Speak UP! You are HERE!

I’ve been writing a little bit about internet forums for women who are TTC (trying to conceive) lately, and I will definitely continue to do so, as they just keep becoming more fascinating. In fact, I would very much like to go get a Master’s in Women’s Studies and write a thesis on this topic. Anyway, for now, I have this to share:

I got a “PM” (private message) this week from a woman who lives in Australia; like me, she and her husband are waiting to start trying for a baby until she sorts out her psych meds–what does she need to stay on, what can she do without, etc. We’ve been having a lovely conversation all week about doctors, medications and cultural differences. Australia’s health care system is, I hear, a lot less judgmental than ours. Which makes sense to me, because the public health care system in the UK was a lot less judgmental. Ahem, free birth control. Need I say more? (I have issues with handing out hormonal birth control like candy, but if it’s going to prevent an unwanted pregnancy at a university, which is the community my UK doctor served, I am reluctant to criticize. What’s more likely to interrupt a woman’s education than an unwanted pregnancy? Not much. So, free birth control gets my stamp of approval, even if I do wish they’d do a better job educating women *everywhere* about how the stuff works.)

I digress.

Despite the lovely nature of this conversation between two women with quite a bit in common, one thing keeps nagging me, something I can’t quite shove away: the conversation is happening not in the already anonymous “public” forum, but in “private” via fertilityfriend.com’s messaging system. Why does this bug me? Because even when there is no chance that anyone will find out who we are, our real names, anything we don’t want them to know about our private lives, we still are not willing to openly discuss psych issues and pregnancy!

I hear from a lot of men and women who relate to the things I write, here and elsewhere on the web. I appreciate it, I do. I love the support, the encouragement and the “e-hugs” I have gotten from each and every letter-writer. I also invite you all to share your stories publicly.

You do not need to provide any personal details. You do not need to tell me or anyone who you are. You just need to speak up. Because we are not crazy. We are not freaks. We are human beings. We do a really good job, most of the time, coping with some pretty difficult circumstances. Some of us are severely ill. Some of us appear to most people we meet to be 100% healthy. But the thing about stigma is that it doesn’t go away if we all agree to hide. When we hide, when we are quiet, we give the stigma power.

I would like to see a Horton Hears a Who movement grow and grow. You see, at the end of this Dr. Seuss classic, it takes every Who in Whoville shouting the same phrase at the tops of their voices in order to make themselves heard. Do you know what they shout?

“We are here! We are here! We are here!”

If you are brave enough to share your story, if you think it is at all related to anything I have written about, please email me at amtonyan [at] gmail.com. I would love to include a guest post from you. If you have a blog, send me a link. I’m off to post a new thread in that forum for women dealing with psych issues pre-pregnancy/pre-TTC. I hope to hear from you soon, you brave, beautiful people!

Word of the Weekend, and My New BFF

In case you missed it: we are just a couple months from “TTC” and that means that it’s time to get serious about understanding what the heck that means. The obvious is, of course, that it means “trying to conceive” and it may seem obvious as to what we need to do. But here’s the thing: most women are really, sadly, out of touch with their bodies. Do you know when you ovulate? If you answered “half-way” or “day fourteen” then you proved my point.

The whole process of releasing an egg, getting that egg fertilized and getting the fertilized egg to follow through on becoming a baby is a complicated and involved one, despite what we were told in our “You’re Becoming a Woman” talk in the fifth grade. As it turns out, counting to 28 after your period starts to mark a calendar with “Warning! You may need a ‘feminine product’ today!” is important to your wardrobe, but, well, it’s not the whole story. For starters, 28 days? It’s an average. You know what is not helpful at all to a woman trying to figure out how to, how not to or if she is pregnant? Average. “On average, a woman ovulates on Day 14 on her cycle.” That sentence has convinced many, many women that they are infertile. Which brings me to my new BFF for TTC, Fertility Friend, and it’s combo of detailed info about topics like why ovulation is harder to predict than we were taught and high-tech analysis of my personal data, in the form of The Chart.

So far, I’ve been really, well, general, about fertility. Family members, right about now is when you want to stop reading if you’re squeamish. We’re just talking basic biology and just about “fertility signs” but I thought I’d give proper warning.

Still here? It’s really simple when you break it down. Keep in mind that this is my take on it. (Not a doctor.)

  1. Cervical fluid aka cervical mucus: what your body makes to help sperm travel through the vaginal opening, into the cervix and to that egg that’s waiting. If it’s not there, you’re not fertile. If it looks and feels like raw egg whites and is “stretchy” – there’s probably an egg waiting to meet some sperm. I find this part really amazing, actually. There are, depending on who you ask, at least four stages of “fluid” to check and record.
  2. Basal body temperature. I take my temperature every day. With a regular thermometer. Under my tongue. The reason for this is that a woman’s body temperature at rest (right when you wake up, before moving) stays pretty constant and then spikes *after* you ovulate. If you are pregnant, it stays higher. If you are not, or if you miscarry, the temperature goes back down.
So, every day, I check at least these two things, put them in my iPhone, which syncs with the website (www.fertilityfriend.com), which adds the data to this month’s chart. Every chart begins on “Cycle Day 1” – the first day of my monthly period. The analysis involves graphing the temperature, trying to spot the day I ovulated, the phase afterwards (luteal phase). It spots anything that’s outside the parameters of “normal” and tells you if that’s probably due to human error or something you should ask your doctor about.

This is a chart from after I stopped using hormonal birth control (the evil, migraine-inducing Nuva Ring) but before I started ovulating. It's normal for things to take awhile to get back to normal--at least three months. I've been bad about taking my temp every day recently.

Oh, and the word of the weekend? “Mittelschmertz.” Real word! Directly translates as “middle pain” and “refers to a slight pain that you may feel near your abdomen or ovary at the time of ovulation. It does not necessarily occur at the exact time of ovulation and not everyone feels it. As such, ovulation pain is useful to cross check other signs, but cannot be used to definitively confirm or pinpoint ovulation” (Fertility Friend). Yep, that’s right, sometimes you can feel it when an egg gets released. AMAZING! And, thanks, German. Awesome word.

Good News, Bad News, Short News

I have had a migraine since last night; it is responding to medication but I’m not exactly comfortable. This will be a short post.

 

The Bad News:

I have had a migraine since last night. Ow. Hormones suck.

I still have not quite figured out what I want to do with the three days of my week during which I am not working. Do I sub at the school I spent this summer working for? They are sort of crazy about switching my hours at the last minute, and I absorb and internalize crazy like a sponge. Do I ask to sub at another school? I interviewed for a job there, they picked someone with more experience (any experience leading a classroom is more than I have) but offered to let me sub. I haven’t decided.

I spent yesterday in my pajamas. All day. Gross, I know. But I was hyper anxious.

 

The Good News:

I showered, got dressed and went to work this morning. I love my job.

I have had, at most, seven migraines in the past month. This is down from three per week. I know this to be directly related to following:

The evil birth control hormones from the NuvaRing have finally left my system. (It’s an ingenious invention for anyone whose body does not completely hate birth control hormones, by the way. 100% amazing technology. Also? Evil stupid artificial hormones give me crazy migraines.)

I know that the evil birth control hormones have left my system because I am charting my fertility using the Fertility Awareness Method and the chart indicates that I ovulated in October for the first time since throwing out the NuvaRing in July. There will be a future post that goes into detail about how any (obviously hetero) couple can use FAM to either avoid or achieve pregnancy.

In case you missed it: I am ovulating again! I don’t need to be ovulating until next year, but this is still comforting. I mean, step one, right?

I’m gong to see Dr. P in New York City tomorrow! AND WE’RE GOING TO MAKE A BABY TIMELINE!!! (Sorry for the yelling, but I am really that excited.) What does “timeline” mean, exactly? Not sure. What will be on the timeline? Other than “begin trying to conceive a child,” I really have no idea. We didn’t have time to go over that last time we met. But the only thing I care about is that “begin TTC” WILL be on that timeline. Whether it will appear in date form (March, 2012) or event form (after this and that have been completed), I do not know. I do not care. Today, I just care that in 24 hours, I will be able to post it on the darn refrigerator if I want to. A BABY timeline! For MY family!

I get to see lovely New York City dweller friends after my appointment. And eat delicious food in their good company.

Taking 1mg of Klonopin 3x per day seems to be really helping my anxiety.

 

Short News:

Today, I helped a four-year-old start making his first comic book. It. Is. Awesome. You have no idea. If he lets me, I will photograph it and show it to you when it’s done.

Let Them Eat Yogurt!

The point of this post is that if you want to do something to improve the quality of what you put in your body, just read the list of ingredients on the things that you know in your heart should be simply healthy. Like yogurt. It applies to everyone, but especially to children, pregnant women and couples who want to conceive a child.

Yoplait makes this stuff called Go-Gurt that really makes me angry. Why should yogurt make me angry? Because Go-Gurt not yogurt; it’s adulterated yogurt. I encountered this stuff most recently during playgroup while babysitting and, not being a parent, felt that I shouldn’t say anything. So I’m saying something here. I hate this stuff. My friends at Fooducate hate it too. Get this. “A friend was strolling through her local supermarket when she came upon the yogurt section. A mom was there with her kids, and she gave them choice of several yogurt flavors. They picked cotton candy Go-Gurt. Cotton candy ?!!? As if all the stuff put into kids’ yogurts isn’t enough, now we’re encouraging them to look for spun sugar in their yogurt.” Seriously. Cotton candy. Can I just repeat this author’s ?!!? and add my own #@%^ you, Yoplait! As Fooducate cleverly points out, if this were in the “treats” section, rather than the “yogurt” section, everyone would be much clearer on what this stuff actually is. Sugar. A treat. Something your body can probably handle once in a while. It is not the same as yogurt.

Don't even get me started on how I feel about putting commercials on FOOD or about kids sucking on plastic. I hate this product in every possible way.

(A note on the incredibly useful Fooducate iPhone appit uses the camera on your iPhone to scan any bar code in the grocery store and then tells you important things like “NOT 100% whole grain!” or “Minimally processed food!” It also gives each product a letter grade based on how the nutritionists they asked would rate it as well as the entire range of grades given to the products in that category. In “potato chips” a B might be as good as you’re going to get. In “dried fruit” just keep looking for an A or an A+! LOVE THEM.)

While Fooducate objects, rightly, to all the sugar, including high fructose corn syrup, and all the artificial flavors and color that go into making yogurt taste anything like cotton candy, I’d like to add my own objection: it’s got carrageenen in it. My nutritionist told me to avoid anything with carrageenen in it, and, overwhelmed by things to add to my diet, I didn’t get around to researching why until today.

What is carrageenan? It’s a bit like gelatin. For many years, probably centuries, the Irish made it by boiling a certain type of moss to get out the stuff that made the plant cells so strong. Sounds better than most ways of getting gelatin-like ingredients! Unfortunately, most companies don’t use that method. It is now chemically extracted. I want to believe Tom’s of Maine that what’s in their toothpaste is safe, but I don’t eat toothpaste, I spit it out. Plus, the other toothpaste brands scare me more. Props to the company, by the way, for going into each ingredient in such detail on their website! But that’s a side note. Point is, I don’t believe that all “food-grade” carrageenan is safe. [You can read more about that and how the extraction process/production of carrageenan changed in this (technical) paper I found in the UN Fisheries and Agriculture Dept. archives–thanks for being awesome, Google.]

Why do I think it’s unsafe? There are just too many doubts, and when the evidence is inconclusive at best, why not just avoid it? It may cause cancer. It may give you stomach aches. One researcher is looking into a link to breast cancer. It’s not a necessary ingredient in anything unless you are a 19th century Irish lady trying to make a specific kind of desert. It’s easy to avoid the stuff–the name is easy to remember, and it’s listed on anything you might consume, from supplements like multivitamins to almond and soy milk to, well, “yogurt.” This is a concise explanation with good sources for why it’s best to avoid carrageenan. I’m not a big Dr. Weil fan (the beard kind of creeps me out… but in this case his evidence is good.) Supplements, almond milk and, now, Go-Gurt, which is specifically marketed to children and parents, are the products I have personally come across that sometimes include this additive. It makes me angry that the box tells me that this is “all-natural” and/or “healthy” while the ingredients list tells me that companies like Yoplait and Blue Diamond are adding this unnecessary stuff that just might be unhealthy or, at the very least, uncomfortable, if it gives you a stomach ache.

But I wouldn’t write an entire post that’s just about one food additive I find objectionable. The point is this: food is good. By itself. Yogurt already comes in single-serving packages that only contain real food! Don’t let companies convince you that you can’t handle carrying a spoon. Don’t let them convince you that kids won’t like yogurt unless it tastes like cotton candy. Don’t let them convince you that you should want yogurt that tastes like cotton candy. (Or pie, for that matter–why are there so many pie flavors? As this smart post points out, if you’re not careful you could end up with yogurt as sugary as a candy bar.)

You know what’s great? Yogurt with raw honey. Maple syrup. Agave. I have a sweet tooth, so I don’t like it plain. But I don’t want high-fructose corn syrup! Honey is delicious. Raw honey is more delicious (to me, anyway). Let’s teach our bodies and our children’s bodies to crave real food. Please. Vote with your hard-earned cash until Yoplait stops trying to pass chemicals off as food. And think about what’s in the package before you put that brightly colored box into your cart.

 

Babysitting as Birth Control? Not for me!

Yesterday, a mom was telling me about what she did to prepare for having kids. She had a specific timeline because, unlike me, she wanted to and did finish her graduate degree in English. But she had the best phrase to describe the months counting down until she and her husband could start trying without jeopardizing their chances of finishing their respective programs–“My uterus was growling!” Well, my uterus is growling, people! And it will not be ignored!

It’s almost fall, so it’s time to prepare for a change in schedule for everyone in the child care world–parents and providers. That means that I have met some incredible new families in the past month as I’ve looked for “full-time” work for the coming year. (I use quotes because I ended up with at two regular jobs that add up to almost full-time.) I spent this morning working for a family from Finland with the chubbiest, cutest infant. Everywhere we go, people stop and smile at this baby boy. I spent yesterday afternoon with two other boys, aged 17 months and 4 years, and I want two just like them for my own. The little one walks up to me and holds out his pudgy arms until I pick him up–just for a cuddle! And he is one great cuddler. The big brother made “plasma cannons” out of cardboard brick blocks so we could make lightning on a sunny day! I’m about to start working with an infant whose eyes are so blue and whose smile is so big I just can’t help trying to make him smile all the time. And speaking of infectious smiles, I’m really going to miss H, a toddler with the most infectious laugh I have ever heard from anyone. Everything seems funny to him, too, so it’s pretty awesome to spend time with that kid. I’ve known the family for months, but it feels like forever, and they are moving away! And finally, just before he turns two, the toddler I’ve spent two days a week with since February has started saying “bye-bye Ammareee”! It just brings tears to my eyes. Oh, and on Saturday night, I briefly fell asleep while comforting an toddler who woke up looking for his pacifier. Then his soft little knee connected with my face, and I woke up… But his little hand held onto mine until he was fast asleep and willing to let me leave the room.

The Plasma Cannon, after C and R kicked it down.

My husband’s friend had a baby this year, and she describes him as “The kind of baby who makes you want to have more babies.” Well, lately, all the kids I meet are the kind of kids who make me want to have kids. On a particularly great interview (their babysitter decided not to leave, so I didn’t get the job), I acted out We’re Going on a Bear Hunt with three incredibly imaginative girls. I want some of that in my house! I want noise and toys and even tears, so long as they belong to my family. I love other people’s kids but, gosh, I want some of my own. I want it so much it hurts. I’ve heard people refer to babysitting as the best form of birth control. Maybe it was, before I had this much experience with tantrums, messes and fussy moods. No matter what they throw at me now (literally, sometimes) it just does not scare me anymore. And it just cannot outweigh the sweetness of tiny hands, little cuddles and small voices.

Can you hear it? The growling? It’s getting louder!

Reader Profile: Jenna’s Wait

I wrote on Sunday about my gratitude toward the readers who have responded with stories of their own. I did so in part because I had just heard from a childhood friend, Jenna, about her own frustrations surrounding preconception care. It turns out that Jenna has her own blog, and she’s been writing about the grief she has experienced and the faith that has gotten her through about six years of “infertility.” I use the quotes because, like many couples, Jenna and her husband Jason don’t have the money or insurance to cover every single test to find out why they haven’t been able to conceive. They don’t know if one or both of them is actually “infertile” or what, exactly, to do about it. They do know what it’s like to wait for a desperately-wanted baby. Jenna and I are the same age, by the way, and I have to say that I am so impressed with how she and Jason dealt with so much so young. I’m sure you’ll agree that they have made some incredibly wise choices. This post is much longer than anything I usually put up, but Jenna has written her story so beautifully that I just can’t find anything to cut.

Background: Jenna and I were close friends as children. We used to ride our bikes around Grand Rapids, Minnesota, have sleepovers, go to the playground. Neither of us actually remembers how old we were when we met or started spending time together, but we think it was fourth grade. We parted ways at some point, but we can’t remember much about that, either. We are both glad that we have reconnected. I had no idea that she’d be such a good writer, by the way, so reading her answers to my questions was pretty exciting!

Two things: she explains “charting” really well, but I’ll do a post later about what I think about this, and the Fertility Awareness Method or Natural Family Planning (not the “rhythm method”). I also asked Jenna both questions I have for her and questions I suspected other people would ask her and/or her husband. For example, while I was curious if Jenna and Jason had considered adoption, I didn’t need to know, personally; I wanted to know how she responds to this question, though, because I figured it had come up a lot. And for the record, I offered anonymity, and this couple basically said no need, bring it on.

Jenna and Jason

 

Why [did you start trying to conceive] so early? Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m from a small town and went to college in a small town. At our college it is normal to get married after your sophomore year and even your freshman year. I met my husband on the first day of my sophomore year and we were married at the end of that school year. We were dating for 7 weeks when we were engaged! With young marriages in a small Christian community also comes lots of babies early on. After about six months of marriage we decided we wanted to begin trying and see what happened. I had always wanted to be a young mom, not a teen mom but early 20s because I wanted to be fun and run around with the kids for as long as I could. I imagined raising my babies with other young moms at college and having this great community experience.

 

What did you do before you first started trying to get pregnant?

Honestly, I just threw out the pills. I was working under the assumption that babies come naturally for everyone. Some of the things that I did incorporate into my lifestyle in the beginning were taking prenatal vitamins and reading about pregnancy — not infertility. I have always stayed away from alcohol, smoking, and prescription pain meds.

Your husband?

My husband didn’t really change anything when we started trying. He was also taken aback that babies weren’t going to come easy for us.

 

How did that change when you realized it wasn’t going to be easy to conceive?

As the wait grew longer I began to make small changes in preparation for conception. I wanted to believe that the wait would end next month, in a few months, by next year…and six years later I’m still in the preconception stage. It’s more like a way of life now. I slowly integrated more lifestyle changes: fish oil, more regular exercise, eating less processed food, consuming less dairy, charting, taking alcohol-free Rubitussin around my most fertile times for its ingredient Guaifenesin which is an expectorant and is used to loosen and thin mucus (it works for all mucus areas), magnesium, acai, ovulation predictor kits, sperm-safe personal lubricant (TMI ?), reading even more. I still stay away from smoking and drinking all the time. I made a commitment to my children that they would not have fetal alcohol syndrome, or even fetal alcohol exposure. When a new diagnosis was thrown around I would read up on it as best I could and change my diet again. It took me a year and a half to type “infertility” into my search engine. It took me 2 years to say it out loud. I wanted to pretend that I was somehow still going to be normal. This was a difficult and slow process for me to realize that “normal” does not exist.

Jason was at first a little reluctant to change his lifestyle. When we were still assuming marriage automatically lead to a baby carriage it was the unspoken rule that everything before labor and delivery was all about me. I think most couples operate under that same rule. I kept talking about everything that I was learning. After a while he was more and more interested and eager to make changes. He also took fish oil, a multivitamin, CO-Q 10, ate more colorful food like tomatoes and fruit, ate less processed food and exercised.  We also started having sex in the recommended baby-making positions and in the morning. After waiting for so many years it’s hard not to wonder if any of these methods, techniques and tricks really work. But I think my research is pretty solid and I know others have gotten pregnant because of these small changes.

 

Can you explain what “charting” is, for the uninitiated? Just the basics, please.

“Charting” is a method of keeping track of fertility health. Each month there are several indicators of the most fertile days in a woman’s cycle. Once these indicators are known and followed or “charted” a woman can follow her fertility and know fertile days, non-fertile days and if there might be any problems during cycles such as anovulation (when an egg is not released so ovulation does not occur). It is quite fascinating and amazing how our bodies are made. Usually basal body temperature (waking temperature), cervical mucus consistency and cervix opening are charted. When all three are charted consistently and properly a woman can have a pretty good picture of which days during a cycle she is most fertile. You should also keep track of days of intercourse, period start and stop, health issues such as antibiotics taken or migraines. These are all important pieces of information to have when using this method of birth control or pregnancy achievement.  When put together in a pre-designed fertility chart, you can have a pretty clear picture of your fertility or fertility problems. Charting can be used when one is preparing or trying to get pregnant, trying not to get pregnant, or just wants to keep track of fertility health. A really great resource, probably the best out there, is Taking Charge of Your Fertility. She is amazing. There is so much information and sample charts are included in the back. These charts can also be downloaded online but make sure you know the proper way to check temp and cervix or all the effort of charting might be misinterpreted.

 

Can you describe your experience with charting?

Haha, well it wasn’t until the second year of trying that I started charting. I was so young and people around me just didn’t talk about fertility or charting. I wish I had known about it earlier. I charted consistently for about two years. There were months that I was certain I would be pregnant — everything in the chart was perfect. Other months I threw my charts against the wall out of sheer frustration. After two years of anal-retentive, OCD chart keeping my husband and I threw it out the window for the most part. I still keep track of some things mentally. I write the dates of my cycles in my planner. I know when my cervical mucus is “stretchy.”I did it for so long that I pretty much keep track in my head but the constant writing and charting and measuring…it was too much added stress for the overly stressful infertility crisis we were enduring. My husband and I reached a critical meltdown point. Our sex life was over-scheduled and mechanical. Instead of looking to each other for passionate signals, we looked at the calendar. It was just too exhausting and all-consuming for me. It got to the point where I was feeling guilty if I missed something — forgot to take my temp, didn’t write something down. I would constantly wonder Was this the month and I messed it up? What if this was the only month?? I also found myself living for the future. My future happiness was somehow dependent upon this little, floppy piece of paper. I wanted to live for today and enjoy what was around me. I saw myself headed for a downward spiral and I pulled out. Now, for my sanity and health, I am more laid back. We have time, though sometimes it seems like time is running out. And I never know what God has in mind.

Charting was very helpful in increasing my understanding of myself and my fertility. It was also helpful in discovering possible fertility issues such as my low body temp, ovarian cysts and a miscarriage. I can’t imagine myself continuing that for another two years without success and completely exhausted. Other’s experience might be dramatically different. This is just me and I don’t want to discourage anyone from using this valuable technique. It has helped countless women achieve pregnancy and avoid pregnancy. With that in mind, we are responsible for our overall health. Just because I am not charting does not mean I am eating crap and living in total disregard for my well-being. I do believe God is in control but I also have freewill to make my own choices, and I want them to be good choices.

 

Can you explain how your lack of access to comprehensive health care coverage has influenced your decision making? What would you like to do that you cannot afford without insurance?

Because of a few opportunities to see a doctor I have found out I have ovarian cysts, bicornuate uterus — which is very minimal — and there is suspicion about endometriosis. What a cocktail! So I have some idea of what is going on, but I would really like to know more. Our decision making and options have been very limited to say the least. It is extremely frustrating most days. Other days I am thankful. If we did have great health insurance I might have jumped at fertility treatments out of desperation and anguish rather than rationality and confidence in the best choice for us. Having limited options has allowed me the time to process through my grief, grow in my self-awareness, and know where I stand and how far I would go to get a baby. I know where my moral line is and where I am willing to be flexible. I know a couple who immediately went through one round of IVF (invitro fertilization) and later wished that they had taken more time to consider their options. I wanted a baby so bad I would have done most anything. Because our options are so limited I have been taking advantage of all the natural and herbal “remedies” and treatments I can.

Now, I am glad I couldn’t do anything because it allowed me to have time and space to work through this process and learn from this journey. It is still a daily frustration — wondering if our six years of waiting might have been avoided with one simple test. But again, I know there is a purpose in this and I know that it is all in God’s timing. When I think about it I realize that had I not gone through the past six years, I would not have the strength and voice I have about fertility issues nor would I be writing to you now. If the growth and knowledge I have gained in my six years of waiting will help another woman in her struggle, who’s to say that wasn’t God’s plan all along?

I would definitely like to have the basic tests done for both me and my husband. I would be overjoyed and so grateful. Though I do not necessarily agree with all the aspects of the IVF procedure, I have less reservations about “adopting” donated fertilized embryos. This is something I have been thinking about but would still like more information about if I were given the opportunity to go ahead with it.

 

What tools do you and your husband have to help you deal with the emotional fallout of this?

Each other. We’ve pretty much been making our way through this process clinging to each other for dear life. No one around us was talking about infertility so we had to talk to each other and figure it out together. In northern Minnesota there aren’t many support groups for infertility. There was time when we easily could have gone either way. We made a decision together that no matter what we were in it together for the long haul. We started talking more, supporting and encouraging each other, taking every opportunity to laugh together and made ourselves available to cry together.

Our faith. Infertility has shaken the very foundation of our faith. How could a God who is love allow us to go through such pain and sorrow? Together we have seen the amazing blessings that have come out of this process in spite of the sorrow. Our relationship is stronger than I could have ever imagined. We’ve made some great friends. And here I am, writing on this blog and speaking out more and more about infertility issues. Even though life seems unfair and has crappy moments or years, we know that God has a purpose in everything.

 

If you could go back six years and give yourself some advice, what would you say?

“God is good and just, even when life is unfair. Yes, this is happening. Yes, it will hurt a lot. You will survive. Keep talking and writing.”

 

Name one thing you found more helpful throughout your process. Is it a book? A relationship? Keeping a journal? Medical professional? Anything. 

All of the above. I have made some AMAZING friends throughout this process that I probably would not have connect with had I not been dealing with infertility. I am forever grateful for these women who get me through the worst moments. I Will Carry You by Angie Smith was the most powerful read for this crisis. But the most helpful thing, BY FAR, has been journaling. I have always been writing and journaling. I stopped in high school. But when I hit a wall in coping with infertility I bought a journal, started writing and never stopped.

Two snippets of advice I would give about getting through or coping with this process are 1.) Don’t try to fit with other people’s ideas of coping strategies. Find what helps you cope; what gets you through the day. I’m talking the simple things. A cup of tea, your favorite socks, a good book, a sad movie…It’s the little things that make the biggest difference. 2.) KNOW YOURSELF and be confident in this knowledge. Know your body. Don’t assume that because doctors have the fancy degrees that they know more about you than you know about you. You will meet great doctors and frustrating doctors. Know your concerns and voice them even if you have to change doctors or clinics.

 

What’s the most obnoxious, invasive question anyone has ever asked you about conception, fertility etc? 

Haha! I love this. . I do have two questions that stick out:

“Are you sure you are doing it right?” — my mom, and I’m afraid she was dead serious.

“What kind of underwear does Jason wear?” — a girl that at one point had her eye on my husband before we were married.

What advice do you have about keeping a relationship strong even while trying to get pregnant? 

Just keep talking. There will be moments when one of you is carrying more of the stress of infertility or preconception than the other. Then, unexpectedly the weight shifts. Pay attention to this and keep talking. Talk about what you each need to cope through the bad days and what you would like to do on the good days — and take advantage of those good days when they do come! Pay attention to each other’s stress and grief levels in order to keep encouraging and supporting each other. If you like to plan and enjoy knowing what to expect, this will be an especially difficult time as it is all about changing expectations and plans. Be spontaneous together to make the most of this crazy time. If you have been in the preconception stage for more than six months or have lost a child take time to plan a get-away. It can be cheap. It can be short. Just get away. Take a break. Actually leave your home – not to visit family or friends. Get out of your environment. Talk about what you are going through or make it a point NOT to talk about it. Just get away and have some fun together without the constant reminders of baby-making.

Why put yourselves though this for so many years? How you considered just putting it on hold until you have insurance? What about adoption? Becoming foster parents? What is or is not appealing about “other options?” 

Awesome question. I’m glad you asked.  I must explain that I have very conservative views in regard to pregnancy and conception. You could call me pro-life if you want. I just value life — old, new; healthy, sick. I didn’t really know where I stood for a while but through this journey of infertility I have gained a value and respect for life that I did not have before. I have thought about going back on the pill to save myself from the disappointment/hope rollercoaster each month but I just can’t do it. I don’t want to miss an opportunity but I also wouldn’t want to lose a pregnancy. Part of the pill’s job is to hinder fertilized eggs from implanting. This is the “back up plan” in case the original plan (to stop ovulation and fertilization) fails. I don’t want to be trying and waiting for a baby and all the while possible babies are being expelled from my uterus. So we might not be trying as intensely as we once were, but we are still trying. We are definitely not not trying.

I also know that I could easily quit school, get a good job, get insurance and pursue more intense fertility treatments but I am certain that I need to finish this out. Every day I make the choice to continue on this path of schooling and set aside, for the time being, insurance and medical care. There are so many fertility facilities here but I am not about to spend thousands of dollars I don’t have to get a baby then have no money to care for this baby. I just can’t justify that.

I have a brother who is adopted so adoption has always been on my heart. My frustration with questions of adoption to “infertiles” is the assumption that is being made. For some reason people tend to assume that the go-to solution for infertility is adoption. Not true. People also assume that those who struggle with infertility should be ready and willing to make the decision to adopt. Again, not true. Adoption and infertility are related but their relationship should not be exclusive. When I am asked if I have considered adoption I respond Have you? Just because someone is free from the stress of infertility doesn’t mean that person is excused from exploring the possibility of adoption themselves. Adoption is not for everyone, but it is also not an option limited to those who are dealing with infertility.

I would JUMP on the chance to adopt. Before we started grad school my husband and I were looking into foster-to-adopt programs in our area. We do dream of one day being a forever home for some great kids who have never had a home to call their own. I would also absolutely LOVE to be a forever home for kids with developmental disabilities who are rarely adopted out of the foster care system. These kids need a stable, safe, caring home too! These adoption programs are relatively inexpensive as the state is looking for immediate placement for these children. Yes, they will not be newborns. Yes, they might have many issues to work through but how great would it be to love a child who had not known what love was?  It makes me think of a quote from Martian Child, “I can understand not wanting to bring a child into this world, but what’s wrong with loving one that’s already here?” If I am going to desire so strongly to have children and I value children, I can’t help but live my message and be willing to love every child – and I do.

But for right now, while we are still finishing our master’s programs, we are patiently and eagerly awaiting the day we can bring a child into our home — biological or adopted. But no matter what adoption will be a part of our story. Foster care and working with children with developmental disabilities are two of my greatest passions. I apologize if this was a long answer to your question :)

Advice from Jason to other husbands:

Get involved in her experience. It’s going to seem foreign and uncomfortable at first, but she needs you. Be willing to try new things. They might seem silly but just agreeing to try shows her you are in it together. Every month of a negative pregnancy test is really hard and can feel like rejection. Make a point to spend time with her after this. So much of this process is focused on the woman so you have to be your own advocate. Speak up about what concerns you and keep talking with her. No matter what do not let this struggle determine who you are as a man, a husband, a father.

I Am Not My Uterus, II; or, Make Up Your Own Mind Because The Liberal Approach Is Also Bonkers

First, a small clarification: I am using the terms “conservative” and “liberal” in the quantitative sense; i.e. a conservative or liberal amount of something. My last post was about a “do as little as possible” approach to preconception health, while this one is about the “try to do everything” approach.

So, what are we supposed to do? Cut out everything that is not healthy, including everything from processed foods to artificial hormones (The Pill, forever) and, not least, we should eliminate all unnecessary electronic devices from our homes for fear of “electrosmog” (electromagnetic pollution). I’m getting this from the folks at Foresight, a British organization devoted to preconception health. Much of the information on the sight is actually pretty great. My nutritionist recommended that I check it out, and I have found much of it very helpful. Besides its unfortunate name, which I still think rightly belongs to some group protesting circumcision, what I find most objectionable about this group is, again, all in the language. Why, I keep asking myself, does it seem necessary to couch some good advice (fear of electricity notwithstanding) in all of this fear?

Foresight defines their approach to preconception care as a comprehensive plan aimed at “improving natural health in both parents [in order to] enhance fertility and successful pregnancy.” So far, pretty good. We’ve got both parents involved, here. And since my husband’s gender actually produces sperm daily, while my eggs were made in utero, I think we ought to be concerned about the male side of this conception process. I take issue with what comes next.

“The preconceptual approach of Foresight can help with overcoming some of the issues in connection with conception, pregnancy & birth:

  • Infertility
  • Low Sperm Count
  • Secondary Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Birth Defects
  • Low Birth Weight
  • Premature Birth
  • Post Partum Depression
  • Breast Feeding”
Why should I have to worry about all these things immediately? I can’t help but feel that their message is that if I don’t follow their program, then I haven’t done enough to prevent the grave misfortunes on that list.
And then there’s this lovely sidebar: “Vaccines – The Truth! Vital information regarding the adverse effects of vaccinations” which is not separated by more than a small space from the statement “Treating Autism: Because Autism Is Treatable.” I’m all about knowing what’s in a vaccine and the potential risks behind a vaccine, so I do like that “Vaccines – The Truth!” is actually a list of research about vaccines and links to that research. (Although some of it could be more accurately characterized as “research.”) But no causal relationship has been established between vaccines (MMR specifically). Not receiving vaccines is dangerous. In fact, it’s a lot more dangerous than the small risk associated with vaccines. And kids are now getting the measles again. I’d also like to remind everyone that the man who first “studied” the “link” has now admitted to fraud.

What’s my point? Why am I listening to anyone discussing preconception care if they’re all nutcases? Because they’re not all nutcases. What I’m trying to do here is find someplace in between these two infuriating points of view.

I’ve got to take what I want from both sides. I want vaccines for my kids, because I don’t want them to get the measles. I’m trying to cut out processed foods, because the additives scare me and real food tastes better. I always have eaten whole grains (thanks, Mom and Dad!). I don’t take The Pill anymore because it gives me migraines. I avoid plastics I’m not sure about because I’ve read the science, and it’s good science–bisphenol A causes serious damage. I am keeping my electronic appliances because, well, they’re useful, and I don’t believe in electrosmog. When it came time to buy new mascara, I bought some that looks great and is made without parabens and other scary chemicals. I clean my bathtub with baking soda and vinegar because it looks whiter and scrubs easier and doesn’t burn my lungs. It really is not about fear. I refuse to add fear to my life. It’s about doing what feels good and healthy for my family.

Maybe I will have trouble conceiving and we will get our hair tested for heavy metals, throw out the XBox and wear those pollution masks to filter out most of the air and any passing cigarette smoke we might encounter. I’m not counting on it. The women on both sides of my family have a serious history of fertility. Mom has seven brothers and seven sisters, for crying out loud, with no sets of twins thrown in there. That’s fifteen babies. Yeah. Take a minute for the courageous lade who was my Grandma Celia.

But a lot of things can and do go wrong in pregnancy, and we don’t always know why. We do know that I have a history of anxiety and depression. So I want to do what I can to decrease the odds that something will go wrong, especially psychologically, when we finally decide to try for a baby. It’s also about increasing the odds that things will go as smoothly as possible, in body and in mind, in a way that actually enhances our daily lives. Who doesn’t love the smell of bread baking? I have the luxury of time to bake bread from whole grain flour that is actually soft and yummy. Who doesn’t want a happy digestive system? My husband’s acid reflux has improved so much since we started paying close attention to what we eat. Anyone who has ever had a migraine will understand why it was easy to throw out my birth control (and switching methods! Sorry for TMI but I don’t advocate just throwing caution to the wind!) We’re taking our friends’ advice and ignoring people or instructions that seem crazy. Apparently, this is only the beginning of all that. Bring it on. There’s plenty of common sense in our house. Oh, and thanks for being my rock when I do completely lose it, Nathan. It’s a very good thing that you don’t mind having good sense for the both of us sometimes. I love you.

I Am Not My Uterus; or, Why I Dislike the Conservative Approach To Preconception Care

I think it’s time for a post that better defines “Preconception Health” as I see it, and not just because I was recently asked why I was anticipating fertility issues. Let’s start with the bare minimum–obviously, that’s the government and the first hit on google when I type in “preconception health.” Here’s what womenshealth.gov has to say:

“Preconception health is a woman’s health before she becomes pregnant. It means knowing how health conditions and risk factors could affect a woman or her unborn baby if she becomes pregnant.  … some foods, habits, and medicines can harm your baby — even before he or she is conceived. Some health problems, such as diabetes, also can affect pregnancy. Every woman should be thinking about her health whether or not she is planning pregnancy. One reason is that about half of all pregnancies are not planned.”

Stop. Right. There. I need to rant, briefly: people, women included, need to be healthier–regardless of whether or not we plan on reproducing! I HATE being talked to or treated as someone who needs to think about her reproductive system as more important than anything else. This statement makes “every woman’s health” an afterthought, a thought after we have all given appropriate thought to the women who will be reproducing. Are you kidding me? I should be thinking about my health in case I get pregnant accidentally? We’re in the middle of an obesity epidemic, and that’s just for starters! Take care of yourselves, ladies, to prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, osteoporosis, even depression, for heaven’s sake! We are not incubators, and I resent even the slightest intimation that woman = uterus. We can continue, now. I have taken a deep breath and counted to ten.

“Unplanned pregnancies are at greater risk of preterm birth and low birth weight babies. … about 1 in 8 babies is born too early. Researchers are trying to find out why and how to prevent preterm birth. But experts agree that women need to be healthier before becoming pregnant. By taking action on health issues and risks before pregnancy, you can prevent problems that might affect you or your baby later.”

Rant time, again. I can tell by the language they use here that they’re trying to reach as many women as possible and avoid sounding too preachy. I respect that. I don’t respect the manipulative use of “baby” when we are clearly talking about a “fetus.” This is an obvious attempt to push the emotional buttons necessary to get a busy or reluctant woman into her doctor’s office. I understand that. I don’t forgive it. I’m not even talking about the abortion debate rhetoric–a fetus is dramatically different from a baby, and I want to reclaim this language from politics. I recently read a great book about how gestation influences the rest of life. I came away from Origins, by Annie Murphy Paul, thinking WOW are we missing a lot by just looking at a fetus as just a future baby! There is so much more to this! But for the purposes of the webpage I’m talking about, I suppose that would be too wordy. But I think women deserve a straight up, educational, clear and concise wakeup call, rather than gooey talk about “your baby.” To me, the message is clear: too many women are not taking good care of themselves in general. If we focused on empowering women to take charge of their own health and health care, unplanned pregnancy would be a much less frightening prospect. Not to mention the fact that it would happen less often as women became more invested in and educated about their own bodies.

Now let me share the hilariously bad photograph that accompanies the preconception health page of womenshealth.gov. Because it’s just so… well… “.gov”… Can you count the ethnicities? Notice how the doctor is the only person who is clearly 100% caucasian? Love it.

The title for this photo is "man-woman-doctor," by the way. Glad she has her male protectors. *Rolls eyes*

Breakfast: Protein & Peace of Mind

The biggest change in my life lately is BREAKFAST. This has always been my favorite meal of the day, maybe because I have a major sweet tooth. Almost two weeks ago, during my first consultation with Jan, The Amazing Nutritionist, I learned a bunch of science that added up to the following: I will feel better and promote better health in the future if I can get a super-high-protein breakfast every day.

Well, Mom, I hope you’re sitting down as you read this, because you probably never saw this coming: I get up early, now, so that I can cook a real breakfast. I would never have believed that this would happen if you had told me a year ago, but this night owl has learned to love her mornings.

Here are my specific breakfast goals:

  • Eat 20 grams of protein.
  • Do nothing but eat, slowly, during this meal. Do not read. Do not check email. Sit and be “present.” Psychologists call this “mindfulness”and there are truckloads of research that tell us that practicing mindfulness makes human beings happier.

(If this sounds like hippie nonsense, just read this article before you make up your mind.)

Avoiding my computer and my books and newspapers during breakfast is HARD! I sometimes end up talking to my dog. He listens because he’s hoping I’ll drop some food. I think we are now closer than before… But the real goal is to make sure that I start my day with calmness and mindfulness and that I eat all this protein slowly so that my body can do a better job absorbing it.

I don’t eat the same thing every day, but I’ve been eating some variation of this meal each day this week.

  • Creamy Fruity Oatmeal, with pepitas (delicious mexican pumpkin seeds, roasted and crunchy and nutty)
  • Coffee + almond milk
  • Peach Berry Smoothie

Here’s what I added to my oatmeal this morning:

Organic dried black Mission figs, chopped; pepitas, roasted and salted; organic candied ginger with natural cane sugar (those are the only ingredients--no sulphur).

Finished product! Trader Joes Quick Cook Steel Cut Oatmeal. When this runs out, I'll switch to Bob's Red Mill slower cooking version because it has more protein. I don't know why. Both are delicious. I also added toasted wheat germ and stirred it up; I can't taste it and it adds, you guessed it, more protein.

Cascadian Farms Organic Harvest Berries; (same brand) Peaches; Trader Joe's original almond milk; Bob's Red Mill Hemp Protein Powder; sweetened with 1 tbsp agave syrup.


Today’s breakfast was vegetarian and even dairy free. Is it vegan? I guess so… I am not a vegetarian, but have not yet gotten around to purchasing the grass-fed beef I am supposed to add (with beans) to scrambled eggs for another high-protein breakfast option. Another day! About the hemp powder: it looks and smells vile in the bag, but I really can’t taste it in the smoothie. I’m trying to do this whole thing without too many supplements and as many unprocessed ingredients as possible, but this stuff is minimally processed and made from a whole food. It’s also organic, which is really important with seeds. And, about the dairy–I’m trying to keep the glycemic level low, and cow’s milk is not great for that. I have now made the switch to almond milk even in my coffee and find that if I add enough of it, it cuts the bitterness of the coffee in the way that milk used to and adds a lovely almondy flavor without any chemical flavorings.

Here’s the breakdown of the nutrition I got this morning, thanks to a lovely iPhone app called, as you can see, “My Fitness Pal.” It’s online, too, if you don’t have an iPhone and like it. It seems to be primarily marketed towards people trying to lose weight, but I use it to keep track of things like protein and iron, not calories, which matter less in my case, especially since I’m eating less meat and almost no processed foods.

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Note the high levels of iron, calcium and Vitamin A, as well as my 21 grams of protein. Success! 20-25 grams, achieved!

I love this meal. It’s warming, comforting, delicious and filling. It’s also really easy and takes about fifteen minutes, because all these whole foods just get thrown together. Aside from a bit of chopping, boiling some water, stirring and using a blender, I don’t have to do much. It hardly feels like cooking at all. It’s July, yes, and hot, yes, and I’m eating oatmeal, but it hasn’t bothered me yet! This is better than any (homemade) breakfast I’ve had since my family used to make whole grain banana walnut pancakes for me in the shape of Minnie Mouse.