From infertile to fertile?!

2014-2016 marks the span of when we first started “trying” to get pregnant, to when we had our beautiful baby girls. Loads of heartache, months of negative pregnancy tests, dozens of tests, multiple rounds of fertility drugs, frequent ultrasounds and appointments, and two rounds of IVF. It is in that timeframe that we were diagnosed with unexplained infertility, and that we began to identify as one of the “1 in 8”.

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We were so blessed to have found success in that second round of in vitro fertilization that resulted in the splitting of our one lonely embryo into two identical blessings from God. Our infertility journey ended in a family. And that is something I will never take for granted.

Fast forward to the final days of 2017. A positive pregnancy test after only three cycles of trying! And now that beautiful surprise baby boy is 22 weeks along and right at home inside my belly. We were shocked, elated, scared, overjoyed, you name it; we felt it. But a feeling I wasn’t prepared for was that of betrayal. Betrayal to the TTC community, my infertile friends and followers, and essentially my identity.

Now that I had become pregnant naturally and quickly, was I no longer “infertile”? Would I be outcast by the infertility community? Was I one of those people I always envied and silently cursed for falling pregnant so easily? Well….maybe I was, to others. But for me, I will always and forever be 1 in 8.

Infertility is not something that can be cured. Sure it can be remedied, but cured, no. I will always have those two years of loneliness and emptiness. The memories of the injections. The pain of losing our two embryos during our first transfer. The feeling of hope when first visiting the specialist. The new friendships I created in the TTC community. The immense knowledge I now have of the female body. And the other women/couples I have helped along the way. That is NOT going anywhere. And it is because of those experiences that I will always identify as being infertile. I will always advocate for infertility awareness, treatment and coverage. I will continue to educate and help my peers. And I will continue to hope for all those impacted by this disease.

Once infertile, always infertile.

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One More Shot – Documentary Review

I just finished watching the documentary, “One More Shot”, on Netflix.

Guess what?

I am still crying.

This film is so real. So truthful, so heart wrenching, so me. In 90 minutes this movie managed to completely transport me back in time and to accurately explain the roller coaster of emotions we went through just over two years ago.

ONE. MORE. SHOT.

A perfect title that can be interpreted in many ways. One more shot of medication. One more blow to your heart after another negative pregnancy test. One more attempt at conceiving. One more shot of tequila to numb the pain. Or, one more chance at a miracle.

The story follows a couple in their early thirties as they try to expand their family and navigate the uncharted waters that are infertility. They aren’t a glamorous Hollywood couple. They aren’t doctors or scientists who know all about infertility. They are the couple down the street that stop over on Thursday night for a glass of wine. The couple you pass in the grocery store while looking for a ripe watermelon (how DO you know if a watermelon is good??). And they are the couple that sits across from you at the fertility clinic, wondering how long you have been trying, if you were already pregnant, or if you had just suffered another loss. The ones whose eyes you meet before heading back for your consultation who can tell you with just one look that they understand.

There were several moments in the film that I could identify with, but there were also several that I could not. This couple suffered longer than we did, and more loses. But, some points that really hit home for me, were:

 

The fear of the unknown.

As an OCD, control freak, I spend every spare moment planning, making lists and setting goals. Infertility was something I knew nothing about, and treatment had no guarantees. Yes, there were dozens of options for starting a family, but nothing was guaranteed. I often thought to myself “I would go through this 10 times, spend $100k if someone, somewhere could promise me that it would all end with a baby in my arms.” But the truth of the matter is, they can’t. And the fact that I had no control over the outcome was debilitating.

 

Feeling broken.

Nick checked out OK. Borderline for sperm morphology but otherwise, good for baby making. This made me feel like it was all MY fault. That I was broken. I couldn’t do the thing women were SUPPOSED to do – make babies. I feared this would break our marriage, and I feared it would break me.

 

The shots hurt.

Those shot were NOT a walk in the park. They hurt like a b*tch! They left me sore, bruised and hormonal.

 

Punishment.

Was I being punished for sneaking out of the house in high school? Or for that time I swiped some beer mugs from a college bar? Or for all of the things I have taken for granted or selfishly just assumed would happen?

 

IVF is the ultimate “treatment”.

When we started at our clinic, we were given a less than 1% chance of conceiving naturally. So we jumped straight into IVF. And we were positive it would work. When it didn’t work the first time, it was an even bigger blow. The miracle treatment we had just shelled out $15k for was a bust. It’s hard to pick up the pieces after that.

 

Obsession.

The sheer obsession of all of it. I think infertility made me a hypochondriac/Google genius. I spent all of my free time Googling symptoms, or lack thereof, grants, adoption, embryo donation. I needed to constantly feel like I was being proactive.

 

The comfort of knowing I was not alone.

From the moment I made my blog public, it was like the heaviest weight was lifted off my shoulders. The out-pour of love and well wishes we received was amazing. But what was even more amazing was the number of women who messaged me and said, I understand. I too, am suffering from infertility. I too, find it hard to be happy for my friends having babies. I too, am scared.

 

This documentary was everything I never knew that I always needed. I think it is something that every struggling family should watch. And all of their friends and family. And everyone else. It is relatable, funny when it needed to be, and informative. I highly recommend that you check it out now on Netflix. You won’t regret it. The only thing you might regret is forgetting the tissues, or that you didn’t watch it sooner.

And for all of the women, men and couples out there trying to grow your families, find hope and comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Infertility is hard. It will push you, it will test you, and it will break you. But there is a light at the end of that tunnel. There is always another option – maybe it’s another crack at IVF. Or maybe it’s a surrogate. Perhaps it is coming to terms with never being parents. Or maybe it’s adoption. Whatever it is, make sure it is YOUR decision. Not anyone else’s. And let that decision be the one that puts you back together again.

Ovulation: An EGGsact Science

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Pinpointing ovulation is one of the most difficult, but most important aspects of trying to conceive. Your entire cycle evolves around and is categorize based on the one day.

Your follicular phase is the days leading up to ovulation – but you won’t know how long it is until ovulation is confirmed! Your luteal phase it the time between ovulation and the first day of you period. Again, you need to know when you ovulated to calculate it.

In order to become pregnant, you must have sex (or insemination) on or around the day that you ovulated. This is your fertile window… ovulation day and the five days leading up to it. You might even be able to consider the day after ovulation a part of this window, because the egg has a lifespan of about 24 hours after being released in which it can be fertilized. If it is not, POOF!, egg disintegrates.

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The five days prior to ovulation are considered fertile days because it is possible, given the right conditions (fertile cervical fluid), for sperm to live inside the female body for up to five days. So sperm that entered the uterus/fallopian tubes on the first day of your fertile window might just still be hanging around on O day. But your best chances of fertilization are the day of and the day prior to ovulation.

So, now that you understand how important ovulation is, how the heck do you know when it happens! On average, based on a 28-day cycle, ovulation would occur on CD (cycle day) 14. However, a good chunk of those TTC don’t have a perfect 28-day cycle. Some of us have short, 24 day cycles, others have 30, 35, or 40 + days (I average between 35-40). It can be estimated that you ovulate approximately 14 days prior to your period, because the average luteal phase is about 14 days long. If you have a 25 day cycle, you likely ovulate right around day 11. If you have a 35 day cycle, O is probably on day 21.

But what good does that do us after the fact? Especially for those of us who have irregular, fluctuating cycles?? Not much that’s for sure. That is why there are a variety of different ways to estimate/pinpoint ovulation that all TTCers should be aware of.

Below are some of the most common methods. Some are pretty accurate, others are just estimates. My recommendation is a combination!

1. Basal Body Temperature (BBT)

Your Basal Body Temperature is your body’s temperature in a state of rest, and is your lowest temperature of the day. It is taken first thing in the morning, upon waking, before you even get out of bad, take a sip of water, or even utter a word. You will need to get a special thermometer for tracking your BBT, one that calculates to two decimal places, because changes in temperature can be that small.

To track your BBT I suggest using a fertility app like Fertility Friend or Glow. You can track by hand and print of charts from the internet, but I think it is way easier to enter the temps into the app. Tack your temperature every morning, at the same time (you can take it orally or vaginally or rectally, just be consistent…I prefer orally) and enter it into the app chart. At the beginning of your cycle, your temperatures are on the lower end, and at the end of your cycle they should be noticeably higher.

bbtchart

Ovulation occurs when there is a noticeable shift of at least .4 degrees Farenheit after ovulation, which helps separate your chart into two phases – follicular (lower temps) and luteal (higher temps after ovulation). A lot of women have a temperature drop right before the increase on the day they ovulate. A couple days of higher temps will confirm ovulation, and most apps will generate what is called a “cover line”. Temperatures usually remain above the cover line during the luteal phase, and will drop back down when your period starts. Temps that stay above the cover line through a missed period are often promising. But it is not an exact science.

BBT charting is the best way to confirm ovulation, short of a vaginal ultrasound. Chart for several months and look for patterns.

The bad thing about BBT charting? It cannot PREDICT ovulation, only confirm it. So it is important to chart your BBT along with other ovulation prediction methods like ovulation tests, checking cervical mucous and position, etc.

2. Ovulation Predictor Kit (OPKs)

These are pee sticks that detect the luteinizing hormone (LH). They work similar to pregnancy tests in HOW you take them, but differ in how you read them. For OPKs with lines, the test line must be as dark OR darker than the control line in order to be positive. Many women have LH in their systems throughout their cycle and may always have a faint line show up on these tests. When you receive a positive test, you can be expected to ovulate within 24 hours.

There are also digital ovulation tests, like Clear Blue, that give you no-nonsence results like smiley-faces and shaking smileys that help you detect your two or four (depending on the product) most fertile days.

Clear Blue Digital Ovulation Tests

Clear Blue Advanced Digital Ovulation Tests

Make sure to do the deed on the high fertility days, and then one day after.

I usually use the cheap test strips from Amazon because I like to take them every day and I am not a millionaire. Also, with the cheap sticks I like to tape them to a piece of notebook paper and include the date, time and CD (cycled day) they were taken so I can track progress and compare from month-to-month.

3. Cervical Mucous (CM)

Cervical Mucous (CM), AKA vaginal discharge (both are equally gross words to say aloud), is another way to predict ovulation. Your CM changes often throughout your cycle, and can help indicate when you are and are not fertile. When your cervical mucous resembles egg whites (EWCM!) you are most fertile, ovulation is impending and you should get down!

The best way to test your CM is around the same time each day with CLEAN fingers. Insert into  your V and then move the results around between your fingers. Yes, you will probably feel awkward at first, but eventually it will become habit. If you are like me you will check it every time you go to the bathroom.

The various types of CM (different sites/books will have slightly different names and descriptions) are:

Dry/nonexistent – this is infertile CM. Usually found right after your period. This is not a healthy environment for sperm

Sticky – After dry usually comes sticky. Again, this is infertile. It is almost like dry rubber cement! This is usually white in color.

Creamy – Similar to lotion in color and texture. This can be infertile or slightly fertile CM. This change is in response to the increasing estrogen levels in your body. It does not stretch or move much between your fingers.

Watery – Fertile CM!! Woohoo! This is likely to be clear or a little cloudy, and feel slippery between your period. This means ovulation is coming soon!

Eggwhite – The Holy Grail of CM! Eggwhite cervical mucous (aka EWCM) is the most fertile of all. It is clear and STRETCHY. When you pull your fingers apart it will likely stretch and inch or so. And it really looks like raw egg whites. This means ovulation is right around the corner, or occurring now. Some women never get EWCM but still ovulate. Which is why I will again emphasize that all of these methods should be used in tandem.

4. Cervical Position/Texture

The position of your cervix is another way to predict ovulation. Your cervix may be high, medium, or low. Become a cervical position expert and check it often so you know what is “normal” for you. Below are the stages of cervical position:

Low, hard, slightly open – during your period (infertile)

Low, hard, closed – directly after your period (infertile)

Medium, medium texture, slightly open (slightly fertile)

High (you should barely be able to find it!), soft and open (most fertile)

Medium, medium texture, closed – after ovulation (infertile)

High, soft, closed – this is what the cervix apparently feels like when you are pregnant, but everyone is different and I can’t even remember what mine felt like. And it could take a while to get to this position, even well after a positive test.

Hard texture can be compared to the tip of your nose, while soft texture can be compared to your lips (hopefully that helps). I am not very good at explaining the difference between open and closed.

5. Other symptoms

While there is no rhyme or reason to this method, many women experience that same symptoms aroundn ovulation from month-to-month. Some of those symptoms might be:

  • Cramping or twinges
  • Tender breasts
  • Increased sense of smell
  • Increased sex drive

Using all of these methods combined can help you to identify your fertile window and ovulation, which can greatly increase your chances of pregnancy. But even if you track everything, and time sex perfectly, there is still a big chance you won’t fall pregnant. SO MANY THINGS have to fall exactly into place at the right time in order for fertilization and pregnancy to occur.

I know trying for months and years can be discouraging. I have been there and I know how painful it is. So if you are under 35 and have been trying for a year, or are 35+ and have been trying for 6 months, it is recommended that you see your doctor (OB or fertility specialist). But that is no rule of thumb. You need to be your OWN advocate. If you think something is wrong, make an appointment. That is what I did after 7 months of perfectly timed intercourse. And I ended up needing two rounds of IVF! Don’t be ashamed, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Infertility affects roughly 1 in 8 couples, and is worth talking about.

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Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t

Over the past 15+ months, I have done some pretty nutty things while trying to conceive. Unfortunately for me, none of them have worked (yet) but I have heard some amazing success stories about most of them. When you are facing infertility, you will do anything (ANYTHING) short of making a deal with the devil (I don’t recommend that) to get pregnant. Each time you see that negative test you think “what could I have done differently?” The list below outlines some of the crazy (and not so crazy) things I have done in the name of TTC. The truth is, it can’t hurt to try them, as none of them are dangerous. If you find yourself struggling to conceive and are in need of control and the feeling of being proactive like me, give one these the old college try!

1. Pineapple Core

Yes, that’s right. The CORE of the pineapple. The part we usually all throw away. It is very fibrous and chewy, and it definitely doesn’t taste GREAT, but it isn’t all that bad. The theory behind this is that pineapple core contains bromelain, which has been said to aid in implantation. Just cute a pineapple into five equal parts (remove the outside, of course) and eat one slice per day starting the day after ovulation (1 DPO). The core is the most important part, so make sure you eat that. You can toss the rest if you aren’t a huge pineapple fan. I have also heard of some ladies blending the core in with their smoothies. If you really don’t like the taste, you can by bromelain capsules!

2. Hips/Legs Up

I’m sure we have all tried this one once or twice! I always laid down after intercourse for 15-20 minutes to hold the swimmers in place. Several people told me to try elevating my hips (I put a couple pillows underneath) or putting my legs up on the wall. I even went so far as to roll on my back and hold my hips up with my legs straight up in the air. This was not comfortable.

3. Grapefruit Juice

This stuff is nasty, but it really helps with cervical mucus! Around ovulation your cervical mucus (CM) should be of “egg white” consistency, slippery and stretchy (this helps the sperm travel to the egg). Well mine never was. Until I found out about the grapefruit juice trick. I drank a glass a day from CD1 to ovulation and my CM was never stretchier! Be careful though, grapefruit is known to have interactions with several medication, so be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist prior to trying this one out.

4. Mucinex/Robitussin

These medications are used for the same purpose as grapefruit juice – to thin out and increase CM. Be sure to get the kind that has guaifenesin as the only active ingredient (not Mucinex DM!), other active ingredients can have the opposite effect. I took this for the 4-5 days prior to anticipated ovulation and quit as soon as ovulation was confirmed. This didn’t work as well as the grapefruit juice for me.

5. Chiropractor

I visited a chiropractor for a couple of month to see if he could “adjust” my uterus to optimal baby making status. They also do a lot of work with the nervous system that can help to regulate certain processes that are essential to TTC. While I loved having my back cracked and finding out my hips are lopsided, I don’t really think this did much for me. But then again I didn’t really stick with it too long to find out. The appointments began to be too much especially with all of the infertility/gyno appointments I was having.

6. Pre-Seed

If you love lube then you will love this sperm-friendly product! This genius substance is meant to mimic that coveted “egg white CM” so if you don’t make it, no problem! It can also be used as just a regular lube. Apply some directly into the VAJJ prior to sexy time and you are all set. The product can be found at most drugstores (que Target trip) and comes with a few applicators. I do not advise that you use the recommended dose, that was way too much and way too messy. Start small and add more if needed. I used this starting 5 days before ovulation, through a day or two after O. Visit www.preseed.com for more info!

7. Softcups

This was one of my crazier remedies. Softcups are women’s menstrual cups, used to collect your flow during your period. Softcups are a flexible little cup inserted into your vagina and around the cervix. They are nice because they can be kept in for 12 hours with little to no leakage and it is not linked to TSS. I tried them for my period, and actually liked them. But the REAL reason I used these bad boys was to “hold the swimmer near my cervix”. I knew I had a very small cervix (the passage way from the vagina to the uterus) and I thought if I could just keep those little guys near the door they would have to get in eventually! After sex I would basically (while still laying down) insert the cup while scooping in the semen (I know how gross this sounds!!) and voila – no mess and I could walk around for hours just knowing they still had a fighting chance.

Warning: the first time I used these I almost couldn’t get it out. I suggest practicing once or twice, because the retrieval process is very strange. Follow the instructions to the T!

8. CoQ10

AKA Co-Enzyme Q10. This is an antioxidant naturally found in the body, but production decreases with age (peak production is around 21 years old, and then slowly declines after that). CoQ10 is said to be great for improving egg quality and egg health, and maybe even sperm motility and quality! I take 100mg, twice daily. Nick takes the same.

9. Acupuncture

For the past three months, I have been getting acupuncture on a weekly basis. Not only do I find it extremely relaxing, the placement of the needles can help to increase blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, among other things. It is also said to help treat PCOS and thyroid disorders. Here is a short article for more insight into acupuncture for infertility.

10. Red Raspberry Leaf Tea

Another natural infertility remedy that I have been incorporating into my diet is Red Raspberry Leaf Tea. I try to drink a cup of this a day, but only prior to ovulation (I do not use after ovulation because the tea is also used in late pregnancy to help induce labor, and I don’t want any uterine contractions keeping that egg from sticking). The tea can be used to help with the following: recurrent miscarriage, heavy menstrual bleeding, poor egg quality, uterine trauma, and for general female reproductive health. I use the Alvita brand and usually order online because the last time I tried to purchase at the Vitamin Shoppe they were sold out (and they did not carry it at my local GNC) – everyone must be jumping on the bandwagon!

11. Rooster Under the Bed

This is the newest bit of crazy I am trying out. My hairdresser told us of an old wives tail that states “if you sleep with a rooster under your bed you will fall pregnant”. One of her coworkers tried it and it actually worked! As far as I know, this does not have to be a real rooster, so my mother bought me a cheap vintage rooster at the antique store this past weekend (only $4.00!) and it has been under my bed since then. I guess we will have to wait and see if there is any truth to this!

rooster

 

In addition to the above, I have also taken to touching every elephant statue or image I see for good luck. I also plan to eat Brazil nuts around implantation time this round as well. I am sure there are several other things I have tried, but these seemed to be the most interesting – and I do believe some of them actually helped, even if I didn’t get that positive! Good luck fellow TTCers, I hope one of these is your miracle solution!

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