First, let’s talk about how not to get pregnant, because you need to have a basic understanding of fertility. My husband and I have always used Natural Family Planning (also known as the rhythm method) because birth control pills make me ill. Although the rhythm method has been gaining popularity, it’s definitely not the right choice for everyone; the Department of Health and Human Services advises that up to 25% of women can become pregnant using this method alone. We follow the Standard Days Method, in which you’re abstinent or use condoms during days 8 through 19 of your cycle. This method (which has a success rate of over 95% when used followed properly) was actually recommended to me by my gynecologist, although I’ll admit I was surprised when she told me, “My sister uses this method, and she’s only gotten pregnant once doing it!” I mean, that’s not very reassuring, right?
But things worked out well for us and when we were ready to conceive, we already knew which days I would be most fertile. Before Lincoln (my firstborn), I had a very regular 28-day cycle. Here’s how it works. Day 1 is the first day you get your period. You are most fertile fourteen days before your period, so if you have a typical 28-day cycle, day 14 is theoretically your most fertile day. If you have a 32-day cycle, it would be day 18 (32-14=18). The egg survives for 12-24 hours after ovulation, but sperm can live for five days, so you’ve got a pretty wide window. If you, like me, are on a 28-day cycle, here’s what your calendar might look like:
- Days 1-8: The first few days, you have your period. It’s very, very unlikely that you’ll conceive during your period or in the two or three days afterward.
- Days 9-16: It’s prime time for love! You probably won’t actually ovulate until day 14 or 15, but since sperm can survive for five days, you’ll want to get a jump on things. The New England Journal of Medicine found that nearly all pregnancies are attributed to intercourse during a six-day period ending on the day of ovulation.
- Days 17–19: This is typically a couple of days after you’ve ovulated, and your chances of getting pregnant are slim. But you may ovulate a few days later than you expect, so you’ve got nothing to lose by making love now, too. But if you’re worn out from the previous week, don’t stress too much – especially since stress can make it harder to get pregnant.
- Days 20-28: Your most fertile days have passed, and you’re not likely to conceive now. These are the days when you’re going to be tempted to buy about a million different pregnancy tests. Trust me: it’s better to wait. Those things are expensive, and if you get a negative result, you’ll either feel depressed or you’ll dismiss it because it’s too early anyway.
This all works out really well when you’ve got a regular cycle. But when we were getting ready for Baby Two, my cycle was anything but regular. I breastfed Lincoln for the first year of his life, and didn’t menstruate at all. When we decided to start trying in October of 2015, we had no idea which days were the most fertile (but we figured more sex couldn’t hurt!).
I finally got my period in November and was glad to be back in business (but not so glad to have my period, which was worse than I remembered it). We followed the plan outlined above, and when day 28 came, I didn’t get my period. Woohoo! I took a pregnancy test, and it was negative. I didn’t start menstruating until day 34, which meant that I had ovulated on day 20. No wonder it hadn’t worked! So we readjusted the schedule, but my next cycle only lasted 31 days. I was pretty baffled at this point.
My husband and I were both going out of town (of course) during days 9-17 of the next cycle. We tried on day 8 and on day 19, but I was positive I wasn’t pregnant. It seemed like my cycle was finally normalizing back to 28 days. On February 11, 2016 (day 30), I took a pregnancy test and it came up positive…sort of. There was definitely, maybe a line there if I shined the light on the test in a particular way. What does that faint line on your pregnancy test mean? Stay tuned…