couple looking at pregnancy test
Try, Try Again

Trying to Make A Baby In A Tech-Fueled World Is Weird

My wife got her period.

This happens all the time. Every month, actually. But lately, the stereotypical discomfort, mood swings, and cravings for Snickers ice cream bars have brought with them a sense of disappointment.

We’re TTC. That’s “trying to conceive” for those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with the peculiar modern lingo now associated with fertility conversations. There are so many of these acronyms — IUI, “Intrauterine insemination”; BFP, “Big fat positive”; POAS, “Pee on a stick”; PUPO, “Pregnant until proven otherwise”— that you’d be forgiven for assuming the entire enterprise is spearheaded by the Department of Defense.

There are other military aspects of this new world, too. My wife and I have a regimented schedule; cutting edge research and tech-advancements have ballooned the issue of fertility into a multi-billion dollar industry; “atten-hut” was recently shouted in the general direction of my erection. And for the most part, each time we have sex, I feel like I’m reporting for duty.

couple in bed

I blame the internet. A generation or two ago, despite the fact that there were a handful of books on the subject, we’d still probably have just done the deed whenever the mood struck, driven by our desires to either have sex, a child or both.

Now, we’re driven by data. Like many TTC people, my wife has consulted all manner of experts and bloggerati in an effort to find the “best” method to bring about the results she and I crave. And I have, for the most part, looked on in wonder at her perseverance and incredulity at the notion that we can’t have sex when we feel like it anymore. I would prefer a more spontaneous arrangement, letting our passions rather than a program determine when we go for it. But I also want to get her pregnant, so I’m willing to do whatever the experts say is the most effective method for making that happen. I just wish there weren’t so many experts

I’m inundated with innovation. In addition to the many, many books and blogs my wife and I can reference, there are also hundreds of “helpful” products. And apps. So many apps. Ask Google about it and you’ll find a vast arsenal, with Silicon Valley-vetted names like Glow and Conceivable. You’ll probably stumble across Pre-Seed, a sperm-friendly lubricant that promises to “support sperm on their journey.” Or the Stork, a thin, beak-shaped device that produces a baby for mom and dad without the need for intercourse. Instead, it delivers a dose of his pre-loaded semen directly to her cervix.

All I can do is tell her she’s not a failure when she gets her period, and arrive in the bedroom whenever her iPhone or bodily fluids determine its time for us to get down to business.

And much like a long, prodding beak, modern tech noses its way into all aspects of the kid-making process, whether you want it too or not. Many products, some of which cost upwards of $100, come with a “free!” bit of technology that hasn’t changed much over the years: a digital thermometer. And while we haven’t yet embraced all the products available to us as hopefully-soon-to-be-PUPO people, our sex life is subject to my wife’s temperature. This is another part of our current baby-making program, one devised by my wife after she read Toni Wecheler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It doesn’t come with a thermometer, but it does have a companion app and website. And my wife always feels a little more comfortable when she’s in charge of things.

So now, she uses a thermometer each morning, its digital beeps serving as my new alarm clock. She counts the days after her period begins to better zero in on the rhythms of her unique cycle, and records her temperature on her phone using the book’s companion app. The app lets her know when there’s been significant temperature shift, a marker for both fertility and pregnancy.

There are other military aspects of this new world, too: research and tech-advancements have ballooned the issue of fertility into a multi-billion dollar industry; “atten-hut” was recently shouted in the general direction of my erection. And for the most part, each time we have sex, I feel like I’m reporting for duty.

She also pees on stuff. Just as there are sticks you can micturate upon to reveal whether or not you’ve got a bun in the oven, there are urine-activated strips that reveal when your oven is the perfect temperature. According to Wecheler, you can tell when your body is at its most accommodating just by analyzing the consistency of your vaginal discharge.

Which is to say, my wife has been washing her hands a lot.

fertilization

Meanwhile, all I can do is tell her she’s not a failure when she gets her period, and arrive in the bedroom whenever her iPhone or bodily fluids determine its time for us to get down to business. I’ve also done my best to convince myself there’s nothing sexier than hearing the phrase “I think I’ve reached peak cervical mucus.” Admittedly, there’s still a bit of work to be done on that front.

This is not, at least in my estimation, how the cavemen did it. While I can’t know what was going on when Krag and Murg decided it was time for them to start family planning, my gut instinct is they didn’t talk about it all that long. I know for certain that at no point did they forgo sex because the estimations of Murg’s dongle-aided smartphone app revealed putting it off another 48 hours would ensure Krag’s seed might find Murg’s soil to be at its most fertile. They didn’t have cell phones. They probably didn’t even have metaphors.

Am I glad we know all we do about fertility and cycles and have the technology to pinpoint the prime moment for progeny production? Knowledge is certainly powerful. But there are times when I suspect both of us could use a little blissful, caveman-like ignorance. My wife is more of an alarmist than I. She worries. She also internalizes a lot of her distress in a way that is — according to several articles I have done my best to hide from her view — possibly affecting our ability to conceive.

But it could be that she used Accutane as a kid. Or maybe it’s the fact that she occasionally deals with ovarian cysts. It could, in a touch of irony, be our cell phones, the multiple apps we’re using to track her ovaries each month frying her eggs instead.

Am I glad we know all we do about fertility and cycles and have the technology to pinpoint the prime moment for progeny production? Knowledge is certainly powerful. But there are times when I suspect both of us could use a little blissful, caveman-like ignorance.

Or maybe it’s my fault. As a boxer-brief wearer, I’ve never been able to pick a side in the great underwear debate. Are my sperm equally non-committal? Or did I simply endure one too many kicks (punches, taps, and one chain link fence) to the balls as a kid/childish adult? I have no idea. Our family doctor suggested we try for a full year before heading into what he ominously called “Phase 2,” and since we’re at the halfway point of Phase 1 (the “just keep taking shots on the goal” phase) I have no choice but to remain hopeful nothing is wrong with either of us and we just haven’t scored yet.

Our parents are equally hopeful and helpful in their own ways. “It takes longer than you think,” said my father-in-law, effectively encouraging me to have more sex with his daughter. And he might have a point. It’s possible we’re just not having enough sex. Or, perhaps we’re not having it in the right places. As my mother-in-law suggested, “What you need to do is find the back seat of a car.” This playful, light-hearted encouragement is great but has its own side effects. For one, I’m not certain I want my child to be conceived in a cab, and Uber’s hourly rates are too rich for my blood. Secondly, the acknowledgment of their hopes is a subtle reminder of the pressure I’m under to do my job, my ancestors and in-laws spurring me on. You’re not supposed to think of your wife’s father when you’re having sex. But now you probably will. And you will know the struggle is real.

The data suggests Phase 1 is a bit of a struggle for roughly one third of all couples. According to a study published in Human Reproduction, out of more than 300 couples who were trying to conceive (sorry, TTC), 38 percent were pregnant after one month, 68 percent were pregnant after three and 81 percent were pregnant after six. Given that we’ve been at this officially for six months, we’re a little behind the curve.

My wife is an “ahead of the curve” person. Which is part of the reason she feels like a failure. I also suspect a lot of her frustrations are tied up in an idea of womanhood she’s been sold for most of her life. So to be greeted each month with the cold truth of a warm pee test declaring your husband’s sperm found no quarter in your uterus is, I suspect, always a punch in the gut. And though I can’t speak from experience, I imagine that’s a shitty thing to feel when you’re on your period.

There’s also an added pain — that of knowing you shouldn’t feel this sad, at least not in context. We’re aware that while we may not have gotten pregnant on the first or fifth try like some of our friends, we also haven’t had to suffer through the entirely common and colossal ache of a miscarriage or stillbirth. Because we’ve been advised not to start Phase 2 for another six months, we haven’t yet consulted a fertility expert, weighing pharmaceutical options or IVF. The knowledge that we’re still neophytes in this journey and have either a short or long way to go means our sadness is compounded by guilt and uncertainty, waiting for the next period between periods when we can try our luck again.

Which is why for the next few months we’re planning to engage in a new tactic. (No, we’re not buying the Stork.) We’re just going to relax. My sister, who has three children (none of whom were “planned for” in the way I’ve been planning) informed me most of her friends who’d been trying as long as we have got pregnant the moment they threw up their hands and said “we’ve decided to stop trying.” The trying — the stress and schedules and tiny cups of urine — is perhaps the biggest flaw in our family plan. Our new plan is the un plan. We’ll detox, destress, and make out like crazy.

We’re no longer TTC. Instead we’re DTF. And we’ll let the chips fall where they may.

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