Waiting is the hardest part: The ups and downs of female fertility

Getting pregnant isn’t always as simple as wanting to start a family and having intercourse. Sadly, the process differs for some people, leading to despair and uncertainty.

Average time it takes to get pregnant

A quick Google search is enough to reveal plenty of women, everywhere, who thought they would get pregnant quickly and ended up disappointed. Fact is, many women are surprised to find out they can’t get pregnant as fast as they’d hoped, and it's often caused by a misunderstanding of how their bodies and pregnancy really work.

For a healthy woman under 35 with no known fertility problems, it can take up to a year to get pregnant before being successful, but that isn’t necessarily a sign that something’s wrong.

Why is it sometimes difficult to get pregnant?

Factors affecting fertility (our ability to get pregnant) vary and may be caused by our lifestyle, our physical or emotional health, or a simple misunderstanding of how our reproductive system works.

It’s important to learn everything you can about pregnancy before you even try to get pregnant, so you can be well prepared and understand what is happening with your body. This will help temper any false expectations that may disappoint you in the long run.

Common factors affecting female fertility
  • Contraception: Women who’ve been using contraceptives for years often report having to go through an adjustment period after they stop, which can have a major impact on fertility and the time it takes to get pregnant. (e.g. A woman who receives hormone injections having to wait for 6–9 months after her last one before trying to get pregnant.)
  • The reproductive system: Research shows that one in two couples are actually trying to conceive at the wrong time of the month. This doesn't include the couples that think that the more sex you have, the better your chances of getting pregnant (it’s actually the opposite—too much sex can reduce sperm count and, thus, the chances of conceiving). Couples who are serious about wanting a child need to learn everything they can about their reproductive system and the ovulatory cycle.
  • Age: Our fertility is at its peak during puberty and gradually declines with age. After 35, it goes down even faster and the quality of the remaining eggs isn't as good. As more and more couples choose to wait before starting a family, this factor is becoming increasingly common.
  • Lifestyle: It's important to have a healthy lifestyle regardless, but this becomes even more important if you're planning to carry life inside you, as your sexual organs need to be at their best. Maintain a healthy diet, stay at a healthy weight, get into good sleeping habits, be active and develop good stress management techniques. Of course, if you’re a smoker, or if you drink alcohol regularly, these bad habits will negatively affect your fertility.
  • Ovulation: Studies show that 33–50% of women who have fertility issues actually have ovulation problems. Women’s ovarian cycles are complex and governed by hormones that can be unpredictable and rather easily affected, in turn affecting fertility. Factors like weight gain (or loss), stress or disease might affect the cycle and make it harder to conceive. Many women also have naturally irregular cycles because of polycystic ovary syndrome, which itself reduces the ability to get pregnant.
  • Physical problems: Blockages in the fallopian tubes preventing sperm from reaching the egg, endometriosis or uterine fibroids may prevent pregnancy. To properly diagnose a physical ailment and receive suitable treatment, consult your doctor for tests and the appropriate resources.
  • Emotional state: Though it's difficult not being able to control what’s happening with your body, it's important to not become obsessive. It might disturb your ovarian cycle due to stress and, thus, make things worse.
  • Unexplained infertility: In rare cases, although tests reveal no physical problems or fertility issues, some women are still unable to get pregnant. It can be an extremely stressful and frustrating situation for couples that have no way of knowing how to increase their chances of a pregnancy. Only a third of couples that experience unexplained infertility will conceive without medical intervention within a period of three years, while others will resort to assisted reproduction techniques, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). 

You had amazing dreams of the perfect pregnancy, but now your thoughts are consumed with “what’s taking so long?” and “am I the problem?”. You just want to get pregnant and finally have a child, but the rollercoaster of trying to get pregnant and not succeeding is messing with your emotions.

This mindset will put you through a ringer of emotions, from shame and guilt to anger and sadness. If you have friends who are pregnant at the same time, on top of everything else, you may feel a twinge of jealousy seeing their beautiful round bellies while yours is still inexplicably empty. It's normal to feel this way, but you have to face your emotions and accept them. Use them as the necessary motivation to find a solution.

Avoid unrealistic expectations, learn about the different ways you can help nature and try to remember to let go sometimes. If you’ve explored all your options and still can't get pregnant, go see a doctor who will be able to give you advice specific to your situation, reassure you and prescribe appropriate treatment (if required). The important things are not to despair, be proactive and keep hope alive.

To help prepare yourself for a possible pregnancy, we invite you to read our articles on trying to conceive and getting ready for your pregnancy to put the odds in your favor and help put your worries into perspective. In the meantime, remember that life is unpredictable and can surprise us when we least expect it.

Image de Mariem Melainine

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