IVF

The 5 things to never say to anyone with infertility

Photo by  Kristina Flour  on  Unsplash

There are unspoken rules related to (in)fertility. And since you may not even know that someone is struggling, it’s best to avoid asking some of these all-too common phrases and questions which no matter how well intentioned will likely not be taken as such.

Rule 1: Never tell someone to “relax and it will happen”

I remember beings so stressed out about the needles, distracting myself with the stress of my job and then stressing about being stressed. It made it worse when people would tell me not to stress. It is basic science that if the body is hyper-stressed (and releasing high quantities of cortisol hormone), it can signal to the body that the focus is survival, and not on making a baby. How is that in and of itself not stressful? 

And you or your sister, cousin, or friend Denise who got pregnant by taking a vacation likely did not have scar tissue obstruction, PCOS, endometriosis, an unexplained diagnosis or the myriad of fertility challenges that are still being discovered. You may have the best of intentions because you just don’t know what to say, but do not bring up those two words (don’t stress), no matter how well intentioned. Ever.

Rule 2: Do not say you “just know that it will happen”

The self-pressure is already so incredibly significant. Do not promise that you know a future which the person or couple, their doctor, and you do not in fact know.

Rule 3: Avoid any consolation with “why don’t you just adopt”

Adoption is a beautiful option. However, the mental process to get there requires that someone make peace with not fulfilling a potential dream of being pregnant. Your comment may be construed as asking someone to give up on their dream. There are also many other aspects emotionally, mentally and financially that the intended person or couple will have to think about and plan. So while absolutely incredible, if a person or a couple wants to expand their family with adoption, they will likely do so without your surface suggestion.

Rule 4: Do not ask “do you want to have kids”

How do you know someone hasn’t been painstakingly trying for months or even years? This question can be a dagger in the heart and is just plain nosy. This question is just as rude as asking someone how old they are. It’s personal and if someone wants to tell you whether or not they want, or are trying to have children, they will let you know.

Rule 5: Delete this phrase from your vocabulary: “You’ll understand one day when you’re a mom (or dad)”

This is so obviously insensitive to the person or couple who is/are trying their hardest to be a parent. And since most people don’t reveal their fertility journey, better to just strike this from your playbook all together.

Don’t know what to say?

Share that your friendship is important and you are always there to listen. Please don’t try to relate with your experiences if you have never been through infertility. And if you have, ask for permission first or wait to be asked before you share your journey.

Infertility affects one in eight couples in the US. Resolve, Pregnantish, Robyn, It’s Conceivable by Rebekah Rosler or even this blog to share as resources if and when someone is ready. From that point, sending positive good vibes and little thoughtful gestures are the best words to remind someone that you are there and thinking of them.

Any other unspoken rules that you want to share? Please feel free to leave them in the comments!

From Bumps to Baby with Liz Shaw

Liz Shaw and her baby girl. Photo provided by Liz.

Liz Shaw and her baby girl. Photo provided by Liz.

Although you wouldn’t know it, I only recently met Liz Shaw. Liz has quickly become a friend, confidante and source of nutritional expertise for me. I met Liz as she was launching her Stress-Free IVF Nutrition Guide and am so grateful that I had the opportunity to recently review it during my recent (fourth) IVF cycle. (You can read more about the Guide here.)

Liz is a Registered Dietician, Certified Personal Trainer and owns a nutrition consulting business. Based on her own experience with infertility she has bridged the gap between diet/nutrition and the process. Liz lets us in on all of her secrets with her recently published Stress-Free IVF Nutrition Guide and also her Fertility Foods Cookbook.

Liz is someone that you need to know. Not only because she may be the world’s kindest and gentlest soul but because her understanding of nutrition as it relates to fertility and overall health is an absolute game changer. I caught up with Liz the other day and am excited to share our discussion with you!

What does fertility warrior mean to you?

LS: That’s a great question! I have a whole series devoted to the women (and men!) who’ve gone down a path that’s not so easy to expand their families. A warrior in the sense that they continue to persevere despite the challenges of their “battle” with infertility.  I have a colleague who’s trying to open up and change the negative connotation around warrior and instead focus on the strength and power of the women (and men!) and I love that vision too! 

Since you are a RD, were you surprised when you struggled with your own fertility?

LS: Yes! But then again, even doctors get cancer and dentists get cavities, so we are all human!  As we know, infertility doesn’t have a type. It affects all of us, health professionals and athletes and people of faith, there’s no discrimination. What’s important for people on the outside to remember is that infertility is not something someone can control. It’s often caused by so many factors in which there is no one size fits all approach to treatment.

I like to try and remind people that finding the right treatment plan for them, the right professionals to guide them on THEIR path is what will make this entire process that much more bearable in the long run. And let’s be real, sometimes this is a VERY LONG RUN! 

Please share your story

LS: My husband and I started our journey to expand our family about a year after we got married in 2012. Realistically, we didn’t intend to get pregnant right away, but I had been on birth control since I was 13 years old and we knew it would take some time for my body to regulate.  Lo and behold, we waited, and waited some more. 

I was finally diagnosed with unexplained infertility related to my hypogonadotropic hypogonadism  (HH), which is a lack of hormonal regulation in which little to no sex hormones are produced. You can read more about that experience here, but essentially it was the beginning of a long road for my husband and I which also coincided with entry into the assisted reproductive technology route to expand our family. 

I truly believe any period of waiting is challenging for a want-to-be-mama. Be it a two-week-wait or a trial time for your body to “figure itself out”, neither is a desirable scenario. Thus, we did a mix of both. We started with an IUI, entering full force with the notion that this was our ticket to baby. After our first failed attempt, I was crushed. I never fathomed the emotional pain of that particular experience and surely wasn’t ready to jump into another emotionally, financially, and physically exhausting experience. Side note, because of my HH, I was placed on the IVF medication regimen for my IUI round.

Our doctor at the time assured us that the highest rate of success would be to start IVF. In February of 2016, we decided that was our next step. We took some time off since we had been on this rollercoaster since 2013 and knew we needed to find the joy in our marriage again. We signed up for a Spartan Race in Hawaii, dominated that race and came home to start our first round of IVF…

It was during this time of waiting, I began to feel lost, alone and so confused. I knew I needed to seek help, and through that formed the community known as Bumps to Baby. This community has been my rock, my outlet to share the innermost thoughts I’ve felt on this journey to baby and most importantly, a safe place for others to find security and friends through. While it began as an Instagram account, it quickly morphed into a private Facebook Community and a full website with a special feature for others to share their stories, too, known as Warrior Women Wednesday. 

After our IVF retrieval, my body responded very poorly and we were unable to do a fresh transfer. Of the 15 eggs retrieved, only two embryos were viable for cryopreservation. As bad as that day was getting the news that our 15 had turned into two, the worst was yet to come. The two days in which we received the news that both embryos didn’t take (during the transfer) was by far the lowest of the low in our 4.5 year journey to baby. Honestly, it was during our final failure in August of 2017 that I knew I needed to take a step back from ART treatments. I needed to regroup, find a new sense of peace with my body and begin to remember, baby or not, I (needed to know that I) was enough as a person, a wife, a woman.

Fortunately, my husband was also traveling back and forth between Switzerland and the US for work during this time. I was blessed with the opportunity to join him for the remaining part of 2017 and so we packed up our belongings and moved to Locarno from the end of October through mid-December of 2017.

During this time, I was able to find that sense of peace. I was able to mourn our losses, the trials and tribulations that infertility had taught me and began to refocus on the community of Bumps to Baby and the messages that I wanted to help communicate. It was also during this time the passion project I had worked on with a close colleague and friend was released, The Fertility Foods Cookbook. The cookbook helped merge my love of nutrition and heart for the fertility community into one.

This experience, this break, this opportunity to learn to trust my body again is ultimately what led to the greatest twist and joy in our journey to baby. I’m happy to report our miracle baby made her way into our arms August 4, 2018. A true testament to the powerful role stress can play in your health and most importantly, the importance of finding trust and healing your relationship with your body, remembering you too are enough! 

What pieces of advice would you share with someone on their (in)fertility journey?

LS: I think I would sum up my advice in the hashtag #NeverLoseHope. Infertility can feel like such an isolating journey when you’re in the thick of it. I was there for years before I decided to break the silence and find comfort from my #ttcfamily. And believe me when I say, we are not alone! We know the statistics show that 1 out of 8 couples struggle and lets be real, likely someone close to you is going through the thick of this disease too.

When you feel comfortable enough to share your story, to seek help, know we are here for you. Join the Bumps to Baby Private Support group and begin feeling a new sense of peace and warm welcome into the family you never wanted to have, but are blessed to be a part of!

How do you feel about the word “journey”? Love, hate or both and why?

LS: Love the word journey! It shows that it’s not a start and stop point but a continuous path, especially once the individual does see their rainbow and begins the new journey of motherhood.

You recently wrote the Stress-Free IVF Nutrition Guide, what was the inspiration? 

LS: It was a way I could give back to the community that has been such a rock for me time and time again over our five-year journey. As an RDN, it was everything I wish I could help tell patients who are lost, confused and consulting Dr. Google before beginning their cycle. Truthfully, it’s the guide I wish I had when I was going through our cycle, too. You can pick up your guide here. Use the code fertilust for a 10% discount.

Favorite fertility foods ranked

LS: Tough call! I love variety so really a plethora of fruits and veggies in nourishing bowl or pile high on thick, seedy whole grain bread!

This  Amaranth Buddha Bowl and these Beet Burgers recipes are some of my favorites!  

Pineapple core pre-transfer. Myth or reality?

LS: Myth, to some degree! Little to no scientific evidence exists on this. Every Friday a group of RDNs and I debunk myths and share fertility nutrition information! We actually covered this one here, and you can follow the weekly series here!

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

LS: My sweet little pineapple, aka my rainbow baby! Even before her arrival, I was driven in my career and lucky enough that my passion is able to be pursued each day by helping women and men understand the important role nutrition can play in their bodies. 

What keeps you up at night? 

LS: The endless tabs I have open in my brain! Whether it’s work, parenting, family, the Bumps to Baby community, or what I want for breakfast, I have a hard time unwinding and closing down at night! 

 

About Liz Shaw: Liz is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Personal Trainer in San Diego, California. She owns a nutrition consulting business in which she works with brands to help disseminate key health messaging to practitioners and consumers at large via national speaking, TV segments, and through her strong social media presence. Liz also runs a maternal health private practice in which she specializes in fertility nutrition. She is an author of the Fertility Foods Cookbook published last fall and a blogger at both Shaw’s Simple Swaps and Bumps to Baby.

Liz is also a freelance writer and serves as a nutrition expert for many national publications, such as Shape, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Muscle and Performance, Fit Pregnancy, Parentsand others. Her current position has led her to what she loves most, educating the public at large about the importance of nutrition and health in daily life while connecting individually with those struggling to build their families. Helping to empower others through nutrition is truly what brings Liz joy!

 

 

The misconceptions about IVF conception

Photo by    Nine Köpfer    on    Unsplash

National Infertility Awareness Week may have finished but the need to understand and support (in)fertility is a year-round topic. It prompted me to reflect on my own expectations going into my journey and what we can do to support individuals or couples undergoing (in)fertility treatments. Here are some common misconceptions:

Misconception #1: Getting pregnant by IVF is a sure thing

I wish it was, but sadly it is not. I went into two rounds with high hopes because everything “looked more than fine.” I came out on the other side with multiple fails and a non-diagnosis of “unexplained”. Doctors can have great success rates, high hopes, and by doing so, may raise your expectations. Know that they have the best intentions but they are only human after all, and science has only hit the low hanging fruit at this point. This (in)fertility process can reveal many things but not always a baby. After a glowing prophecy of a beautiful embryo that doesn’t take or worse miscarries, it can feel like someone just punched you in the face (multiple times).

Please be sensitive if someone tells you that they are undergoing IVF. To give some perspective, imagine sticking yourself with medicine/hormone filled syringes that make your emotions a roller coaster, your bloat world-class, and the bottom half of your body weighed down by giant egg follicles growing in your ovaries.

Be supportive, even if that just means listening, and/or sending good thoughts and positive vibes. Please do not heighten the expectation and pressure by talking about the future. The patient and doctor don’t know the outcome yet, please don’t pretend to either. 

Misconception #2: The patient is just along for the ride

IVF is a team sport. It always takes two, right? Biologically, you need an egg and a sperm but in the IVF case, the outcome is also assisted by a doctor. While it is on the doctor to choose the right protocol based on a patient’s medical history and needs, the patients still need to take care of themselves. Think about planting anything. The foundation and the conditions need to be right for anything to grow and healthfully. Same applies here. And the partner isn’t off of the hook, the patient’s well-being and the long term success of the relationship depends on it. 

Misconception #3: There is only one path to a child.

How an individual or couple gets there may not be the way that they envisioned but the end result can still be the same. Options exist and ultimately one day this will be readily available to everyone who wants and has the capacity to be a parent.

After my second IVF failed, my doctor shared that she thought it was a good idea to try again. In the same breath, she shared that if I failed a third time, she wasn’t sure that she could help me. Initially I was stunned, and that feeling turned to despair. I thought that I was a failure, blamed myself for not doing enough (acupuncture, eating enough greens), and that I might never be a mother. Yes, there were a lot of waterworks. So ugly. And yes, I found a new doctor.

What I wish that I would have known then was the comfort of knowing that there are options including egg donors, surrogates and adoption. Although it’s a lot to think about when you are determined to go about one path, it can be a relief to at the very least be aware that there are possibilities to achieve the end goal of having a baby if the general IVF route doesn’t work.

Misconception #4: If I share my (in)fertility story, people will think that there is something wrong with me.

There are 7.3 million (documented) cases of (in)fertility* and this is will continue to grow and impact future generations as we continue to live in a polluted, endocrine disrupting world. (Sorry for the Debbie Downer moment.) The (in)fertility topic is about to become so much greater than just our personal egos.

(In)fertility isn’t punishment for something, it just is the reality for many individuals and couples. In fact, (in)fertility affects 1 in 8 couples*. Many people that you know are grappling with (in)fertility, they may just be in the closet because of the many emotions borne out of the shame created by the silence around it.

The sooner that we stop hiding behind a perfection that doesn’t exist, accept that (in)fertility is a topic that we need to embrace, the sooner that we will be able to rally support from our workplaces to make the conversation safe and resources available for (in)fertility. After all, happy, healthy employees and families make happy companies, which in turn creates a happy economy.

*Source: 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth, CDC

NIAW Feature: Finding a Voice

Jane Jolis captured by photographer,  Alexis Mera . Shirt design by  Kayla Kleinman .

Jane Jolis captured by photographer, Alexis Mera. Shirt design by Kayla Kleinman.

Although National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) has completed this year, I thought it was important to close out the week with Jane Jolis’ powerful story of advocacy. It’s a message that we should carry with us all year long. Jane reminds us that nothing is promised, including a baby, and that when we listen to inner voice and advocate for ourselves, we are set up for success to arrive, and confront the root of the issues that may be standing in our paths to parenthood.

However nebulous and out of our control this journey is, using our voices to advocate for ourselves is paramount. Jane and I discussed that If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. There is something to be said about following our gut after all…

Jane’s story

I’ve always wanted to be a mother, ever since I was a little girl. I was the three-year old stuffing my shirt with pillows to “play pregnant”. So it came as a particularly painful shock when, after six months of trying, my husband and I learned that we should try IVF. I have diminished ovarian reserve, and my husband, low morphology/motility. We skipped over IUI and went straight to IVF.

Despite our challenges we had success in creating healthy embryos right from the start. However after transferring a total of four in the span of one year and having no success, we realized that something was wrong. I had to push hard and advocate for myself in order to have the laparoscopy which is ultimately the reason I am now a mother.

In December of 2017 I had the surgery to uncover suspected endometriosis, and not only did they find endometriosis but they also found that both of my (Fallopian) tubes were damaged and had hydrosalpinges. Hydrosalpinges meant that fluid was leaking into my uterus and could be toxic to the embryos. Damaged tubes also accounted for why I’d never been able to get pregnant naturally.

My Fallopian tubes were removed and after a canceled cycle, heartbreaking in its own right, I did my fourth IVF cycle and a fresh three-day embryo transfer, ultimately resulting in the birth of my son, now four months old. Although my situation turns out to be somewhat rare given that nothing ever came up on any scans indicating that my Fallopian tubes might be damaged, it speaks to the fact that if I hadn’t advocated for myself, I am not sure how long it would have taken, or if we would have been able to tackle the problem directly.

Your High?

My true high was the birth of my son, and still is. Also just seeing that first positive pregnancy test with a strong line was incredible. However I’d say another high, as crazy as it sounds, was learning that my tubes were severely damaged, and that they’d likely been impeding my success all along. As sick as that sounds, when you’re deep in the darkness that is unexplained infertility and IVF, any answers are positive because it may mean a solution to fix it.

Your low?

There were honestly so, so many. Every failed transfer was a huge low. The lowest was probably after my second transfer when I was in fact pregnant but lost the pregnancy after only a week or two, (a chemical pregnancy). I’d been watching the HCG rise, but not enough… and I spent the worst weekend of my life obsessing over (pregnancy) pee sticks and texting pictures to my doctor. At one point I found myself on the bathroom floor at 3 am surrounded by sticks. My husband had to physically come and remove me from them and from the bathroom. I was a wreck. Watching the HCG rise but not ultimately rise enough was one of the slowest tortures that I could ever have imagined. I truly felt broken after that, and had no idea how I was going get past that (moment).

Do you have a silver lining?

This experience has led me to build a fertility coaching/advocacy consultancy as I feel called to work with women and families struggling with (in)fertility. There is such a need to support those in the deepest thick of this who are trying to navigate the darkness with no end in sight. I can relate to that feeling of sheer panic and fear because I have been there. I’ve realized that this is the work I’m meant to do, and I’m working to build this business. 

Do you have any words of wisdom?

Stop trying to pressure yourself to “stay positive.” This was the hardest part for me; trying to maintain hope and optimism when all I felt was panic and dread. Sometimes you just need to feel your feelings and lie in the darkness and cry. And that’s okay. You will eventually make it to the other side, but that “other side” may not look the way you’d originally thought it would, and that’s okay too. Letting go of maintaining a falsely positive outlook was integral to my survival (during the journey).

There were many times that I thought I would never be a mom, but had I felt that my doubts were further holding me back from getting pregnant, it would have made me even crazier. The truth is, feeling good and relaxed is ideal, since stress (during IVF) is real. If you don’t always feel positive, don’t beat yourself up over not feeling that way. Whether or not your attitude is 100% positive all of the time is not going to be what does, or does not get you your baby.

Jane lives in Brooklyn with her husband and four month old son. As a direct result of Jane’s experience, she is currently building an (in)fertility advocacy and coaching practice. Please stay tuned for details or reach out if you would like to be connected with Jane.

NIAW Feature: The Waiting...

Jennie Monness photographed by  Alexis Mera . and shirt design by  Erin Halper .

Jennie Monness photographed by Alexis Mera. and shirt design by Erin Halper.

I was first introduced to Jennie recently and I was immediately struck by her kind and gentle energy. She literally radiates positivity, and that is why it makes it difficult to believe that she has ever had a difficult day. Infertility wears many masks and Jennie has been brave enough to shed those by sharing that both getting pregnant and pregnancy itself weren’t a walk in the park for her.

There is a reason why “waiting is the hardest part” is a tried and true quote. Like many of us, Jennie put a lot of pressure on herself to get pregnant, and when it wasn’t happening, she took action by finding a mentor and advocating for herself to try to find out why.

Jennie’s story:

I remember hearing that once you want to have a baby it goes from 0 to 100 really quick. That’s what my relationship was like with infertility. Starting at a zero anxiety level, in no real rush, I went off of birth control in November 2015.  My husband is younger than me and he was nervous and not totally “ready.” So, I told him we could wait but that first I needed to know that we didn’t have any issues getting pregnant, as I wanted to stay at 0. I was 32 and slightly hesitant about waiting and having a potential issue. So I got checked, and he did too.

Sure enough, we found out there were some issues. We were told that we could still get pregnant naturally but that it may take a bit longer. That is when it went from 0 to 100 for me. I soon felt that I couldn’t get pregnant quickly enough and I needed it to happen yesterday. We gave it five months and nothing happened. We decided that with no real remedy for our “subtle” issues, we should visit a fertility doctor. The doctor told us he’d try an IUI. Two failed IUI’s later we decided to move onto IVF. I remember one doctor telling me “you decide how fast you want to ride this train,” and I jokingly told my mom, I wanted the freaking ACELA express. 

I spoke to a close friend who had done IVF and asked her for advice as I stepped into this uncharted territory. She told me that before I start the process of IVF I should ask for a saline sonogram. I humored her and asked my doctor for one. I got the saline sonogram and the results showed that I had a septate uterus and needed a surgery called a hysteroscopy. I had to postpone our IVF process for this surgery. I felt so impatient and as if time was running out. Once the hysteroscopy was done, we started egg retrieval. After retrieval and ICSI, we had created successful embryos and were lucky enough to get plenty. We were hopeful and excited for our first transfer. It failed. The same friend who advised me to ask for a saline sonogram, mentioned a reproductive immunologist.

Due to a family history of immunological issues, we made the tough decision to postpone our next transfer until I visited this reproductive specialist. I couldn’t get an appointment right away, so this meant about a two month delay in this process that already couldn’t happen quickly enough. Against everything I felt in my heart, my head told me that I needed to do this, and give this next shot everything I could. I finally had my blood appointment, where they took a ton of blood. A few weeks later, the doctor put me on a protocol of steroids, blood thinners and intralipids.

My next transfer was a success and I was pregnant by March of 2017.  I now have the most incredible 16 month old girl and know that this whole journey was because SHE was meant to be my baby. 

Your high?

The moment Tess was born!

Your low?

My failed FET because it meant more waiting. Waiting was the hardest part. Patience and getting pregnant don’t really go hand in hand when you want it. There were doctors who told us to try for 6 months and come back, or doctors who had “black out” periods, or medical necessities we had to go through (the IUIs, the hysteroscopy, the reproductive immunologist, the intralipid protocol, etc.,) and the waiting was torture.

Not only that, but we had no idea if the waiting would result in a pregnancy and it brought on questions like “am I too old?” or “what if I cant ever get pregnant?” I had never had a pregnancy before in my life so the waiting was especially hard because we were living in this unknown period of “will we ever be parents and how long will it take?”

Do you have a silver lining?

Infertility let me know that there are some things that I can’t control. I’ve lived my entire life mapping out when and how things were going to happen, and they always seemed to fall into place. Infertility taught me that just like I anticipated motherhood to be, life doesn’t always happen according to plan. I’ve learned to accept that and I felt stronger and more ready to become a mom because of it.

Any misconceptions that you had on journey?

Once I was on the route to IVF, I thought that I would be guided along the way until pregnancy. While I had incredible doctors, there were a handful of things that I had to ask for, advocate for, and fight for in order to find the right treatments. What took me a year and a half, with most approved by insurance, could easily have taken 5+ years with an insurance denial, had I not quickly learned that I had to be my own advocate. I had to fight hard for what I knew was right.

Do you have any words of wisdom?

Be your biggest advocate and never give up. Our journey would have taken some couples years, but because I asked for specific things early on, and had an incredible support person telling me what to advocate for, my process took us just one year. No matter how many delays and disappointments there were, I just kept trying and kept going. Although a year seems like an eternity during this process, I got through it knowing that by being my voicing my needs and concerns, I was already advocating for my future child and moving closer to becoming a mom. 

Jennie Monness is the founder and creator of Mo' Mommies and Union Square Play, a place go meet, socialize and build community for moms and their babies. Jennie studied Psychology in Education and received her Master’s Degree from Teachers College, Columbia University. She completed the Foundations to RIE® course and is currently completing her practicum in the approach as well. Visit momommies.com and @momommies to learn more.

NIAW Feature: Finding Community

Rebekah Rosler, photographed by  Alexis Mera . Shirt Design by  Ko Im .

Rebekah Rosler, photographed by Alexis Mera. Shirt Design by Ko Im.

Rebekah Rosler is a professional licensed master social worker (LMSW) and therapist, who has always had a passion to lift others. That passion became a mission after Rebekah’s own fertility experience. Rebekah has used her strength and voice to create (the Warriors) community for other women on their (in)fertility journeys by creating a safe, online community of support and empowerment.

Read on to learn more!

Rebekah’s story

Interestingly enough, I never thought that I wanted children. I spent my life making sure that I could not and would not get pregnant… Only to find out that when I met my husband and my life changed, I wanted children. I also discovered that I wouldn’t be able to (without assistance). In retrospect, it makes sense to me because there had been fertility challenges for both my mother and grandmother. I didn’t think that children would be on my life path so I hadn’t really thought about it much before (that point).

I met my husband at 33, we got married at 35, then tried to get pregnant for a few months. When we didn’t have success, we wanted to proactively find out if everything was alright. Per the recommendation of my doctor, I got a HSG (hysterosalpingogram), and found out that one of my Fallopian tubes was blocked. That meant that every other month my chances of a pregnancy were at zero. As a result, we decided to seek (medical) help right away.

I had heard about good outcomes from New Hope so decided to go there. The reality is that although I got the desired results I was looking for, I saw my doctor once in the three years that I was there. All communications were through the nurses and through email correspondence. Initially, my protocol was as follows, month one: timed intercourse, month two: medicated intercourse, and month three: IUI. When that didn’t result in a pregnancy, we took the doctor’s counsel of doing Mini IVF. (The focus of Mini-IVF is quality over quantity.)

In my first round of Mini-IVFI got six eggs, five made it to the blastocyst stage. I transferred two freshly at day three, and froze three. One of those two embryos transferred stuck and became my now three year old daughter. A year later, I transferred two embryos that were day 5 and 6, getting pregnant with twins.

I realized that my experience gave me the ability to start create a community and start a group (called Warriors) to support others on their journeys. Having run Warriors (closed Facebook group) for over three years and seeing the years of struggle, sadness, heartache, and financial distress, I am aware that every (in)fertility journey is unique. I was lucky to have conceived quickly after treatment with the outcome of having healthy babies. Although my journey wasn’t filled with heartache, I had to go through it myself to understand the importance of talking about (in)fertility, and how to support others going through it.

What did you learn from your journey?

I never wanted kids, decided I wanted kids, took action immediately and got lucky. I never had the true struggles that so many people go through with (in)fertility. What I had was a life changing experience that allowed me to support and help other women (during pre-conception). It introduced me to a different version to help and support women during their experiences which were more often overwhelming, challenging, disheartening and at times tragic. It also allowed me to create a career to continues that platform of support through Mom MeetUps.

After starting Warriors, I started Mom MeetUps to help women on their journey of motherhood. My fertility experience was my initial earth shattering, aha moment that showed me that what I was called to do, was to help people through their fertility journeys. That lent itself to supporting the motherhood journey later on.

Your high?

I feel so lucky that I got pregnant and have a three year old daughter, that I am mildly obsessed with. My next high after a terrible pregnancy, was carrying two incredible babies to term and having a healthy labor. After all three of them were born, my third high was leaving my paying career to create a company to help other women along their journey. Through the means that I had, I was able to offer support groups to the Warriors group, and also create tailored Mom meet-ups to those who had fertility challenges prior to conceiving and then had a baby, twins, or multiples. We have since created meet-ups for single, first-time, second-time, stay at home, and working moms, as well.

My educational background is in social work and I always knew that I wanted to be a therapist or help in some way. My own fertility journey brought me to this; health and women on the path towards creating their family. I had always been on the “this is what I am supposed to do” track; from high school, college, to graduate school, without intention or true personal passion. I put one foot in front of the other until this happened to me. This gave me the ability to do something for others and hold their hand through their journey. Being able to add any light to this dark place has been incredibly rewarding.

Do you have a silver lining?

Perhaps the silver lining was the group created for women who are hoping to be, or are already moms, to have a safe space to share personal experiences. I have heard that the Warriors community has been helpful because even women who are desperately trying to become moms are still able to support each other when they are going through some of the most trying times in their own lives. Warriors (group) has proven to be a place that people come for kindness, to share, seek resources and support. There is something that needed to exist in this (fertility) space that didn’t before.

Your truth?

Even when our stories go exactly the way that we envisioned or hoped, having a group of other women that are there to support, empower and show kindness, has made all of the difference. I have learned that it is not only about us, it’s just as much about participating in a greater community.

Rebekah is a 30-something infertility warrior, mom to three babies (a 3-year-old and a set of twins), Licensed Master Social Worker, doula, and co-Founder of Mom MeetUps. Rebekah leverages her blog bexhasbabies.com, social channels and Warriors group to share her experiences and help normalize the message of infertility, breastfeeding and postpartum challenge.

If you are looking for a community to support your or a friend’s (in)fertility journey, please reach out to hi@fertilust.com to be connected with Rebekah’s safe Facebook group called Warriors.

NIAW Feature: Options are Valuable

Anthea King-Pascual captured by    Alexis Mera.    Shirt designed by    Kayla Kleinman   .

Anthea King-Pascual captured by Alexis Mera. Shirt designed by Kayla Kleinman.

I had the opportunity to sit down with fertility warrior, Anthea King-Pascual to discuss her journey of secondary (in)fertility, IVF and the relief she found in the egg donor option. Read on to find out how Anthea is redefining the conversation around (in)fertility through her story of loss, heartache and love.

Anthea’s story:

I got pregnant with my daughter when I was 35 after three months of trying. When I was 37 and my daughter was one, we tried again for a second. We got pregnant after trying for a while and discovered at five months that the fetus had trisomy which meant it wouldn’t be a viable pregnancy. We then turned to IVF and after four times, had an ectopic pregnancy that resulted in a miscarriage, DNC, and chemotherapy to flush out my fallopian tubes. After the ectopic, we took the mandatory break from treatment for six months.

We decided to try (IVF) again by bundling embryos over three more rounds (of retrievals) and banked a total of 11. Our embryos were sent for genetic testing and every single one came back abnormal.

I was now 42 years old. Our insurance had been covering up to 80% up until that point and we were about to go entirely out of pocket. We consulted with our Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE) and he shared that the chances of a viable pregnancy was about 1% based on my age and our history. As a result, our RE recommended that we consider the egg donor route which I hadn’t really thought about up until that point.

We decided to move forward and initially had two failed attempts with possible egg donor candidates. As a result, we decided to go the frozen rather than fresh egg donation route and purchased multiple eggs from one donor. The first egg that we transferred resulted in my son, Simon!

The media gives a false sense of expectation and hope by covering celebrities who get pregnant at 45 or 50. It is very likely that these pregnancies could be the result of donor eggs. It’s so important to voice the option about leveraging donor eggs. In fact, our clinic, RMA NJ does approximately 2,000 egg donor transfers a year!

What was your high?

My high was making the decision and the plan to go the egg donor route. It was the hope in knowing that there was an option (to have a baby), and that it wasn’t the end of the road for us. It wasn’t the original way we thought that we were going to (have a baby), but it was the way that it happened for us.

What was your low?

The low over my entire journey was after banking multiple eggs over three cycles. After all the emotions, medications and money, and then finding out that none of them were viable. My husband and I felt completely defeated.

Do have a silver lining?

My husband. He was so supportive of everything that I was doing, wanted to do, and the decisions that I made. I felt like I really wanted to have another child and give my daughter a sibling.

I knew that I married the right man because we hit rock bottom and were able to get through it together by supporting each other. I know my husband very well but we had never been in this situation before. There is no way of knowing how a partner may be or react during an extremely trying experience, and he was beyond supportive.

Do you have any words of wisdom?

I think that it is important to remember that there are options. I remember someone sharing with me that “only you are going to know when/if you need to change your path”. Be honest with yourself and don’t give up hope. Consider going about the process a different way such as donor egg or adoption. It could save you a lot of heartache, time and money.

People also question whether they could love their (donor egg) child as much as their biological child. Speaking from experience, the answer is YES, you most definitely love that child just as much!

Anthea, her husband and her two children live in New Jersey. Anthea’s love for her children’s care and safety inspired her to launch Homepaired, the first online marketplace connecting families with motivated and talented American students, with the goal of making live-in childcare affordable, accessible and ethical.

Trailblazing with Andrea Syrtash



Photo of Andrea Syrtash by    Alexis Mera   .

Photo of Andrea Syrtash by Alexis Mera.

During National Infertility Week, Alexis Mera and I had the opportunity to meet with six fertility warriors who have been bold enough to share their stories publicly. Please meet Andrea Syrtash a fertility force and trailblazer. Although I have known Andrea for years, our first in person meeting was only very recently when our group of fertility warriors got together for this NAIW project.

Andrea has been a trailblazer in the fertility space and has been actively supporting fertility warriors since she founded pregnantish, the first online lifestyle magazine dedicated to helping singles, couples and LGBT navigate (in)fertility treatments. Andrea’s background as a relationship expert and coach regularly featured on national TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show, and as the author of He's Just Not Your Type (And That's A Good Thing) and Cheat On Your Husband (With Your Husband), combined with her compassion for the fertility journey, has made her an unwavering authority in the world of fertility.

I had the privilege to connect with Andrea on some of the aspects of her personal journey that I am so pleased to share in our recent interview here:

Andrea, what is your story?

How much time do you have?! Approximately 18 fertility treatments, one open-stomach surgery to remove a large fibroid, eight years of trying to get and stay pregnant, and eight reproductive doctors. I always knew it might take a while to get pregnant because I was diagnosed with endometriosis as a teenager, but I never imagined that it would take as long as it did to meet our baby (in December 2018)! 

After IVF transfer after transfer, and after learning we miscarried a 'heatlhy' baby in 2013 after a D&C, a doctor told me not to do anymore embryo transfers until we genetically tested our embryos. In 2016, I did many more retrievals to try to create enough Day 5 embryos to send away for PGS (now called PGT-A) genetic testing. Once we had healthy embryos, we knew we should try to find a gestational carrier (a surrogate who would use my embryo) to carry our baby to term.

This was another big chapter! Two surrogates dropped out on us and I had no idea how we were going to afford to keep going through this. In January 2018, my first cousin Elana stepped up and offered to carry our embryo. I was so emotional I couldn't respond! We transferred one into her in April 2018, during National Infertility Awareness Week. I remember telling my audience at pregnantish that I had no idea if I'd meet our baby this way, but I was hopeful. In December of 2018 of my cousin delivered our baby girl Arielle (into the world). I'm so grateful and in shock that I'm her mom!

Your High?

I created and launched pregnantish.com to help others navigate this incredibly stressful process right in the middle of my own treatment/IVF. At the time, I was not sure if or how I'd have a baby. Finding a deeper purpose during an experience I was really struggling with was a high for me.I was not only able to use my voice to help others, but I learned so much from others in the community. So often when you're dealing with infertility, you feel alone.

Your Low? 

I had many lows over almost a decade of trying to make a baby! One happened in public at a department store after an appointment where the doctor told me my embryos were growing unevenly. (I later learned it's because I needed estrogen priming, but that's another story!)  A tourist came up to me and asked if she could pray for me. I felt awkward about it, right there in the middle of the shoe racks; we held hands and she prayed while I cried. Another low was learning that I would miscarry again in 2014. By this point, I had been trying for about 4 years and I was so depleted. December 2015 was another low because my doctor told me that I had a 'beautiful perfect looking embryo', that didn’t take. I had done everything (diet, vitamins, taking care of myself) to let it implant. When it didn't work, I felt hopeless. I called the doctor and he told me to stop treatment and suggested more testing.

What was a low then turned out to be a high because more possibilities opened for us once we got more information (as a result of the testing).

Do you have a silver lining?

I got 2 babies out of this! One is my baby Arielle, who I'm so grateful for and who is a joy. The other is pregnantish which is fulfilling because I often hear it helps others who are struggling.

Do you have any words of wisdom?

I used to tell myself and often tell our readers that so much is out of our control when it comes to goals like parenthood, and if you want to be a parent, there will be a path. You don't need to know the how, the when, the where, you just need to know the what which is that you will be a parent. There are so many paths...

Learn more about Andrea, her story and the wealth of fertility resources available through her site pregnatish.

Redefining the Conversation about Infertility

Fertility Warriors from L to R:    Andrea Syrtash, Anthea King–Pascual, Jane Jolis, Nathalie Carpenter, Jennie Monness, Rebekah Rosler, Stephanie Rapp. Photo credit: Alexis Mera.

Fertility Warriors from L to R: Andrea Syrtash, Anthea King–Pascual, Jane Jolis, Nathalie Carpenter, Jennie Monness, Rebekah Rosler, Stephanie Rapp. Photo credit: Alexis Mera.

I have thought a lot about the word infertility. It sounds like such an ugly word because there is so much judgement (including self) and lack of awareness around the subject. Even for those embarking on the “journey” there is so much that is unknown. Although the science around it has come a long way, there is still not a guarantee that it will find the underlying cause, let alone solve it to produce a child. 

The word infertile goes against our very basic function as humans to reproduce. And if we can’t do that, we may admonish ourselves for not being “normal” or having tried hard enough, or perhaps not trying the right way (whatever that means). There may be shame, embarrassment, guilt, fear, frustration, jealousy, and, and, and… Societally, we have been taught that all of these emotions are bad/negative and since there is no pride in them, we naturally try to hide them, making the depths of despair associated with (in)fertility even greater. 

I am speaking about all of the above from experience because I have lived it. Do you know how liberating it is to share that publicly? The first time I announced my experience through this blog, I held my breath when I hit publish. I didn’t know what the reaction would be and whether it would be met with public disparagement or disgust, or whether I might even be let go at my corporate job for airing my so-called dirty laundry so publicly. Instead, I was met with responses from people that I knew and didn’t know; that they, their sister, cousin, friend, or colleague was going through it, and would I talk to them about it. In those moments, I understood that I was so far from being alone. I realized that I had been shouldering a greater burden than I had to; and had created more stress for myself by not talking about my (in)fertility story. I will purposely refer to (in)fertility like so moving forward because infertility and fertility are often interchangeable, however I believe that being in the community of fertility is powerful.

By being vulnerable by sharing my own story, I have come to learn that that there are other women who have been voicing their experience and encouraging others to do the same. These fertility warriors are trailblazers, and I recently had the honor and privilege of being in the same room with six incredible women who also see the possibility of change. Alexis Mera was there to capture it all on camera.

To say that it was magical being in the room with these other women is an understatement. We all “knew” each other without actually ever meeting, because although the journey was different for all of us, the end goal of becoming a mother was the same.  Our common bond was cemented in the interest of redefining the conversation around (in)fertility by breaking the silence to get it started.

The silence for all of us at one point or another was deafening. At times the path had been hell both mentally and/or physically, but I believe that we all realized that we could use our strength to give voices and faces to (in)fertility. When. the seven of us met, it was clear that we had found community through authenticity, transparency and vulnerability by sharingand as a result, the ability to pay it forward by supporting others going through the fire.

This is just the start, by creating community, we discover resources, are empowered by options, and elevate the conversation for support publicly and in the workplace. We have the power to make infertility a safe discussion and promoting its importance for financial support consideration and workplace benefits for both women and men.

Be a trailblazer. Over the course of this week during National Infertility Awareness Week, six fertility warriors will be featured on Fertilust. Each will share their story and their reflections on their experience. Some of the themes expressed by our trailblazers included empowerment, community, perseverance, resilience, options, strength, and advocacy.

We welcome you to join the conversation by sharing your constructive voice in the comments, and/or by reaching out to find out how to tap into the community. 

In collaboration with Alexis Mera who photographed each fertility warrior and provided graphic tees from her collections, you can get a sneak peek into each woman’s story here as shared on Alexis’ blog. Please also be sure to check back each day this week as we highlight each fertility warrior in detail here on Fertilust.

Together we can take the conversation about (in)fertility out of the shadows to normalize it. We can make it inclusive by building awareness and community. By giving it so many voices, we can drown out the judgement, misconceptions and silence around the topic.

Rather than focus on the negative aspects of (in)fertility, we have the opportunity to get IN to the community of FERTILITY. Please join us.

 

 

 

The Nurse we all Need

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I am so excited to share the discussion that I had with Fertility Nurse and Consultant, Leyla Bilali of Fertility Together.  Leyla bridges the gap between doctor visits, the waiting, the results and so much more.

It is no secret that (in)fertility is a lot to navigate both mentally and physically. Leyla’s services combine emotional support with the medicine that's within her scope of practice. It’s also a huge bonus that Leyla helps her patients with the administration of their medicine in the comfort of their own home and is also a constant sounding board. The result is that Leyla’s patients are much more than just that, they are individuals who receive support tailored to their needs during their fertility journey. 

Read on to find out more about the discussion that I had with Leyla, the Fertility Nurse that we all need.  I have come to think of Leyla is a fertility fairy godmother. Everyone going through fertility treatments needs a Leyla!

What is a fertility consultant and what inspired you to become one?

 A fertility consultant holds your hand during your fertility journey. This doesn’t necessarily have to just be for IVF but for all fertility related treatments including egg freezing. I work with some women that aren’t in a secured relationship or ready to have a child yet, but would like the option to potentially have a child in the future. From egg freezing to IVF, I help women navigate the whole process from who to see and what tests to take for baseline testing.

Sometimes an OB will suggest that a patient should see a reproductive endocrinologist, especially if a couple has been trying without success for over a year. I can guide that person on who to see based on their personalized medical history rather than just send them to a clinic where there is a relationship (between the OB and the clinic). A lot of this (fertility) world is not personalized. There is such a high volume at the large clinics which has its pros, but it makes it difficult to personalize care for people. My role is to help guide through all of the results and keep my patients sane.

I believe that a nurturing, knowledgeable partner like me can make all the difference as someone discovers their unique path to fertility. In my 11 years as a registered nurse, six of them in pediatrics, and five of the most recent in fertility, I have learned how to make healthcare more comfortable and human by inserting my compassion, humor and reliability.

 The medical world can feel very stiff and scary and we often need a shoulder to lean on to get through it. This is especially true for fertility patients as they are usually in a vulnerable state to begin with. Whether you are simply curious about your reproductive health, ready to take action via egg freezing or struggling with infertility, it doesn't get much more emotional, raw or intimate than this. And because of this intimacy, it's often hard for people to talk about it. As a society, we are beginning to lift the taboo of fertility but we still have a ways to go!

I have been fortunate enough to recognize my calling as a fertility consultant at the suggestion of some of my most dear patients. I thought I was supporting them medically and emotionally, and instead I was the one that was rewarded ten-fold with a great business idea. It actually occurred to me while I was at the home of one of my patients assisting her with injections. Sometimes the patient or the partner has a hard time administering or doesn’t feel comfortable.

I realized what was missing in fertility care when my patient said “I don’t know how people do this without a Leyla. You should start your own business.” No one else was doing this in the Tri-State area so I officially launched Fertility Together in August of 2017.

You mentioned personalization for each patient. Can you please elaborate?

 After looking at a patient’s medical history and understanding their personality, I make recommendations on who that patient would work well with and provide A – Z assistance from injections to on-call support. Even if it isn’t the full IVF, egg freezing is still the first full part of IVF by way of egg retrieval. I can assist the patient on what to expect from the medications and help administer it, if needed. 

What is your view on the correlation between stress and conceiving?

 Stress wreaks havoc on your body so there is no reason that it wouldn’t wreak havoc on your reproductive system and egg quality. 

 Cortisol (stress) hormones compete with progesterone hormones. Progesterone is crucial to pregnancy, specifically to conceiving and holding a pregnancy. There are a lot of indications that stress plays a role in infertility.

 One method that I like to combat stress is acupuncture. There may not be any direct studies that acupuncture increases egg quality but it does affect your nervous system, which can suppress your stress levels. JAMA recently released a report on an acupuncture study where some patients received traditional acupuncture and others received a placebo of randomly placing needles. The result showed no difference between the traditional and the placebo. However, because the participants felt that they were proactively doing something to alleviate their stress, the positive IVF outcomes were increased. 

What do you most regularly hear your patients “stress” about leading up to and during IVF treatment?

The anxiety from the medication and injections. The partner relationship also plays a huge role (of importance) because that is your support system and any potential lack of it, can also be a source of stress.

What are your top tips for patients to optimize positive outcomes and reduce stress?

  1. Taking care of your body is huge. If you have an eating disorder, are under or overweight, you are damaging your reproductive system. You can improve egg quality and support it with good whole foods, decreasing alcohol consumption, and not smoking.

  2. It is important to work with a doctor that you vibe and feel comfortable with. The doctor and the facility should be available to answer questions. You should not ever feel like a bother for asking.

  3. Communication between you and your partner is crucial. We often forget that our partner is going through this too and that they have (support) needs as well. Maybe you need a third party like me or an IVF therapist to help.

  4. Do what makes you feel sane; that could be acupuncture, exercise, or another healthy activity.

Are there any myths about stress that you would like to debunk?

 Prior to transferring an embryo, I have a lot of a patients who ask if the timing is right and if stressful life events will alter their results. For example they have a stressful work week coming up or life just happened. The answer is no. If the embryo is going to take and it’s going to be a viable pregnancy, it’s going to sustain despite your everyday level of stress and anxiety. 

There is nothing wrong with being stressed and anxious about this process. That is why it is annoying when people say “don’t stress or just relax”. I think that it would be abnormal if someone didn’t stress or have anxiety during the process. Letting yourself feel these emotions is where my services come in. I am a sounding board. You get to tell me that you are stressed out and just talking about it will make you feel better. 

Are there any resources that you think are a must for anyone going through or considering IVF?

  • Acupuncture, Liz Carlson at Common Point. I go to her myself!

  • IVF therapists

  • Resolve.org offers a resource list for consultants, therapists, support groups

I would love to get to the point where people don’t feel ashamed that they had to undergo any fertility treatment to have their baby. Ideally it would be normalized and not a taboo topic.

What moment in your career has inspired you more than you could have imagined?

I was chatting with my husband’s colleague at a holiday party who knew that I am a fertility nurse, and upon meeting me shared that he was an IVF baby. He told me that he was so appreciative of what his mom went through to have him. It brought tears to my eyes.

 

Leyla Bilali, BS, BSN, RN is an experienced fertility nurse and fertility consultant. Leyla received her Bachelor of Science in Biology at Emory University, and her BSN at the Columbia University School of Nursing. 

To learn more about Leyla and Fertility Together, please visit: fertilitytogether.com or @fertilitytogether on IG.

 

 

The Girlfriends' Guide to IVF: Part 1

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I was chatting with a girlfriend going through IVF and realized that it might be helpful to share my experience in hopes that it could help others navigate the process as well. 

During my third round last year, I made the discovery that by changing my attitude towards IVF, it wasn't as mentally and emotionally daunting as it had previously been.  Was piercing myself with needles (or letting my husband do it for me) a party?  Well no, not quite. There are however a lot of uncontrollables during IVF, so feeling emotionally stable and maintaining a positive attitude was an absolute victory.  I learned to accept the process, perhaps even embrace it rather than resent it.  I let go of being attached to the outcome, and THAT helped me make peace with IVF.

I am in no way diminishing the emotional and physical hardships associated with IVF.  I don't wish the experience on anyone.  I just made a decision to look at the process differently than I had been and set other goals (like getting mind/body healthy,) so that I could win no matter the outcome.  Perhaps three (rounds of IVF) was a charm, but I am convinced that my efforts to take care of my overall health paid off.  It still took a lot of effort on my part, and I couldn't have done it without a community and support system.  My doctor, nurse, and husband were the best team that I could have dreamed of, and the support group from CCRM provided ongoing inspiration.  

I learned to not underestimate the importance of the right doctor.  Just because a doctor did wonders for your friend does not mean that he or she is the right fit for you.  If this sounds like the position that you are in, look for a doctor with good credentials, that you vibe with, and who is attached to excellent labs.  Also make sure that you really like your nurse.  Your nurse will be your lifeline.

Only you can control how you feel.  I found my peace through prioritizing my needs.  You will likely need the support of friends, family and possibly a like-minded community during this time, but you will also need to give back to yourself.  This was a rather awkward and difficult new habit for me to embrace but it became yet another silver lining on the journey.

And one more thing... No matter what anyone else tells you, including me, nothing can really mentally prepare you for the IVF process.  It is not for the faint of heart and you are a rockstar to travel this path.  Remember that you are not alone and you do not have to suffer in silence.  

I've put together a cheat sheet of the main points that I believe helped me optimize my outcome and feel decent during the process.  My hope is that these insights will help support your journey and make the ride a little less turbulent.  Read on to Part II to get started.

The Girlfriends' Guide to IVF: Part 2

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Phase One/The Prep for Retrieval:

Similar to a recipe, here is the plan that I followed prior to egg retrieval and leading up to transfer.  This may also be helpful for anyone  just be doing the egg freezing process.

Try to take 90 - 120 days to reset your overall health and mindset to optimize egg quality and ultimately set the stage for a productive IVF cycle.  And go with your gut.  Start on your schedule.  Some doctors will try to rush you by telling you that your eggs will be 2 - 3 months older if you wait.  While true, if that is the case, I find it interesting that my results got better after hitting the pause button for 8 months.

1. Eat clean whenever possible

Focus on a mostly plant-based protein diet with an equal quotient of healthy carbs and fats.  (Translation for carbs/fats: fruits, veggies, nuts, and oils.) 

Pass on dairy, refined sugars, and refined grains (gluten in general whenever possible.)  Also beware of gluten replacement foods and especially any gluten-free foods that come in a box or bag as they might be laden with refined sugars and possibly chemicals.  These items all have an inflammatory effect on the body which doesn't help the optimal egg health cause.

2. Take supplements 

This is in addition to eating whole foods and shouldn't be the replacement for them. Check out my recommendations here. If you already know that you are challenged with egg quality issues, consider adding an organic Acai supplement.  (Avoid any Acai that is not pure or products like Sambazon that have a high sugar content.)

3. Drink water and lots of it

Ideally 8 glasses a day as a benchmark and preferably from glass.  Avoid plastic when possible.  BPA which is found in plastic is a known endocrine disruptor.

4. Try your best to cut caffeine

You'll have to do so anyway to ensure proper labs/monitoring.  Consider replacing your coffee ritual with hot water and lemon which is alkalizing (inflammatory reducing).  Pair it with an awesome refrigerated Probiotic like Natren Healthy Trinity to promote digestion and combat bloat.  

4. Cut alcohol

I'm sorry!  This was extremely difficult for me too.  I promise that you can do anything you set your mind to for 90 - 120 days!

5. Be aware of what you put on & around your body  

Avoid products with sulfates, parabens, and phthalates (fragrance).  All of these items are known endocrine disruptors.  Check out EWG.org to give you a better gauge on how products rank or to demystify ingredients in products.

Go ahead, be a sophisticated hippie with some of these awesome products that I have tested. I am not affiliated with any of these brands, I do however believe in their ingredients.

  • Skin/Hair Products: S.W. Basics, Body Deli, Rika

  • Natural Deodorant (that works): Joyous Organics

  • Cleaning Products: Puracy, Meliora K

  • Glass Water Bottle: BKR

6. avoid receipts

I am aware that this sounds crazy and especially if you live in a city or travel for work.  The thin powder coating found on receipt paper contains an unusually high amount of endocrine disruptor, BPA.  Not sure what to think? Search the terms "bpa receipts" and look for a credible source to learn more.

7. sleep

Try for 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night if at all possible.  This time is imperative to repair and restore cells.

8.Get your head on straight

Take ten minutes every morning for yourself to set the tone for the day.

Check out the 5 Minute Journal to remind yourself of what you are grateful for and/or meditate with the Headspace App.

Exercise easily.  Think yoga, barre, micro-toning, hiking/walking. The reason why cardio isn't recommended is because it promotes a fight/flight response during exercise, inducing unnecessary added stress on the body which isn't great for optimal cellular growth and creating the healthy maturation of eggs.  (The IVF process is already stressful enough, no?)

9. Consider Acupuncture

It blissed me out and has known benefits to increase blood flow.  In other words, it's good for egg heath and might also stimulate a thicker lining to promote transplantation when it comes time.

Phase Two/Stimming:

1. Keep on practicing self-care

This includes taking time for you, sleeping enough, staying hydrated and continuing healthy eating habits.

2. Discontinue most supplements

Continue with a daily Probiotic, Pre-Natal and Vitamin D (if you are deficient).

3. Stop any exercise outside of walking

The key is to not get your heart rate up.  If you are out of breath, chances are that you should ease up.

4. join a support group

Check out Pregnantish.  There are also plenty of private support groups on Facebook.  Many clinics also have groups available so make sure to enquire.  It's so nice to know that you can ask a burning question at 3a to a group of people that are going through the same things that you are, right now.  

Phase Three/Retrieval:

1. Try your best NOT to be attached to the outcome

I know that this is easier said than done.  Think of the many ways you have already won with a healthy mind and spirit, no matter what happens.

2. Get a post-retrieval care package ready

A heating pad, Tylenol, coconut water (I love Taste Nirvana and Harmless Harvest), Ultima electrolyte mix, and a bag of salty Kettle Chips will do wonders.  I am aware that the chips sound a little crazy but the high levels of sodium just following retrieval actually help drain the fluid that builds up in the empty egg sacs which can cause uncomfortable bloat.

3. Go native on the day of your retrieval

You and your partner should avoid wearing perfume, deodorant, and anything with fragrance in it.  Why you ask?  Because the fragrance could potentially damage eggs retrieved making them abnormal. 

Phase 4/The In-Between:

Between the time of retrieval and transfer is not the time to go cold turkey on all of the incredible healthy habits that you have been practicing.  Keeping a healthy lifestyle between retrieval and transfer will reward you with a better state of mind, more energy, faster recovery, and possibly better odds of conceiving during transfer.

Phase 5/The Road to Transfer (Egg Implantation):

Congratulations on making it to the transfer stage.  You should feel really good as this is not a given.  Many of the positive habits that you have picked up or already practiced along the way will continue to serve you.

1. Continue to eat, sleep, and hydrate well

2. TAKE supplements

Specifically continue a Probiotic, Pre Natal, and Vitamin D if you need.  Add back in Omega 3s.

3. Keep taking time for yourself

If you like acupuncture, try going once a week to help promote lining growth.  Only go if it doesn't stress you out to manage it into your schedule and get there in the first place.

4. Cut out alcohol and caffeine again

Much to my dismay I was reminded that chocolate has caffeine too.  Just remember that this is not forever.

5. maintain a positive outlook

Be excited but unattached to the outcome. It is a blessing to have gotten this far.  The universe doesn't promise or owe anything; all we can control is our attitude and embrace the silver linings that we encounter along the way.

Phase 6/Time for Transfer:

1. pre/post transfer acupuncture

Many fertility outpatient facilities offer this.  If this interests you, consider it for its calming, blood flow stimulating benefits that helps the eggs get cozy in the uterus.

2. Get yourself in a good headspace 

Consider taking a restorative style yoga or meditation class the night before the transfer.

3. Wear comfortable clothes and "happy" socks

You will be looking at them for a while.

4. go fragrance free

This applies to you and your partner and will minimize any damaging exposure to your hard-earned blastocyst(s).  (A blastocyst is a Day 5 - 7 fertilized embryo.)

Phase 7/Post Transfer:

1. Plan for bedrest for that day and the following

Avoid a heating pad.

2. Eat warm, nourishing foods

This includes organic bone broth to promote a comfortable zone for the embryo to implant.  Wild salmon, dark leafy greens, ginger, and fermented vegetable are also thought to be helpful.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. 

3. Eat fresh pineapple core and raw Brazil nuts

Beginning the day of transfer and continue for a few days... 

Pineapple contains an enzyme bromelain, known for it’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties.  Reducing inflammation in the uterus helps set the stage for implantation by potentially creating a sticky lining where the embryo can settle in comfortably.

Eat 6 - 8 Brazil nuts a day.  Chockfull of selenium, Brazil nuts are thought to help thicken the uterine wall promoting a healthy lining to aid with implantation.

4. Meditate and visualize your embryos getting cozy

What is the downside?

5. Binge on funny movies or shows

In case you are looking for suggestions, I liked Up Schitt's Creek and Master of None on Netflix.

6. Rest and sleep a lot

7. The 10 day wait...

This will feel like the longest week and a half of your life (so far!) to find out what your results are from the blood test.  Try to be stoic.  Unfortunately OTC pregnancy tests can potentially provide a false negative or positive.

8. Be excited but not attached to the outcome

I know that I keep saying this.  This is a friendly reminder that whatever happens doesn't define you one way or the other.  You are also not alone in this journey.

Sending positive vibes your way! xo

 

Baby Makes Three...

I am grateful to my rock of a husband; friends and family for cheering us on; Elaine, an enormously talented healer who helped me understand my path; the designer who fortuitously sat next to me at a brunch last summer and introduced me to "the" doctor;  Claudia for helping me awaken to the concept that all of this was happening for me; Keri who taught me to look at food as fuel and medicine; Daryl for reminding me that (acupuncture) needles can actually be wonderful; and to Dr. Schoolcraft, Melanie and all of the amazing people at CCRM that I have had the great pleasure of meeting along this very long road.

Sound like an awards ceremony?  I sort of feel like I just won the greatest award in the world.  I have won the gift of pregnancy and I couldn't have done this on my own without the expertise, support, and love of so many incredible people.  I now know that every single person that I felt that tinge of energy around was meant to be in my life for a reason, whether for a season, or a lifetime.  For the first time, maybe ever, I feel like I am in alignment and exactly where I am meant to be.  

I have tried so many times to write this entry down over the last couple of months, and every time, I find an excuse to put it off.  First I had to wait until after three months to be sure, then I had to get my energy back, take care of my full time job, wait until the time felt right to share the news, and the list goes on and on...  Despite my very positive outcome, I have felt so many emotions through this process that coming back to center and sharing the news of my pregnancy has actually been more difficult than I could have imagined.

About 6 weeks after starting this blog, I got pregnant.  It’s mildly amusing that I had to expose my “dirty little secret,” and then I conceived so quickly.  The most interesting finding is that by sharing my secret, it was no longer dirty.  In fact, I found out that I was far from alone.  The path to finding fertility can mentally and physically suck the life out of you if you let it.  I am fortunate to have discovered solace and community from several groups consisting of thousands of women who struggle with their fertility.  These women bestowed upon me the invaluable gift of perspective.  And for those still on the journey, I will continue to root for you every single day.

I also thought that getting pregnant would be my end goal.  In hindsight, it is now clear that chapter was a stepping stone to the next leg of this incredible journey.  The lessons that I have learned, and continue to learn, about mental and physical wellness weren’t only the key to helping me conceive, they have become a way of life.

So as I sit here writing this at 6.5 months (26 weeks) pregnant with my little babe kicking inside of me, I am overcome with appreciation for this journey.  Being open to the possibilities, unattached to the outcome and surrounded by an amazing network is why I believe I am able to share this wonderful news with you.

A million thanks.  My cup literally runneth over in gratitude.

 

*A very special thanks to the talented Robert Grima for capturing me and my belly, as well as to Zimmerman for the beautiful dress.*

All About the Egg.

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One of the first things I learned on this path is that for someone who had an absolute obsession with a perfect outcome for every professional marketing campaign that I touched, I wasn’t practicing this behavior personally.  Case in point, nutrition and wellness.

Since I moved to NYC 9 ½ years ago, I have survived as a result of eating out and Seamless food delivery.  Beyond the taste, I had zero idea what was actually making up these meals.  From ingredients to quality control, I was not at all conscious of my daily nutritionally intake.  In fact, I really wasn’t even a fan of vegetables.  True story, I ate everything in a salad except for the greens.  Most meals were focused on an animal protein because the menu items always seemed more exciting. So if I indulged with a cheeseburger, pizza, and more cocktails and glasses of wine than I could remember, I’d solve the program with a Berocca and a spin class the next day. I figured that as long as I wasn’t putting on too many pounds, my lifestyle must be working.

Then my fourth fertility doctor told me to take a pre-natal and focus on eating a Mediterranean diet. (Seriously what does Mediterranean diet actually mean to someone that defines cuisine type based on restaurant reviews and delivery site filters?)  So I did what I was told and incorporated grilled octopus, Greek salad, hummus, and pita chips from the local Greek restaurant as staples into my diet. 

My IVF outcomes were less than stellar for my first two rounds at the beginning of 2016 and I was also plagued with a flu or cold every month for the first four months of the year.  Following my second failed IVF and sick once again, I lapsed into a slight depression fueled by an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.  I had just wanted someone to tell me what to do to get pregnant so that I could focus on the rest of my life, but clearly that wasn't working.

Then something happened…. I decided that I was going to figure out what part I could actively play because I didn't feel like it needed to be the end of this journey.  I called it after three days of a major pity party and dove head first into the sea of the Internet.  After sifting through a lot of junk diguised as schemes and products to get pregnant quickly, I stumbled across an incredible book that I proceeded to download off of Amazon.  “It All Starts with the Egg,” by Rebecca Fett, gave me hope and actual, tangible tools that got me started with my journey.

The book focuses on egg quality as the key to improving IVF odds and reducing miscarriage.  It  also has great research-backed concepts that might actually help natural conception.  I wish I had found it so much earlier and credit it as my learning springboard.  Rebecca’s personal story of trial turned to success inspired me to begin an action plan of my own centered around nutrition and wellness.

If you are interested in checking it out for yourself, you can find it here.