For someone trying to conceive, it can be a wondrous journey, or a heartbreaking trial. Trying to conceive is the journey that begins when someone decides they want to have a baby.
Preparing For Conception:
While a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have, they do not begin to mature and be released in to her fallopian tubes and uterus until she begins to menstruate. A woman’s cycle is made up of several aspects, and on average, is a 28 to 30 day cycle.
Week one brings cycle day 1 or CD 1, which is the day you begin your period. While everyone is different, most periods last between five and eight days. Remembering that your period is the first day of your cycle is important later for understanding the timing and duration of pregnancy.
During week two, your body begins producing several hormones including Gonadatropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FHS). These hormones flood your dominant ovary - or the ovary that will be releasing the ovum or egg - for the cycle and begin maturing the ovum to be released later in your cycle.
Estrogen levels also increase and begin the process of thickening your endometrium, or uterine lining, so that if fertilization does occur, the zygote, or fertilized egg, has a nice, cushy pillow in which to implant itself.
The increased estrogen also causes cervical mucus to be secreted, which changes the chemical balance of the vaginal area to make it less toxic to sperm, and to facilitate the sperm’s journey in to the fallopian tubes.
Finally, Lutenizing Hormones, or LH, are kicked off by the estrogen tidal wave, which is the key to ovulation.
Between the end of week two and the beginning of week three, is the sweet spot in which ovulation occurs.
Predicting ovulation can be a tricky business, and there are several methods to do so.
1) Over-the-counter ovulation kits, (a pee-stick type test), that test urine for the presence of LH. Once your body produces a surge of LH, the test will read positive, and you can be fairly certain that ovulation will occur in the next 24 to 48 hours. However, it’s worth noting that not all women produce much LH, and the LH may have difficulty binding to the urine strips, resulting in a weak positive, if at all.
2) Track your basal temperature. Your basal temperature is basically your resting temperature. Ovulation can raise a woman’s basal temperature one half to one degree. This method is a little less precise, as there are many reasons why her temperature may be up or down. Further, it is most accurate first thing in the morning, before moving much or getting out of bed, which some individuals forget to do.
3) 20% of women women are able to feel ovulation. This feeling, called mittelschmerz, is described as cramping similar to menstrual cramps but weaker in duration and intensity. Often it is centralized on one side. Cramping may last several hours.
4) Cervical mucus is usually a clear, sticky substance that may be present and noticed when using the bathroom.
Predicting ovulation takes a bit of finesse but is usually fairly consistent. Once you get the hang of the cycle, it will become easier in the future.
Regardless of which method you choose to track your cycle, it is worth noting that you are highly fertile for several days prior to actual ovulation. Sperm can live in the fallopian tubes for five to seven days, and increase the likelihood that you may become pregnant.
Once ovulation occurs, it takes approximately 48 to 72 hours for the egg to travel through the fallopian tubes and uterus. If fertilization does not occur, the egg is dismissed from the body during the menstrual flow.
Similarly, if an egg is fertilized but fails to implant, it will exit the body during menstruation. However, if the fertilized egg does implant, it will snuggle in to the uterine lining and begin growing, thus beginning a pregnancy.
Methods for Trying To Conceive:
When attempting to become pregnant, there are several options you can employ.
1) The traditional manner of becoming pregnant involves sexual intercourse. Semen is inserted in to the vagina, as close to the cervix as possible, with the intent that the sperm is able to fertilize a released egg.
2) If traditional intercourse is unsuccessful, a doctor can assist with artificial insemination, or IUI. An IUI is the process of doctor-assisted placement of the sperm sample inside the vagina, again, as close to the cervix as possible. The doctor can help assess and track your cycle and fertility, maximizing your chances of fertilization.
Medication may be utilized to increase egg or sperm production, in preparation for the attempt. The doctor places the sample in to a soft-tipped syringe and inserts it in to the vagina. The syringe allows the doctor to place the sample very high up, reducing the likelihood of sperm death and increasing the odds that the sperm and egg will unite.
3) In Vitro Fertilization is the most involved method of attempting pregnancy. IVF is the process of taking an egg and a sperm from your biological donors, and inducing the fertilization process. The fertilized embryos are then implanted in to the carrying mother. This can be a very expensive process, costing hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per attempt.
Additionally, there is no guarantee that this process will be successful. When implantation occurs and IV fertilization is successful, often you can expect multiple babies such as twins or triplets, or you must make the decision to selectively reduce the number of viable embryos to carry. These are extremely difficult decisions to make and should be discussed with your doctor and considered carefully.
4) A surrogate mother is when a fertilized embryo is placed into a woman’s uterus, who will carry the fetus to term for the biological or adoptive parents. The surrogate woman is not the child’s parent and often plays little to no role in the child’s life. She is simply contracted out to carry the fetus to term. While the surrogate can be a friend or a contracted unknown, it is important to consult a lawyer and observe the legal niceties. This option is often utilized by men, same-sex male couples, and women with implantation, uterine, or fertility issues.
Tips For Conception:
Have sex every other day to optimize high sperm counts.
Pinpoint your ovulation day by using urine strips or basal temperature methods.
Use sperm-friendly lubricants such as natural lubricants like canola oil or specifically designed "sperm-friendly" lubricants.
While there is not necessarily strong research to suggest that any particular position is good for conception, missionary position does an adequate job placing the sperm as close to the cervix as possible.
Again, research does not strongly indicate that keeping your hips tipped back helps sperm swim, and the fluid that runs out afterwards is usually seminal fluid. However, keeping your hips elevated may help keep the fluids toward the cervix.
Keep sex fun! Mood, stress, and health all can impact a woman's ability to conceive.
However you attempt pregnancy, it can be a long, difficult, and heartbreaking process when things do not go according to plan.
On the other hand it can be a joyful experience to find out that you are pregnant.
Additional Resources:Infertility Resource Center - extensive information about IVF, ICSI, infertility clinics, donor egg and surrogacy services (e.g., surrogate mothers), tubal reversal doctors, vasectomy reversal doctors, natural infertility treatment, male infertility services, sperm banks, pharmacies, infertility books and videotapes, sperm testing, infertility support, and drugs and medications, such as Metrodin, Pergonal, Clomid.
International Council on Infertility Dissemination - a nonprofit organization helping patients explore their family-building options. Tons of information about all types of family-building options.Assisted Reproduction - comprehensive book list for infertility.
Information Center - UK resources on sex, sexuality, and pregnancy.