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. We agreed to take the referral and thought it would be a good 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 that 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, because we were not the typical couple she consults with.
After a couple of 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 that Mike and I were busy and, admittedly, couldn’t always “try” when I was ovulating so that we really hadn’t been trying for as long as it looked like on paper. At this point, it had only been 4 months... on paper. 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. Not computing.
In the end, I’m proud to say that we didn’t succumb to the pressure put on us by the doctor at the fertility clinic or by the many other stats and worries that float around in the fertility sphere that likely breed more impatience and worry than they do children, I suspect. I feel an unbelievable sense of accomplishment over our ability to say "No". I feel incredibly proud of myself for holding my ground against a doctor who was pushing in vitro fertilization, which in my opinion is a serious intervention. I feel empowered by the fact that my body, at 38 years old, could conceive and that my 39-year-old body has carried this baby to 14 weeks, and hopefully longer. 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.
Yes, this is all very easy for me to say because I am pregnant and got here without much difficulty. I never had a miscarriage or the disappointment that comes with it. I 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. And yes, it will continue to be easy for me to say all of this if I sail through this pregnancy and give birth to the child I have received. I will be fortunate.
But I didn’t do this haphazardly. I took charge of my own fertility with my own graphs. I had graphs that charted basal body temperature, average period lengths, and ovulation pee stick results. These replaced the graphs in shown to me about how long it had been since we had NOT gotten pregnant or how many women my age fail to conceive. Those latter graphs didn’t interest me and probably didn't apply to me either.
I didn’t learn about MY fertility at the “Fertility Clinic”, as one might expect. The fertility clinic taught me about fear, impatience, and medicalized fertility. Learning about my own fertility came from other sources, including my own research. I took the data they gave me home with me to my own “laboratory" and compared it with data I had been collecting. My graphs showed that I ovulate around day 11 and sometimes I don't ovulate at all some months. 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 sign I know I have felt for a long time and guessed it was me ovulating. I was glad to know I was right. I also learned that my cycles are not 28 days long, rather, they are about 24. I also learned that the second half of my cycle (the luteal phase) is the consistently textbook-like, showing a 14-day timespan but that the first half (the follicular phase) is consistently shorter, accounting for my less-than-28-day cycle. This knowledge came in handy when I was predicting my due date to be 3 day earlier than one based on "last menstrual period (of 28 days)". I had suggested this "MANDY's last menstrual period" due date to my midwife and MD but both didn't adjust their files until an ultrasound confirmed what I already knew.
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 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. Again, my graph is different.
Through stories — wonderfully, positive success stories — I 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. These women aren't on the graphs shown by me either. My favourite story was of a couple who went through 3 IVF attempts costing over $45K only to have failed to conceive each time. After devastating disappointment, the couple finally gave up altogether and were considering other options, only to get pregnant, by chance, naturally, 2 months later. This all made 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.
Perhaps it’s just too easy for me to ask for a tad more patience, a bit more awareness, and a lot more support for people to take charge of their own bodies. Many people are desperate to conceive and I feel for them deeply. I know what it's like to want something so badly and have control of getting it taking out of your hands. What an awful feeling that is. What I think is more awful is that there are many options out there to help people take charge of their fertility in a way that does NOT mistakenly magnify dysfunction, disempower people from learning about their own bodies, invoke unnecessary fear that complicates fertility, or simply misrepresent the nature of fertility and our incredible human potential to reproduce.
Some people need these alternatives to a natural pregnancy. I get that. But I can't help but wonder about those who don't need it and how many of them get scooped up prematurely into a system that perpetuates impatience and lack of awareness, like I almost did.
I was fortunate in many ways having been primed to consider my fertility with a different kind of lens offered by these wonderful resources:
My Naturopathic Doctor and Acupuncturist, Amelia Croll: http://www.northstarclinic.ca/about-us.html
My inspiration and friend, Birth Doula & Parenting Coach, Katina Garduno-Roberts: http://www.heartandwisdombirth.com/
My resource guru, Labour Doula, Heather Neville: http://labourdoula.com/
The Book: Taking Charge of Your Fertility: https://books.google.ca/books?id=ve2huw15GUsC&dq=taking+charge+of+your+fertility&hl=en&sa=X&ei=PauHVOQVkJfIBPzwgaAK&ved=0CBwQ6AEwAA
The website http://www.early-pregnancy-tests.com/tesstripvalp.html where I got my Ovulation Pee Sticks:
My best friend, soul sister, amazing woman in my life, and Naturopathic Doctor, Lindsey White: http://www.mahayahealth.com/naturopathic-doctors-toronto/lindsey-white