Parallel Paths: Do You Know How Babies Are Made?

How much do you know about conception and what a woman’s body goes through to conceive a baby? Test your knowledge here with the facts about how babies are made.

Karen Fuss: Parallel Paths

How A Baby Is Made

Seriously, could you explain how you make a baby? I am not talking about the obvious of a man and a woman “getting it on”. I am referring to the biological facts. Are you aware what happens in your body and when it is the right time to make a baby?

For example, do you know how many days in a month you have to potentially get pregnant? Do you know the timing or even how your body releases their eggs and where they must travel in order to meet their mate, Mr. Sperm?  Had you even thought about or, let’s be real, even heard of your what your FSH level is when trying to make a baby?

Perhaps you are rolling your eyes at me and thinking, “Really? You are this naïve?” The answer is yes, I really was.

Or maybe you are more like me thinking it just happens when you want it to.  So humour me and let me begin to explain how babies are made from a biological standpoint.

Ovulation: Your eggs are made before you are even born

That’s right. We women have about two to three million eggs when we are born. That number decreases as we continue to age.

Your eggs are found in your two ovaries. You have a left and a right ovary located on either side of your uterus or womb (I don’t think I actually got that your uterus and womb are the same thing. Sad really, I know), and it is fallopian tubes that connect your ovaries to the uterus. You have two of these as well.

About 12 to 14 days before you next period, ovulation occurs. What this means is that your eggs (several if you are lucky and, sadly, only one or two eggs if you are lucky when you are in your forties) start to “mature” in one or both of your ovaries. The ripest ones are then released. And that process is what is happening in our bodies when we say that we are ovulating.

Conception: Where do the eggs go?

The eggs must somehow travel to the opening of the nearest fallopian tube. Think of these tubes as the tunnel or the passageway (or as you age it is more like a lazy river) that lead the eggs from your ovaries to your uterus.

In order to conceive, your ripened egg must hook up with a healthy Mr. Sperm en route to the uterus. If successful, the fertilized egg or the embryo continues to travel and then must find a clean surface and implant in the uterus in order to grow. If they don’t meet, well the egg’s journey ends at the uterus and essentially disintegrates.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Well, here are the many caveats or potential obstacles that make having a baby an absolute miracle, especially in your forties:

  1. You basically have only one day in your cycle to conceive. Can you believe it? Why was I so petrified of getting pregnant in my early years? Frankly, I am surprised that you hear about as many “unplanned” pregnancies as there are.
  2. You don’t always ovulate on the same day. This means that the most fertile day of your cycle or the day you can conceive can vary month to month depending on your menstrual cycle. It’s not always smack dab in the middle of your 28 day cycle on day 14. It could be day 11 or 12 and the next month on day 15. (Okay, I didn’t get, or perhaps to be fair to myself so you don’t think that I am a complete idiot, that a female’s menstrual cycle is actually 28 days. Not 30, even though we say that we get our periods once a month. It’s like pregnancy, they say you carry for 9 months but a term baby is 40 weeks. Do the math.). Knowing the exact day to conceive is vital information if you are having troubles conceiving or thinking about having a baby on your own, especially if it is costing you money.
  3. Your eggs only live up to 24 hours after “release”. That’s it.
  4. Women may be born with millions of eggs but guess what? By the time we make it to puberty that number is down to approximately 300,000. And when you reach your forties? 97 percent of these eggs are dead.
  5. You need good quality eggs (i.e. ripe, healthy eggs). Your FSH level is a good indicator of quality. But really if you’re not monitored by a fertility specialist, how on earth would you know?
  6. Your fallopian tubes must be open and unscarred or the eggs likely won’t make it down. Remember, your eggs only live for 24 hours. So if there are obstacles that slow it down, they may not make it to their destination on time. Guess what happens as you age?
  7. You need high quality sperm and lots of it. Unfortunately men, no matter how healthy you are, this is not always the case. But clearly I am no expert to talk about male fertility.
  8. You need a clean, smooth and healthy uterus. Ideally one without fibroids or polyps, etc., otherwise it makes it challenging for the embryo to implant. Well, guess what grows as you get older?
  9. If you do conceive, your body needs to develop a healthy placenta. The blood vessels that grow from the mother to the placenta transport the nutrients and oxygen and, yes, guess what happens to the quality of the blood vessels with age? The bursting of these blood vessels because they are weaker or not as plentiful is one of the causes of miscarriages in older women.

Doesn’t this sound overwhelming and downright depressing?

Did I know any of these risks going into this decision? Of course not—not one single fact. And it’s not like the doctors present you with the road map and all of the possible obstacles when you decide to try and have a baby. I had all of this information coming at me during this process and did my best to try to process it or sometimes not if it got too much.

While it may sound all doom and gloom, I am living proof that it is not. There is good news: science and doctors can help. It is because of my doctors (especially Doctor C in my case) and the advancements in science that they can control many of these variables.

What is my most important piece of advice?

Don’t wait, get informed. Especially don’t wait until you’re approaching or in your forties like I did. Whether you are in a relationship or not, if a child is something that you see or think you may want in your life, you need to know your body and any potential hurdles that could impact your ability to have a healthy baby.

Where should you start?

The number one place to start is to talk to your doctor right now. Don’t wait any longer. I promise you that your GP will not broach the subject with you whether you are married or single. Your GP is also the person to recommend an OBGYN and write the referral note that is required to get into see one.

Ask your doctor about the baseline tests that can be done now so that you know your body and cycle. This will give you time to address any possible issues that may prevent or reduce your chances to have a healthy baby. I’ve talked about them in previous blogs but two essential ones are:

  • Find out your FSH level. It is a simple blood test taken on day three of your cycle. As I said it is a very good indicator of the quality and quantity of your egg supply.
  • Book a sonohysterogram. Through this ultrasound they can check your fallopian tubes and uterus for any potential problems.

Get educated, talk to the experts or even people like me who have been through it; know your options and the implications of each. What are the risks if I wait until I’m older? How old is too old? What are the options for fertility treatments? Can I freeze my own eggs and use them later? When is it appropriate to consider a surrogate? What about donor eggs or sperm? What’s involved in adoption? How much could this potentially cost? What kind of support will I need?

Bottom line? Have a plan— and then have a back up plan. It is so worth it and you can do it.

Footnote: Dr. Oz did a great show on the implications of waiting to have babies later in life. The episode aired on January 27, 2012. 

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Did you know most of the facts Karen mentioned above or did you pick up some new information and advice that will help in your own process to conceive (or that of a friend or family member)? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


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