Trying to conceive — why am I not pregnant yet?

Originally Published: September 25, 2009 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: December 27, 2012
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Dear Alice,

My husband and I have been trying to conceive for 2 months now with no success. I'm 34 and he is 35. I have bought early ovulation tests and everything. My question to you is that it seems that my cervical fluid is never "egg white" slippery until a few days before my period. So what are some other symptoms that I need to pay attention to? I have been pregnant before but I terminated it. I was 23-years-old when I did. Could this be a reason why I'm not getting pregnant?

—HELP! Desperately Seeking Pregnancy

Dear HELP! Desperately Seeking Pregnancy,

You and your husband sound eager to start a family, so it's understandable that you are anxious regarding your ability to get pregnant. Although two months may feel like an eternity, it actually takes most couples about a year to conceive. While you're busy trying, there are several signs you can monitor to predict which days are best for baby making.

First, rest assured that your decision to terminate a previous pregnancy should not hinder your ability to conceive. Performed safely, medical and surgical abortions do not cause infertility or problems during future pregnancies.

Now on to the ovaries activities — pinpointing the exact time of ovulation is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. However, there are a few telltale signs that a new egg is ripe and ready. As you mentioned, a change in your cervical fluid is one of them. In addition to a more slippery texture than normal, you can also look for an overall increase in discharge right before ovulation. Other indicators of ovulation include:

  • Mild abdominal cramps
  • Breast tenderness
  • Bloating
  • Increased sex drive

Other signs of ovulation may be more difficult to spot. A few hidden signs include a spike in hormone levels, a small rise in body temperature, and physical changes in the cervix. The at home ovulation tests you mentioned are designed to test urine for the upswing in hormones that spur egg release.

If peeing on a stick isn't your shtick, then you may want to try the symptothermal method. Basically, the fancy name refers to pinpointing ovulation by monitoring symptoms including changes in body temperature. First you'll need to establish your body's resting temperature (somewhere between 97 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit). Then look for a small up-tick right around ovulation. For a more in-depth how-to guide, check out the postscript in Fertile times? in the sexual health archive and Low body temperature — cause for concern? in the general health archive. Additionally, you may want to look into Persona — a European natural family planning device used to monitor hormone levels. Although Persona is not available in the US, it is available online. For more details, take a look at The Persona contraceptive in the Go Ask Alice! sexual health archive.

Another indicator to look for around ovulation is a physical change in the cervix, the opening to your uterus. The estrogen spike that stimulates ovulation also causes your cervix to soften and rise. To the untrained eye, the change may appear very subtle, if it's noticeable at all. To get up close and personal with your cervix, you'll need some special tools, namely a speculum and a hand mirror. Precisely for this job, the Feminist Women's Health Center sells self-exam kits by mail order. You might also check with your local Planned Parenthood or your OB/GYN to inquire about a speculum for home use.

If you're still concerned about your fertility or if you don't conceive within the next year, you and your husband may want to visit a health care provider for pre-pregnancy planning. An obstetrician, nurse practitioner, or midwife can give you and your husband advice about conceiving and help you prepare for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Students at Columbia can make at appointment with a physician at Medical Services by logging on to Open Communicator.

Identifying the exact moment of ovulation is far from an exact science, but knowing what signs to look for can help you make an educated guess. Best of luck with the speedy arrival of a new baby!