All eyes tend to be on the woman when a couple make the decision to try for a baby. Sure, conception is a two-player game. But there’s a presumption that having sex all the time must be every man’s dream. Sounds exciting, right? Lots of sex! No more condoms! In fact, no need to worry about contraception at all.
But when you’re actively trying to conceive, sex isn’t necessarily the lust-filled spontano fun everyone is used to. Very often, it becomes tightly scheduled to coincide with when a woman is ovulating. And when a couple have been trying for a while and not yet fallen pregnant, it can also be very emotionally charged. For both parties.
“Being entirely honest, I would say the process can be a bit perfunctory,” says John Adams, dad to Helen, nine, and Izzy, five. “You can talk about romantic candlelit baths, weekend getaways and so on, but when you’re trying to conceive it isn’t, I don’t think, particularly romantic at all.”
Adams says he and wife feel very lucky she conceived naturally with both their daughters, he says. First time round, it took a matter of months and less than a year for their second. That’s not to say they didn’t have any worries. Adams had undergone surgery as a teenager to repair a hernia and post-operative complications left him with swollen genitals. Despite being told it wouldn’t impact his ability to conceive, it was something that weighed on his mind.
“I was also well into my 30s when I became a dad, almost 40 when Izzy was born,” he says. “My wife is slightly older, nearing 40 first time around and just over that threshold second time. We weren’t the youngest parents and that was always in the back of my mind when we were trying.”
The hardest part for Adams was the waiting. “I hated it, and the disappointment when we discovered my wife wasn’t pregnant,” he says. “I’ll say again though, we were lucky to conceive so quickly on both occasions.”
For others, conceiving wasn’t so easy. Brandon Barnes, 38, is dad to eight-year-old Jackson and Lauren, who is nearly two. Jackson came along quickly, but they had several miscarriages after him. They also had a stillborn son, Holis, at 25 weeks. “It was a long and difficult time,” he says.
Barnes says the hardest part wasn’t all the scheduled-in sex, but the uncertainty that followed. “We always plan out how things ought to be, but life doesn’t work that way,” he tells me. “Aside from our oldest, trying for a baby was emotionally draining. We kept losing them. Wondering what was wrong with either of us. You see friends and families having babies seemingly without problem. We were devastated. Hurt. Numb.”
Did he ever worry it wasn’t ever going to happen? “All the time,” he says. In fact, the strain got so much for Barnes and his wife that they decided to go down the surrogacy route. His sister-in-law offered to carry the baby and their second child Lauren was born in 2016.
For Stuart Powell, 43, who was in his late 20s when he started trying for a baby with his wife Lucy, the decision to start a family changed the way he viewed sex. “Sex is spontaneous, but when trying for a baby it can start to become a little more structured, looking at cycles then reading books,” he says. “It can get a little bit stressful, but not irrecoverably. It’s a dynamic shift.”
The stressful part for Powell, as other dads have said, was the unknown. The waiting game. “And what you don’t know you can’t control,” he adds. “It did make me question a lot of things.”
After 18 months of trying, Powell and his partner went through fertility tests and he found out he was infertile. The couple had two failed IVF rounds on the NHS, but managed to conceive using a local clinic through Oxford Fertility. They welcomed baby girl Josie, and four years later, twins Freddie and Jessie.
Powell’s experience was very different to Robin Hadley’s. Hadley isn’t a father, but previously tried to conceive with his first wife. He later married again and his second wife, who was older, didn’t want children. This led to him conducting research into involuntarily childless men and the impact it had on their lives.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the course his own life has taken, Hadley remembers trying for a baby with his first wife as totally unique, with an added “depth and poignancy” to the love-making. “Baby-making sex was for me, one of the most intensely moving and emotional times of my life,” he says. “We weren’t just having sex – we were going to be changing our lives.”
How did you find the experience of trying for a baby? Comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts.