that this was only one part of getting a picture of my cycle. It takes a combination of tools like basal body temperature testing, an online ovulation calculator, ovulation predictor kits and charting it on a calendar to get a comprehensive view of what’s happening on the inside.
  • Research conception assistance more widely. The internet is great, but I wish I’d also spoken to fertility experts outside the main health system, accessed support groups and asked questions of other mums who’d used methods like IUI, cervical cap insemination, acupuncture or massage. So many people had the same story as us – we just didn’t know this until after we’d conceived. This fertility planning e-book is a good place to start.
  • Ask more questions of my GP and fertility consultant. Firstly, ask about all of the tests you can have as soon as you think something is wrong – it’s easier to research options when you know where you stand. (There’s some great advice for what questions to ask in this post.) Secondly, doctors often won’t tell you about home-based treatments and alternative therapies unless you specifically ask. They will also play down their effectiveness, but unless you try, you’ll never know. I didn’t and in hindsight, that was a mistake.
  • Explore home-based fertility treatments much sooner. I didn’t know about home CCI kits but if I’d found The Stork® I can say with complete certainty I would have tried it. I was terrified of assisted reproductive therapies like IVF – the pain, the sterile clinic, the unknown doctors, and paying thousands of doctors for quite low success rates. To be able to conceive in an intimate and comfortable way at home with your partner is much more appealing, far less frightening, not to mention a viable interim step.
  • Stop comparing my ability to conceive to others. Our bodies are unique and extremely complex which means they don’t necessarily all work on the same timeline. Comparing your body to someone else’s only adds to the anxiety and hopelessness. Celebrate how amazing it is instead.

 

There is nothing more frustrating than putting your heart and soul into starting a family and failing to get results not just for months, but for years. But there is hope. Reach out for help and try the steps above – they have great potential to speed up the process and help you fall pregnant more quickly (without the painful hindsight).

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