I always thought trying for a baby would be sexy. I thought my husband and I would indulge in our usual nighttime antics but now with an added grown-up, sensual significance. We'd shag and then pause in each other's arms, glowing, silently acknowledging that we'd done something really special together.
Naturally, this historic lovemaking would take place in a fancy hotel in the Cotswolds, surrounded by Diptyque candles, with the latest John Legend album adding to the seductive ambience. In years to come, we'd look back on that night fondly – the night we conceived little River Rainbow, imprinted on our memories forever.
Things haven’t quite turned out that way. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done the Cotswolds candle caress, a few times over. Each time smugly assuming that our magical evening of sex had done the trick and pondering whether the name of the hotel would make a good moniker for our firstborn.
But it hasn’t done the trick. Like millions of other couples across the UK (one in every seven, in fact), we’re struggling to conceive. No amount of candles seems to work.
Like many women, I spent the majority of my adult life trying very hard not to get pregnant. There were times when I prayed so hard for my period to come that it was reminiscent of my first Holy Communion, aged seven. I’d lose sleep after the occasional slip-up; I’d taken the morning after pill. I assumed the moment I actually wanted to see those two blue lines, I’d see them. But I haven’t.
Consequently, my naive enthusiasm for making babies has somewhat disappeared. Foreplay has gone out the window, replaced by a raft of conception aids and gadgets. I don't think I'll look back on downloading a new tracking device the same way I would a weekend away.
It starts with the apps. Most couples have sex because they’re horny. When you’re trying for a baby, you have sex because an app tells you to. You’ve been tracking your cycles and the algorithm has estimated your fertile window.
A little notification pops up on the screen: You’re due to ovulate today and the app wants you to have sex. It doesn’t care if you’re tired, it doesn’t care if you’ve got the flu, it certainly doesn’t take into account the fact that your parents are staying this weekend. The app wants sex. You must do sex.
After a while, you may graduate to tracking your temperature and using ovulation sticks – because the app’s guesstimate isn’t reliable enough, obviously. You start taking your basal temperature every morning, reaching sleepily for the thermometer before you’ve even opened your eyes. Other options include peeing on little sticks every day to see if you’re ovulating. Some tests have a little smiley face if it’s positive (they may as well wink), as if to say: "Go on then, get shagging!"
At this point, you’re probably taking so many supplements that you rattle when you climb wearily onto the bed. Then there’s the sperm-friendly lube. Really. Because nothing says sexy-time like a bald baby staring up at you from the label on a tube of lubricant.
We’ve all seen people on telly trying to have babies put their legs in the air after sex, supposedly to help the sperm speed its way towards the egg. I always said I’d never do this. I said it was absolute nonsense with no scientific evidence. Fast-forward six months and I’m flailing around on the bed with all the grace of an upturned beetle.
Each month, all the carefully timed sex is followed by intense symptom spotting. Are my boobs sore? Am I nauseous because I’ve eaten three almond croissants or am I with child? Do I detect a metallic taste in my mouth? I’m sure I read somewhere that’s an early pregnancy sign. Cue endless googling, endless second guessing until, eventually, you’re back to square one: your period. No not pass go. Do not collect £100.
From the outside looking in, it’s difficult to imagine, but trying for a baby can be hard. "That’s the fun part!" everybody says. And yes, it can be. You’ve decided to start a family with someone you love more than anyone else in the world – it’s a powerful thing. But as time goes by and you haven’t been successful, the pressure starts to mount, the sex becomes a bit of a chore and trying for a baby can become...well...trying.