In November of 2012 I told my family doctor that we were starting to try to get pregnant. She immediately referred me to a local fertility clinic because of my age. I had just turned 37. My family doctor did not believe in waiting the typical 1-year trial period for someone my age. Time was of the essence. My partner and I agreed to take the referral as an opportunity to see if everything was working ok. I had my doubts because, well… I had been sexually active since I was 14 years old and had never gotten pregnant, EVER! I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just really smart or infertile this whole time.
We went to our first appointment in January and told the fertility doctor that we were not interested in artificial fertility treatments but were interested in learning more about my cycle and our ability to conceive. Although the doctor respected our wishes, she did not hesitate to explain to us that for each month that went by we were becoming less and less likely to conceive. She showed us a graph of our declining likelihood over time and what would happen if we didn’t act quickly. I tried to explain that we were prepared to accept any fate, which might include not getting pregnant. I could tell she didn’t understand where we were coming from. In her defence, she was used to working with people who were desperately trying to get pregnant. We were not that couple.
After 2 months of blood work, ultrasounds, hormone testing, and sperm analysis, it became clear that nothing seemed to be standing in our way of getting pregnant. I tried to explain to our doctor that maybe we just weren’t having sex enough when I was ovulating and that if we looked at only the months we had sex around ovulation, it really hadn’t been that long. A few months on paper was hardly anything. Nonetheless, I could tell this just didn’t register with her because, according to the graph she continued to show us, our chances were becoming slimmer and slimmer with each month that went by. I even tried to point out where we were on the graph in actuality when “busy schedules” were factored out. She was not computing. She was in sales mode.
I’m proud that we didn’t succumb to the pressure put on us by this fertility doctor with her statistics that did not work for us as individuals. We didn’t succumb to the impatience our culture has developed, even with biology. I feel an unbelievable sense of accomplishment and standing strong with our desires that did NOT include in vitro fertilization, which in my opinion is a serious intervention not to be taken lightly.
Eventually (18 months on paper) we did get pregnant, without fertility drugs or in vitro. As a result, I feel empowered by the fact that my body, at 38 years old, could conceive and that my 39-year-old body carried a baby to term and that we now have a beautiful baby. I feel incredibly strong for being patient and waiting for the universe to decide if and when we were to become pregnant rather than allowing some doctor with some technology to play God. For us, and me in particular, that was really important.
I recognize that this is all very easy for me to say because we got pregnant without much difficulty or agony. We never had a miscarriage or the disappointment that comes with it. We have not suffered the same amount of angst others have felt fearing that they would never give birth to a baby they so desperately wanted.
But I didn’t do this haphazardly. Pregnancy didn’t just happen and the more I talk to people, the more I realize it’s harder than we think. But it doesn’t always require serious medical interventions. There is an alternative for some people - knowledge of how it all works.
I took charge of my own fertility with my own graphs, graphs that charted basal body temperature, average period lengths, and ovulation as indicated with urine tests. Instead of how long it had been since we had not gotten pregnant or how many women my age fail to conceive, my graphs were individualized and gave me knowledge about how my body worked and how I could work with it. I didn’t learn about MY fertility at the “Fertility Clinic”, like I naively had hoped for. I learned about my fertility myself. I took my data home with me to my own laboratory and compared it with data I had been collecting.
What I learned:
My graphs showed that I ovulate around day 11 and sometimes I don't ovulate at all. When I do ovulate, I often feel a sharp pain for several hours on one side of my body, a welcomed sign that helped us know exactly when to try! I had actually suspected this pain was associated with ovulation for years, having first noticed it when I began menstruating back when I was 12, having not experienced it during my 10 years on birth control, and having it return after stopping the pill.
I also learned that my cycles are not 28 days long, rather, they are 24-26. The second half (luteal phase) of my period is the consistently textbook-like, showing a 14-day timespan. What’s different is that my first half (the follicular phase) is shorter, accounting for my less-than-28-day cycle. This knowledge came in handy when I was predicting my due date. The one predicted by the LMP (last menstrual period) was off but neither my family doctor or midwife would accept my adjusted due date. “Look” I said. "I KNOW exactly when we conceived. I know my body well and I have graphs if you want to see them.” They had to wait till an ultrasound confirmed what I already knew because my body’s graphs didn't interest them.
When I read the scientific research, I also learned that there are many other popular graphs that I actually don’t fit into either because I am healthy, in shape, not obese, don’t smoke, haven’t previously miscarried or had an abortion, haven't been drinking during my pregnancy, and don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions that posed risk factors for getting pregnant, thereby making me quite likely to both get and stay pregnant.
Through wonderful positive success stories, I also learned that many women aged 39, 40, 42, 45 and even older are getting pregnant without much difficulty. I heard stories of women who had tried to conceive for many, many years with great difficulty and then all of a sudden got pregnant and gave birth, sometimes more than once, with no medical intervention, as if their body just decided. A particularly powerful story was of a couple who went through 3 IVF attempts costing over $45K only to have failed to conceive each time, with significant disappointment, as one can image. The couple finally gave up altogether only to get pregnant, by chance, 2 months later. This all makes me wonder what would happen if we exerted a tad more patience and acceptance of uncertainty into a life we try so desperately to control. Like I said, we are very impatient people these days.
Is it too much for me to ask for more patience, more awareness, and a lot more support for people to take charge of their own bodies. What if the lens many people are looking through mistakenly magnifies dysfunction and consequently disempowers people from learning about their own bodies. I wonder if this disempowerment starts really early when we get our sex education. We are told frequently how to NOT get pregnant, particularly as young girls. But I don’t remember ever been actually told how to get pregnant. I didn’t know how short the window was around ovulation. I didn’t know that by 24hrs after ovulation, the chances of getting pregnant were basically NIL. I didn’t know all of this as an average human. I learned all of this as a scientist and that just seems wrong. All reproductive humans interested in reproduction should be educated about this before relying on serious medical interventions. That’s what I thought a “fertility clinic” would offer me.
I didn’t get pregnant alone. I had support, emotional and physical from Doulas, Doctors, books, and other tools:
My Naturopathic Doctor, Amelia Croll, (Now in Ottawa): https://drcroll.com/