Flipping the Ovary Switch
Trying to get pregnant after 20 years of trying to not get pregnant is a total mind fuck.
It must be what retirement feels like. You spend your entire adult life working and saving money and then suddenly, it’s a reversal. You can relax and spend more than you make.
Even though you knew it was coming, it’s weird and sometimes difficult to wrap your head around it.
If you’re thinking about trying to get pregnant, don’t expect all magic and beauty and wonder. Be prepared to experience fear, ups and downs, and constant worry. Knowing what to expect can hopefully ease some of the stress and anxiety (and until you actually get pregnant, so can alcohol).
I have to admit something embarrassing. I thought that if you have unprotected sex, at any time, you could get pregnant.
This is not true.
A woman can only get pregnant when she's ovulating. That’s a 3-day window each month.
How did I not know this?
Clearly, my sex educators (school/Mom) did a very good job of scaring me into thinking that it is very easy and likely that if you have sex, you will get pregnant. I never questioned it.
Paul Graham explains that we were all told lies to get us (and our parents) through our childhood in his essay, Lies We Tell Kids:
“We all arrive at adulthood with heads full of lies. There's never a point where the adults sit you down and explain all the lies they told you. They've forgotten most of them. So if you're going to clear these lies out of your head, you're going to have to do it yourself.”
That’s not to say I shouldn’t have figured this out sooner. When my husband, Sam, first asked me about my ovulation cycle, I looked at him like he had three heads. What does ovulation have to do with anything?
Flipping the Switch
I’ve always known that I wanted to be a mom and have babies, but for the longest time I wasn’t ready. I could barely afford to take care of myself. I wanted to focus on my career and creative endeavors. And I didn’t have a partner that I could imagine starting a family with.
After we got married, Sam and I talked about when we would want to start trying but it always seemed like a “down the road” kind of thing. A hypothetical conversation.
And then, one day, it switched. All of a sudden I was like, ‘LET'S DO THIS.’ My fears and trepidation disappeared. I had financial stability, an amazing partner, and a new sense that being a parent would not inhibit my creative endeavors. I was finally ready.
Being 35 years old may have contributed to my sense of urgency. Because as soon as we decided to have one baby, we had to discuss how many kids total. When we landed on three, I felt the clock ticking. Read all the articles, bought all the books, how do we get pregnant?
Surely, it's the easiest thing ever. Stop using birth control, have sex, boom. Get pregnant.
As soon as we made the decision to start trying, I told myself that I would be totally fine if I didn’t get pregnant right away. My tendency is to always plan for the worst case scenario, anyway.
In her memoir, Okay Fine Whatever, Courtney Hameister describes me perfectly:
"I’m what psychologist Nancy Cantor referred to as a defensive pessimist: a person who doesn’t necessarily expect the worst to happen, but who prepares for it, just in case. 'Sure we probably won’t get into a debilitating or disfiguring accident on the way to the 7-Eleven, but just in case we do, I’m gonna press ‘9’ and ‘1’ on my phone so that once we crash, all I’ll need to do is dial one number.'"
And yet, each time, it felt like devastation; like I had failed. Worse than that, fear was starting to creep in. What if we're not able to get pregnant?
I thought that once I decided I was ready, I would just be open to it. Let it happen if it happens.
But for me, getting pregnant was not something beautiful that occurs when two people are in love and want to start a family. Getting pregnant was a goal; a challenge that I accepted. I was determined to win.
The doctor told us that it takes on average six months to a year to get pregnant the first time. Six months is not that long in the grand scheme of things, but when you're trying to get pregnant, those months have a way of dragging out and feeling like forever.
I tried to remain positive, but when Sam and I had sex after trying for three months and there was blood, I had a full-blown meltdown. Poor Sam had no idea what was wrong because I kept assuring him that it was totally fine if I wasn’t pregnant. But I wasn’t fine. As much as I wanted to convince myself otherwise, I was starting to feel like something was wrong with me.
I unwrap the pregnancy test and read the instructions even though I know what to do. It says to only pee on the end of the stick and to not pee on the rest of it.
I sit down on the toilet, put the stick in position, and pee all over the stick. Dammit. As I pull it up, it reads positive. Wait, that can't be right. I stare at it. It must be defective. Did it already have a positive sign when I opened the package? I can't remember.
I've taken about five pregnancy tests in my life - each time terrified that it would be positive - and they always take forever. I place the test on the bathroom sink and stare it, waiting for it to change, but it doesn't. I read the instructions again. It says that it takes up to three minutes to work, but if it's the day after you missed your period (which it is), it could take less than a minute. Finally, I open the bathroom door and tell Sam, "I think it's broken."
He walks in from the office and peers down at the test. His eyes dart up to mine.
"I'm pretty sure you're pregnant." He starts to laugh and tries to hug me but I pull away.
"No, no, no, I can't do that yet. I need to take another test."
"Do you have to pee?" he asks.
"No, I'll wait a little." I stare at the little plus sign. It's so clear. "I'm just going to take another one right now."
I unwrap the test - a different kind, this one will read “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant” - and hope I have enough pee for it to work. I pee on the stick, close the cap, and place it on the bathroom sink. Sam is by my side as we watch the little "loading" buttons to let us know that the pregnancy test is thinking.
And then it appears. "Pregnant." Clear as day. My hand reaches up to my mouth. Oh my God. I look at Sam in disbelief. We’re pregnant.
A Long Nine Months
I wish I could say that after the test reads positive, the rest of the pregnancy is smooth sailing. I’m currently five months pregnant (pregnant people speak in weeks but no one else wants to do that math) and I constantly worry. I breathe a sigh of relief after each monthly doctor’s appointment and by the time I’m on my way back for another one, I’m holding my breath again.
All I can do is take it day-by-day and try to live as healthily and normally as I can. I do feel comfort in knowing that all my neurotic feelings are normal and it’s okay to worry about all of the unknowns. Getting pregnant is beautiful and magical and scary and worrying. It’s all of it.
We can imagine starting a family someday, just like we can imagine our retirement. But until you’re living it, you just don’t know how you'll handle it.
Best to embrace the mind fuck and enjoy the ride. Your life will never be the same.