Surviving Pregnancy Envy
When the fourth woman in my department announced a pregnancy this year, my heart cracked – we all started trying around the same time. Every month that my womb hangs up a ‘Tenant-Wanted’ sign, I contribute to baby shower gifts, and keep my anguish private, some days it can be exhausting. When preparing for a family there is so much excitement, at the start. For some it’s an easy process, an unexpected joy, for others nothing could prepare you for the emotional exhaustion of watching people fall pregnant while you wait hopefully. The emotional fatigue of watching others celebrate, while you wait, and add supplements, blood tests, hormone imbalances and a laundry list of other considerations to your life, feels unfair.
The desire to have a baby can be all-consuming, and one thing it can consume is your libido.
But, your libido and the ensuing sex is what creates the baby, if getting pregnant (or not getting pregnant) interferes with this, then how do you conceive? The answer seems simple – fix the problem. My process has been long and yielded mixed results.
Surviving Pregnancy Envy
If you’ve never heard of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), it is a hormonal imbalance, linked to acne, weight gain, unwanted hair growth, depression, anxiety and literal cysts on your ovaries, amongst other symptoms. These cysts prevent ovulation and can lead to amenorrhea (not having a period), meaning infertility. At age 14 my ovaries were covered in cysts, I had severe acne, hair growth everywhere and I was an emotional mess; at age 30, my ovaries are clear, my skin is mostly okay, hair growth is mostly okay, and I’m still an emotional mess.
My doctor’s prognosis: Just try and see what happens. In a beautiful, lilting, South African accent, her literal advice was “Just relax and have lots of sex!”. Best. Prescription. Ever.
2020 is the year overshadowed by COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, our lack of visitors throughout lockdown, and having less social obligations has allowed us to enjoy more time together, and more spontaneous sex – no visitors = no clothes; no clothes = spontaneous sex.
Sex has been a consistent exercise in our house, luckily out of love and enjoyment, not obligation. We have a vast array of toys and lingerie, and a growing collection of massage oils, lubricants, and massagers, which keeps us horny and experimenting. However, after watching four women at work, and 6 women in my social circles fall pregnant this year, I’m starting to feel deflated.
To improve my health and wellbeing I have started weekly Pilates; changed up my gym routine; added more whole foods to my diet; weekly acupuncture; daily Elevit supplements; and tried to be more mindful.
These things have helped me feel calmer and healthier in a world full of chaos and disease. As a couple we’re taking walks, talking every day, going on dates when we can and doing our best to stay connected outside of getting pregnant. As far as tracking Basal Body Temperature and Cervical Mucus, or constantly checking apps to identify my “most fertile days”: No thank you, that’s way too much added stress – getting pregnant has been a stressful enough process.
And as much as the added exercise and wellbeing has improved my life,
It has also meant having a more limited timetable to relax and socialise; weekly meal preparation; addressing bad habits and traumas from both my husband and myself – this getting pregnant naturally thing wasn’t meant to be so hard.
I’m hoping to get pregnant naturally, not because IVF isn’t worth it, rather because that is a whole process, potentially an expensive obsession, one that may not achieve my desired result: a healthy pregnancy. The success rate of IVF at my age, is 20-50%, depending on a laundry list of variables and side effects. My husband and his brother are IVF babies; multiple people in my life are IVF babies, fostered or adopted children; friends, co-workers and acquaintances have undergone the process, with varying rates of success; some people in my life have chosen to foster or adopt; others in my life have chosen to live childfree lives. Every path is valid, and depending on the person/couple’s perspective, most are happy and loving their chosen path.
The real conundrum we face is how to manage these potential struggles:
What if I can’t fall pregnant naturally? What if I’m not the problem? When/if is it time to get full fertility tests? Do we want to try IVF? What happens if IVF isn’t successful?
How do we feel about fostering or adoption? Are we open to surrogacy? What seemed like an exciting journey of growing our family by having lots of sex together has become a much heavier conversation than we had anticipated.
Some nights I look at my husband and internally deflate knowing that we should have sex, if I want a chance at being pregnant. We love sex, and generally that’s how people conceive, but the idea of slipping between the sheets when my brain is emotionally overloaded with baby fever hurts. Since I got married pregnancy has been a constant question, from family, friends, co-workers, everyone.
This pressure turns the delicious idea of pleasurable sex into responsibility and a requirement to fulfil the desires of my family and societal expectations.
Sounds super sexy, right? Added to that I have now read more literature about getting pregnant, pregnancy, infertility and the human reproductive system than I could have ever imagined. These factors come back to the doctor’s advice – “Just relax and have lots of sex!”- easy advice in theory, until you have statistics, responsibilities, and the exhaustion of watching other people getting pregnant, not to mention adding new supplements, exercises and maintenance to your routine.
I haven’t found a total solution to my libido or pregnancy envy, like most of my life it is a work in progress. Sometimes intimacy, massage and orgasms help solve that day’s problems; some days talking to a friend, an impartial, understanding outsider supports those needs; dates, walks, and together time resolve many stresses. There is a balance between hopeful excitement and blatant naiveté about falling pregnant, finding your own balance is important. Together we’ve had to face some confronting conversations. The most important thing I have learned is that the answers to these questions can change and evolve.
They are dependent on what is happening in our lives at that time, the same as any person or couple going through this journey. Maybe at the end of this journey my husband and I will end up with a happy, healthy baby, maybe our path will end up differently. Regardless of what happens, we’re in this together and sex doesn’t need to be about babies. In fact, sex is way better for us if it’s not about babies, personally I prefer not to think about kids when I have sex. If you’re struggling with the same problems maybe you need to try something similar: go out on dates, take walks together, find ways to connect that aren’t about having a family or the endless goal of pregnancy. For me, the best thing I have done is to start accepting that I may never have babies, and my life will be amazing with or without them. In the words of someone else “Sex is not the answer, sex is the question. The answer is yes.”.