I have taken a long break from writing in this blog after I started the fertility treatment with doctor S last month. My mindset has changed. We are two years and 2 months into our trying to conceive journey and every stage of this process has been uniquely different to the last.
About 6 months ago I was surrounding myself with all things IVF, infertility, fertility drugs and diets, etc. I was cautiously optimistic and quiet about it as if my optimism might fade if I broke the silence. Then, about 4 months ago I was pregnant, I phoned my counsellor in despair telling him I dared not stop thinking about making a baby, cos if I did, the baby would die. It was terrifying. As if I could keep my baby alive by sheer willpower! I told close family immediately so that we might have support in case we miscarried again, but I found myself petrified at the questions asked, unable to speak about the baby. It’s like I turned to stone.
Inevitably after this ended in miscarriage, there was this fuck off attitude to the world, to my body, to everything else. Nothing mattered any more. The only thing that mattered is that I didn’t want to live in silence and without answers any more. So I started this blog as a way to understand and process my own feelings. I surrounded myself by all things miscarriage, miscarriage forums, medical journals about reproductive immunology, fertility clinics that treated implantation failure, Tommy’s research centre, etc.
After our diagnosis of high NK cells, we have been given the green light to try again, my whole mindset and my feelings have changed. I no longer want to think about miscarriage, I don’t want to talk about it. Like before, I am cautiously optimistic. I am surrounded by fertility facts, myths, superstitions, beliefs and mindfulness. (At the same time, deep inside still grieving my losses, still processing this grief, but renewed in strength, familiar with it.) I feel like I am being rocked to sleep in a giant leaf upstream by some lonely and wise frog. It is a nice feeling and I hope it lasts. Sadly, this mindset is lacking in inspiration to write because the rage and the anger are gone. One of my main drives for writing. (Everyone that truly knows me, knows that one of my favourite things to do in the world is rant)
Anyway, let’s cut to the chase. As you can imagine 2 years and 2 months yield a lot of cycles of trying to conceive, so I have accumulated a wealth of knowledge around this area that I wish to share in case it is useful for someone. Some things have worked and others haven’t but truly, in the end, nobody knows what it is that worked. There is so much mystery about what works in trying to conceive that I have decided that science is useless and sometimes we just have to go to the land of the fairies or to the land of God, or Buddha, or the ‘universe’. But before we go to those lands, let me clarify that eliminating barriers to conception and implantation scientifically is the best way forward and will give you the best chances. (We are currently going thought fertility treatment to eliminate NK cells, please see the entry on this blog ‘Body, leave my embryos alone’).
In this light, I am going to start a series of posts talking about how I approach trying to conceive in a holistic kind of way. I hope you enjoy it.
First staple of a good ttc regime is diet. (This is food and drink except alcoholic drinks which merit a separate entry). Most fertility diets are high in protein and low in carbohydrates, full of colourful veggies, oily fish, nuts, seeds and fruits. This is because regulating insulin levels in the body is thought to benefit egg quality. Now, within these wide parameters, there is a lot of room for improvisation, cheating, being strict about it and being a complete Nazi. I sit between those last two. I eliminate gluten, dairy and nightshades from my diet, and at times some grains too. The reason for this is that holistic doctors say that gluten and dairy promote inflammation in the body, which could mess up with implantation. In any case, if you suffer from IBS or digestive issues, eliminating dairy and gluten is a good idea, even if its just to see if it makes a difference.
On the other hand, if you have autoimmune infertility (high NK cells, ANA positive, etc) an autoimmune diet might calm your body down. However, it is a very restrictive diet, very difficult to do for long periods of time. It eliminates nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, spices! ), gluten, dairy, grains, even gluten free ones, all legumes, caffeine and alcohol. Also called the Aip protocol, it is a stricter version of the paleo diet. Think lots of protein and veggies. I have managed to do some of it but not completely, as I have struggled to eliminate spices from my diet…I am Spanish!!! This is where I draw the line! I am also not expecting to stay over in people’s houses and making them comply with all these dietary requirements!
Doing a mild autoimmune diet for the most part has made me feel full of energy and has eliminated some of my autoimmune symptoms like brain fog and joint pain. However, I tried Veganuary this year so I ate a lot of legumes and gluten free grains and I also felt really fit on this diet! My top favourite diets have to be plant based, flexitarian and mild autoimmune because they all made me feel more energetic, less lethargic in the morning, my digestion was better (except for farting in the vegan diet) and my skin was clearer too.
My most proudest achievements have been to enjoy avocadoes, sweet potatoes, peas, beetroot and spinach. I call these evil foods. What one does for love…
All that being said, I have decided to not feel guilty any more about having treats. Next 2ww I am cooking blueberry clafoutis and that’s that. I’ll also eat my pineapple though, as it is thought to aid in implantation! (gotta love fertility myths).
In terms of caffeine, I have mostly eliminated it. In fact I haven’t consumed coffee regularly for over a year. I drink raspberry leaf tea on the first half of the cycle and turmeric and ginger tea on the second half. Very occasionally I drink decaff coffee or Pepsi and I eat some dark chocolate daily, which is a powerful antioxidant and delicious too.
Tricky tricky subject this. Especially, if you mix the cocktail of smoking, trying to conceive and pregnancy. It invokes so many feelings, doesn’t it? If you feel like you are starting to develop a judgemental feeling of the kind ‘everyone knows smoking is bad for you and you shouldn’t do it, least of all while ttc or pregnant” or ‘duh, everybody knows this’, I invite you to stop reading and head elsewhere. I don’t have time for judgemental cunts. Perhaps, you’ll enjoy forums in which women are slated and verbally stoned to death for smoking while pregnant. Perhaps you can hang out there.
This is a safe space, where we can talk about how we feel about smoking and how it affect fertility (or not), ttc and pregnancy.
Scientifically, we have known for some time that smoking is detrimental to your health; from damaging hearts and arteries to lungs, stomach, etc. Less is known about the effects that smoking cause in (in)fertility, but as we can suspect, it is not pretty.
Smoking has been linked to damaging sperm and egg DNA, longer time to conception and reduced blood supply to the uterus. It sounds very scary and it is.
Now, these are the scientific facts surrounding it. Let’s now go to feelings, tell tales and so on. Let’s use me as an example of this. I started smoking when I was 23 (I know, silly right?). Then continued smoking happily oblivious to its effects throughout the majority of my twenties. I stopped on a few occasions, because I was a runner and I wanted to up my game. Fast forward a few years and I was ready to try to conceive; I consciously reduced my smoking, especially, in the 2ww. However, I had heard tales of people who had no problem with their fertilities, pregnancies, children, etc. even when they minimally smoked and some had smoked for years.
In my experience, the guilt and the pressure from other people to quit smoking while trying to conceive or pregnant made it significantly more difficult to actually stop doing it. I chastised myself for smoking those first two weeks of my first pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage, the guilt itself was enough to keep me smoking for even longer post miscarriage. I had to stop this cycle of guilt and addiction. So I read Allen Carr. A miracle worker who guides you through the darkness that we find in the smoker’s mind. In his book, he tells us that the smoker doesn’t smoke because he ignores the dangers and the health risks, but he smokes because he thinks the cigarette provides her with confidence, courage, a sense of identity, stress relief, etc. In my case, I can see my smoking as a sign of my emancipation, freedom and independence, a woman who left her home country alone to make a living in a foreign country, strong, powerful. Allen tells us that we have been brainwashed and tobacco doesn’t provide us with any of those things, but only takes away.
All this brainwashing is very powerful and, together with nicotine addiction, make you hooked for life. The guilt and health warnings makes a smoker smoke more rather than less. He even explains that pregnant women are coaxed into giving up to benefit their babies’ health only to start again just after they’ve given birth. The crazy rollercoaster of trying to conceive is going to generate a lot of stress, and a smoker always reaches for a cigarette to alleviate it, and if you stop, you can’t. This feeling of deprivation is going to make you smoke more next time you do, probably next time there is a negative pregnancy test or your period arrives. Been there, done that. Month after month of negative tests can suck the life out of your soul. Smoking doesn’t make it any better, but the smoker’s brain think it does. Such is the beauty of the addiction.
However, it is possible to escape from it, like Allen Carr explains, it is in fact very easy. In my case, I was fed up, I didn’t want to simply cut down or stop smoking in the 2ww. I didn’t ever want to have the feeling that I caused a miscarriage. (Even though I didn’t; you’d have to smoke a chimney to cause one), I didn’t ever want to have that guilt. Ever ever again. So I quit cold turkey following Allan Carr’s method. I still miscarried but I now knew that I didn’t cause it. Never be guilt tripped into thinking you caused a miscarriage or infertility. It is not true. We can’t change our past but we can change the present and live la laifa with a better quality of life. I can only hope and pray that I don’t start smoking again out of desperation and disappointment caused by miscarriage or infertility. I am now a happy non-smoker, and healthier by the day.
Please, stay tuned for future installments of things I have done or not done to try to conceive.