The trials of trying to conceive when your partner works away

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Sarah Long arrived in Australia from the UK in early 2010 and met her Mr Miner soon after. They're based in Sydney and he does drive-in, drive-out (DIDO) to country NSW. Sarah came out to Oz as part of a six-month backpacking trip around the world, and never went home!

I wasn’t that bothered about having kids. I knew I probably wanted them in my future – a "nice idea" that would happen one day.

But baby talk and gooey, sticky babies were not something that appealed over and above holidays and nights out – it wasn't something I was ready for.

Until my 28th birthday.

It was as if a switch had been flicked on and suddenly a nice idea turned into a NEED.

The talk of biological clocks etc. has always seemed to be a very patriarchal idea to me, similar to the Victorian concept of hysteria: an ailment affecting women only and making them crazy. But now it was ticking. And it felt like a hunger, a yearning that Mr Miner definitely didn’t feel in the same way and although we had discussed having kids, broaching the subject of actually "trying" was scary.

It sounds silly, but I didn’t want to be the one with the biological clock ticking and "scare him away". Our only serious commitment so far had been a visa application, which at the time seemed huge and now seems pretty trivial.

Anyway, I eventually plucked up the courage and told him, because despite him always saying that he didn’t want to be an "old dad", gentle coaxing was still required to explain that:

a) if that was the case then perhaps (given he was 31 already) we should start trying soon, and

b) it was unlikely to happen immediately anyway.

In the end we left fate in the hands of a football game (how else do you make such huge life decisions?). If Manly won the grand final, we would start trying for a baby (presumably that very night in celebration?).

Manly lost the game and a month later we started trying anyway, or not "not trying" as people like to say.

But after spending all my adult life trying NOT to get pregnant and hearing all the cautionary tales of "accidental" pregnancies, surely it would be easy?

And I was sure something would happen, despite the statistical possibilities. You see, I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can affect ovulation. Then there's the fact that he’s away 50 per cent of the time.

But after spending all my adult life trying NOT to get pregnant and hearing all the cautionary tales of "accidental" pregnancies, surely it would be easy? Obviously not.

Having taken the pill for over a decade, I hadn’t realised the side effects of PCOS, one of them being a completely irregular cycle (yes, that’s the way this column is headed, so look away now if "cycle" is TMI).

Sometimes it would be 72 days and the next time it would be 24 days. Of course the first few times my period was late it was like an exciting adrenalin rush: could I be pregnant this quickly? But soon the excitement turned to disappointment and frustration.

Friends with babies, or those who were also trying, discussed apps to track your cycle, ovulation kits, taking your temperature and acupuncture. Everyone had helpful advice, but even if I could work out when I was ovulating, the likelihood of Mr Miner being home was slim and I became pretty despondent, pretty fast.

After about nine months I went to the GP to see if there was anything we could do, but she just didn’t understand the FIFO thing. "When will he be home?" she asked. I explained that he worked week on, week off. "OK. And how long will he be doing this for?" she asked.

She just didn’t get it at all, but told me to try for another three months and come back again if nothing happened. I left disappointed and came home in action mode. I downloaded an app to track my cycle and got regimental about having sex – it was all highly attractive.

One woman received a standing ovation on arrival to the mess, because everyone knew the reason she was there...

Disappointed still and now angry with Mr Miner for seemingly not caring enough, I discussed the situation with other FIFO partners and found comfort in the fact I was not alone. They shared stories of bulk buying ovulation tests from Ebay after trying so long, only to end up pregnant straight after, and conjugal visits to camp where one woman received a standing ovation on arrival to the mess, because everyone knew the reason she was there.

In fact, the one good thing to come out of this was the shared experiences. The more you talk about trying to conceive, the more you find other people are having similar issues.

For every excited pregnancy and birth announcement in my Facebook feed, there was another friend going through a similar experience, whether that be due to FIFO, fertility or in the case of a gay couple we know, adoption.

After about 14 months, I went back and saw a different GP, who treated the situation a lot more seriously and said that, due to my age, now I was 30 (gee thanks!) we needed to sort out a plan of action soon and so did some tests to confirm my PCOS, before referring us to a fertility specialist.

But even that was painful with FIFO. The waiting list for an initial appointment wasn’t short and they only had initial consultations on Thursdays (fly in/out day for us), so we had to book with a different clinic. We finally booked an appointment after moving house, over 18 months after we started trying, and I let myself relax. Just the feeling that we were doing something about it made me feel better.

The initial consultation went well and we were each booked in for a battery of tests. I worried about the cost of it all, but now it seemed possible, rather than hopeless. There were solutions – including medication to make me ovulate and what appeared to be some kind of frozen sperm and turkey baster approach if Mr Miner was away when I was ovulating – seriously sexy!

My heart sank a little as I realised that it could easily take another month...

I went off and started my tests, Mr Miner headed off to the US for a boys' holiday with his brother and I finally felt like things were going to be OK. Until I was told I had to wait until the start of my next period to book in for one of the tests (a very painful ultrasound). My heart sank a little as I realised that it could easily take another month, so I waited and waited, and nothing happened.

I went for a boozy dinner at a friend’s house to cheer myself up as Mr Miner was still in the US, and after a couple of bottles of red and several rum cocktails she said, "But what if you’re pregnant now and that’s why you haven’t got your period?" I thought about it all the next day as I nursed my hangover, and by the next Tuesday (the day before Mr Miner arrived home) I decided I had to know either way.

I did the test that morning, knowing I was going to be disappointed. When the timer went off and I saw two pink lines, I thought I was going crazy. I thought I might faint. I went through the day at work in a daze and came home and did three more tests (you get one free with every ovulation kit, so I had approximately 1000 going spare) and each one was positive.

Mr Miner arrived home the next morning with serious jetlag and my presents from the US: a two-litre bottle of Grey Goose and some very pretty Victoria Secrets lingerie. In turn, I presented him with a picture of the test I had taken (again) that morning.

Suffice to say that six months later I think he may still be in shock, but all is going well and we are eagerly awaiting our new arrival!

To those who are trying, here are some links I found useful:

Our Miner's Girl also has her own website: check out her blog here at

And here's lots more from Sarah on Mining Family Matters:

If you've got a question for Sarah or would like to tell your own tale about mining life, we'd love to hear from you. Click here!