Of Babies and Unicorns

Recently, I have found myself amazed at the sight of a woman with a baby or toddler. Amazed, filled with wonder, even blown away. Over the last few years, and especially the last six months I have learned much more than I ever wanted to know about the miracle that is human life. While millions of sperm fighting over one egg makes it sound like a no brainer that the egg will be fertilized, resulting in a baby being born nine months later, the actual story is a lot more complicated. Hormone levels, a sufficient number of quality sperm, a quality egg matured for just the right amount of time, healthy fallopian tubes, and a suitable uterine lining are just a few of the things that need to be just so in order for an egg to fertilize and implant in a woman’s uterus.

As if all that weren’t daunting enough, once a positive pregnancy result occurs, there is a score of other things that could keep the pregnancy from progressing properly and resulting in a live birth.  These can include factors caused by the mother’s body such as immune responses, blood clotting issues, or an abnormally shaped uterus; or chromosomal and/or physical abnormalities with the growing baby, all of which can lead to pregnancy loss. And sometimes, the baby’s heart will just stop beating for no apparent reason.

Knowing all of this, a newborn baby (especially one of my own) has become akin to a mystical, elusive being much like the mythical unicorn.   And the question remains – how much magic will it take to conjure it up?

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Pregnant: 2 weeks down, 38 to go

Today I am PUPO, which for the uninitiated means pregnant-until-proven-otherwise. Due to the quirkiness with how pregnancy is measured (i.e. measurement starts from the first day of your most recent period, rather than from ovulation), I am also two weeks pregnant.

What health class neglected to tell us (or if it did, most of us were not paying attention), is that not only are there just a few days each month when a woman can conceive; if she is in fact pregnant, she has to wait up to two weeks to find out. In this age of instant gratification, this feels like a ridiculously long time to wait for something, especially news as life-altering as a pregnancy. Therefore, for those trying to conceive, there is a window of approximately two weeks each month, when your part is done, but you do not know whether you are pregnant.

While a sperm needs to fertilize the egg within 24 to 48 hours of ovulation in order for pregnancy to be possible, the fertilized egg takes about 5 days to travel down the fallopian tube and into the uterus, where it can implant (implantation occurs 6 to 12 days after ovulation). Only once it implants, does it start to secrete the pregnancy hormone hcg, which is what is picked up by pregnancy tests.  While home pregnancy tests are getting more and more sensitive, and able to detect hcg in urine sooner than ever, given the mechanics of what happens when an egg gets fertilized, it’s impossible to cut the wait down any further. So we’re stuck waiting.

Many people find the two-week wait (as it’s commonly referred to) excruciating and painfully slow, however I’ve actually come to enjoy it over the last year.  When we first started trying for a baby, I was like most other people in that I couldn’t wait to find out whether things had worked or not, and took a pregnancy test the first possible chance I could. Of course, the test would always be negative, at which point the real mind games started.

The most sensitive pregnancy tests can detect hcg in your urine 5 days before your period is due. However, due to the  uncertainty around when the embryo implants, and therefore when it actually starts to secrete hcg, you may have had a successful cycle, yet testing early will still show a negative result. For example, the pregnancy test I use most often has stats something like this: detects 67% of pregnancies 4 days early, 78% 3 days early, 87% 2 days early, and 98% the day before your period is due. This means that today’s negative could be  tomorrow’s positive result. So you take another test the following day, and again it’s negative, but it is still early after all, and so on and so forth. After a few months on this rollercoaster, I found it was easier (not to mention cheaper!) just to wait things out until my period came. Then, for a long time, since I didn’t really expect things to work anyways, the two-week wait stopped having any meaning for me.

However in 2010, I discovered my love of the two-week wait while going through six intrauterine inseminations (IUI’s). Starting fertility treatments was difficult as it stemmed from a realization that we would need help to conceive, but it also brought back hope that pregnancy was possible. This time, I treasured those two weeks between the IUI and my pregnancy test date because until proven otherwise, I was pregnant. My last IUI was in December, however I am still recovering from the hangover of the possibilities that a two-week wait brings, so will embrace it and milk being PUPO for all it’s worth!