Until you’ve tried (and crucially, failed) it’s hard to imagine how trying for a baby could be anything other than a rollicking great time.
For many couples it’s simple. Shaggity shag shag and you’re up the duff. But for some, trying for a baby can turn into an unpleasant roller coaster of emotions. Hope followed by crushing disappointment, ovulation tests, scheduled sex, a complete absence of foreplay, more crushing disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong, at the start it’s wonderful. You and the person you love most in the world have decided to do something really important. Something really grown-up and exciting. Sex takes on a new significance. It’s just the same as the sex you used to have, but there’s an additional afterglow. A post-coital acknowledgement, often unspoken, that you may have just changed your lives forever – and it’s wonderful.
If it doesn’t work for the first couple of months you don’t really mind. You didn’t expect it to happen straight away anyway. You carry on as you were, trying to conceive (or TTC for the initiated) thinking about silly baby names (Bowie Star, Raquelle Rainbow the Second, Jelly le Bean) and bonking away as and when you please.
Many couples will conceive during this early phase. One study, published in Human Reproduction, suggests 68 per cent will be pregnant after three months. But for some, it doesn’t happen straight away and there’s a point at which the tone in the bedroom starts to change.
The relaxed approach doesn’t seem to be working so you start to introduce a raft of tracking tools. Apps that estimate your fertile window, thermometers to capture your basal body temperature when you wake up, ovulation tests to pee on every morning, sleeping bracelets – you name it, you buy it and start slavishly using it.
Sex goes from something you do when (at least one of you) is feeling horny to a task that must be completed when the app tells you. Sometimes this is hard. You’re tired and stressed from work, one of you has a bad cold, your on a family holiday and your parents are sleeping next door – none of this matters to the app. The app wants copulation. Copulation must be achieved.
Silly things that you once read in Cosmo and has previously dismissed as ridiculous start creeping into your sex life. You start throwing your legs in the air after sex – balancing as gracefully as an upturned beetle.
Then there’s the symptom spotting and maniacal Googling. Every twinge, a slightly sorer than usual boob, a weird taste in the mouth – all become signs that pregnancy has occured. No matter how many times you’ve noticed these symptoms and not been pregnant, you still find yourself tapping it into the search field the next month, sure that this time it’s different.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve rooted around in the bin to retrieve pregnancy tests to check a second blue line hadn’t appeared. Instead of seductively lighting a cigarette after sex, I grab my phone and log “unprotected sex” in the app – like feeding a TTC tamagotchi.
And I know I’m not alone. One in six couples will have trouble conceiving. It’s not rare and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. But us TTC-ers we need to find a way for sex to be ours again.
And I’m not thinking when we all get pregnant. Or when we find out we need to do IVF and intercourse is officially off the hook. And certainly not when our kids are long grown up. I’m thinking now.
I’m not suggesting we merrily give blow jobs without worriying that we’re wasting good sperm (that’ll never happen). But plenty of sex outside that fertile window. Sex without peeing on sticks first. Sex without the apps. Sex just because.
Now that’s a rollicking great time.
Gabby Griffith is a journalist and co-host of the 'Big Fat Negative,' podcast