The Tips, Tricks, and Superstitions of Conceiving

Originally posted on March 8, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Lucky Socks. Special diet. Visualizing. And foot warmers? Nope, these aren’t the tools used by competitive skiers. These are the tips, tricks, and superstitious routines of women trying to conceive (TTC).

I admit, even before making my first doctor’s visit, I trolled the web for any and all advice to help my chances. From supporting many friends, I’ve seen that TTC can be emotionally exhausting. As a single woman needing to rely on doctors and donors, it’s also expensive. The fewer cycles I need to conceive, the better.

Unfortunately, there’s no fertility potion, super sperm, or voodoo magic that can guarantee a BFP, or big fat positive. But there are plenty of old wives’ tales, some scientific research, and a few just-for-fun practices that I am totally willing to try.

Warm and funny: Apparently sperm and eggs are particular about the temperature at which they like to meet and multiply. While I understand the science behind not frying these puppies in a sauna or hot tub during the two week wait, some sites seemed to have some wonky ideas that take it a step further. More than one mentioned avoiding cold beverages. I like herbal tea and can live with room temperature water for a couple weeks, so why not? But my favorite was the blog that insisted on keeping one’s feet warm because “warm feet=warm uterus.” Really? For me, having cold feet at any time of the month is a torture worse than water boarding. I wear socks to bed in the dog days of August. So throwing some feet warmers in my slippers on cold nights is a bonus regardless of whether it works.

And since I’m wearing socks anyway . . . why not have a little fun? The best thread I’ve read by far on the Single Mother’s by Choice boards is the one titled Insemisocks. Yup, that’s short for insemination socks, and that’s not even the funniest part. Women not only don their adorable lucky socks on the day of their IUIs and IVFs, but a number of them go right ahead and snap a picture of them still in the stirrups. While I’m more comfortable snapping my sock-selfie in the privacy of my home while fully clothed, I’m still willing to partake. Anything that brings laughter to me and others (like the smirking nurse who gets to see them) is okay by me.

Sticking Power: After showing off my fab socks each cycle, there are supposedly a few foods that will assist in implantation of the embryo. In less clinical terms, I’m eating pineapple and nuts in hopes of turning my uterus into a tiny Velcro vessel. The pineapple ‘trick’ calls for taking a ripe pineapple and cutting it into five sections, keeping the core. Eat one section a day starting on the day of your procedure (or the day you get down to it, if you’re doing this the natural way) and bam, Velcro. The thought is the bromelain in the core increases your sticking power, but there’s no evidence this is anything more than a delicious old wives’ tale.

Another nutrient that reportedly has similar benefits (with a little more science behind it) is selenium, which is found in many nuts, particularly Brazil nuts, but also in cashews, walnuts, and Macadamia nuts. So once the socks come off, I’ll be snacking on some mixed nuts and pineapple chunks. I suppose a virgin piña colada would break the “no cold drinks” rule, though, huh?

Head games: One TTC tip mentioned in nearly everything I read, from the scientific sites to the mom blogs, was to try to relax. Whether it is through visualizing the cells in your body beginning to grow into a baby, doing yoga or meditation, or having acupuncture or Reiki treatments, you need to try to chill. This is much easier said than done, I’m learning, but managing stress is important for everyone, TTC or not.

If you can afford to get some trained help in this area, studies have proven acupuncture can increase one’s chances of conceiving. Having never had it before myself, I think it might actually increase my anxiety on the day of an IUI unless I get the chance to try a session or two ahead of time, so I’m passing on this one for now. Luckily, though, I have a close friend who’s trained to perform Reiki, another form of alternative healing and relaxation. The few sessions she’s done have been wonderfully calming and comforting, something that’s good for the soul, baby on board or not.

Since Skyping the Stork and telling him to make it quick apparently isn’t possible, I’m left with these other options: eat well, stay warm, laugh often, and stress less. It’s no magic bean, but until the time is right and the real magic begins, it’ll have to do.

Who’s Your Daddy? The Daunting Task of Choosing a Donor

Originally posted on February 22, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Let’s face it, by the time I reached the decision to become a single mother by choice, I had become an expert at online dating—or at least an expert on reading and decoding guys’ online profiles. “I’m a bit of a geek” sounds cute but equates to “I have limited social skills outside of my ability to speak Klingon,” while “I’m working towards a degree in . . .” means “I’m still living in my mom’s basement.” So I thought wading through the waters of donor profiles would be a familiar and simple task. You know, just like finding a husband. *Bangs head on computer desk*

Healthy and handsome, and a little height wouldn’t hurt. That’s all I thought I needed to worry about when I started my search. After all, genes are tricky, unreliable buggers; I know this as the five-one daughter of a five-eight mother. So why get too hung up on all the details of baby-to-be’s donor daddy? I could choose a donor with features like mine and those of my family, but there’s no guarantee which traits B2B will get, and, really, will it matter? I’m going to love this child like crazy no matter what he or she looks like or how tall he or she grows to be.

But after twelve years of living alone, I need to get used to the idea that very soon I’m not going to be the only one that matters in my house. If all goes as planned, sometime in the not-so-distant future I will have a child that will some day likely grow curious about his donor. (Funny expressions aside, the word daddy doesn’t apply.) When I realized I would some day have to answer the question, “How’d you choose?” to someone to whom the answer would matter very much, the jokes about getting tipsy and playing Russian roulette with the search feature on the cryobank’s website all seemed a little less funny.

To me, the donor will simply be a very generous guy who helped me achieve a miracle. But to B2B, he will have a much greater significance—not just a medical history, but a whole half of his or her being. From what I’ve read and from my conversation with the social worker who meets with families using donor sperm or eggs, some children place very little importance on their donors. But others do. I can’t promise my child he or she will ever get to meet the donor, but I certainly can promise him or her that I picked him for a better reason than his height and eye color.

So, how did I choose? Well, I suppose my online dating profile expertise did actually play a roll. Just like with those profiles, donor profiles have a number of sections. After reading far too many, I decided which were important (aside from health histories and, yes, a little height). For me, the personal responses, staff impressions, and the expression section meant the most.

From the handful of answers the donors provided and the section where donors could choose to share a little more about themselves or their passions, I could get a little glimpse of their voices and a little insight into what was important to them. I looked for someone who cared about his family, was driven but also somewhat laid-back, and who cherished creativity and learning. In other words, I looked for someone who shared my values.

That said, having spent enough time online to know it’s relatively easy to paint yourself a wee bit rosier than perhaps you really are, I then compared my impressions to those of the staff. Granted, in all the profiles I read, none of the staff ever said, “This guy’s a real jerk.” But by reading between the lines a little, I could tell when they were digging for something nice to say versus when they genuinely seemed to mean it. It seems odd to rely on the opinion of a stranger, but I believe good people leave good impressions, and that’s important to me.

Though the childhood pictures were helpful to narrow down the final few, in the end I went with a judge of character. My child may never know his donor, but he or she will know that I did the best I could to pick a donor who spoke to me as someone who shared those traits I value most in myself and others: intelligence, kindness, and creativity.

Oh, and he is tall. So if B2B is pint-sized, he or she can blame genetics, not me!

Photo credit: via photopin (license)

Pre-Conception Plans and Decisions

Originally posted on January 25, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

As the country preps for Super Bowl Sunday by making tough decisions (full-body or just face paint? boneless or bone-in?), I’ve been making some pretty super-sized pre-game decisions myself.

When I played youth soccer, my pre-game routine involved meditating with my legs crossed, goalie gloves on, ball in hand, visualizing acrobatic saves of the sort I could only dream of making. But we did have a perfect record: we never won a game. Zen I was; Belichick I was not. By college, pre-gaming took on a whole new meaning. For some it still ended with scoring. For me, I never enjoyed the bar scene and never scored more than a killer headache, so I guess I botched that, too.

Now that I’m gearing up to become a single mother, I’m hoping a couple decades of experience and endless hours of research will lead to a more successful pre-game, or pre-conception plan. And though every mom-to-be’s path will vary, I’m also hoping that hearing my thought process might make some of the toughest decisions a little easier for the next woman.

How single women do it

Adoption or conception. Both are great options, and each appealed to me, for different reasons. Since I can’t have a baby without a little help myself, adoption seemed like a wonderful opportunity to in turn help a woman who needed a loving family for her child. Unfortunately, not all adoption agencies consider a family of one adequate, and even those that do were unaffordable to this single chick without taking out a serious loan, something I’d rather not do if I have another option. Luckily, I’ve always wanted to experience pregnancy. I’ve already got big feet and cankles, so I might as well have something miraculous accompany them, right?

Where?

It never even occurred to me that single women had options for this question. I just assumed if Mr. Right wasn’t doing the job that Dr. Somebody ought to be. Actually, though, there are other choices. Frankly, when I first heard the term “turkey-baster method,” I chuckled, and when I saw there were instructional YouTube videos, I ran. But for some women who want to save money and try conceiving at home, it’s a viable option. (And I was relieved to learn it usually involves a sterile syringe rather an actual turkey baster.) Others, who seek the comfort of home but the knowledge of a pro, hire a mid-wife to do the insemination. I suppose this might be the best of both worlds, but for me, if I can’t have an expert in the art of lovemaking, I want an expert in the field of reproduction. Enter the RE, or reproductive endocrinologist.

There are no shortages of fertility clinics these days, and at least in Massachusetts, where I live, all are welcoming to and experienced with the needs of single women. With so many choices, I picked a clinic with satellite offices close to my home and work, and one that a couple close to me recommended. With these choices made, only one big play was left to call.

Who’s Your Daddy?

With Prince Charming absent, an unknown donor was the only option I considered here. Some women have male friends whom they feel comfortable enough asking for a ‘free sample.’ I don’t. And even if I did, I’d think long and hard about this one. Unless you’re trying the at-home methods, you’re not actually saving money, as the sperm will still need to be tested and frozen for a time by the clinic to assure it’s safe and viable.

More importantly, you could be opening yourself up to future challenges that would not only destroy your friendship, but could also affect your future child. According to Single Mothers by Choice, no matter what legal documents are drawn up ahead of time, once the child is a reality, courts will almost always rule on the side of providing the child with access to both biological parents. So if your friend later decides he wants to be a dad, not just a donor, you could lose sole custody. Those are muddy waters I’d rather not ever have to wade through. I’m accepting the fact I don’t have a suitable dad for my future child (yet) and will need the help of an unknown, but much appreciated stranger. Choosing that perfect stranger is another challenge for another day.

There are dozens more decisions to be made, some of which I’ll gladly write about at a later date, but I’ve learned from my past not to cling too tightly to pre-laid plans. Our choices change as life changes. That’s okay. Sometimes the best plays are the audibles called on the line of scrimmage.

Book referenced: Mattes, Jane. Single Mothers by Choice: A Guidebook for Single Women Who Are Considering or Have Chosen Motherhood. New York: Times, 1994.

Photo credit: Richard Berg via photopin cc