Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Previously published on the site Gay Parents to Be
“So when are you going to have a baby?” “When am I going to have a grandchild?” “Tick tock, it’s your biological clock!” If you identify as a female over the age of 25, whether you’re single, partnered, or in a committed relationship with your pet (*cough* soul mate), you’ve probably heard some version of the questions above. Between close relatives, not-so-close relatives, and well-meaning friends, it might seem like the entire world is concerned with your future family - even if it’s not on your radar yet.
As a fellow twenty-something year old, I know that this subject is daunting. It can seem like information overload, especially if you’re not ready to have a family right now. However, as the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and in this case, arming yourself with accurate information about reproduction and your own fertility can be the best way to empower yourself to make smart decisions about your future family. Not to mention it’s a great way to store away a few knowledge-based quips to answer those dreaded questions. Here at Gay Parents To Be and RMA of Connecticut, we have years of experience helping moms to be become moms and mamas, and we can’t wait to share that information with you. In this article we’ll dive into some basic fertility facts, as well as provide the low-down on your LGBTQ family building options.
To start with, it’s good to know the basics about the female reproductive system - that includes the vagina, ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes. Unfortunately, we’re not really taught a lot about reproduction as young adults, aside from what we learn in high school health class. Even if you’re not ready to grow your family now, it’s important to learn how things work - plus, you’ll learn that human reproduction is both an amazing and complicated process.
What Are The Steps to Conception?
So let’s start by talking about the uterus. The uterus has two fallopian tubes attached to it, each about 4 inches, and at the end of each fallopian tube are fingers called fimbriae. During a regular menstrual cycle, when you’re ovulating (around day 14 of your cycle, for those of you who are tracking at home), your ovary releases an egg, and those fimbria usher the egg into the fallopian tube.
In order to achieve pregnancy, sperm needs to pass from the vagina, through the cervix and the uterus, and meet that egg in the fallopian tube. If they meet there and the egg becomes fertilized, an embryo forms, and will begin dividing as it moves into the uterus. There, it will attach to the endometrium (aka the uterine wall). In order for this to occur, each step in this intricate dance needs to happen at just the right time. That’s why pregnancy rates are around 20-25% for couples trying regularly, even in couples where the woman attempting to conceive is at her reproductive peak!
How Does The Menstrual Cycle Work?
Many cisgender women experience a period, and you know (in theory) that they’re linked to your fertility. Here’s the inside scoop on the menstrual cycle. The average cycle is 28 days. The window of “regular cycles” is around 24-33 days, so if your period doesn’t seem to fit into that window, you may have what is called an “irregular cycle” - we’ll talk more about that later.
Most cisgender females have two ovaries. Each ovary has a lot of follicles, and each follicle contains an egg. Every month, one follicle will grow from its normal size (around 5mm) to twenty millimeters - this happens around day 14 of your cycle. Your body knows to bring up just one egg every month around the time that you ovulate.
If you’re trying to conceive, hopefully that egg is a good egg (pardon the pun), and it travels through your fallopian tube and connects with sperm. Around day 14-16 is the optimal window to try to conceive, whether you’re doing at-home inseminationsor an in-office insemination cycle. If fertilization is successful, you’ll be able to tell through either an at-home or in-office pregnancy test around day 28 of your cycle.