The rollercoaster ride of infertility and trying to conceive.
I’m taking a moment to pause my writing about food prepping to share a more personal story with all of you. Come sit around the camp fire with me. It’s story time.
Those of you who have been following me on social media have heard me speak openly about my struggle with unexplained infertility over the past two years. Like many others who have dealt with this subject, you never expect that you’ll be the one on the receiving end of this devastating issue. Sometimes heartbreaks have a way of mending. My husband Nima and I are thrilled to announce that we are expecting a baby in early October! I know, we still can’t believe it either, ahhhhhh!
I was never the little girl who dreamed of being a mother her whole life. When I played the game of Life, I wanted the career while my friends gushed over the blue and pink peg that symbolized the kids they would one day have. Fast forward to adulting, while many of the people around me were wiping snotty noses or stepping on legos, I was focused on my salon and my relationship. I never felt like I had to do things just because “society” said it was the right thing to do and somehow that’s always worked in my favor. My husband and I took time to foster our relationship, traveled the world together, became best friends, found great success in our careers and managed to have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.
We had been together 9 years and married for 4 when we decided the time was right for us to add a little “nugget” to our family. My obsessive self had to learn to get over the unknowns of parenthood and we resolved to pull the trigger. I mean, we weren’t getting any younger right?
It was Thanksgiving time and we had much to be thankful for. I had an annual exam with my OB to discuss “pregnancy after 35” (wait, is that Ben Gay I smell?) I’m fit. I have always been regular with my cycles. My nutrition is on point. Beeatch please, I’ve GOT THIS! I MUST have been the epitome of health in my doctors’ eyes. Ah-hem. Four months later…crickets. I decided to give her a call. We ran some blood work and found that my progesterone was pretty low, something very common in aging women (whaaaat? I mean, should I be looking for an assisted living facility for myself? I didn’t feel old until – suddenly I felt old.) Ok, so it turns out this is ALSO common for women who are lean and athletic. So the doc and I decide to go the natural route for a few additional months before supplementing with hormones. Months later; still crickets.
Now let me introduce you to my new companion Mr. Worry. My doc suggested trying a bio-identical progesterone to see if we could raise my levels up a bit. Progesterone is what helps keep a pregnancy viable in the very early stages of conception. So, I could have potentially been getting pregnant but my body was not able to hold onto the pregnancy. It’s kind of a guessing game in the beginning and nothing was certain. A couple of months later, Mr. Worry and Mrs. Progesterone turned my body into a bloated mess and mean shit would randomly fly out of my mouth like never before. Let’s just say that my body does not like Progesterone or his partner Worry. Worse yet, my levels barely budged. Ugh, so frustrating!
Meanwhile let’s throw some more flare into this party with some major life changes; Let’s fall in love with nutrition and simultaneously fall out of love with being a hair stylist! After years of competing in fitness and a wonderful twelve year career as stylist with a business partner who I loved working with, I had to start getting real with myself. And I mean REAL. At the time I couldn’t imagine letting go of the business I had built to start ALL OVER AGAIN. So instead of making a giant leap off the tire swing and doing a belly flop, I just stuck my toe in the pond by writing a blog and teaching people how to food prep before making any major decisions. I played it safe.
Almost a year later, toes still in the pond, no plus signs on the EPT and I have no real explanation as to why this was not happening for us. I am losing my mind. My OB suggested I try a small dose of Clomid to help my ovaries produce more eggs. I was extremely hesitant to go that route. I like to be as natural as possible, putting the least amount of foreign crap into my body and the potential side effects were… a little worrisome. After hours of research, talking to friends who had gone the same route, I agreed to try it for a couple of months. If that didn’t work, onto the Fertility Specialist. The first two months on clomid I felt great, no side effects, but still no baby. I decided to try one more month… holy hell, anxiety hit me like freight train! I specifically remember driving to my BFF’s birthday lunch one afternoon and feeling the most massive panic attack side swipe me. Yeah no thanks, not for me anymore! Clomid and I were breaking up. “It’s not you, it’s me and I don’t even want to be friends.”
Nima and I were so discouraged and mentally exhausted. We gave ourselves a few months of padding before scheduling a fertility specialist appointment. We took stock of our situation: two perfectly healthy people, no red flags, sexual function is normal, solid marriage and yet no baby. What gives? Do you remember earlier when I said that I never cared too much about having a baby and being a Mom? This whole situation made me realize it was, in fact, something that I longed for. My ongoing battle with unexplained infertility had left me feeling defeated and quite honestly not worthy of womanhood at times. My vulnerability and openness about this subject on social media helped me find the greatest connections and my own little tribe of women to lean on. Infertility SUCKS! It’s scary, it’s heartbreaking and painful, and all the unknowns can wear you down to a raw little nub where nerves are exposed and everything is poopy.
The appointment with our new specialist rolled around and I had my boxing gloves on, ready to face our struggle – again. Nima and I spent over an hour speaking with our doctor, asking questions and fine tuning our game plan. The doc ran a few more blood tests on me to check my current hormone and thyroid levels, something I’d had tested many times in the past. My TSH level (thyroid stimulating hormone) was a tad high so she asked the lab to check for thyroid perioxidase levels (thyroid anti-bodies.) In “fertility-land” they pay close attention to these numbers because if they’re too high, it signals an issue with the thyroid which can ultimately affect fertility. Who knew, right? My anti-body number came back 400 times the normal range! She diagnosed me with Hashimotos (hypothyroid autoimune disease) right away and was pretty certain this was the main cause of my infertility. Now before you say “why didn’t your other doctors catch this before?” Because my TSH was on the higher side of the “normal” range and I had shown no signs or symptoms of having low thyroid function so they didn’t necessarily think to test for further issues.
What is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis?
Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, also known as Hashimoto’s Disease (and frequently just referred to as Hashimoto’s) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases are accompanied by an elevated inflammatory response due to the body identifying various organs and systems of the body as a foreign invader. This immune system attack may lead to the loss of, and degeneration of tissue and/or organ structure and function. If Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is left untreated, symptoms of an underactive thyroid can worsen and cause fertility problems including: menstrual cycle issues such as menorrhagia (heavy menstruation) or irregular periods, low basal body temperature (BBT), low libido, muscle cramps/tenderness, hair loss, severe PMS, sleep disturbances and weight gain, problems getting pregnant and infertility, miscarriage, preterm birth and even neurodevelopmental issues for your baby. To learn more http://natural-fertility-info.com/hashimotos-thyroiditis.html
After I pulled my heart out of my throat, I was thankful for a completely treatable and manageable condition with correct thyroid replacement and proper nutrition, we may be able to get pregnant. This was a tiny ray of hope at the end of our long tunnel. At least I had some kind of answer; an obstacle I could learn about and overcome. Believe it or not, my BFF has hashimotos as well (what are the odds, right?) so there were lots and lots of long conversations. I finally decided to take the advice of my endocrinologists and Naturopath and start with a low dose of thyroid replacement. I also cut gluten out of my diet and stayed off of dairy to help combat any inflammation that was happening inside my guts. I thought the whole gluten removal part was silly at first but after researching my brains out, the census is that “the gluten molecule is very similar to thyroid tissue, and it is thought that the immune system identifies the thyroid gland as gluten and attacks it.” After that, it wasn’t very difficult to omit it from my diet.
The doctor gave us 6 months to get my thyroid levels down to a safe level for conception. If I wasn’t pregnant by then, we would head straight for IVF because let’s face it, the number of candles were growing brighter on my birthday cake. Eeeeeek! This is my life? Yes, here I was. WHAT IN THE HELL? Enter: constant blood draws, medication adjustments, check-ins with the docs, and the always-there, nagging fear that this was never going to happen for us.
I forced myself to revisit the books that inspired me most over the past two years and applied the same practices to this unfortunate challenge. It was imperative for me to let go of fear and know the universe had my back. Sure enough my TSH numbers were coming down at a slow and steady pace over the months but I. Am. Not. The. Most. Patient. Lady. You. Have. Ever. Met.
Autoimmune diseases are a funny thing but I ain’t crackin’ up. Stress can halt progress or make the issue worse. My husband pleaded with me to make a decision about my portion of the salon. The Clash wrote me a theme song. You might have heard it; “Should I Stay or Should I go Now?” I was reading a book by Jen Sincero “How to be a BadAss.” Within it, she talks about listening to your inner voice. I was drawn to my nutrition blog, my food prepping and each day that I had appointments at the salon, I could feel my energy drain. It no longer fed my soul. I started seeing less clients, narrowed my appointment availability and ultimately decided to close the doors on that chapter of my life forever. My shoulder and neck ached after a day at the salon. My mind would sing and my soul wanted to leap after a day of seeing nutrition clients and writing about food. This decision brought me peace. My companion Mr. Worry left me. I listened to the tiny voice that came from within the depths of my gut that started as a faint whisper and became so deafening that I couldn’t ignore it. Maybe the physical pain I felt from years on my feet hunched in awkward positions for hours upon hours was adding to my autoimmune disorder? Maybe I needed to let my body rest and baby would come at the perfect time? My clients were not ready to let me go but they reassured me I was doing the right thing for myself, my health, and the future baby they were all obsessed with meeting.
My TSH number was galavanting it’s way to a good point, but still- no baby. Did I mention that I am very goal oriented in all areas of my life? Did I mention that I have found if I work really hard at something and stay focused, I can always achieve it? Until now. I was spelling frustrated with a CAPITAL F. After revisiting the same discussion with my husband 758 more times, we decided it was time to start the IVF process. I scheduled an appointed with our specialist in early January hoping to begin IVF in the Spring. My doctor was amazed to learn between the last few weeks of December and the first week of January my TSH had dropped almost a full point which coincided with me leaving the salon behind. Whaddya know!
With loads of IVF paperwork to do, Nima and I decided to take a long weekend at The Allison Spa to relax, unwind, and confirm our decision to start IVF. There was so much to take in, but nothing sipping wine in our cozy bathrobes couldn’t fix. We were a solid GO after that weekend. We handed in our paperwork and made an appointment for Spring.
Two weeks later, I had an urge to forage through my house for a pregnancy test. Mind you, I stopped testing months ago because I was tired of the heartbreak so I wasn’t even sure I had any tests left in the house. “Ah-ha Victory; I found three!” So there I am, peeing on a stick with the cat staring up at me like “this again?” I put the cap on the test, set it on the ground and holy shit, that positive line started turning! It was just me and Leo the cat sharing a moment of panic, joy, disbelief, and a thousand other emotions that I can’t even describe! I didn’t know what to do with myself. I picked up the stick and shook it like a polaroid photo developing. (Because isn’t that logical? Isn’t that what you do when you don’t know what to do?) I paced around the house with the biggest smile on my face and cussed way more than I should have out of pure joy. “What do I do now?” I remember my doctor telling me specifically if I did get a positive test to call her office immediately so they can do more blood-work to make sure my thyroid doesn’t go all whacky and try to attack the newly forming embryo. I called right away, the nurse answered and said, “Oh Hi Nicole, did you have more questions about your IVF process?” “Uh no, I think I just got a positive test and I’m freaking out!” The nurse was so excited for me and asked what I was doing right then. “Other than flipping out, nothing. Should I come down for tests?” I zoomed down the street to OHSU, but not before I peed on those other TWO tests just to make sure my eyes or my cat weren’t playing tricks on me. BINGO. Both positive!
Mrs. Perma-grin (me) left OHSU feeling excited but still cautious because I knew the risk of miscarriage was a very real possibility. I still hadn’t told Nima yet and knew I HAD to tell him in person. This new was just too big to relay over the phone. I texted him requesting he come home from work a little early if he could. “I have a massage tonight babe, I won’t be home until 7:30.” Gah! I had to keep it together until then, OH-MY-GOD I felt like my brain was going to explode! As I drove home I remembered that 2 years ago when we started this whole baby journey I had purchased a cheesy collar and tag for Leo (our furr-baby) that read “I’m going to be a big brother.” Make fun of me all you want, it was damn cute! So there we were all snuggled up on the couch waiting for what seemed like an eternity for Nima to get home. Finally, his car lights came up the hill and the garage door opens. My heart was pounding out of my chest. But I play it cool. He walked in and was distracted by everything in sight; the restroom, paperwork on the counter, seriously? “Come sit down with us babe,” as I patted his spot on the couch. He squeezed both of us and then I held the kitty up and said, “look at this cute new collar I bought for the kitty.” Nima; “Oh that’s cute honey,” obviously not caring one iota about the damn collar. Me: “You have to read what it says, it’s pretty funny.” Nima: “Whaaaaaat, are you serious?!” Me: “You betcha, look in the box on the coffee table.” He opened the box to reveal the 3 pregnancy tests I had taken earlier in the day. Nima: “Oh my god, Oh my God, I knew it happened this time! You took 3 tests?” Both in shock, we shared a warm embrace and huge sigh of relief. No tears even, just shock! Just three weeks earlier, we were sitting in our doctors office planning our IVF journey.
The universe knows all.
I have to say and here we are 18 weeks along celebrating our long awaited baby girl that will be born in early October.
The lesson is to never give up and to be your own advocate when it comes to your health. If you are struggling with infertility, an autoimmune disorder or any other life altering health issue, keep sight of what’s important and don’t ever let anyone diminish your journey. While it may not be life or death, infertility is mentally taxing with many ups and downs along the way. There will be setback and times you want to throw in the towel but ultimately those hardships will make you stronger.
Remember, it’s YOU vs. YOU!
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