Discussions

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.

 

 

Learning how to lead a Nutritious Life with Keri Glassman

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I realized after some initial setbacks with my fertility that nutrition held the keys to the kingdom that I was looking for.  I became convinced that what I put in my body would ultimately help me achieve conception.  I got to reading books on foods for fertility and met with a couple of nutritionists, but ultimately knew that I just wanted to be more educated on the subject.  (Maybe the Type A in me?)  Cue Keri Glassman and The Nutrition School (TNS).  The courses not only solidified my understanding of nutrition, but also gave me a “wholistic” view on health, wellness, and nutrition.  Thanks to Keri and TNS, I am now Nutritious Life Certified and accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.

You may have heard about Keri… she is a nationally recognized celebrity nutritionist, registered dietician, healthy cooking expert, published author, and the founder of Nutritious Life and The Nutrition School.  Or you may have seen Keri on TV; she has been tapped as an expert to speak on The Today Show, Good Morning America, The View, The Talk, The Chew, Dr. Oz, and much more. 

I was recently fortunate enough to snag some time with Keri to discuss how her life was destined to be a nutritious one.  Read on to find out how you too can glean some important tips on leading your most nutritious life!

 

How do you spend most of your time?

Good question.  Every day varies but there are a few things that I do to keep my schedule consistent despite travel and projects.  I always take a look at my week and assess what I am doing with my kids, when I am having my family time, and what are the fun and exciting things that we are doing together based on their schedule.  I also always try to be home for breakfast unless I have early morning TV (interviews), as well as dinners to spend time with them.  Breakfast and dinner together is a huge part of our day. 

When you are your own boss and someone is not telling you where to be all day, it can lead to lack of structure and productivity.  I am an early riser and am my best in the morning so try to tackle one big project on my list between 5:30am and 7am.  That gives me a little bit of time for myself, plus a bit of time to organize and map out the day.  I pause, have breakfast with the kids, and when they go to school, I get my workout in.  Then I try to block out time to get in computer time (writing my own content, doing research) until around 1pm to harness my most productive hours.  I take the time after that to power through media interviews, calls, and meetings.  I find that I am better in those situations because I have crossed off things from my list earlier in the day, am clear-headed and focused.

What inspired you to launch Nutritious Life and TNS?  

Since I was a little girl, I was interested in nutrition without even realizing it.  I played sports and had a natural interest in how the body works and fuels itself.  In seventh grade science class, I told my friend that I was craving almonds so my body must need Vitamin E.  I probably had no had idea what Vitamin E actually did but I had read it somewhere, and was interested enough to remember that fact. 

Fast forward to college, I continued to play sports and eat well.  A lot of my friends did not.  They drank Diet Coke, didn't eat healthfully, yet I was the one who gained the “Freshmen Fifteen”.  As a result, I became interested in how to fuel the body for performance but also how to be lean and fit.  After I graduated, I worked with Sports Illustrated and because it was owned by Time Inc., I could get my hands on all the magazines.  I remember sitting at my desk and going over every last word in Health Magazine.  In fact, I was so interested that I went back to school part-time and took nutrition courses at NYU.

To some extent the rest is history, but when I graduated I started working for an online health and wellness company and was counseling people; first at Equinox, and then privately.  At the same time, I was getting my business experience at a small start-up.  The start-up pulled me away from hard-core nutrition because it took so much of my time so I decided to take the business skills that I had gained and couple it with my passion for nutrition. Then I went for it.

I quit my job (at the start-up) and opened up my own practice called Body Fuel about fifteen years ago, which has since evolved into Nutritious Life.  My practice from day one encompassed the mantra of a nutritious life, and it being more than just food.  In fact, my first logo was an icon for stress (a brain) with an arrow going to a drop of water (hydration) to an arrow going to a bed (sleep)!

I created TNS to scale my practice throughout the country.  It started with a binder to keep myself accountable and to eventually train others.  Then I hired my first dietician, trained her, and then the binder evolved into the program that it is today.

How old were you when you started playing with food?

I talk about this with my mother all the time… My mom still has a recipe box and found all of these cards with recipes that I had written, even though some were make-believe like Lizard Stew!

In the second grade, I made a “cookie dough machine” for a school project.  My dad brought cardboard and paper towel rolls for me to make it.  I always think of that as my first recipe and foray into entrepreneurship.

What’s the first thing that you remember cooking?

Growing up I cooked with my mother who made so many great recipes!  I remember the ritual and experience more so than what we actually made; sitting on the counter in the kitchen and being with mom, and cooking dinner every night.   We started every meal with half a grapefruit, and a salad with Ken’s Italian dressing.  Every night we had a vegetable, starch, and a protein, followed by dessert.  It may not always have been focused on health per se but it was always balanced.  We also always sat down as a family.

An ingredient that you can’t live without?

Nuts and nut butter.

One ingredient that you avoid at all costs?

There is almost nothing that I do not like but I can’t stand cilantro. 

What do you listen to when you cook?

Everything from what I listened to when I was growing up to what the kids listen to now.  From Coldplay, Eminem, U2 to the Bee Gees to Taylor Swift.  I was rocking out to Katy Perry the other night and loved it.  My daughter took the opportunity to share… “Mom, that song is not good”.

Favorite vegetable?

That is hard…  I have to pick one?!  Mmm…. Let’s go with spinach.

Favorite fruit?

Blueberries

Last cookbook that you used?  What did you cook?

I recently made a great recipe from “It’s All Good” by Gwyneth Paltrow.  I made Two-Pan Chicken with Harissa, Preserved Lemons and Green Olives. I love olives.  In fact, it inspired me to make poached olives and they were so good.

Do you have any secret talents?

Hand-eye coordination.  If you throw something at me, I will catch it.  I can also pogo stick for hours.  I think I beat a neighborhood record when I was a kid.

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?

Oprah.  Who wouldn’t want to sit with Oprah all night and pick her brain?

What is the number one piece of advice you would share with those looking to lead a Nutritious Life?

The combination of eating real, whole foods in conjunction with listening to your body, eating when you are slightly hungry, and to stop eating when you are slightly satisfied.  You’ll never have to count calories or worry about anything food related if you can master that powerful combo.

Remember it’s not just about the food.  It’s also important to pay attention to the other areas like focusing on stress reduction, sleep, and to not forget that they are just as important as exercise and food.

 

Ready to get started?  I put together a sample meal plan below with balanced and healthy recipes designed by Keri.  Just click on the recipe links below to get started with leading a Nutritious Life!

Breakfast: Morning Glory Muffins

Snack: Avocado Banana Smoothie 

Lunch: Chopped Salad with Tofu & Soy Nuts

Snack: Carrots & (10) Almonds

Dinner: Noodle Free Turkey Lasagna

 

*Note: Look out for GMO-free soy products.  Also, all recipes shared were created by Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life.

pregnantish: An interview with Andrea Syrtash

Andrea Syrtash, a real life superhero bridging the gap between her work and personal life, talks about fertility, relationships, and embracing the“ish”of things.

 

If ever there was the definition of Superwoman, Andrea Syrtash is it.  Andrea is a dating and relationship writer, online broadcaster and author.  She has been featured as an on-air personality on ABC’s The View, Good Morning America, NBC’s Today Show, and Oprah to name a few.  Andrea has also spoken at TEDxNavesink Makers on “How to Make Love (Outside the Bedroom)”, and is a regular contributor to Glamour.com.  To add to her growing list of credits, Andrea also recently founded pregnantish, the first-ever digital lifestyle magazine dedicated to providing resources for the fertility-challenged, inspired by her own and others' experiences associated with the trials and tribulations on the road to getting pregnant.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Andrea in between the filming of a TV pilot that she is hosting. Before kicking off our discussion, Andrea thoughtfully shared that both aspects of her career, being a relationship expert and the Editor-in-Chief of her new fertility-focused site pregnatish, go hand in hand. “Infertility is not just a medical issue, it's a relationship one. That's part of my goal with the site - to help singles/couples/LGBT navigate the personal and practical parts of the process.”

 

What made you decide to launch pregnantish?

As I've navigated my own infertility and fertility treatments for a number of years, I've searched far and wide on the Internet for a smart resource that wasn't clinical and it's been tough to find.  Information on this primarily has lived on parenting sites; and while these can be helpful, I felt it was time that we had our own lifestyle destination.  There are amazing medical and advocacy sites and we're not competing with them. We're trying to fill a different need. Instead of waiting for it, I decided to create it.

pregnantish is a great name, what is the inspiration behind it?

Over the last six years, I've undergone many fertility treatments, have been very hormonal, and told by my doctor to take it easy: not to drink alcohol or exercise too much, in the case I might be pregnant.  I've also had a positive beta test and have literally been pregnant for a time, and have lost the pregnancy.  Essentially, the inspiration behind the name is that it's a misconception, and you can in fact be a little bit pregnant!

Three adjectives you would use to describe pregnantish?

Supportive.  Smart.  Relatable.  Our tagline is ‘Real Talk About Fertility.’

What is your mantra?

When in doubt, choose love.

The moment(s) when you knew you were “ready” (to be a mom)?

Some women have always known they wanted to become a mom.  In my case, it happened a couple of years into my marriage.  I realized my partner (who is a teacher) would be a great dad, and that I was ready to expand our family. Once my niece was born, almost 4 years ago, it was even more solidified to me that I would love to raise a child.

You’ve written dozens of books on relationships; fertility can be taxing on a relationship. What is your number one piece of advice to couples on navigating the potential fertility minefield?

Good question!  Firstly, couples should give themselves a break.  This is such a tough thing to navigate, as infertility challenges relationships in the deepest way: the relationship you have with each other, with yourself, with your bodies, with your work, with your community, with your bank account and more.  I'd suggest that couples leave the lines of communication open, so they don't feel as alone.  I'd also suggest that they don't just look to each other for support.  Each person in a partnership has a right to feel feelings of frustration, despair, hopelessness, confusion and more.  Sometimes, though, it's too intense to rely on your partner to help you through this.  I'd suggest finding a trusted source - a friend, clergy member, or therapist, to help each or both of you so that you have the support you need.

You recently posted a meme that “Facebook is constantly reminding me that everyone is pregnant but me.” How do you recommend handling the news of a friend’s pregnancy announcement?

I have learned that you can hold two emotions: you can be happy for a friend and sad for yourself.  You can celebrate your friend's pregnancy news, but you aren't a bad friend if your heart sinks and you feel sad for yourself at the same time.  That's normal.  It's helpful to remember that we can hold both emotions.

Has there been a silver lining to your experience? 

Some people have said to me, 'All this was worth it so you could create pregnantish.'  I have mixed feelings about this.  I'm an eternal optimist, who sees the good in most situations; and yet, I wouldn't wish these 6 years of pregnancy losses, intense fertility treatments, invasive surgery, emptying the bank account, etc. on anyone!  It's been a very tough road.  The silver lining is that hopefully I can help others feel less alone as they navigate this, too.

Your go-to for managing stress?

I'm a glutton for massages!  I don't get them often, but every time I go, I feel better after and well taken care of.  The body goes through so much during treatment that it's important to practice self-care!  I also swim regularly.  This helps me alleviate stress.

Cook or order-in?

In my head I cook a lot.  In reality, I go out or take out more (part of NY living, it seems!).

Favorite feel-good food?

I enjoy foods with a surprise inside (dumplings, empanadas, ravioli, etc).

Last book you read?

I re-read Emotional Intelligence.  So good!

Who inspires you?

So many people inspire me (including my parents!); but in terms of a public figure, I'm inspired by Oprah.  A few years ago I hosted a great show for her network and it was a great honor.  I grew up watching her show religiously.  What I appreciate about her is her authenticity, her commitment to helping people live well and her drive.  She's created so many amazing opportunities and platforms, and has made the world a better place.  I hope to do (at least a fraction of!) the same with the media platform I have and the writing I do...

Best piece of advice that you have ever received?

The most important thing you can offer in a relationship is your presence.

Number one piece of fertility advice that you would like to share?

As much as possible, embrace the 'ish' of things.  Life isn't black and white, and some of the best life paths aren't expected or linear.  I've realized that it's important to know the what (that you want to be a parent) and it's okay to not yet know the who (biological or not), how or where of it."

 

To find out more about Andrea Syrtash visit pregnantish and sign up for the newsletter.  You can also follow along @pregnantish on Facebook and Instagram, and @pregnantishmag on twitter.