Taking the next step


Somewhere between six months and one year after we started trying we decided to book an appointment to talk to our GP. It’s true that for some couples it can take up to two years to conceive naturally normally but if you are over 35 they recommend checking in with your doctor after six months. If you are under that age I think it’s a year.

Booking the appointment didn’t feel like too big a deal. Actually, I think it strangely made me feel better because we were being proactive. At last we were doing something. It was harder to sit in front of a stranger and voice our personal problems out loud to someone else for the first time but we did and I remember the doctor was pretty nice. We answered all the usual questions, how long we had been trying, how often we were trying, our lifestyle, how often I got my period, did we drink or smoke, family history. At this point, I think I half expected him to reassure us that it can take a while to conceive and it was a bit early to sound the alarm. But the outcome of the meeting was that he thought it was worth us taking the next step. Suddenly things were becoming real.

He recommended that T had a semen analysis and I had a blood test and a urine test. These tests are always carried first as they are the easiest and less invasive. We would then book a further appointment with him to look at the results before he referred us to the Ocean Suite, The South West Centre for Reproductive Medicine, at our local hospital. Before the sperm test, you have to avoid sex for a couple of days, as well as booze and caffeine, to ensure you get the best sample. They check quantity and quality, so number of sperm (sperm count), shape (morphology – do they have two tails?) and movement (motility – are they speedy?). As for me, I had to wee into a beaker and give blood. The blood test is looking for a hormonal imbalance linked to ovulation and the urine test picks up if you have chlamydia.

We both did what we had to do. Fun times all round.

It took about a week to get the results. Introducing…our first waiting experience. In this TTC lark, waiting is the name of the game. Waiting, waiting, waiting. You quickly become experts at waiting although that doesn’t mean that it gets any easier. We’ve waited for so many different sets of results that the individual experiences have all blended into each other. But the same feelings underpin everything. Outwardly, you have to get on with things and act natural but you are churning away beneath the surface. You are in a holding pattern, containing your fears and uncertainty, preparing yourself for the worst whilst trying to think positively. It’s like you are playing along at life, pretending to be fine and normal, taking on the role of yourself, me in work, me with my friends, whilst underneath it all is a big hole filled with doubt and hope.

Our first set of results all came back ‘normal’. Instant relief followed by frustration and confusion and a lot of emotion. We weren’t sure how to feel. Was this good news or bad news really? Something wasn’t working so what was wrong with us? Why weren’t we able to get pregnant? Did this mean there was a more serious unknown issue yet to be diagnosed? Hundreds of questions that our GP was not in a position to answer as it seemed there was nothing obvious the matter with us. Time to see the specialists who might be able to get more out of the results and would advise us further.

And so, we were referred to the Ocean Suite. We were in the system.

The irony of birth control


We did everything we could think of to maximise our chances. We made all the practical lifestyle changes we could. Cut down our wine consumption enormously, cut out our gin consumption entirely. Avoided nights out. I took my temperature every morning for months and months trying to pin down exactly when I ovulated – that’s a whole world of fun I can tell you! We’ve always had a healthy diet but I took folic acid every day and T was also taking a handful of pills to boost his swimmers, Vitamin C, B12, Zinc, Selenium, Vitamin E. We cut down on coffee and black tea. Avoided fish like tuna and swordfish which contain high mercury levels. I read somewhere that T should stop using a laptop on his lap. Skip jacuzzis and hot baths. Stop keeping a mobile phone in his jeans pocket in case of radiation. We even stopped cycling (not that we were massive bike riders anyway) because riding a bike can scrunch up a man’s…you get the picture. The list goes on and on. In short, we read all the books and did anything and everything we bloody well could. Basically, it boils down to this, most of the pleasures in life are not fertility friendly. But it would worth it. We tried to be patient and think positively: it will happen eventually, no doubt when we least expect it…

Except that it didn’t.

By nature, both T and I are doers and used to making things happen with a bit of hard work and determination. In this way, we’ve found that you can pretty much succeed at whatever you put your minds to. But we couldn’t make a baby. However hard we tried. Despite doing all the right things.

After a while, all the lifestyle changes start to mock you. I’d spent my entire adult life avoiding getting pregnant. Condoms, the pill, the morning after. All the information out there seems geared towards how to avoid unwanted pregnancy, obviously a massively important issue. We’ve been educated to understand that all it takes is one slip up. Just one accident. It’s been drummed into us. But with this mindset, the reality of being unable to conceive when you want to comes as a bit of a shock. No one ever tells you how hard it might be to get pregnant in the first place. Nothing I had ever really engaged with properly before we started experiencing difficulties had ever said in a serious way that you might want to get on with it before you hit the big 3-0.

We thought that we were doing the right things. We were sensible and waited until we were financially stable, lived our lives, careers going well. But should we have started trying earlier? Of course, we will never know either way but I started to ask myself why I had I bothered messing about with my system continuously for 15 years.

Fertility starts to decline for women from about the age of 30, dropping down more steeply from the age of 35. We are not unusual in our circle of friends. More and more people are leaving it later and later before starting a family. Should there be a little more out there to raise awareness about not leaving it too late?  A bit more information to balance the focus on not getting pregnant? All I know is, that if we knew then what we know now, we would have been slightly less ‘sensible’ and started trying earlier.