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Oh, the wonders of baby-making! Babies happen with the meeting of an egg and sperm in a process called conception. We will save that for next week, but first, we need to talk about ovulation, when an egg is released from the ovary.
The ovulation preparation time occurs in a variety of ways. An egg needs to be produced from an ovary, and that happens when a complex set of hormonal and maturational factors are perfect. Our brain’s hypothalamus sends signals instructing the anterior lobe and pituitary gland to secrete luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to mature an egg and release it from the ovary. Eggs ripen and mature and are released regularly every month or so, from when puberty starts until later menopause. When a mature egg is ready, it erupts from its follicle inside the ovary and is picked up by the fallopian tube, where it travels toward the uterus.
Let’s Talk: Ovulation Options
People arrive at pregnancy (and ovulation) from a number of different directions.
Scenario 1: All on Your Own. Some people ovulate and produce then release an egg(s) on their own. The period of time between last period and conception (sperm meeting egg) is called the ovulation time. For those planning a pregnancy, it is useful to know when ovulation is likely to occur, as fertility can increase during this time, and conception is more likely.
You can detect ovulation in a variety of ways:
- A change to vaginal and cervical mucus (where it becomes thin, clear, stringy, and ‘more slippery’)
- A better sense of smell, as the sex pheromones on others need to be detected (our innate sexual attraction)
- More sex drive
- Breasts may feel sore, tender, or larger than normal
- Feeling of the fallopian tube moving to attract the egg
- Charting the state of cervical/vaginal mucous and cervical softness
- Using an ovulation test
Sex during this ovulation time could join the egg and sperm. In a way, it is a bit of a guessing game. An egg, released from the ovary can live up to 24 hours, while sperm can live for up to 5 days. Although there are often sperm counts of over 25 million with each ejaculation, less than 500 sperm survive the journey up the fallopian tube. It takes only one sperm to penetrate the egg, and then it signals to the other sperm that the egg is “off limits.”
If you want to become pregnant, you can increase your chances by having sex every other day during the time from the end of last period until the next period happens. This can be most fun and exciting as you anticipate pregnancy possibilities, and it can be rewarding and pleasurable in and of itself! As one midwife put it, “Just enjoy having lots and lots of sex. It is one of the best times of your life.”
Some forms of birth control will not allow the egg to even be produced, so when intercourse happens, conception cannot occur. If you have been on a birth control pill, or other forms of contraception, it may take months for your body to regulate its ovulation once you stop.
Scenario 2: Putting the Pieces Together. Some people need additional help to make ovulation happen. If we do not consistently ovulate and we want to conceive, we usually enlist the help of a specialist to determine what is needed to stimulate ovulation: nutrition, hormones (as referred to above), lifestyle changes, stress reduction, quitting smoking, paying attention to our subtle body signals, etc. Your health care provider is often your best source of information and referral here.
In this case, ovulation is the result of some work and attention, with the actual conception (sperm meeting egg) as the next step in the process. Conception may or may not then be a challenge. If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a year or more without success, or three to six months if you’re over age 35, or if you’re having irregular periods, you may want to get a referral to the fertility specialist in your area. There are also many resources available to assist with ovulation, just search for “human ovulation.”
Scenario 3: Determined and Focused. Some people use an egg and/or sperm from someone else to conceive. In this scenario, ovulation may occur outside of our bodies with the fertilized egg then returned to us to carry, with some hormonal help. In the case of surrogacy or adoption, someone else may carry the fertilized egg.
Medical advancements, technology and research have created a new world of possibility for parents. The goal here is to become a parent, and there are many opportunities to explore and things to learn about yourself and your partner, if you choose one, that are invaluable. The thing to remember is that families are made in many ways!
A Touch of Inspiration
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus
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