Having trouble conceiving a baby or undergoing fertility tests and treatments is a little like starting a new job: confusing, emotionally taxing, and often overwhelming. Information flies at you from all directions, medical terms that you’ve never heard of are bandied about and you feel like your emotions have gone on a never-ending roller coaster ride. One way to track all the information and process your feelings is by keeping a fertility journal.
Reasons for a Fertility Journal
Michele Cervone Scott, mother of one from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, kept a journal as an outlet for her feelings and to document her journey to parenthood. “The journal provided a means to express my hopes, frustrations, disappointments, prayers, and preparations around becoming a mother,” she says. “And since I created mine as a scrapbook, it was a creative outlet that gave me something to focus on during my childlessness.”
Rachel Gurevich, mother of two from Jerusalem, Israel, also kept a fertility journal. “I started to keep a journal for two reasons,” she says. “One, I found it amazingly stressful to go through all the tests and waiting without having somewhere to cry and scream about the unfairness of it all. Also, I was charting my temps, CM [cervical mucous], CP [cervical position], and so on, and it felt strange to keep track of these physical symptoms and not record my emotions. I heard that anxiety can lead to an increased risk of miscarriage, and I hoped that by writing out my experiences, I may be able to lessen my anxiety and increase my chances of a successful pregnancy.”
Keeping a journal, especially in blog format, helped Gurevich feel less alone. Journaling online, in particular, helped her see that there are other women sitting in doctor’s offices like she was, thinking and feeling the same way. She also tracked her fertility signs, which gave the doctors clues into what was going on with her body.
“That is how I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome,” Gurevich says. “My doctor was able to look at my charts and see a pattern that helped her pick the right blood tests to run. I’m sure it saved me months of trying to figure out what the problem was, and why I couldn’t get and stay pregnant. I also found my doctor took me more seriously when I could say, ‘Look, I didn’t ovulate for two months in a row,’ instead of just, ‘I’ve been trying for two months, and I’m not getting pregnant.’ Most doctors won’t take you seriously or run tests until you’ve either had three miscarriages or tried to get pregnant for a year first. I avoided that wait.”
Helping Your Doctor
Dr. Marcus Jurema is a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University Women and Infants’ Hospital. He believes that keeping a fertility journal can be very helpful for the fertility specialists involved, though not all women need to keep one.
“In general, a healthy woman up to her early 30s (less than 35 years old) has a reasonable chance to conceive spontaneously within one year of trying, as long as there is no obvious concerns about her fertility,” Dr. Jurema says. “Most couples (80 percent) will conceive within six months of trying. For those who do not conceive within six months of trying, keeping a journal may be helpful to time intercourse more precisely and to further investigate any subtle abnormalities that could be present.”
What Should Go in the Journal?
According to Dr. Jurema, a fertility journal should keep track of as many details as possible. However, human reproduction is not an exact science, and there are many variables (known and unknown) that differentiate a fertile from an infertile couple. He suggests that women track the following in their journal:
- length of menstrual cycles (number of days between day one of one cycle to day one of the next)
- the amount and length of menstrual bleeding days for each cycle
- any pain or discomfort, such as cramps, associated with menstrual flow or intercourse
- type of medications you may use to alleviate symptoms and when they were taken
- symptoms that may be associated with ovulation (start of cervical mucous discharge, midcycle pelvic discomfort/cramping that may be unilateral or any premenstrual symptoms like breast tenderness, bloating, etc.)
- if you wish, a basal body temperature chart may help to pinpoint the time of ovulation more precisely
- days and frequency of unprotected intercourse during the cycle (note if any lubricating gels are used)
- note any unusual things such as flu-like illnesses (including partner’s), days of unexpected bleeding or spotting, etc.
Journaling the Stress
Dr. Jurema says a journal is a great way to keep both a factual and a subjective record of attempts to conceive. “Women and their partners have various emotions, goals, and expectations as they attempt to start a family,” he says. “Writing in a journal often helps a woman clarify her thoughts and emotions about these issues. Often it is difficult to talk to friends or even partners about these issues in a meaningful way. This may be particularly important if she eventually has to make difficult choices, such as using donor eggs or discontinuing treatment.”
On the other hand, for some women, keeping a journal may make trying to conceive a chore and may increase stress levels. These women should be doing something to take their mind off the process, not obsess over it.
A fertility journal can take many forms. It can be a scrapbook of your emotional journey, a log of your tests, procedures and fertility signs, or an online blog or diary, detailing both your medical history and your emotional voyage. What form it takes depends on you and your individual needs, because this is one aspect of your frustrating and exciting journey toward parenthood that is entirely in your control.