It took a year but eventually we found ourselves on the same page. One night we went out for dinner as a regular married, childless couple and a couple of bottles of wine later, we were officially ‘trying’.
It was what I’d been waiting for for months and, now that it was here, I wasn’t sure how I felt. As we walked home after dinner that night I was excited, chatting, giddy but looking back on it, if I’m honest, there was something else as well. I was secretly and quietly daunted by the prospect of what we’d decided to take on.
OK, cards on the table: I was shit scared. Not that I admitted it to anyone, or even myself but the weight of what we’d decided to do was a niggling voice in the back of my head. I was becoming acutely aware of the huge commitment we were undertaking.
We went home and ‘tried’. It was weird. Trying to get pregnant fucked with my head. For the first time sex was not about sex. I couldn’t think about anything else except whether I was going to get pregnant. I’d spent the previous fourteen years doing everything I could to not get pregnant. It had literally been my mother’s mantra since I was old enough to know that my vagina was called a vagina and not a ‘hoo-hoo’: whatever you do, don’t get yourself pregnant.
Now here I was, in the blink of an eye and a bottle of merlot, changing my entire modus operandi. I was like one of those girls brought up in cults who suddenly escape to discover that, woah, actually the outside world isn’t full of devil-worshippers and they won’t go straight to hell in a burning ball of fiery fury if they let a boy, other than their daddy, hold their hand. It took some serious mental adjustment to get my head around the fact that, for the first time, that thing that had terrified me my whole life – getting pregnant – was now actually the one thing I wanted to happen.
It also took my body sometime to come around to the idea as well. Of course, like any teenage girl with concerned parents I’d also been led to believe that if I had unprotected sex even just once, I would instantly fall pregnant, my life would be over, I’d never get an education, or a job. Well, isn’t that the biggest frickin’ lie of them all?
Don’t get me wrong. I know that some people do get pregnant that one time they have unprotected sex but getting pregnant by accident seems to be a whole lot easier than getting pregnant on purpose. In fact, wanting to get pregnant seems to be the best contraception of them all. It’s one of life’s great ironies that you spend your whole teenage and young adult life trying not to get pregnant and then when you finally do start trying, it’s an awful lot harder than you think.
It doesn’t take long before the doubt sets in either. When you don’t fall pregnant instantly, you start to wonder if you actually can fall pregnant. Every woman does this. It’s irrational and based in nothing even closely related to reality but after the first month, when the pregnancy tests shouts a big fat NO in your face, your first instinct is to assume the worst.
You don’t assume that your husband has crappy sperm. No, that wouldn’t fit in with the motherly guilt addiction that we have (it starts early)! Instead you begin to imagine that your uterus is a dried up, wrinkly, dusty old organ that’s shriveled into uselessness through lack of activity. All those years of throwing contraceptive pills its way has lead to definite infertility and already, you decide, you’re not very good at being a mum.
This is of course, in most instances, complete rubbish but, having spoken to a lot of my female friends about this, it seems to be a pretty consistent pattern. You’ll probably go to the doctors and tell them your convinced you can’t get pregnant and when they ask you how long you’ve been trying and you say, 4 weeks, they’ll look at you with a very knowing, slightly amused but largely supportive smile and say, “At your age, we don’t even bother testing until you’ve been trying for at least a year.”
I never really understood the full implications of the phrase ‘trying to get pregnant’ until I was the one doing it. It’s actually quite hard and mostly because of the maths. I was one of those annoying people that said things like, “I don’t want to get to the point where I’m demanding sex because I’m ovulating,” and “We’re just going to keep doing what we do without protection and see what happens.” (I hate myself even remembering what a self-satisfied little madam I was in the early days).
Well, I’ll tell you want happens. A whole lot of nothing. It’s a fact (one that’s verified by really brainy scientists) that women have a window of about three days a month where they can actually get pregnant. If you don’t have sex during this time, you won’t get pregnant. It’s that simple. How do you know when those three days happen? Here’s the rub: you don’t. You can guess. You can count and add and subtract days and mark them on a calendar and download apps with alarms and search for eggwhite mucus in your knickers, but there’s no hard and fast way of knowing for sure when it is that the egg is going to make its merry little journey.
I peed on so many ovulation sticks. I never, not once, got the happy smiley face that means, “Quick, go find your husband. Go steal his sperm by whatever means possible and do it NOW. Your egg is leaving the building. I repeat, your egg is leaving the building.”
It turned out, after many trips to the GP and numerous blood tests later that my egg wasn’t leaving the building or, at least it was, but rarely. It certainly wasn’t doing it in any regular, pattern-forming way that meant I could plan a pregnancy-inducing sex session. After sixteen years on the pill, my eggs were taking their sweet-ass time to get into some sort of routine; they were lazy, drug-addled eggs that wanted nothing more than to go back to how it used to be when they didn’t have to do anything.
So, we muddled on. We kept having sex, we even managed to stop thinking about pregnancy all the time and, after six months, we found ourselves in a hotel room in Sheffield. Admittedly, the Mercure Hotel Sheffield isn’t the most romantic of locations but, due to my husband’s work, that’s where we were. My husband had an unexpected night off. This was fortuitous because he was also riddled with flu and was pretty feverish so we planned a night in with room service and a movie. Sex was not even in the equation.
And then I felt it. It was unmistakable. It was just like all the books said. That funny jelly stuff, like egg-white, came off on the tissue paper when I went to the loo. I even did that thing that the books tell you about – the bit about how the mucus will stretch out between your thumb and your finger. I scraped it off the loo paper and tested it, just to make sure. That’s how far away I was from my regular boundaries – I scraped bodily fluids off my loo roll and literally fiddled with them.
At this point, we’d been trying for six months with no luck. I’d given up doing any pregnancy tests – the negative results were getting too depressing to deal with. We hadn’t stopped ‘trying’ but the novelty of it all had worn thin to say the least.
But now, here I was in a dilemma. I didn’t want to get my hopes up but I was definitely ovulating. Of that, there was no doubt. I hadn’t ovulated for the last three months so this was a big deal but, in the other room, I had a husband clammy with illness. He’d taken so many drugs to stave off the flu that I’d be surprised if his sperm were even conscious let alone of the pedigree quality we needed them to be. I also didn’t want to be that woman, you know, the one who says, “Darling, it’s time. We need to have sex now,” but with no real clue as to when my egg was going to make this vital journey again I made an executive decision.
“Babe, I’m ovulating. I know you’re ill and I’m really sorry to be that woman, but we have to have sex. Don’t worry though,” I said compassionately, “I’ll do everything. You don’t even have to move.”
Needless to say, that was the night we conceived. It wasn’t romantic, or sexy and my husband would say it probably wasn’t even that enjoyable but it did the job. In that overheated room in a corner of northern England on a dark, grey, rainy day in February my life as I knew it changed forever.