My husband and I have been through quite a bit together, but in our quest to determine our fertility, he went where few men would be prepared to go.
The first time Justin told me he loved me was unromantic by any standards.
It happened on our first offical date, in bullet proof vests doing a ride along with police in Port Elizabeth in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province.
During the evening, the police spotted a burglary in progress and my enthusiastic photo-journalist jumped out the car to get his pictures.
The problem was, he had taken his bullet proof vest off. As shots were fired, I did a rugby tackle that would have impressed Dan Carter and lying on top of him, hoped my bullet proof vest was big enough for the both of us (I may have also used a few choice expletives to express my frustration at his stupidity for risking his life for a damn photograph).
Back at the police station, dishevelled, grimy, hot and sweaty, sitting against the outside wall of the station and having a cigarette (yes, my previous life) he looked at me with a look of pure adoration and said with the most sincerity I have ever heard, the three words that cement a relationship.
"I love you" - I was elated and at the same time incredibly surprised that he wasn't totally grossed out by me! (Seriously, I stank)
Fast forward four years, a move across the ocean to his childhood home and yet another instance where one of us was required to put the other's needs before our own.
Except, this wasn't him laying his life on the line to protect me, this was me asking him to produce a sperm specimen into a little cup for his swimmers to be tested.
"The nurse says you have to put semen into this cup and then you have to put it in your arm pit to keep it warm and get to the laboratory on Courtney Place quickly," I said tapping on the lid.
"They need to check that you're ok too."
I will never forget the look on his face. I was standing in the lounge and he was reading the instructions we had gotten from the Fertility Specialists.
"Are you serious Mel?" he asked scratching his head.
"Of course I am! Why would I lie about something so important?" I said.
"Do we do it together?" he asked bemused.
"No, it's just collecting a specimen... just, go into the loo and I don't know, do what you need to do," I answered.
So here is where the catch was (and I didn't mention it until he came out of the loo) he also needed to catch a bus (we didn't have a car yet) from our rented apartment on Lambton Quay in Wellington, to the other side of town to hand the specimen in to the laboratory.
I wish you could have seen his face expression when I told him this.
"I have to get onto a bus with my semen in my armpit Mel. Are you serious?" he asked with his mouth wide open.
I tried my best not to, but the bizarreness of the situation and my warped sense of humour got the better of me.
In my minds eye I could see the bus, an old granny on the way to the library, a businessman on the way to a meeting, a uni student getting to lectures and my darling husband hugging himself to make sure he didn't drop his semen sample on the bus floor.
I couldn't help but laugh.
But, here is where the true act of love comes in, the essense of what it means to be a partner. When you do something you really don't want to do, but do it anyway because despite the inconvenience, you know how important it is to your other half.
Needless to say, his trip unfolded like a secret spy mission.
"I am on the bus," he texted first. "I just got here, going in with it now," he texted again.
"You are kidding me, I am waiting in a line, and I can't believe I am doing this!" he fired off next. "Thank god that is over, I am on the way home" was the last.
We had a big laugh about it when he got home and I thanked him for doing this for us. I want to have a baby and I don't want to leave it too late if there is a problem.
If you are worried- get tested
After my last blog, Steph mailed to ask me a question I think many women in their twenties worry about:
Although I'm not intending to have a baby now. I would like to start a family in the future (within the next 8 years - hopefully more like 5 years). Is it weird/normal to go and get my fertility checked out at this point? Sometimes I worry that I will have difficulties and although I'm not quite ready for a baby yet (neither is my partner) it could be better to know sooner, rather than later. Not sure if that's just me worrying too much - or if it's worth checking out? What do they do to check it? Is it some rigorous testing that would be better suited to when I'm actually ready?
So the simple answer for Steph and any other women is this- if you are worried, go get yourself tested, besides the awkwardness of having to get a semen sample, it is really easy.
Dr Andrew Murray, a lovely doctor and medical director of Fertility Associates said that the easiest way for you to know how long you have on your biological clock is to go for a blood test that will show you what your egg reserves are like.
I went for three blood tests (I am not going into scientific detail, because it is pretty simple).
I had a blood test done on Day 2 of my cycle for a test and one on Day 21 and an AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) blood test - this is considered the best test currently available to estimate ovarian reserve ( how many eggs you have).
Justin had to produce his sample at home and then take it to the lab fairly quickly.This test was to see how many little sperms were swimming and how many of them there are.
Then, we had an appointment with a doctor at Fertility Specialists who showed us the results and did a physical examination while I was there.
This included a scan of my ovaries and would you believe it, I was ovulating right there and then, Justin's specimen ( embarrassment and all) was really good and as the doc said- given the results, we should have no problem falling pregnant.
The whole thing cost $250, the results were sent directly to the doctor and it was really quite simple.
I cannot tell you what a relief it was. As Dr Murray said to me today, if a woman is worried about her fertility, it is better to find out where you are at so that you can make informed decisions.
Do you buy a house, or go travelling; do you do study further or focus on your career for another year? If you know that there is a problem, you and your partner can have a look at your life plan, where you are at and have the certainty of knowing you are in control and whether or not you can wait a little longer before trying.
The other option is to wait until you are ready to conceive and if it doesn't happen naturally within six months, then have the tests done.
The thing is, every person and every couple is different and I am not in a position to advise anyone else medically, but from my experience, knowing that everything is ok was a huge relief.
In fact I was so grateful I had a bit of a cry when I got home. I really didn't realise how much stress the not knowing was causing me.
It was at the back of my mind all the time- "Should we just start trying?"," Can we afford a baby?" ," Should we buy a house first", "What if I leave it too long and I can't fall pregnant"- the "what-ifs" and "how-do-I-knows"- they were actually driving me pretty crazy.
Now that I know that there is no extenuating reason why we can't get pregnant, we have been able to pace ourselves a bit, we are both studying this year, we want to buy a house at the beginning of next year and we will probably actively start trying towards the end of this year and see what happens.
I guess the most important thing- even before you make the call for the tests, is for you and your partner to commit to being a team through the process.
Besides the basics of "sex makes baby", generally I don't think we fully understand how our reproductive organs work. I am a firm believer that knowledge is power and forewarned is fore armed (lots of clichés here I know, but I think it's true in this instance).
It can feel clinical and it isn't the most romantic, it sometimes feels like you are looking at each other's bodies in a very harsh clinical sense and it's scary.
From my experience communication is key. You need to be able to talk to each other about how you are feeling and about your fears.
The pillars of love come in here too, compassion, patience and gentleness. Give each other a hug, thank each other for facing the fertility issue together and above all- keep your sense of humour.
Few of us get through this life unscathed, but knowing there is one person on the planet who is in your corner- you need to look after that.
You can speak to your GP about having the blood tests done to check your egg reserves. Fertility Specialists are very helpful and there is a wealth of information on their site. They deal with these sensitive issues everyday and even if you ask silly questions they are happy to answer ( I had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do and they explained it a few times for me) If you have any questions, give them a call and they will explain how the fertility tests work.
Any questions about your before conception journey?- email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Essential Mums