Let's Talk About Sex, Baby (Part 1)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Well, sex organs and how little we know about how they really function. (So if you're a bit squeamish or prudish or just in denial, you should probably skip this post and go look at some pictures of Archie instead)

Tom and I first started trying to have a baby over a year ago.  Fifteen months later, it absolutely astounds me how little I really understood about how my body really worked.

I'd like to start this post off with a little rant.  I went to public schools my whole life, and all I was ever taught was abstinence-only education (with the exception of my child development class my senior year, where we did discuss different contraceptives).  I think abstinence-only education is the biggest load of crap that gets taught in schools (and there's a lot of crap being taught).

Now don't get me wrong; I'm all for abstinence.  I didn't have sex in high school.  I didn't have sex until I was 22, and it was with my husband.  I believe sex should be special.  I think girls (and guys) give it up way too easily, and that just reiterates my point.  Teens have sex.  I think that's something we all just need to accept.  They're going to have sex even if the only thing they're taught is abstinence-only education.  So if they're going to be having sex anyway, shouldn't we be teaching them how to help prevent pregnancy and STDs?  

Now obviously, this won't work with every teen; I know some who actually tried (and succeeded) to get pregnant.  But for most teens, I think this would be helpful.  And having been a teen not that long ago, I know that most teens already have some grasp of contraception, but I know that there are some who are completely clueless, and even the ones who do have a clue have no clue how their body really works.

Heck, I was 23 before I learned most of the stuff that's essential to conceiving.

Growing up, we're taught that if you have unprotected sex, you get pregnant.  So we grow up thinking 'Hey, when I'm ready to have a kid, we just lose the protection and we're golden.'


So in case you're as confused as I was not too long ago, I'll give you a bit of a summary (it may end up being more than a bit...I do tend to go off on tangents).

Your Cycle
The length of time from your period starts until your next period starts is called a cycle.  We're made to think every woman has a 28 day cycle, but that's simply not the case.  Don't feel like you're weird if you don't, because you're not.  Some women have shorter periods, some women have much longer periods (I'm currently on cycle day 40 myself).  In that same vein, not everyone ovulates on cycle day 14, but there will be more about that later.

Cycle day 1 is the first day that you have full red flow (so no spotting...as long as it requires a pad or tampon, you're good).  This begins the first part of your cycle, menses (yeah, it sounds kind of funny to me too).  This is the part of your cycle that you're most familiar with -- in short, your period.

-Follicular Phase
During and after menses, you are in the follicular phase.  This is when your body gears up to ovulate.  Each follicle has an egg.  During this phase, they develop until one becomes dominant; that's the egg your ovary will release if you ovulate.  You also have a lot of estrogen during this phase. 

This is also when you need to be sexing it up if you're trying to have a baby.  Contrary to what a lot of us (myself included) grow up thinking, you can't get pregnant any time you want.  You only have a few days before ovulation (the end of the follicular phase) and the ovulation day itself to get a fertilized egg (sometimes, the egg can be fertilized the day after ovulation, but it's not common); this is known as your fertile window.  So that gives you maybe like, five (if you're lucky) days a month (or every two months, if you're cursed with long cycles like I currently am) where you can get pregnant.  So the odds?  They're not in your favor.  To make things even worse, even if you time everything perfectly (like having sex on ovulation day and the two or three days before, and maybe the day after), you still only have a 1 in 5 chance to conceive that cycle.

1 in 5.


Not good odds.

That was mind blowing to me.  I had no idea it was so hard to get pregnant.  Teen Mom makes it look so easy (I don't actually watch Teen Mom, but I think you're probably picking up what I'm putting down).

So if you're ovulating (and you might not be...sometimes you may not, and then you have what is called an anovulatory cycle), your ovaries will release an egg.  If you had sex during your fertile window, your egg may be fertilized.  Just before ovulation, your body will release lutenizing hormone, which is what causes the follicle to rupture and release the egg.

-Luteal Phase
The time after ovulation is called the luteal phase, often referred to as the two week wait (or 2WW -- basically, the two weeks most women would need to get a positive pregnancy test). What's interesting about the luteal phase (that I definitely didn't know a year ago) is that your luteal phase is almost always the same length every cycle.  So even if your period varies in length, or you ovulate early or late, your luteal phase will always be the same.  So if your period is ever 'late' (and not because you're pregnant), it wasn't actually late...you just ovulated later than normal and your luteal phase has to finish.  The luteal phase is when your body starts producing more progesterone.

If you're pregnant, the fertilized egg will implant in your uterine lining.  If you're not, the lining will shed and you'll have a period.  Implantation usually occurs 6-10 days after you ovulate (also known as dpo -- days past ovulation), so sometimes, even if you are pregnant, an early result test won't show it, because the pregnancy hormone, HCG, won't show up until a couple of days after implantation.  Sometimes you can't even get a positive test until after 14dpo; in fact, if you don't know how long your luteal phase is, it's recommended not to test until 18dpo.  Some women have what is known as implantation bleeding, which is usually some light spotting that lasts a brief time around 6-10dpo; this is uncommon, however, so don't freak out if you don't have any. 

Putting It All Together
So conception revolves around ovulation.  But how are you supposed to know when you ovulate?  There are a few ways you can help pinpoint things a little better.  I'll be addressing those in a later post, because it ended up being way too long for just one!

Part 2 can be found here.

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  1. Doesn't this make you NUTS?! Especially TEEN MOM! I see so many people having babies left and right, not taking care of a single one of them. Then people that would make AMAZING parents, unable to BE AMAZING PARENTS! GRRRRR. Gets my blood boiling. But thanks for sharing. I agree, too, that these things should be taught in school!

    1. It's probably the biggest frustration in my life right now. Since we first started TTC, I have had several friends get pregnant and/or have babies. I even have one friend who's had a baby and is several months pregnant with another one.

      I wish I had known that it wasn't as easy as having unprotected sex. I feel like I would have been so much more prepared to deal with all this infertility crap.

  2. I believed my mom and the educators that it only took one time to get preggers. How wrong they were, at least in my case. When Mike and I finally decided we were ready to become parents, somewhere around our 5th anniversary, I thought we would have news for our families by Christmas. Actually it wasn't until almost a year later. I even lied to my OBGyn telling her that we had been trying longer than we really had because when i decide I want something that big, I want it yesterday. I took my temperature for months and ovulation kits were so new and quite expensive so we didn't use them. I was scheduled for some follow up testing but put it off for a month so I could get through finals ( I had gone back to school). I was perturbed that my period was later than usual in coming because I needed to be mid cycle for when the testing was to occur. It didn't even cross my mind initially that I could be pregnant. I think I had decided we were going to need some outside help to achieve any success. So, for us, it happened after I had kind of given up on traditional methods.
    I thought it was interesting when you discuss ovulation. I always believed I ovulated unusually early in my cycle. There really isn't any one cast in stone model cycle. We are all different. I enjoyed reading and learning from your post.

    1. I'm thisclose to scheduling a consult with an RE. My cycles went nuts after being on Depo-Provera, and I think that's why we've had so much trouble. I didn't even go to the doctor for some Provera until I was past CD200, because when I had gotten the shot, they told me it could take up to a year to regulate. A year and a half later, I'm still not regulated.

      I just wish I would have known all these things then, because maybe then we might have a baby by now.

  3. Oh girl...This art of making a baby is well complicated.



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