Planning a family is not nearly as easy or definite as planning a wedding. It's a hard fact that I learned myself two years into my marriage.
My husband Al and I couldn't seem to get pregnant, and I was stunned when my gynecologist sent us to a fertility specialist. After all, I was only 36. But my skepticism soon turned to relief, when through the miracle of fertility treatments, I was pregnant within five months, and eventually gave birth to beautiful Leila Ruth.
We joined the 2 million other couples in this country who need help with the basics of baby making: getting sperm and egg to meet. It's not as easy as we all think: Just ask any couple who's been trying and trying.
Three Couples, One Goal
With the help of Men's Health magazine, that's exactly what we did. Three brave couples agreed to get personal and be contestants in a prediction game of sorts: Who Will Have a Baby First?
The first couple, Trey and Lisa Maxwell, are from Birmingham, Ala. He's a lawyer; she's a banker. Married for six years, they love traveling and only recently began thinking about children. Lisa is 38, which by my standards is young, but not necessarily the case in the fertility world.
A woman's fertility actually begins to decline in her late 20s. So at 38, Lisa has only a 65 percent chance of getting pregnant.
There's another issue: Trey smokes, which medical studies show can damage his sperm. As for their sex life, Lisa says they used to have sex twice a week, and now they're getting intimate about every other day.
Krista and Aaron Spradlin from eastern Pennsylvania have been married for two years. She's 25, which means she has a 90 percent chance of getting pregnant. Both are healthy, but live very busy and stressful lives with opposite work schedules.
"Time is definitely, I think, the biggest hurdle for us," said Aaron. "And stress."
"We miss each other every day," said Krista, a schoolteacher, who comes home from work when her husband, a restaurant manager, is just leaving.
These opposite work schedules are the major source of stress for the Spradlins. And stress, studies have shown, can affect hormone levels. For Aaron, that could lower his sperm count. And for Krista, that could lead to irregular ovulation. At the very least, their stressful lives leave little time for sex.
Also, Krista's doctor is concerned about Krista's painful menstrual periods, which could signal fertility trouble.
Sarah and Jeff Pearsall, 31 and 34, have been married a year and are dealing with a different concern: Sarah, who doesn't exercise or eat right, is overweight. There is medical evidence that being over or underweight can wreak havoc on ovulation and egg quality. Even with fertility treatments, overweight women are 40 percent less likely to conceive.
Also, Jeff, a travelling business consultant, is only home two days a week — not the best situation if you're trying to pinpoint that 24-hour period when a woman is most fertile.
But if optimism counts for anything in this game, the Pearsalls are running strong.
"It's my life dream to be a mom," said Sarah. "And so I know it will happen."
Making a Prediction
Dr. Larry Lipschultz, a fertility expert at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, came up with a scorecard to analyze the risk factors for each couple and predict who will get pregnant first. He scored them on how frequently they have sex and whether they are having it at the right time, age, weight, stress, smoking, drugs, alcohol, testicular trauma, sexually transmitted diseases and other medical issues.
His pick to get pregnant first was the Maxwells.
"I felt that the younger couples had other issues in terms of their work schedules and their stress levels that were going to keep them from having the frequency of sexual relations that they needed to make a pregancy occur, while the Maxwells did not have that as one of their issues," he explained.
When Lipschultz found out that Krista Spradlin was in fact the first to get pregnant, he said, "I think what this just shows us is that the younger you are, the more likely you are to get pregnant, given the fact that you do get a chance to get together, which obviously happened with the Spradlins."
It just goes to show that in the baby-making game, Mother Nature gets the last word.