It's Ovulation, Not Rocket Science (But When You're TTC, It Sure Feels Like It)

by Rita Templeton
Originally Published: 
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Judging by all the “surprise” babies and people who annoyingly brag, “My husband just has to look at me and I get pregnant, tee hee,” it would seem that getting knocked up was an easy feat. And for some, it isn’t that difficult. Others (*raises hand*) must agonize through years of trying and a multitude of medical interventions. For my husband and I, it took five years, eleven intra-uterine inseminations (IUIs), one exploratory surgery, and enough fertility drugs – both ingested and injected – to repopulate the earth.

But no matter where you fall on the fertility spectrum, this much is true: ovulation is part of the equation. And to maximize your chances of pregnancy, or reduce them if that’s where you’re at in life (*raises hand again*), it helps to have a little more knowledge than just a vague mental image of a tiny egg traveling down a tube.

A normal menstrual cycle is 28 days, which means you’d ovulate smack-dab in the middle of it, somewhere around day 14. But if your cycle is irregular, what then? Mine typically lasts anywhere from 32 to 45 days, with a couple of 28-day’ers and a couple of 60+ thrown randomly in just to really confuse things. I mean, we can’t all be perfect.

I learned over the years that if I wanted to know when I was fertile, I couldn’t rely on numbers; I had to start paying closer attention to my body’s signals and patterns. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to do this (and trust me, I’ve tried ‘em all). Probably the first and most basic thing is to Google “ovulation calculator” – there are approximately ten bazillion – and plug in a few numbers regarding your average cycle length. And voilà: you’ve got a general idea of when to start checking for signs.

If you enjoy peeing on sticks and anxiously awaiting results (and who doesn’t? It’s like waiting for a Polaroid to develop!), you can snatch up an ovulation predictor kit. It looks like a pregnancy test, but this test detects luteinizing hormone, which increases when your ovaries are about to drop an egg. If your test is positive, that means you should jump into the bed (couch? kitchen counter? closet floor? backseat? whatever…) with your honey as soon as possible – and for the next two days or so, for good measure. If you’re a gadget geek and want to put some tech in your TTC, there are actual fertility monitors with all kinds of bells and whistles: the ability to read urine tests, track temperature, and basically compile all the data in one place. As is the case with most technology, though, they can be a little pricey.

Your body puts out some pretty clear signs that you’re ovulating, if you’re willing to do a little more, uh … in-depth exploration. Reach way up in there (yes, that’s right, in there, so wash your hands first) until you feel your cervix. On a normal day, it will feel harder, like the tip of your nose. If you’re ovulating, it will feel softer to the touch, kind of like your lip. And the os – that’s the opening of the cervix – may feel like a dimple, slightly open if you’re fertile and closed if you’re not.

Also, you may feel some pain in your lower abdomen right around ovulation. It’s called mittelschmerz, meaning “middle pain,” but I like to call it “why the hell am I cramping in the middle of the month?” Some women don’t get it at all, and some have it so badly it rivals menstrual cramps, so it’s hit-or-miss … but if you do feel it, it may be time to get busy.

Another indicator is cervical mucus, popularly abbreviated as “CM” because the word “mucus” is gross. You might think CM is kinda gross, too, but its function is pretty cool. During the non-fertile phase of your cycle, it acts as a barrier to protect the tightly-closed cervix from interlopers. But once the body is ready for ovulation, the CM changes consistency. You’ll notice that it gets clear and stretchy and slippery, basically the consistency of egg whites. This is because now, instead of blocking the sperm from the entrance, it’s actually encouraging the little swimmers to pass on through. It’s like an exclusive club where the bouncers are super bouncer-y and then all of a sudden for a couple of days they hire someone who DGAF and waves everybody through.

Not only that, but fertile CM is so friendly to sperm that it will actually help them live longer in your body to maximize the chances of babymakin’ – up to five days. So they’ll be hanging out at the door of this metaphorical club, ready to be like “HEY GIRL” at the first appearance of the egg.

Along with these physical signs – or instead of, if you’re grossed out by the thought of analyzing your lady-lube – you can also rely on your basal body temperature to tell you when you’ve ovulated. Basically, your basal body temperature (henceforth known as BBT because we love abbreviations when we’re TTC, KWIM?) is your temperature immediately upon waking up in the morning, before stumbling out of bed to reach the toilet or the coffee or whatever comes first.

If you take your temp consistently every morning, you’ll notice a pattern over time: your overall waking temperature will spike after ovulation, and then stay in the higher ranges (thanks to an increase in progesterone levels) until you start your period – or if you’re pregnant, it’ll stay elevated. Here’s one of my own charts, for example.

Rita Templeton

Obviously the BBT charting method is something you’ll have to stick with over time in order to really get a feel for your own patterns, especially since you’re most fertile two to three days before the temperature spike. But once you’ve done it for a few months you should be able to at least narrow down a window of prime sexy-time.

Clearly, since we live in the digital age, there are fertility-tracking apps to help you with all of this. (The chart above, for example, was done with Fertility Friend – one of the pioneers in electronic tracking.) Some of the apps work with expensive fertility monitors, but some are cheap or free and require no extra equipment (Clue, Ovia, and Glow are a few of them).

Anyway, now that you know how to tell when your eggs are crackin’, you can use that knowledge to boost your chances of scrambling up a real live baby. Go forth and fornicate.

… Just be careful, this former-infertile ended up with four.

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