09 November 2009

A Word About OPKs and Saliva Scopes

What is an ovulation predictor kit (OPK)?

OPKs are testing strips that supposedly tell you when you are about to ovulate. Just before ovulation occurs, your body releases a luteinizing hormone. OPKs predict this surge so that you can act accordingly and have unprotected sex.

How does it work?

There are different types of tests, but you usually have to pee on the stick at a certain time of the day (early to mid-afternoon is best, but never use your first morning urine). You also have to start testing at a certain point in your cycle. You want to start testing right before midway through your cycle, since that is when ovulation occurs. If you have the standard 28-day cycle, or instance, you would ovulate on day 14. Your luteinizing hormones would surge just before that, maybe on day 12 or 13. You want the test to catch that surge, so start testing around day 10 or 11.

The luteinizing hormones shows up in your urine, which is why you have to pee on the stick, or at least pee into a cup and hold the testing strip in the cup for a few seconds.

I've seen the surge... now what?

Once an OPK gives you a positive reading (meaning your LH surge has occurred), you will most likely ovulate within 12 to 48 hours. This translates to: have sex now!

How do I read the test?

Okay, I will be honest. This is what I hate about OPKs. For me, the testing results were not very clear. With a pregnancy test, as long as you see those two lines, no matter how faint or bright, you know you are pregnant. But with an OPK, the result line has to be as dark as or darker than the control line to be positive. I cannot tell you how many different rooms I ran into to compare the lines in different lines.

If I am already charting, why use an OPK?

Charting only tells you after you have ovulated. Yes, within time you will be able to predict when it will happen, and then get a pat on the back when your temperature rises to reassure you that, yes, you did just correctly predict ovulation. But if you are shaky or want that extra sense of reassurance, then using an OPK will help because it verifies you are about to ovulate. It tells you before it happens. So if you use the charting method and OPKs together, you may have better luck.

Okay, Jessica, why do I get the feeling you don't like them?

As I already said, I had trouble reading them, and I consider myself to be somewhat intelligent. Never did an OPK test help me conceive. I know they work for others, but... who knows exactly why they didn't work for me? I tried testing during the suggested window and right at the suggested time; I started testing on day 8, just to be sure, and kept going until I saw my thermal shift (which means I wouldn't get a positive reading because ovulation already occurred); I tried five different brands. I never once got a positive reading, even when I started trying to conceive the first time and was ovulating every cycle.

I will say this, though. If you are going to try OPKs, buy them in bulk online. They are much cheaper and you can buy several months' worth at one time. The more you buy, the cheaper they are. I bought 25 tests for just under a dollar apiece. If you want to buy over 100 of them at once, they are just over 50 cents apiece. Think that sounds like too much money? If you go to a drug store and buy a two-test OPK kit for $7, you have just spent over $3 on a single test. And since you will probably be using more than two tests per cycle, at least in the beginning, you are going to spend a lot more money.

Murphy's Law says to buy as many as you can afford to, and the more you buy, the earlier you will get pregnant and not need the rest.

What are these "saliva scopes"?

They are properly known as reuseable fertility microscopes, but I like my name better, and it just rolls off the tongue a lot more easily. Saliva scopes use your saliva to tell you whether or not you are fertile. The more fertile you become as your cycle continues, the more of a ferning pattern you will see.

How do you use a saliva scope?

At the very beginning of each morning, right around the time you take your BBT, you take some of the saliva from the inside of your cheek (or under your tongue, some tests will instruct you differently), slather it on the glass of the microscope, wait for it to dry, then look at it through the lens. It's definitely easy to see the ferning pattern if one emerges

Interpreting the Results

Saliva scopes, if they work at all, won't be as precise as OPKs, if they work at all, when it comes sto predicting when ovulation will occur. While an OPK will give you a 12-28 hour window, saliva scopes give you almost a week. No harm done, really, but few couples can continue month after month with a week of straight sex.

Again, Jessica, why are you not buying it?

That's just the problem: I did buy one of these things. I was delighted the first time I used it to see the ferning pattern. Then the next day all I saw was dots. Then the next day I saw ferns again. It never told me when I was ovulating. It was a waste of my time and money.

Then again, I have heard some women swear by this thing, and the best part is, it's reusable. If you want to be like me and have as much reassurance as possible every month, then splurge. I wouldn't have felt I tried my hardest unless I had every affordable fertility predictor in my medicine cabinet. But if you want to be practical, skip it. The results will leave you even more confused.

How Long Does it Take to Get Pregnant?

Ask a random group of mothers or mothers-to-be how long it took them to get pregnant, and you'll hear everything from, "I got pregnant while still taking birth control," to, "It took us eight years of trying." In fact, while it make take a woman two months to get pregnant the first time, it could take the same woman over a year the second time. A couple ready to start trying to conceive needs to look at its health and lifestyle. It should be commonsense that the more strikes you have against you (weight issues, drug abuse, family history, etc.) the longer it may take to conceive. (As you know, this isn't always the case. But when it's you trying, it seems as if everything is stacked against you, doesn't it?)

The general rule of thumb is to allow 6 months of trying for an average, healthy 25-year-old woman; a little longer is she or her partner are a bit older. If a woman is of "advanced maternal age" (35 or older), doctors may want to intervene after 3 months of trying without success (since at this point, time is of the essence). It could also take a perfectly healhy couple a year or even longer, with no known cause or reason. You should be reminded here, though, that reading this website and using the information you learn here should help you conceive more quickly if you are a healthy individual, or spot a potential problem earlier if you aren't.

When I first started trying to get pregnant a few years ago, I had to start from square one. I had a lot to learn about my body; I admit, I was 25 years old and I thought you could only get pregnant while on your period, and I had no idea how I was going to talk my husband into that one. I spent hours scouring the internet and plowing through books trying to learn as much as I could about the way my body works and how I can get things working in my favor.

The very first thing I did was chart my temperatures. It was the easiest--and cheapest--place to start. It took a few months for me to learn how to predict when ovulation was going to occur, but as soon as I did, I got pregnant. Whew! All in all the whole pregnany journey took a whopping four months of diligent temperature- and sign-tracking.

Getting pregnant a second time should be a breeze for me, right? WRONG! Now I knew all the tricks and had them ready up my sleeve. I charted for a month to get back into the rhythm of things. Everything was just as it should be, complete with egg-white cervical mucus exactly halfway through my cycle. Even though my self-imposed goal was to wait 3 months before really trying, I thought since things were looking good, I could go ahead and start the next month. I charted and found my temperatures so off the wall that I thought I had been doing something wrong. There was no pattern at all, and no way of telling when or if ovulation had occurred. I thought it was a fluke month.

The third month was a charm: my temperature were back to normal, and I had unprotected sex at just the right time. But no pregnancy took place, and even though I wasn't even supposed to start actually trying yet, I felt myself getting discouraged. I decided to take drastic measures (well, at least for me) and purchased every fertility/ovulation tracker I could get my hands on. I bought a fertility monitor, ovulation predictors kits (OPKs) in bulk, and a saliva scope. [More on all these later, in case you aren't familiar with them or are interested in purchasing one or more of these yourself.]

For the next two months, my temperatures were haywire and all of the tests and kits told me no ovulation had occurred. So here I was, five months into trying, and the first time around I would have been spotting my first signs of pregnancy. I went to the doctor, and because of the charts and the test results, I was taken seriously and got in for testing at certain times during my next cycle.

What charting and testing did for me was help me spot a problem: I was having more anovulatory cycles than I was "normal" cycles. As soon as they were able to figure that out (with just a few blood tests) I was put on fertility medication. I got pregnant the first month I took the medication and am now four weeks away from my due date.

Fertility medication may not work right away, but it usually does within the first three months. I felt guilty that I had gone that route, like I had cheated. But fertility medications have a bit of a misnomer, or so I tell myself. The drugs didn't help me become more fertile; the drugs simply prompted my body to release an egg. If you ever find yourself in the same boat, just remember that.

31 October 2009

Charting Your BBT: Part I

What You Need, the How-Tos, and Other Basics

Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) is your body's daily, lowest, at-rest temperature each day. Your BBT is lowest while in deep sleep, rising as soon as you wake up. A woman's BBT fluctuates in a pretty set pattern during a normal cycle, and finding this pattern of temperature fluctuation, as well as observing other signs from your body, can help you pinpoint ovulation (the day you release an egg) and maximize your chances of conception each cycle. THIS IS THE POINT OF CHARTING! You want to be able to find a pattern and use this to predict future ovulation dates.

What You Need:

- A BBT thermometer
- A BBT chart

You cannot get any cheaper or any more simple than that! When used correctly, your thermometer and piece of paper may be able to get you pregnant quickly.

You can buy special BBT thermometers that come with a blank chart for duplication. These thermometers read your at-rest, first morning temperture to a hundredth of a degree. Generally, these thermometers are more expensive. If the ownership of something really expensive helps you feel better, than go for it. Otherwise, any digital thermometer that reads at least a tenth of a degree is suitable. (I bought my thermometer at Rite-Aid for $2.99.) Just make sure it reads at least a tenth of a degree and is digital; no old-fashioned mercury thermometers here, folks.

A good BBT chart has a range of temperatures to the tenth (even hundredth) of a degree with boxes to help you record your body's signs as well. Other than your temperature, you want to observe and record the following:

-Cervical mucus (this includes your period flow, as well as whether you or not you are dry, sticky, creamy, or slippery).

-Days of unprotected intercourse.

-Any ovulatory pain, sometimes experienced as cramps or twinges of pain when the egg is released.

-Ovulation Predictor Kit (OPK) results, as well as results for saliva-scopes and fertility monitors, if you use those.

-Any drugs are medications taken, including fertility drugs and prenatal vitamins.

-Any miscellaneous things that could have an impact on your chart, such as a bad night of sleep, illness, travel, etc.

This is one of the best BBT charts available. If this one doesn't suit you or seems to have too much information, simply searching "blank BBT chart" or "printable BBT chart" in Google should bring up what you need. Better to have too much information than too little!

Step One: Day One of Your Cycle

You will not have an accurate chart worth a lick if you pick some arbitrary day to start charting. Wait until the first day of your period, which is Cycle Day 1.

Step Two: Taking Your Temperature

Your BBT needs to be taken first thing in the morning, literally. Keep your thermometer and your chart right next to your bed. The second you wake up, before you even sit up or get out of bed, take your temperature and record it on your chart. A few things to keep in mind:

-Always take your temperature at the same time every morning,

-Always take your temperature before getting out of bed, even sitting up, if that is feasible. As soon as your body's deep sleep is disturbed, your temperature starts to climb. You want your lowest temperature of the day.

-Don't fret if you skip a day or accidentally sleep in. You're looking for an overall pattern and will not be able to establish that if you only look at your chart on a day-to-day basis.

Step Three: Observing and Charting Other Fertility Signs

Along with your termperature, you need to be recording your fertility signs: cervical mucus (amount, consistency, etc.), cervical location (high or low), cervical firmess (firm or soft), and cervical opening (opened or closed), as well as days of intercourse, fertility test results, etc. Charts are pretty self-explanatory, and you may not want to chart every single every day... especially if you are doing a few practice charts before getting serious.

Cervical mucus changes throughout your cycle. In order to accurately check your cervical mucus (as well as location and firmness) you need to be in the sitting or squatting position, and insert one to two fingers and reach until you feel a bump about the size of the tip of your nose (but it may feel soft, like your bottom lip, depending on where you are in your cycle). This is where to most accurate collection of fluid will. Here is how that fluid, or mucus, is described, starting with your period, ending in what it looks and feels like at the time of ovulation:

-Period bleeding (spotting, light, moderate, or heavy flow)

-Period color (pink, red, brown)

-Dry (no wetness in vagina)

-Sticky (white or cloudy in color; doesn't stretch between fingertips; may appear crumbly)

-Creamy (a bit cloudy, milky, like lotion; can stretch a little bit between your finger tips; getting more abundant)

-Egg-white (clear; can be stretched more than an inch between fingertips; abundant; literally resembles egg-whites)

If it seems a bit uncomfortable, or if you can reach high enough to feel your cervix, don't worry. Just reaching as high as you can inside to feel for your mucus is enough. It may be awkward at first, but with practice comes perfection--and ease.

Immediately after your period, your cervix will be low, firm, and closed. When it is low, it will be easier to feel. The firmness should be that of the tip of your nose. And if it closed, you will barely be able to feel the opening at the tip. As your fertility rises until ovulation, your cervix will retreat up into your vagina (getting higher), will soften until it feels like the fleshy part of your bottom lip, and will open up. The more your cervix opens up, the more discharge it allows to come through, which is why you will be open and more abundant in egg-white (or at least creamy) discharge towards ovulation.