Beginning of the Quest
I always feared I wouldn't be able to get pregnant. I had a deep-seated belief that I would not be able to conceive. It's hard to trace the origin of my anxiety but it started in my teenage years (long before I had any evidence of problems) and was constant -- the irony being, of course, that I spent every year from teenage hood through 34 actively trying to avoid getting pregnant. Even at a relatively young age I was a stickler for birth control. But still...a nagging worry gnawed at me. What if I can't get pregnant? What if I'm the one who can't have a child? Maybe it was because I was one of the seemingly few girls in my circle who didn't have to experience the agony of abortion. Maybe it was the messages I was getting from my divorced mother about the vital necessity of having a child. Maybe it was that on some level, we all have a sixth-sense about our bodies even before symptoms develop. In my early teens, my period was like clockwork: every 30 days. But by my 20's, my cycle became much less predictable, sometimes lasting 35 days, sometimes 40, sometimes longer. The lack of regularity would invariably freak me out (I alternated between worrying I was infertile and worrying I was actually carrying an unwanted pregnancy), so that I'd immediately go back on The Pill. It's hard to know if my constant reliance on the Pill was masking an underlying problem or the cause of one.
But at 35 years old, on my wedding day, I threw out my birth control pills for good. I entertained a fleeting fantasy that I'd be one of those blessed women who gets pregnant on her honeymoon, though in my heart I knew that wouldn't be my story. For the next year, I tried to track the seemingly Byzantine timing of a sperm hitting an egg at precisely the right moment in the unnervingly brief window of fertility. I took my temperature every morning, waiting for the two-tenths of a degree rise to reveal ovulation. But my temperature bounced around like a superball. So I tried charting my temperature on a complex graph, hoping to see the standard sharp spike indicating ovulation. I studied those beautiful hypothetical charts that looked like postcards from Mt. Everest with a steadily building incline up to a jagged peak, followed by a precipitous drop. (see graph below)
Mine looked more like a Geiger counter readout of seismic activity – lots of peaks and valleys, all over the map with no obvious thermal shift. (see graph below!)
So I bought an ovulation-detecting machine, faithfully peeing on it's tightly sealed stick every morning. The 14th Day would come and go without any ovulation symbol, as would the 18th day and the 21st. Sometimes the 28th Day would show ovulation, sometimes the 35th, sometimes I'd just reset the machine on the 42nd day when my period would come.
So at 35, I went out and bought the starter book for how to get pregnant -- Taking Charge of your Fertility and realized, I was going to have more trouble than the typical reader. The book recommends you stay on the lookout for the magical cervical mucus, similar to a raw egg white that carries the sperm to the egg like a lubricated luge shoot. I didn’t have any of that mucus. I had other, stickier, creamier stuff – the kind sperm gets stuck in. The book offers few solutions for this: take Robitussin (with guaifenesin) three times a day starting a few days before ovulation, take 5,000 – 8,000 IU of vitamin A daily, or take herbs (though they don’t specify which ones). Some books even suggested inserting actual egg whites (from your fridge into your bun oven!). I speak from experience when I tell you it’s absurdly messy and slightly hilarious. (if you have an effective transfer method, let us know!)
None of the solutions worked for me. Over the next two and a half years I realized just how multi-layered my fertility issues were and all-consuming this education would be.