So you’ve decided to have a baby!  You and your husband are very excited.  Your best friend recommends a fertility surgeon, and before your first appointment, you read What to Expect When You’re Conceiving.  You and your husband are new to this, you’ve seen all those crazy conception scenes in movies, and you’re getting nervous!

The book explains, “Your fertility surgeon will give you an ovulation kit, and you will urinate on a new stick from the kit each morning.  When the stick turns green, call your surgeon IMMEDIATELY and get ready to go to the hospital for your conception (see Chapter 2: Getting to the Hospital).  Many women do not like the ovulation kit or find their own body’s ovulation is unreliable.  Another option is a harmless hormone regimen that will direct your ovulation.  Even women who can ovulate on their own may find this very convenient, since they can plan their ovulation and therefore their baby’s exact birthdate.”

Further on, in Chapter 2, you read, “Once ovulation is imminent and you get to the hospital, you can usually go straight up to the intercourse & conception floor and a nurse will get you checked into a room.  You may want to check with your insurer beforehand to find out if your insurance covers a double or single room.  Some couples prefer single rooms, but most doctors find that it does not make a difference for the process.”

Nothing so far is surprising, based on your friends’ experiences and your own store of common knowledge.  On to “Chapter 3: Intercourse.”

In your intercourse & conception room you will have an intercourse nurse with you most of the time to monitor your progress.  Your fertility surgeon will check on you occasionally as long as things are going well.

You must lie flat on your back with your legs as far apart and your knees as straight as possible.  Most conception beds have knee bars to help you keep them down.  We have heard of some back-to-the-earth couples who ask to have intercourse in more “enjoyable” positions, but the American College of Fertility Surgeons states that this is unnecessary and can prevent the nurse and surgeon from effectively monitoring your progress.

If your husband is not making satisfactory progress, the intercourse nurse will offer him medication to speed the process.  Alcohol is the most common drug used for this purpose.  If you find that you are dry and uncomfortable, let your nurse know.  She can give you Valium or other medications to relax you, and can apply petroleum jelly to help with the dryness.

If your husband is unable to progress to ejaculation within one hour, your surgeon will probably suggest in vitro fertilization.  This procedure has been perfected over the past few decades and is simple and quick.  Many couples are choosing to forego entirely the discomfort and unpredictability of natural conception and are having elective in vitro.

And from “Chapter 4: Conception”: “As soon as intercourse is successful, your husband will be quickly escorted to the recovery room for observation.  Another nurse will strap a conception monitor over your abdomen, which will be monitored for 1 to 4 days until it detects a fertilized egg or until the surgeon determines that the conception was unsuccessful.”

Whew!  You start to wonder what couples really did way back when.  “Everyone knows” that you have to go to the hospital for a safe, effective conception.  Just look at all those couples who end up needing help–alcohol, Valium, lubricant, and even in vitro.  What would happen to them if they were trying this at home?  Nevertheless, you are curious.  You hit “search” in your browser and squint your eyes a little bit, expecting to have to shield yourself from stories of dislocated hips, bent penises, and torn vaginas–not to mention the mess of an out-of-hospital conception!

But wait, look at all these websites about “natural conception.”  And they’re not just talking about face-to-face vaginal conception.  They’re talking about low lights, changing positions as the couple chooses, no time limits… Some of these couples even have HOME conceptions!  They just treat it like regular sex!  Could that really make a baby?

Reading on, you find websites that talk about how hormone treatments to control ovulation are far from harmless, the bright lights and the presence of a stranger inhibit your husband’s ability to ejaculate, how the alcohol he is given to reduce his inhibitions actually makes it more difficult for him to maintain an erection, how the knees-down position can cause injury to you, how it’s totally unnecessary and actually harmful to your relationship as parents for you and your husband to be separated during the oxytocin rush following intercourse.  And in vitro is far from simple or risk-free.  To top it off, a natural-conception blogger points out that standard hospital conception costs $5,000, in vitro on average costs $12K, and home conception is… free.


The MORAL of the STORY

Does this all seem a little ridiculous?  Of course–that’s the point. I will grant that the metaphor for birth is not perfect (metaphors rarely are).  The immediate health risks involved in home conception are minimal, while birth in any situation is not a risk-free endeavor.  However, I hope this tale illustrates how medicalizing a normal physiological process increases rather than reduces risk–and how, if we forget that a process like birth IS normal, we can start believing that our bodies are broken, when instead they are being hobbled by counterproductive medical practices.

Women are made to have babies, but we are specifically made NOT to deliver those babies in an unfamiliar, potentially hostile environment, just as we would find it almost impossible to conceive those babies in that environment.

My husband planted this idea in my mind when he explained our home birth to his guy friends by saying “If you had to conceive your baby with a doctor standing over you blaring instructions and putting you on a time schedule, how well do you suppose that would work?  Why would birth be any different?”
I also have to tip my hat to Ina May Gaskin, whose discussion of Sphincter Law has helped me understand even more clearly why women should not feel compelled to labor in an unsupportive environment.