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.