In the Philippines, family is an extremely important factor in people’s lives. Many people grow up in multigenerational homes where children and their cousins are raised by parents and grandparents; and aunts and uncles are considered second parents. It is no surprise then that almost as soon as a couple gets married, everyone expects them to “contribute” to the family’s growing number.
This pressure can be frustrating. At times, it can make a perfectly healthy young couple feel paranoid about their ability to conceive.
My husband and I recently got together with a couple who got married less than a year ago. Over dinner, they shared their frustration over the pressure that their families and friends were unintentionally putting on them through constant inquiries on whether they were expecting a baby yet or not.
I remember going through the same feelings about eight years ago, when well-meaning people would ask the same things. While some people would simply smile and move on, there were also those who would take the initiative to help out by asking more details so they could offer solutions.
“Is the problem with you or with him?”
“I know a good doctor in Singapore who can help!”
“You better hurry, you’re getting older.” Incidentally, I was 23 at the time.
But the one line I will never forget was, “You better have children already because that’s important to men, and if you can’t give him any…”
I know everyone means well, but that was not exactly the most reassuring thing for a young bride to hear.
Eventually, you really start to get paranoid and worry that something might be wrong which, personally, I believe really makes it more difficult to conceive.
It took us over a year and a half to finally get lucky though, in hindsight, that year was not very conducive for baby-making as it was a very busy and stressful period. However, once we had Adriana, I don’t know if it was because it was a better time for our family, or because the pressure was gone.
But Juanmi arrived soon after.
Our friends sighed in relief, knowing they weren’t alone and we wished them luck in fielding the never-ending questions and in trying to start their family.
When it comes to starting a family, there are some women who never seem to have given it a thought. Pregnancy comes naturally and quickly, while to others, it is a long process that may take any time from months to years.
It’s strange to think about how complicated things can get when, in theory (operative words being “in theory”), it’s all supposed to be pretty simple. Egg meets sperm, egg gets fertilized and, nine months later, a baby is born.
But things are never that simple.
Timing is crucial
For starters, the timing has to be just right. A woman’s egg doesn’t hang around for the full 28 days of a cycle. It makes its appearance during the ovulation period.
For women who have an average menstrual cycle of 28 days with Day 1 being the first day of one period, and Day 28 being the start of a new cycle, the 14th day is usually the day they ovulate and, thus, are most fertile. Based on this, it’s easy to predict that Days 11 to 14 would be most ideal for trying to conceive, though they can start from Day 9 or 10, with the chances improving as they get closer to Day 14.
But for women who have irregular cycles, it’s another story. It’s not just a matter of counting the days and keeping an eye on the calendar.
Fortunately, in this day and age, there are several ways to help women detect ovulation.
One of the most common methods is through Temperature Charting or Basal Body Temperature Charting. Did you know that after a woman ovulates, her temperature jumps up and stays up until she gets her period, or around the day before it arrives? After ovulation, the body secretes the hormone Progesterone, which heats things up as it prepares her uterine lining for a possible pregnancy. If a pregnancy happens, the temperature remains higher than usual. If not, it drops as her period arrives.
In taking one’s temperature, doctors recommend that women check as soon as they wake up, after at least five full hours of uninterrupted sleep. Stay in bed so as not to raise the temperature, and check more or less at the same time (every 30-45 minutes) every day. Keep a journal to help see which days in every month the spike in temperature happens.
This method is useful for women who would like to understand their cycle by observing it for useful patterns.
Another common method is through observance of one’s cervical mucus. This is best done together with Temperature Charting, as it can sometimes be difficult to match what the descriptions in the books are to what women actually find.
However, if it is done together with Temperature Charting, then women can compare the mucus consistency on the days of ovulation, so they have an idea what they are looking for every month.
Nowadays, there are also ovulation detection kits in the market which are accurate and easy to use. Users are instructed to pee into a stick, which is not unlike using an early pregnancy test.
The sticks are sensitive to the Luteinizing hormone, which indicates ovulation and will show either a digital reading or a dark line that will confirm if a woman is currently fertile or not. Clearblue Fertility Monitor is a popular brand. If you cannot find it in the local market, you can ask a relative or friend to buy it for you when they go to the US. It’s not cheap; you will need the strips and monitor but it is supposedly one of the most accurate products you can find.
For more high-tech methods, there are now applications that women can download to help chart their possible ovulation days. Recently, Ovuline made waves when it announced that its fertility app, Ovia, had helped more than 50,000 women get pregnant since its launch in 2012.
I don’t know how effective these apps are, but since they are all noninvasive, fairly easy to use and usually free to download, there’s no harm in throwing in a little technology in your quest to get a bun in the oven.
However, there are cases when these methods are still not enough and further medical consultations and procedures may be necessary.
One popular but controversial method is through In Vitro Fertilization or IVF. I know a number of women who will tell you that they owe a lifetime of gratitude to their doctors and IVF, but there are also some people whose faith or beliefs may keep them from fully supporting the process.
Of course, it goes without saying that the process of trying to conceive also includes taking care of oneself. Many women try to reach their ideal weight before they get pregnant so they have “allowance” to gain the extra pregnancy weight. It may sound like vanity, but many doctors will tell you that this is actually a good idea.
You don’t have to be as thin as you were in high school, but try to attain a healthy body mass index (BMI). To get your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. A BMI above 30 is an indicator of obesity and may cause several problems—difficulty conceiving, sustaining a pregnancy, and complications for the baby.
However, losing too much weight will also cause the same kinds of problems. As with everything in life, moderation is key.
For many families, pregnancy is not the only way to have a child. Adoption is a wonderful solution. Not everyone who gets pregnant is ready for the responsibility of a child. Meanwhile, there are many couples and families who would be more than happy to care for and love that child as their own.