My novel, Angel Hair and Baby’s Breath features a childless woman who assumes a fictional identity on Mumsnet, spinning a deluded yarn about her triplets, conceived through IVF. When undertaking research, I spent a lot of time lurking on the conception threads. The first thing I learned was that pretty much everything on Mumsnet is abbreviated and the second was how many posters had become pregnant after using the Clearblue Advanced Fertility Monitor to track their ovulation.
According to Clearblue, the monitor is proven to increase your chances of conceiving naturally by 89%, and so, in January 2017 at the very beginning of our journey to try and conceive (TTC), my husband Burrows and I decided to invest in one. Retailing at around £80 in the UK, they aren’t cheap, but I managed to track down a brand new one for £35 on eBay, discounted because of its damaged packaging. The device wasn’t blue, the instructions weren’t especially clear and it was impossible to monitor anything without shelling out even more money for the fertility test sticks, which cost yet another £35 for a pack of 20.
After I’d juggled our budget and reluctantly swapped our monthly red wine indulgence for pee sticks, I figured out that the monitor analyses two key fertility hormones in your urine on a daily basis, then gives a result of “low”, “high” or “peak” fertility. I understood that a woman with a 28-day menstrual cycle like mine might expect a rise in oestrogen around day 8, prompting a “high” result, followed by a “peak” around day 13 when a surge of the luteinising hormone is detected, directly prior to ovulation. That indicates the optimum time to try and conceive before the hormones drop and the reading returns to “low” again.
But my body wasn’t going to do anything by the book, was it? When my monitor first prompted me to test on day 6, I got a “high – oestrogen rise detected” result immediately. Great, I thought – it’s only a matter of time before I get my peak. Perhaps I simply ovulated earlier in my cycle than average? But day 13 passed, then day 14 and day 15 … by day 25 I had used the entire pack of test sticks and my reading still hadn’t budged from “high”. I was beginning to wonder whether the monitor was broken, or, far worse, that my fertility was.
If the monitor was working correctly, my body was effectively on non-stop high alert, thrumming with excess oestrogen. I checked the symptoms with Dr. Google – mood swings, bloating, depleted energy, disrupted sleep patterns. It was like ticking off a check list of exactly how I’d felt since coming off the contraceptive pill.
On day 26, cramps spread across my abdomen, PMT playing havoc with my emotions. Never usually the sentimental type, I burst into tears while watching a documentary on the late George Michael and my anxiety soared to stratospheric levels – something I hadn’t experienced since my twenties, when I’d first gone on the pill to alleviate that very problem.
Right on cue, my period arrived. Our first attempt at TTC hadn’t worked, which given the odds wasn’t surprising. In fact, it was a relief to feel the tension dissipating, my jangling nerves temporarily dying down. Of greater concern was the fact that, according to the monitor, I hadn’t even ovulated.
“I’ve spent thirty-five quid peeing on sticks like a dog for nothing,” I grumbled to Burrows. “What if I’m going through an early menopause? What if we’ve left it too late?”
“Give it time,” he urged. “Isn’t it meant to take a while for the monitor to get used to your cycle?”
“And in the meantime, I have a seesaw of hormones to look forward to each month,” I muttered, immediately despising myself for sounding so pathetic.
If I wasn’t ovulating, surely it was better that the monitor had alerted me to this now, rather than later?