The last real post I made was April 24, 2013. It is now October 2014! Way back then I did not expect to go so long between posts, and now I feel I must fill in the blanks a bit here, primarily for my own benefit as my blog has always been what I’ve used as a journal (in adulthood, at least). At first, I was just taking a few months off to focus on the blog redesign because I just couldn’t take it anymore, and it was already a year overdue. We had purchased the new domain, and I knew I wanted to have more direct control over the layout, so after
arguing discussing with my husband, I decided to try to do it all myself. I bought a theme, and for the most part, I was very content with all it offered me! There were a few details I needed hubby’s help with, and a few things I had to leave to him completely. It was those latter things that he didn’t have time to get to (and for the most part, still hasn’t really had time to get to) that initially delayed it’s relaunch. Then, in July 2013, I decided to put everything else aside and really focus on trying to get pregnant with baby #2.
I understand there is a bit of a taboo when it comes to discussing fertility, especially in regard to secondary infertility (this is when a couple already has at least one child, but has not been able to conceive for over 1 year if they are under 35). However, I think it’s important to be open because it can feel so, so lonely. I always thought I would write a big long post about it, as I had so many powerful feelings about it and I really want to share in the thought that my story might help bring some hope to anyone I know (or don’t know!) who might be going through something similar… I also feel like I just need to acknowledge the heartbreak of that time period in my life to ensure that I never take my body or children for granted.
I did not feel ready for a second child until Laelia was 21 months old (1 and 3/4), around the same time we stopped breastfeeding. Because Laelia was conceived so quickly and with absolutely no effort (hello 5 week old baby on our 1 year anniversary!), we naively thought we’d get pregnant with in the first few months of not using any birth control methods, if not the first month (insert resentful eyeroll here). Nothing happened by the time Laelia turned 2, and we began to think we should try to put in a little effort (more eyerolling). We started to time our attempts a little more accordingly, if you know what I mean (wink-wink–a post about trying to get pregnant without any “wink-winking” is no post about trying to get pregnant at all!). After a few more months of that, I decided to try those ovulation predictor tests I had read about this-one-time-on-the-internet. It took a few months before I even figured out how to get a good read on those! From there it descended into much more deliberate territory; in addition to timing our couplings and taking the ovulation tests, I started temping every morning and I began “charting”. I did what I always do when I want something but it’s not happening. I start researching.
Now bear with me here for a bit of a biology lesson! I learned all these amazing facts about a woman’s body, and about how delicate the balance of hormones and general health and low-stress needs to be in place in order for conception to take place! Even a healthy woman in her 20s only has a 1 in 5 chance of conception, that conception still only can take place one day a month. Actually, less than a day usually, as a woman’s egg only lives for 12-24 hours and the sperm must meet the egg with in that time period, or the egg dies. In other words, there are only 12 days a year that a woman can conceive. (Most sperm live for only 1-2 days, the maximum being 5 days–but it is the egg’s presence determines conception, not when ejaculation occurred). When I was young, I just blindly subscribed to the idea that you could get pregnant whenever. You can’t. This idea stems from not understanding your body and how it works. I read the famed Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and I wondered why they don’t teach us these facts in school? I suspect they want to scare teens into thinking they could get pregnant at any time, but I personally will be handing this book over to my daughter when she is of age. This book is for those who don’t want to get pregnant as much as it is for those who do. I hope it teaches her to take control of her body and also to be very responsible with it.
Armed with a new understanding of how fertility works I started to lurk fertility/infertility boards to seek out details that might help our chances. I discovered a whole new world, and a whole lot of new acronyms; TTC-trying to conceive; TWW– two week wait (this is the wait in between ovulation and menstruation when conception occurs, usually two weeks long. This is also the luteal phase); OPK– ovulation kit/test; HPT– home pregnancy test; AF – aunt flo, or your period (how funny is it that this became the standard acronym for it! HA!); CD– cycle day, DPO– days past ovulation, BFN– big fat negative, BFP– big fat positive (in regards to your HPT), EWCM– Egg-white cervical mucus; LP– luteal phase; and my personal favorite, POAS– pee on a stick! I felt amazed that I could have gotten pregnant and delivered a child without having ever known any of these facts about my body, or about the subculture of all things fertility. So after more than a year of not using a birth control method, and a few months of charting my temps and other signs, I discovered that my luteal phase was on the short end (this means that there is not enough time for an egg to implant without being washed away by menstruation). Also, I was still making a little milk, even though I had stopped a year before! This can cause a short luteal phase. So, in February 2013 I scheduled an appointment with my OB, and he didn’t seem too concerned; he just told me to try to relax and stress less, go on a vacation! (This is such a frustrating thing to say to someone TTC, but more on that later!). However, when I showed him I was still making milk he became concerned and wrote me a prescription to stop lactation. It helped to stop my lactation, but it didn’t lengthen my luteal phase.
At this point I began to feel even more desperate. I was already in a steady pattern of crying for days after my AF came. I would fight back tears whenever Laelia called me “mommy” because I was just so upset that was unable to give her a sibling that would also be able to call me “mommy”. The sight of a pregnant stranger could send me down a deep spiral of sadness, even though I felt nothing but joy for the woman herself. Was this cosmic retribution for drunkenly approaching couples at weddings and telling them they should have babies because “it’s so great“, as if it was the easiest thing in the world? After enduring the “when is the next one coming?” question myself at numerous weddings, birthdays, holidays, and baby showers (the most emotionally taxing event at which to suffer this question, and also the one at which it most often comes up), I wholeheartedly apologize for ever ever broaching this subject to anyone, ever. I’M SORRY! Having been on both ends of this question, I know how much these people want only the best for you and your family, and I know it’s much easier to ask this question of people who already have a child (because you assume they don’t have any trouble!), and how they offer nothing but warm fuzzies (yay!), but it’s so hard to express the immediate heartbreak that rises up to your throat the moment that question is asked (boo!). How to answer this question of more babies? The standard issue”We’re trying” gets really old, and people eventually pick up on the fact that you’ve been saying that for a while, and that can get weird. Meanwhile, no less than FOUR of the women I am closest to had become pregnant in the time since we had started trying, and two of those having been pregnant and had their babies in that time. There was never any jealousy, as I love these women and their babies, and I’m not prone to jealousy; instead their babies’ ages simply became a reminder of how long I had been trying to have a baby of my own. My best friend’s 6 month old told me that if we had gotten pregnant the first month of trying, I’d have an 8 month old by now, and I just felt so behind. Laelia turned 3, and I became overwhelmed by how large the age gap between my children was growing. She had two birthdays come and go since we had started trying for her brother or sister. Would they even be able to be friends? (I know siblings can be friends with any age gap, but this was something I worried about, and I honestly still worry about a bit). I finally packed away Laelia’s crib sheets, baby toys, and cloth diapers, wondering if I should not just give them away… would I ever even use them again? And then my milk came back. What? Cue sad music.
(In case a reader out there is feeling a little sad at the moment, I’m writing this with 5 month old Luca in my lap and he’s trying to grasp my stylus pen as I type with it in my hand, so I promise a happy ending ahead!).
Now, it is normal to lactate for up to two years after you have stopped breastfeeding, but it can also be a sign of high prolactin. Sometimes high prolactin is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland, but it can also be a sign of stress. Stress can also shorten your luteal phase. Stress can also cause random hives, eczema, anxiety attacks, and fat concentrated around the middle. For many months I thought all of these symptoms might have disparate causes — part of the reason we did the Whole30 was to see if I was having any allergies to foods, but all these symptoms persisted throughout. When my OB mentioned stress, every time a friend or a family member suggested that I just stop worrying about it, or whenever I read someone say “just relax” on some internet forum, I would disregard the sentiment. I felt like it had to be something more tangible, something I could get my hands on and “fix”. I wasn’t that stressed out, was I? I mean, my husband hadn’t been paid in 3 months, and it wasn’t even the first time that something like that had happened (the “no-more-start-ups” employment rule has since been instated in our house), the left-over financial devastation that the recession had caused for us (spoiler alert! We have finally recovered. It took over 4 years, but we did it!), the general everyday stress of having a toddler and trying to get things done at the same time… not to mention the stress from just wanting to have another baby and it not happening. Looking back I cannot fathom why I didn’t see the common cause sooner; I must have been in denial about how much stress I was enduring, because although maybe my personality handles stress well, my body might not. I have always felt loathe to complain much about my lot in life when there are always many more people suffering much worse than I. Even with infertility, I thought, I have one child! I cannot complain. (Although, it does not lessen the feeling that you are not providing your existing child with what I feel is a very important person in her life–a sibling.) Yet, being grateful for what you have, and able to remain composed through hardships does not mean stress does not affect your body. More importantly, even mundane everyday stresses can affect your body.
After 19 months of not conceiving, I finally decided to stop trying to get pregnant, and instead focus on making my body a healthy place to welcome a pregnancy. This may seem like a subtle difference, but it really changes your mindset. In my case, I was already leading a relatively healthy lifestyle, not uncommon to many people. I was eating nutritious whole foods regularly, drank 2 cups of coffee a day, had occasional indulgences and I ran 3-4 miles 3-4 times a week. But I was still suffering from physical signs stress, so I knew I needed to put forth more effort to make a difference. The first thing I did was I stopped drinking any sort of coffee, as even decaff is a fertility inhibitor. If you know me personally, you know I love coffee. I routinely said throughout my pregnancy with Laelia that “I don’t care about not drinking wine, I just want to be able to have all the coffee I want in a day!”. Needless to say, it was a really big deal for me to do that, especially considering I had little hope it would make a difference, and all that would happen is that I would have spent a whole month or two with out my precious coffee. But I did it anyway, because I felt like even a small chance of having another child was worth it. I swapped it out for green tea, which is said to increase your fertility. I also ordered progesterone drops, and used them after ovulation to help lengthen my luteal phase. Finally, I ordered a fertility yoga DVD, and did it 6 days a week. I thought I was beginning a long journey of restoring my fertility, one that might take months or even years–but one morning, not even a month after my last sip of coffee or starting the yoga, I woke up after having some very vivid dreams. And although I promised myself I was NOT going to take a HPT before I missed my period, I caved. I guess I really liked to POAS. Was that a second line? At 9 DPO it’s hard to tell, but it continued to get stronger over the next few days. And despite the eventual BFP, I was so afraid that it wouldn’t last that I didn’t tell Tyler for 4 days! But it stuck, and on the 20th cycle since deciding to stop using any birth control, I was finally pregnant. (and whoops! my due date was smack dab in the middle of crazy birthday month in my family, including not even two weeks from Laelia’s fourth birthday and Tyler’s 32nd birthday…)
Ultimately, it’s very easy to dismiss stress as a factor in your health, because stress is so engrained in our culture. We’re pressured to always be busy, to always be doing something. Mothers are especially pressured not to take time for themselves, and usually that pressure comes from the mother herself, more than any other person. Often, it’s hard to even determine how you can fit in some time to de-stress. When I finally decided to hit the pause button on a few life goals and focus inward on achieving optimal health (not simply a passing health), it was exactly what my body had been begging for for years, but I was steadily ignoring. Of course, there is the possibility that none of my efforts that month mattered–that I would have gotten pregnant had I not stopped drinking coffee, had I not done fertility yoga everyday, had not stopped blogging, had Tyler not gotten his new and totally secure job, had we not been paid all of his back pay that same month, had I not gone to the Getty one beautiful August morning to draw still-lifes for the first time in years, and then gone for a 3 and a half mile run on the beach, and then swam in the ocean for hours, resulting in a lovely day that gave me a peace I had not felt in a long long time… It could all just be a coincidence, and I just happened to get pregnant the 20th month of trying. But I personally believe that some combination of these efforts, if not all of them combined, helped me release the stress that was preventing me from achieving an optimal state of health that resulted in pregnancy. I’m grateful I didn’t give up, and I will never take my body for granted again, nor will I ignore the effects of stress. Stress is real, and it affects more than just your fertility!
I’ll save Luca’s birth story for another catch-up post! But I think maybe I’ll share something pretty first. ~.^
Peace, love, and baby dust to all!
I hope my story does not leave those suffering from fertility problems feeling marginalized. This is my personal account, and I feel it is a good example of one of those “unexplained infertility” issues–where everything checks out fine for both partners, but for some unknown reason they aren’t getting pregnant. There are far more serious fertility problems out there, and in those cases, no amount of yoga or lovely days at the beach is going to help them conceive!