I’ve got to admit lesbians have it easier than gay men when it comes to starting a family. Most of us women have the option of trying to knock ourselves up — one way or another — which is (usually) less expensive and time-consuming than either surrogacy or adoption.
But getting pregnant when there’s no man in the equation also has its challenges: One of them is ovulation tracking. When the sperm comes in a tiny little tube and every time you squirt those swimmers cost $1,000, you want to make damn sure you’re as close to your ovulation date as possible when the doctors do their thing. You only get once chance per cycle for the magic to happen.
My wife and I recently went through the process of getting pregnant and ended up using a few different ovulation tracking methods along the way so I thought I’d share what worked and what didn’t. Of course, your mileage may vary but hopefully the information will be helpful to some.
First, I should say that we were working with a fertility clinic in getting pregnant. Here in Canada we could not get our doctor to provide the required sign-off for the sperm bank to deliver samples to our house, so every try had to be done in a doctor’s office.
The clinic we were working with was more than a two-hour drive from our house; a round-trip was a solid half-day of driving. The staff wanted my wife to come in for daily blood monitoring to track her cycle — as if! She works full-time so there was no way she could go to the clinic every day and also make it to work.
So they sent us off with advice to do our LH monitoring at home using whatever ovulation kits we wanted. They told us all the brands were more or less the same in terms of accuracy.
All these kits work by peeing on a stick. Around the time you’re ovulating, the amount of luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine surges, so when the lines on the stick turn dark — bingo! You’re ready to make babies. Once we got a positive reading, we were supposed to call the clinic and they would book us for an insemination the next day.
Method #1: Ovulation Test Strips
The first LH testing kit we tried was this simple Ovulation Test Strip.
We got a bag of about 40 strips for free from a straight friend who’d used them when she was trying to get pregnant. They worked for her so we thought we’d use them too.
It seemed sketchy somehow that she’d bought them in bulk online, but I told myself to stay open-minded and that just because something was inexpensive didn’t mean it wouldn’t work.
My wife began peeing on the little strip every morning starting around day 10 of her cycle. When the result is negative, you get a single pink control line. When the result is positive, a second line appears that’s “equal or darker” than the control line. And therein lay our first series of hurdles.
When the second line appeared, we agonized over whether it was as dark as the test line. Was it? Was it not? We decided it wasn’t yet. The next day there was no second line at all and we were crushed, assuming we’d missed our window for the month. That meant a whole 30 days before we could try again. We cried.
My wife kept peeing on the strips anyway. I’m not sure why when we were convinced we’d missed ovulation. Two days later the second line came back — and it was darker! It was definitely darker! So we called the clinic and booked our appointment and used one of those dear little tubes of swimmers.
Even though the odds weren’t in our favour to get pregnant on the very first try, we somehow thought that we would. That we had. When the pregnancy test came back negative a couple of weeks later, we cried again.
Method #2: First Response Ovulation Test
After two months of trying with the “internet strips,” we switched to a costlier brand that we bought at the drug store.
The First Response kit cost about $40 for seven tests – what you’d use in a single month of testing. Each stick was a hefty plastic doodad with the indicator enclosed in a bubble of plastic. They seemed more high-tech, and therefore more accurate, which I suppose is exactly how they want you to feel when you’re shelling out $40 a month for things to pee on. Plus, the box said 99% accurate so they had to work. Right?
Nope. We tried through several cycles. The test lines on this one seemed even harder to read than on the other strips and we were never totally sure if we were getting the right date when we called the clinic to book our insemination. If we though the result looked promising, my wife would pee on both kinds of sticks to see how they compared. But try as we might, we couldn’t get pregnant.
We debated the issues: Were the sticks inaccurate? Were we reading them incorrectly? Were there infertility issues at play? Was getting inseminated the next day fast enough? Or too soon? Was the doctor putting it in right? (Yes, we actually discussed that.) And on and on.
Method #3: Temperature Monitoring
We’d only bought six sperm samples from our donor and we were flying through those, or so it seemed. We had to find a different solution. My wife decided she’d try monitoring her basal body temperature throughout the month.
Body temperature rises slightly when you ovulate and stays high for the rest of the cycle. You’re most fertile on the day your temperature rises and the two days before so tracking temperature is not a quick-fix solution: You have to monitor your temperature for at least a couple of months just to establish a baseline and start to see your pattern.
At any rate, the LH kits weren’t working so we thought we might as well give it a try. We discovered that you need a special basal thermometer that’s accurate to two decimal points if you’re serious about monitoring your cycle this way.
Method #4: Blood Monitoring and Ultrasound
My wife charted her daily body temperature for two weeks but as it turned out, we didn’t end up seeing this method through to a pregnancy. Instead, we finally convinced a fertility clinic five minutes from where my wife works to do daily bloodwork and ultrasounds, and send the results to our clinic farther away. With blood monitoring, my wife got pregnant on the first try. Here’s how she describes the experience:
Although we successfully got pregnant the first month we tried the blood monitoring, it wasn’t a piece of cake. I start work at 8:00 am, so that meant most days I had to be at the clinic by 7:15 at the latest.
Each morning I’d first have an internal ultrasound to see how my follicles were developing and to track when one might release. Then I’d have a vial of blood taken. I only had one spot on each arm where the nurse could reliably draw blood, so within a couple of days my arms were very bruised (no matter how much pressure I applied), and the nurse had to keep drawing blood from the same location.
After just over a week of monitoring, the ultrasound and blood levels indicated I would ovulate the next day. I took the following day off work and drove to our original clinic two hours from home. The first few times we tried insemination Jen came with me to the appointment, but by this point in our efforts we’d decided that we couldn’t both justify taking the day off work for a 15-minute appointment.
Insemination is a strangely surreal experience. There are many checks: you have to read the donor code off the vial of semen and sign releases and they report to you the motility of that particular vial since it was thawed. Sometimes the insemination itself really hurt if my cervix was “hiding” (their words, not mine); other times I couldn’t feel it at all.
After the insemination they leave you lying with your feet up for 15 minutes. I found that time the hardest, wondering if my body would accept the insemination. I would usually call Jen as I lay there but after a few minutes there wasn’t much left to say, so we’d hang up and I’d look out the window and send words of encouragement to my uterus. My heart goes out to infertile couples who go through that process month after month without getting pregnant. It is physically and emotionally draining.
For us, the at-home ovulation tests didn’t work at all and blood monitoring was successful right away.
The clinic doing our bloodwork had also let us know about two shots available at the time of ovulation: one would make sure two eggs were released to increase the chances of fertilization, and one would make sure ovulation occurred a set number of hours after the injection to make sure that insemination was done exactly on time. We didn’t use either shot but we definitely had intended to if we didn’t get pregnant the first time out with daily blood monitoring.
Did an ovulation test work for you? Have you tried a different tracking method? Please share your story in the comments.