A guide for preparing to conceive

Guest post by Sara C

NFP-non-Catholic

People thought my partner Matt and I were crazy for planning our wedding in “only” seven months. We dodged a fusillade of comments like, “But that won’t be enough time to book a good reception venue!” and “It can take longer than that for the dress to be delivered. And don’t forget about the alterations!”

We tried not to stress about it too much. Seven months was, after all, enough time to plan a mega party and a friends/family reunion. In the final months, when I started adding completely unnecessary projects to my to-do list (hello, fabric pins and a dog bandanna), I occasionally wished we had opted for an even shorter engagement.

That’s why I found it ironic when I also faced criticism–two years later–for spending too much time planning for conception: “Be more spontaneous. Just start trying already!” and “You’ll never feel ready, so stop worrying about it.”

In all honesty, I’m so thankful that I spent eight months preparing my mind, body, and life for pregnancy before we even started trying to conceive. Unlike my mother who accidentally got pregnant when she was 22 and then raised me as a single-parent, I wanted to create a prepared and intentional environment (although I think my mom managed to do a heck of a good job!). I read countless books, talked with a midwife, watched documentaries, attended a birth fair, and started stalking pregnancy and birthing websites.

Of course all families need to figure out for themselves what kind of preparation (if any) works for them. It’s a very personal decision, and we need to honor each other for forging our own paths (duh!).

As for my personal path, here are some of the things we did to start preparing our life for conception:

  • Destressing and Making Space for Pregnancy: When I started tracking my cycle, I realized that stress was seriously impacting my physical and emotional well-being. Eight months before trying to conceive, I started eliminating unnecessary commitments from my life (and saying no to new ones), practicing deep-breathing techniques, implementing a daily relaxation ritual, and getting to the psychological roots of why I invite stress into my life. I realized that once I got pregnant, I would need time for frequent naps, and I was preparing myself for a potential decrease in my productivity.
  • Getting More Healthy: I analyzed my nutritional intake, my hydration, and my exercise (or lack thereof) and started implementing changes that would better prepare my body for a healthy conception.
  • Eliminating Toxins from Our Life: We sorted through all our cleaning products, bathroom stuff, etc., and made our environment less toxic.
  • Building the Bank: We started thinking through the costs associated with birth and infancy and came up with a plan for saving enough money (without buying into the hype put out there by the Baby Industrial Complex).
  • Figuring Out Insurance and Maternity Leave: Matt and I actually didn’t do this as part of our preconception preparation, but I wish we had! I would have been able to sign up for short-term disability insurance, which would have helped to cover part of my unpaid maternity leave. Now that I’m pregnant, I have a “pre-existing condition,” and it’s too late for me. Argh!
  • Deciding on a Care Provider: There are so many options out there (depending on the community you live in) for prenatal care and birthing. Regardless of whether you want to go the hospital, birthing center, or homebirth route, there are tons of questions to ask and information to take in. Once you’re pregnant, your prenatal care starts, and at that point, it can be stressful to sort through all the information and ask all the questions. Matt and I decided to do all of our research before trying to conceive. We even did interviews and settled on our care provider in advance. When we conceived, we simply had to call her to schedule our first appointment.
  • Strengthening Our Relationship: We took a hard look at how we distribute responsibilities in our household, how we support each other, what problems we’re having, whether we fight constructively or destructively, etc. We started to think about really concrete ways to strengthen our relationship in preparation for the extreme stress that can come from welcoming a new baby into a family.
  • Preparing for the Change: We thought long and hard about the ways in which our lives would change forever, once we added on to our family.

Resources

I recommend the following books and movies to support a more independent conception planning process:

  • Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility: This book lays everything out there for you in such a clear, concise way. It addresses how to get pregnant (through tracking your cycle) and also focuses on ways to prepare your life for conception (through nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction).
  • What to Expect Before You’re Expecting: I know there’s a lot of criticism of the What to Expect series, but I was thankful for this book because there are so few out there that focus exclusively on preconception as its own stage. I found this book to be chock full of interesting recommendations.
  • The Complete Organic Pregnancy: Although this book focuses solely on eliminating toxins from our lives, I loved reading it! It’s a bit overwhelming, but the information is super-interesting and applicable to all stages of our lives, not just pregnancy.
  • Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood: This book has little to do with preconception, but I am so glad I read it before I got pregnant. It’s just too depressing and stressful to read when you’re carrying another life around (in my opinion!). Seriously. It was a bit biased and felt like propaganda at times, but I’m so glad I read this indictment of the “hidden costs and vested interests surrounding pregnancy and birth in America.”

As far as movies go, I haven’t been able to find too much. But here are my recommendations:

  • The Business of Being Born: This movie opened my eyes to a whole new world. Even though it feels biased toward a certain perspective, it helped me realize that there’s so much I don’t know about when it comes to giving birth in America. I highly recommend this film.
  • Pregnant in America: I didn’t like this movie nearly as much as I liked The Business of Being Born (not even close), but it’s still worth watching, since there’s simply not that much out there on these topics.

Definitely find the amount and type of preparation that makes sense for you and your family, and then go for it!

Comments on A guide for preparing to conceive

  1. I recommend “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” to everyone with a uterus, whether they are trying to get pregnant, trying not to get pregnant, or not even thinking about either one. I wish I would’ve read it YEARS ago. Then I could’ve spent all those years fully understanding my body rather than making some pretty good guesses. It is an amazing resource for anyone with a uterus.

    • I got my copy of the book about a week ago and I went into complete book worm mode. It was fascinating! I didn’t know my body was that cool! I wish someone had told me all this stuff when I was much younger. Sex Ed was so focused on how not to get pregnant (which it turns out I’m good at!) that I had no idea how my body actually works to get pregnant. It is a complete revelation! Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. Great post! There’s one book I’d like to add to the list though, and it’s for anyone trying to get pregnant using non-heterosexual intercourse methods: “The New Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy and Birth” by Stephanie Brill. It discusses many of the topics listed in the above article. It’s main strength though is discussing sperm options and timing of insemination with both fresh and frozen sperm. I highly recommend it for all the lesbians, single moms by choice and hetero couples needing to use alternative methods of introducing sperm (like intrauterine insemination, etc).

  3. Giggles and Ariel,
    I totally agree about TCOYF (Taking Charge of Your Fertility). I started reading it when we were in the beginning stages of trying to conceive.

    I couldn’t believe (and still can’t!) how much information was left out from health class in high school. I never knew about temperature rises, cervical changes, and the change in cervical fluid every month. If I had known earlier about all these changes I would have been so much more aware of my body.

    I also highly recommend the TCOYF website and forums: http://www.tcoyf.com/

  4. I definitely agree with everyone who cautioned about going into the fertility process with a “plan” or expectations about how it’s going to go. If Ariel invites me to write another post, I want it to be about how we can control many of the inputs, but not the outputs, of conception, pregnancy, and parenthood. Ironically, part of my planning process included reflecting on my planner nature (which is a euphemistic way to say that I’m controlling!), to admit the limitations of my plans, and to really let go. I actually went into the process expecting to have difficulty conceiving because of what one of my doctors had told me about my body years before. However, I still think it’s very valuable to be intentional with the things we can control because there’s definitely a relationship between the inputs and the outputs.

  5. This is so encouraging. I feel that I am in the same boat of pre-conception and it is amazing how easy it is to feel like you are the only one and everyone is going to think that you are crazy.

    I have been following Offbeat Mama for several months now and I love the variety of articles/pictures/ideas. This one really spoke to me though and it is great to see all the comments too.
    Thanks!

  6. This is so great. I was just thinking, “I wonder if OBM has anything about pre-conception?” and here is this post!

    My fiance and I are planning on getting pregnant in about a year. I wish we could sooner, so I’m always thinking about it! I didn’t even think about the importance of eliminating toxic products. That is something I have wanted to do, so now I am even more motivated to do so.

  7. This makes me feel so happy I am not alone! My fiance and I start trying this March and we have been planning for almost a year now! We’ve both been on pre-natal vitamins, organic diet, exercising, saving etc and everyone thinks we are totally mad! I am glad we are planning rather than just winging it!

  8. This has been helpful! It’s not often that, as a doula, I am recommended books that I have not already read, but a few of them on here are new for me. I am not trying to conceive right now, but I probably will be within six months to a year. I already have one son, and we’re thinking about another baby soon.

  9. I am giving my husband a year of wedded bliss (we just married last month) and then I’m going to stop trying to stifle that biological clock and just let it ring! I was on this site because of Offbeat Bride (which I LOVE) and now that I’m reading about actually planning for the baby it makes so much sense I feel dumb for not really thinking about it that way! I mean, I have been thinking that I would spend this year getting into a routine of eating healthy, exercising regularly, etc, but didn’t really put it all together like you have. Sooo glad I’m reading this now! I mean, I spend a year planning my wedding and then I’m just going to snooze for another year when I’m thinking about bringing a whole new life into the world?! People are crazy. If you have the luxury of not having an “oops!” pregnancy, why not make the best of it? Yay!

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