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Pregnancy

Getting pregnant

We talked to women with a wide variety of experiences of getting pregnant. Some easily became pregnant and had planned the timing to fit other aspects of their lives. (Most women planning to have a baby conceive within a year of trying). For some, pregnancy was unplanned and they had to rethink their life and relationships. Other women we spoke to had tried for years to conceive and some needed medical help. Those who had problems with their own health or with previous pregnancies had to think carefully about becoming pregnant.

For many people, deciding to try for a baby is an exciting and joyful point in their lives, and can bring a new intimacy to a relationship, both emotionally and sexually. One mother said her husband had been disappointed she got pregnant so quickly, because 'I think he was hoping for a long campaign, as he put it.' Although this can be a very enjoyable time, people also think about the responsibility they are taking on. Several felt it was important to wait till they had enough money and stability in their lives before having a baby. One woman felt it was important not to assume you would get pregnant or raise your expectations too high.

 

Describes how she and her partner felt about the responsibility of deciding to have a baby.

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Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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But we had sort of talked in general terms just around the decision to have a child, really in terms of, you know, why we were, why we were having a baby [laugh], and what it meant I suppose to us, and the fact that we knew, in making that decision that, that there were some things which you can't control and that to some extent nature takes its course. And that I think, you know, we were very conscious that, we didn't assume we were going to get pregnant in the first place, for instance. We, we were sort of, we tried to manage on the basis of fairly low expectations, because I think, we both very much believe that it's not, it's not a human right to have a child, and that it's a responsibility that we both took very seriously. And I suppose that sort of affects our feelings about choices that you might make along the way in terms, of bringing a child into the world.

Another woman tried to plan the interval between her two babies carefully so they could be close together in age. Some people knew they wanted a baby, but just allowed it to happen rather than actively planning the timing. One couple taking this approach were taken aback when it happened earlier than they expected and they had to rethink a planned career change and house move.

 

She wanted to have her children close together so she planned an 18-month gap.

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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What made you choose to have baby now?

Well I had very strong reasons actually. My sister and I are very close together, I mean close emotionally and close in age. And I always dreamt all my life of having two children close together so once I'd had the first one it was just a question of waiting then for the right time to have the next one. And this was just perfect timing. I wanted them to be eighteen months apart so we were very lucky.

So did you get it spot on?

Yeah, [laughing] yeah almost to the day, which was great. The due date is almost literally almost eighteen months from my first baby's birth. So that was, if it arrives on time it will be great.

 

Before every pregnancy they stopped taking precautions but have never said they were actively...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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Obviously with every pregnancy that we've ever had they've never, I say they've never been planned, but we've stopped, we're not taking precautions but you don't basically want to say to yourself or to tell people, 'Oh we're trying to have a baby' in case nothing happens. I mean nobody knows, especially after the first miscarriage. Nobody knows, you don't know if there is a problem and you don't want to say to people, 'Oh we're planning to have a baby and we want it to be this age or' whatever because if it doesn't happen then you've got no one to answer to, to explain that it hasn't happened and you don't get people sort of saying to you, 'Oh how's it going or'. I mean that can make it very difficult subsequently, put you under a lot of pressure as well. So we've always said we wanted children but never said we're planning them.

This a sort of half-way house kind of thing?

Yeah, because then you don't, you're not. I think a lot of the time people who are trying for babies and can't have babies they'd feel under so much for themselves that it makes it. It's like a catch twenty-two because they are under so much pressure and they don't get pregnant and then when they give up and stop worrying about it they fall pregnant straight away so. And it also means obviously if you've had things go wrong in the past then you don't have to, you're not. If it happens it happens. You're not actually trying for it to happen and you're not having to explain to yourself even. I mean it's, I think it's, a lot of it is psychological. You don't have to explain to yourself why it's not happening or could there be another problem or is there something wrong with you.

 
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They had been trying on and off to get pregnant but not very seriously, so they felt a bit taken...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Male
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Mother' I think, well, when we got married we thought about having a baby, I think from sort of that time, really. And we sort of had tried on and off, I suppose. I think we weren't really serious about it. We just wanted to sort of let things happen. But then, when things didn't happen and I'd applied to do a PGCE, so I think we thought, 'Oh, we won't, you know, I'm not pregnant so let's just stop, and I'll perhaps do a course and then decide.' So we decided that we would - well actually it was down to me really - that we would go for a, a sort of like a sexual health check just to make sure that everything was okay, that we can conceive and if we did need any treatment for anything then that could be sorted out first. But the results for the test were due on a Friday and I'd already found out on the Thursday that I was pregnant, so it was a week, in that week everything sort of happened really. So that was a bit of a shock, really, a surprise. But we, we hadn't sort of thought about, 'Oh, well, we'll be seriously stopping trying for a baby' or, 'We will seriously be trying for a baby.' So I mean it wasn't really a long process or a short process, it just sort of happened.

What did it feel like from your perspective?

Father' It was quite a shock. It was funny the way she told me, I had to laugh. But it was just so out of the blue as well, because I was kind of getting ready for possibly moving away from here and setting up house somewhere closer to where she, we were going to do the PGCE so, completely unrelated to having a baby. So then to be told that we were going to have a baby was quite surprising, especially as we hadn't really been trying that hard, you know. We hadn't seriously looked at dates of ovulation and stuff like that, so it was completely out of the blue.

Was it a good feeling, though?

Father' Yes, it was, wasn't it? 

Mother' Mm. I think we were ready definitely to have a baby that time, by that time. I think we just decided then, 'Oh well, we have tried for a little while.' And we'd decided that I had, wanted to change career completely. I hadn't wanted to do the jobs that I'd been doing in the past. And perhaps do that, and then maybe just try for a baby after that. You know, it's only nine months that you, you do a course, something like that, it's very quick. So it made sense, in a way, just to wait for that short period of time before we really tried properly and took it seriously I suppose.

But, you know, we were still ready. I think we were still in that state of mind where we thought, 'Oh, yes, it would be a brilliant thing to happen.' But just the way, the fact that we weren't trying at the time, really we weren't being that careful either just came as a bit of a, out of the, bolt from the blue, didn't it?

Father' Mm.
 
 

Gemma was initially unable to get pregnant but now thinks it was because she was worrying too much.

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Age at interview: 29
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No, it, well, I met [husband] in 2005 and basically I was on this injection. I come off the Depo and basically me and [husband] was like planning to have kids anyway. And I thought, “Why can’t I get pregnant?” So I thought there was something wrong with me. And then [Husband] said it could be him. So we both went to the doctor’s. But we were both fine. Nothing was wrong with us. So I said, “So why can’t I get pregnant and that?” But then I think cos I was thinking about, thinking about it, I couldn’t get pregnant. But, cos then our wedding was like coming up. So I thought, “Well.” That, sort of like I was more worried about the wedding than about being pregnant. So I thought, so then I, that’s how I sort of copped out with [child 1].

Of course, having to make such changes is even more likely when a pregnancy is completely unexpected, especially if the relationship is not stable. One woman became pregnant even after using 'morning after' emergency contraception. Another thought a course of antibiotics had reduced the effectiveness of the pill. (Most antibiotics don't affect contraception. It's now thought that the only types of antibiotic that interact with hormonal contraception and make it less effective are rifampicin-like antibiotics. NHS Choices 2016). We talked to several single parents with unplanned pregnancies, some in their teens or very early twenties, and some older single parents. Some women had felt uncertain whether they wanted to keep the baby, but others felt ready to have a baby despite the disruption to their lives. (See also 'Discovering you're pregnant').

 

Discovering she was pregnant unexpectedly made her reassess some aspects of her life, but she...

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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Tell me about getting pregnant?

It was definitely an unplanned scenario [laughs], unplanned scenario. So yeah, it wasn't something that I'd planned at the time, in any form at all, so.

Right. And how did you feel when you found out?

I was pregnant? It was a bit of a difficult time personally, because I was kind of thinking about, I was unhappy in my relationship, which had been going for about four years and I sort of, the day I found out was the day I really had to say that things were not going too well, and so it was a bit of a shock. It was a bit - I mean, I was quite happy to be pregnant in a way but it was also like it made me feel more confused about what I was supposed to be doing and “Should I stay in this relationship or shouldn't I?” and things like that, which made it very, it was quite upsetting at the time [laughs] in a way.

Did you ever have any doubts about going ahead?

Only briefly, but not really, no. I mean, I figured that, you know, whatever happened, that you can still have a baby as long as you've just got to do what is necessary to, what is going to be good for it in the long term, in terms of its life and stuff, and how you interact as parents, as a parent towards it and stuff. 

So that was more my, more important to me. I was 28 at the time as well, and I sort of figured, well, I think you come to a - I, for me I think you can come to an age where, you know, having an abortion just seems like it doesn't feel like the right thing to do. If I'd have been younger maybe I would have thought about it, but I was coming up to being 30 anyway, and I sort of was thinking, “What am I actually doing with my life at the moment?” And I figured, “Well, I can have a - if I'm pregnant I can keep this baby. It's not - why not [laughs] keep the baby?” So yeah.

People who found it difficult to conceive often had long and complicated stories to tell, and we have grouped some of their experiences in a separate section (see 'Assisted conception'). Women described their gradual realisation something might be wrong, and the fertility investigations and treatments they experienced. Parents described the relief and sometimes disbelief of finally conceiving. Sometimes people conceive naturally long after they have given up hope of having a baby. Sadly this mother's first baby had a genetic abnormality and was stillborn, but her second baby was fine.

 

It took fourteen years to get pregnant, but the baby had a genetic condition and was stillborn....

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Female
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Was this planned and waited for, this pregnancy?

Certainly waited for, yes. Waited a very long time, in fact waited - we've been married seventeen years this year, and she came after sixteen. 

Right.

Sixteen years.

And had you been trying all of that time?

Yeah, we'd been - well, not for the first couple of years. Maybe after sort of like the fourth year of marriage we decided to try for a child, but it just wasn't happening. But then fortunately I did actually fall pregnant about two and a half years ago. And that, so that was after fourteen years of trying and I fell pregnant and unfortunately I lost my child at 6½ months.

Oh.

So, I had a little boy, but lost him. And I just gave up then, because I thought, “Well, I've had one, it took so long to get pregnant and it's not going to happen again.” And she came by chance again - total, total miracle.

Some people with health problems had to think carefully about getting pregnant. For example, one woman thought she would never have children, because she was told she had multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. She expected she would become too disabled to take part in her child's life. Her view changed when it was decided she did not have MS after all.

 
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She never thought she would have children, but once she was told she did not have multiple...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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Yeah, I mean we still didn't know what was wrong with me but it seemed [pause] a fairly reasonable decision between us that we would be okay to have a baby. There was also probably something about a biological clock in both of us that, that's when we took the decision that we did.

Mm. Yeah, because that's easy to say in advance, 'We won't have children.'

'We won't.' I mean we were fairly steadfast, not fairly we were completely steadfast for ten years there's never ever be children and our friends were getting married and saying, 'Oh we're hoping to have children.' We always said, 'Well, we're just not interested.' And we led our lives in that way, so lots of holidays, spending lots of money, no reason to save for a family because we weren't going to have one.

Mm, so it must have been quite a emotional turn around changing your minds about that?

Yeah, it from being told that it probably wasn't MS, to becoming pregnant was about two years and in that time [pause] there was a complete and utter shift from definitely not to definitely we will have a baby.

How did you feel in that bit while you were sort of going through that shift before you'd actually got to the point of being pregnant, were you feeling really excited, or anxious, or how did it affect you?

I think really excited because it felt like I'd got a second chance, that I was really going to grasp it. Because the fact that I'd felt that it was the wrong diagnosis in the first place, then it was still the diagnosis, it was still the label, whereas now somebody had said, 'No, it looks like it isn't that.' That I thought, 'Woah let's just go for it.' And we both felt that really.

I mean ironically, now I've had a baby and now I'm a bit older, then I'm probably much weaker than I was five or six years ago, but we're still hoping to have another baby because now we're, we're in the reality of it, then things aren't so scary. So I can't do as much with the baby as I would like to, but we've discovered that there are lots of ways round things, lots of creative ways of parenting and looking after the baby that we don't need to stop at one, we'll stop at two but we don't need to stop at one [laughs].
 

A mother with epilepsy discussed getting pregnant with her neurologist and a genetic counsellor, and planned what to do about medication and antenatal screening (See also 'Pregnancy with another conditions or disability').

 

Because she has epilepsy she talked to her neurologist and a genetics counsellor before trying...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
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I knew, we knew we wanted a family quite quickly after we got married, so but we knew that the epilepsy was a big issue within that so our first port of call was my neurologist, and we went to see him and discussed the options with him and the possible problems he thought we might have. Probably over quite a long period of time, even before I was married, he was working towards getting me on one drug, with the knowledge that I would want children eventually. So we'd managed that and we went and discussed, you know, getting pregnant. The implications, as in, if I had terrible morning sickness, what that might mean with my drugs, and that I would have - you know obviously the current thinking is that you should very much keep taking them. That you do more damage to the baby by having a seizure than you would sorry - you do more - yes, you do more damage to the baby by having a seizure, because you're not on drugs, than you do by taking the drugs, which the risks, although higher, are still you know, greatly, very low. So we saw him first. He was very positive, suggested a few tips, you know' go to my GP first, see if I could go to some sort of counselling at the local hospital. Which is what we did, and we were sent to somebody who is actually a genetics counsellor at the local hospital and she basically talked us through the implications that having epilepsy might give to the pregnancy. Things that, you know, the higher incidence of spina bifida, that all of that would be screened for you know, cardiac problems. And she went, ran through when each one would be screened for throughout my pregnancy. And probably discussed with us long before we were pregnant, you know, what did that mean? If you found out you had a spina bifida baby, think about what you would do about that. So off we went and got pregnant very quickly and were back there within six weeks [laughs].
 

Sometimes previous health problems affect a woman's chances of getting pregnant. One woman had a history of endometriosis (problems with the lining of the uterus), but conceived naturally after one of several episodes of surgery.

 

She expected to have problems conceiving because of endometriosis (problems with the lining of...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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I had been trying to become pregnant, but hadn't actively been trying to conceive. I had hoped to become pregnant, but because of my history of complications - oh, pre-, because of my history of gynaecological complications over the years, since I was thirteen, I've had severe, chronic endometriosis, I was told that I probably wouldn't be able to become pregnant anyway. So therefore it wasn't - if I became pregnant, that was, that's great, and it would be wonderful, but if I didn't, then we would look at other options.

Right, so was it a surprise when you found that you were pregnant?

It was a fantastic surprise. It was one of the best surprises I think you can possibly have. It was very nice to find I was pregnant, yes, and very unexpected. Good news.

Okay, so how long had you been sort of trying or hoping to become pregnant, before you actually did?

I had probably been trying to become pregnant for about a year, before I became pregnant. After my last surgery for the endometriosis I was told I had a six month window of opportunity, where I could probably, I could possibly become pregnant, so I think we kind of took that as a good sign.

Can you just explain that to me, what was different in that six months?

I'd had laser surgery, and they had to remove a great amount of cysts, of the chocolate cysts, as they call them with endometriosis, and therefore that meant that it should have been easier to conceive, because they cause problems with trying to conceive.

And they would eventually come back?

Yes. Uh-huh, they do, they just, eventually it does come back, so over the years I've had several amounts of treatment to keep the condition under control and to remove, both by drug therapy and surgery, to remove these chocolate cysts. Obviously that leaves scarring behind, if you're having laser surgery then that leaves scarring behind, which again can affect your fertility.

Another major factor affecting people's feelings about getting pregnant is previous experience of losing a baby, as a result of miscarriage or stillbirth or perhaps termination after a diagnosis of a genetic problem. Women were commonly very anxious about getting pregnant again and feared they might lose the baby, but they also needed to prove to themselves that they could have a healthy pregnancy. One woman's previous experience of miscarriage made her more determined to go ahead with her next pregnancy, even though it was unplanned, and maybe even subconsciously contributed to her becoming pregnant again. (See also 'Bleeding and miscarriage').

 

Having had a miscarriage made her very keen to get pregnant again to prove to herself she could...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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So after the first miscarriage were you apprehensive about trying to get pregnant again?

I was very apprehensive, sort of in a rush to get pregnant again, because I was very sad and I really wanted to put it behind us and thought, “Well, that's just bad luck and this time it's going to be fine.” 

So I was really, really looking forward to get pregnant again. And I was almost pregnant like the following month, sort of thing. Because [laughing] we really wanted to get pregnant again, so it was quite sort of like, I wanted to be pregnant again and say, “Yeah, I can be pregnant.” 

And I think also a lot of the people think that when a woman miscarries it's the woman's fault, you know, like something's wrong with her, and I really wanted to show that, “No, there's nothing wrong with me”, you know? So we sort of - it's a bit silly, but that's how you feel. You just want to say, “Well no, there's nothing wrong with me. I'm fine, I can have a healthy baby.” So you always - you know, I wanted desperately to be pregnant. If it had taken months and months, I would have been shattered, I think.

 

Previous experience of miscarriage made her more determined to go ahead with her next pregnancy,...

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Age at interview: 30
Sex: Female
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How did you feel about that?

The miscarriage?

Yeah.

I didn't really have much time to think about it because we, I, the way that we were living we had like loads of friends come round quite a lot and things like that. We had people, friends staying with us from, after they came from travelling, so - not long afterwards - so I didn't really have time to think about - not think about it, but I think, you know

I was obviously going through, if I look back on it now I think it kind of made any existing depression feel worse, but obviously you're having to sort of keep on going a lot, so I don't think I gave myself, had enough time to really think about the aftermath of that properly, or to be able to act on the aftermath of that properly. So I think that might have, I don't think that contributed to the pregnancy, in a conscious way to the pregnancy but maybe, I'm thinking, maybe that's something that may have affected me getting pregnant again, I don't know.

In what way?

But I think it made me - in what way? I can't, it's difficult to say, really. But I think when I found out I was pregnant this time I just, I didn't really - that's why I felt quite happy that, about being pregnant. Even though I felt that, you know, my relationship was a mess and stuff like that, I didn't actually, I didn't feel upset about being pregnant, I think because I'd had that experience. So I think that's another thing that made me more determined that no matter what happened in the rest of my life, that if I wanted to keep the baby that it should still carry on, basically. I didn't really question it.

 

Gemma said to her unborn child, ‘You’re gonna stay in here’ after she’d had a miscarriage.

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Age at interview: 29
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[Child 3], basically I protected him I think cos I was, cos I was scared about miscarriaging. And I think basically, you know, again like, you know, I talked to him and said like, “You’re gonna stay in here. I’m gonna look after you. You’re n-, you’re not gonna give up. I’m not gonna give up.” So it’s like, you know, and, I think [child 3] was more like a fighter and that. Sort of like he was more on the go, like 24/7. But I must admit if I were to come pregnant again, I, I love, love it really and that, to be honest with you. Cos that’s the best thing ever is like to be pregnant and basically give natural birth without no gas and air, no pain relief and that.

Last reviewed May 2017.
​Last updated May 2017.

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