Wednesday 22 November 2017

Post-sex handstands on the road to fertility

There's more to the art of making babies that you'd think, says Una Rice, like forgetting all about it and finding something else to think about instead

To someone like me, desperate for a baby, it was a wonderful revelation and it made complete sense. To someone watching, it was slightly barmy. 'What on earth are you doing?' my husband asked.

'A post-sex handstand of course,' I replied, breathlessly.

It was just something I'd heard that day, another piece of advice to add to my list of Things To Do To Help Me Get Pregnant, and the longer the list got, the more bizarre it became.

I'd already started eating more ginger and chilli to improve my circulation, was feverishly rubbing reflexology points on my ankles to stimulate my eggs and had cut out coffee and vinegar, which I'd been informed could tense my uterine muscles. It seemed that what I did before and after sex, was more important than having lots of it. It was hard work getting pregnant. So why was it happening to everyone except us?

That's a question that one in six couples worldwide ask themselves. Although 80-85% of couples will conceive within the first 12 months, and 90% after 24 months, (we were somewhere in the middle), what should be 'the fun bit' can very soon turn into a stressful monthly anticlimax, each period signalling another wasted chance.

Bestselling author Sinead Moriarty found herself on the road of unexplained infertility when she started trying for a baby aged 30. "We'd been married for a year and everything was great," she says. "Troy and I had always wanted kids and we felt it was time to start a family so I came off the pill."

For twelve months nothing happened. Sinead, who was living in London, went to her GP. "He said you're young, healthy, go home and try again," she recalls. A few months later, with no success, she returned to her GP. This time, there were blood tests and hormones tests. Everything was as it should be. After trying for two years, Sinead saw a fertility specialist in London.

A Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) was performed. Dye is injected into the uterus and fallopian tubes and then an X-ray taken, to check that the tubes are clear. Sinead's were. An ultrasound scan didn't detect anything untoward.

"I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility," she says. "The doctor told me that the ideal age to have a baby is 16. That's not helpful or amusing to hear in your thirties."

Sinead began an oral programme of Clomid, a drug that boosts egg production. This was combined with follicle tracking, a process which can help predict the timing of ovulation, three times a month for ten months.

"Clomid makes you more hormonal," Sinead explains. "I was working as a journalist at the time and I used to get these hot flushes, my temperature would go through the roof, it was a bit tricky!"

But throughout the tests and internals, Sinead tried to maintain her sense of humour. She dreamed up the character Emma Hamilton, a 35-year-old, struggling to fall pregnant. It wasn't autobiographical, but Sinead describes it as 'therapy'.

"I wrote the book as something I would like to read as a woman trying to conceive," she says. "The character [Emma] was very different to me. I was poking fun at infertility, there are definitely funny elements in it." In researching the book, Sinead spoke to women who did post-sex headstands and handstands to conceive, anything to assist the sperm on its journey. Sinead used ovulation kits to pinpoint those crucial days in her cycle.

"They're useful, but too expensive. They should be free," she says. Writing the book was a welcome distraction from a cycle of disappointment. "What's difficult is the constant battering your optimism takes every month," says Sinead, who adds that she only became despondent towards the end of her third year of infertility.

"We decided to move back to Ireland, I'd have six months off trying, and maybe try IVF." Then fate intervened. Sinead found herself with a publishing deal and her book did extremely well. "My outlook on life became positive," says Sinead.

"I began to believe that I would get pregnant." She went to acupuncturist, Dr Chan-Mullen in Dublin, who took one look at her and said: "We'll sort this out. I'll get you pregnant."

Sinead stayed on Clomid, had just four sessions of acupuncture, and fell pregnant after four years of unexplained infertility. For most women who conceive, the struggle and aggravation of infertility is eclipsed by an enjoyable pregnancy and the arrival of a healthy baby. Sinead is no exception.

Baby Hugo is nine months old and she has no regrets about the long wait to conceive him.

"I'm so glad it happened to me," she says. "It was a real learning experience. I know myself better, I'm a more rounded person."

"The book hit a nerve too," she adds. "The theme of the book helped its success. I had emails from women everywhere thanking me for bringing a light heartedness to the subject of infertility."

"Trying to get pregnant takes over your whole mind. The stress mentally and emotionally is huge." She lists feeling optimistic, being distracted and acupuncture as the three key elements that helped her conceive. There was no such chocolate box ending for the protagonist Emma Hamilton however, who doesn't fall pregnant in book one.

In A Perfect Match, Emma and her partner James are exploring a different route, adoption. Sinead is currently working on her third book, which she hopes to complete in nine months - rather like a pregnancy.

A Perfect Match by Sinead Moriarty is out now (Penguin).

Are you trying to get pregnant?

* If you're trying to conceive, or are planning to start trying, you should be taking a daily supplement of folic acid which can help prevent spinal tube defects in babies.

* Smoking has been linked to low birth weights and miscarriage. You and your baby will benefit enormously if you quit.

* Your fertility can be affected by certain common conditions. Painful periods can indicate fibroids or endometriosis. If you suspect you have ever been exposed to the STI Chlamydia, see your GP.

* Is a stressful job stopping you conceiving? Everyone benefits from relaxation techniques like meditation, massage or yoga.

* Be optimistic that you will get pregnant and use this time to prepare your body. Nourish yourself with fresh fruit and veg, (organic if possible) wholegrain bread, cereals, rice, pasta, chicken and fish. Cut out alcohol.

Una Rice is a former editor of the UK's Pregnancy & Birth magazine

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