The Egg and You

by Judith E. Beckett, R.N.

Some lesbian women may not be as aware of the course of their monthly menstrual cycles as their heterosexual sisters are because they have not needed to use this information to prevent conception. For a lesbian woman planning to get pregnant, however, this knowledge is essential.

While a heterosexual woman without fertility concerns does not need to have intercourse on the exact day she ovulates (assuming she has unlimited access to her partner’s sperm), a woman using donor sperm is usually limited by the cost, life span, and accessibility of the sperm she is using. She must determine the day she is most likely to ovulate (the day her ovary releases an egg) and the few days just before that happens.

The first step to successfully conceiving a child with donor sperm then is to learn something about your own anatomy. Your reproductive organs include your vagina, the route the sperm will follow to your uterus; your ovaries, where your eggs are stored and grow in a sac or follicle; your fallopian tubes which will carry the eggs to your uterus or womb; and your uterus where your baby will grow. In addition, there are several hormones involved in conception that you will want to know about. They will be described in the text below.

The next step is to determine on which day of your menstrual cycle you are most likely to ovulate. This day and the two days preceding it are the days when you are most likely to get pregnant. You must begin to chart your menstrual cycle several months before you attempt pregnancy. Make note of how you feel emotionally and physically as well.

Keeping a record for at least eight months is recommended because ovulation occurs 12 to 16 days before the beginning of your next period (not two weeks after the beginning of this one) and most cycles vary from month to month. Women with short cycles are likely to ovulate early in their cycles; women with longer cycles, later.

The length of time between periods considered normal is 21-35 days (3-5 weeks) and 28 days is considered average. Your cycle begins on the first day of your period (Day 1 of your cycle) when hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) are low, the lining of your uterus sloughs off, and you begin to bleed. Bleeding may last 3-10 days. Note these days on your calendar. Around the time that your period ends, gonadotropin (GnRH), a hormone released in the hypothalamus of your brain, tells your pituitary gland, also located in your brain, to release two more hormones. These two hormones, follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) and leutinizing hormone (LH), stimulate the eggs in one of your ovaries to grow. Over the next seven days or so, the ripening eggs produce more and more estrogen, releasing it into your bloodstream. The estrogen causes the lining of your uterus to thicken and enrich, preparing a nesting place for a fertilized egg.

Around day thirteen, your estrogen level rises steeply causing the hypothalamus to release another hormone, leutinizing hormone releasing factor (LH-RF), which in turn stimulates more leutinizing hormone to be released by the pituitary. This surge of LH causes a mature ovarian follicle to burst and release an egg. Estrogen levels drop. The eggis then swept along the fallopian tube toward your uterus to be fertilized by the sperm. It will live for about 12 to 24 hours.

Fertilization will occur if live sperm is present when the egg reaches the uterus. Insemination can occur before ovulation because fresh sperm can live in the uterus for from two to five days.

At this point, about 20 % of women experience mittelschmerz (German for “middle pain”). They feel a sharp pain on one side of the abdomen, just before, after, or during ovulation. If you are one of these women, note this day on your calendar.

Between ovulation and your next period, the follicle from which the egg burst, now called the corpus luteum (yellow body), begins producing estrogen and large amounts of progesterone to help maintain a pregnancy. It will continue to do so until the placenta is formed and able to take over.

If you are not pregnant, the follicle will turn white (corpus albicans), hormone levels will gradually fall, blood flow to the surface of the uterus will be cut off, and you will begin to bleed, beginning another cycle. Note the number of days from the beginning of your last cycle to the beginning of this one. Count the first day you bleed as Day 1 of the new cycle.

Pregnancy Test StickOnce you have accumulated several months of information, you will be able to begin to figure out when you might be able to conceive. To do so, find your shortest cycle and subtract 18. For example, if your shortest cycle was 28 days, subtract 18 from 28. Circle Day 10 on your calendar. From your longest cycle, subtract 11. Let’s say your longest cycle was 32 days and you subtracted 11 from it. Circle Day 21 on your calendar. Now you understand that your most fertile days are Day 10 through Day 21 of your menstrual cycle. Obviously, you will need to narrow the window of opportunity by combining this method of predicting ovulation with several others on the website.

January 2006 issue of Epidemiology Emory University in Atlanta researchers found length of cycle and characteristics of bleeding were related to how easily a woman was able to conceive. Pregnancy was most likely to occur in cycles lasting 30-31 days. Pregnancies conceived during a shorter cycle were more likely to end in miscarriage. Also, pregnancy was more likely to occur when bleeding lasted for five days. Women who bled for more than five days were less likely to miscarry.

Women are more likely to ovulate around midnight according to a study done at the University of Modena in Italy.

Information published on The Rainbow Babies website is not a substitute for proper medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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