The theme for RESOLVE: the national infertility association ‘s @resolveorg National Infertility Awareness Week #NIAW is “Resolve to Know More”. Looking back over seven years of trying to conceive, which to be completely honest, only ended recently as I entered, failed to notice, and finished, early (although not clinically premature) menopause all in one fell swoop this winter, there are many things that I wished I had known at the beginning of this journey. Some of these lessons I learned in books (I read shelves-worths), some in magazines (piles), some from my acupuncturist, some from other women and men (friends, strangers, and strangers who became friends) going through or having gone through the infertility experience, certainly some from my doctors, particularly the second reproductive endocrinologist we worked with, and even, bittersweetly, from clients in my consulting practice. [Disclosure: I am currently consulting for a nutritional supplements company called Theralogix @Theralogix that I sooo wish I had heard of when it might have changed the course of my journey.]
So in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week #NIAW, here are seven things (one for each day of the week) that I hope you RESOLVE to Know More about:
1. The key connection between age and egg quality
I had heard that pregnancy was harder after age 35, but somehow had thought that because I looked young (I still don’t have a grey hair) that my eggs must look and act just as young. Apparently not so. As women approach 40 our chances of becoming pregnant each month decline to only about 10%. http://www.reproductivefacts.org/ I feel that they should pass out brochures for egg freezing at college graduation, but that may just be me.
2. When to start working with a fertility specialist
Given my complicated medical history, my age, and my husband’s age, we should have run directly to a reproductive endocrinologist straight from the altar. Official recommendations are for those over 35 to seek input from a specialist after six months of trying (twelve months for those under 35). My regular ob/gyn is great for well-woman care and many other concerns, but did not suggest that I seek a specialist until I pressed, and we wasted time in hormonal testing at random times of the month and other literally “unproductive” activities that I can never get back. When we did see a fertility specialist, he leapfrogged us over several of the usual first steps like Clomid or IUI and we went straight to IVF, the most intensive and expensive, but by that point, medically indicated procedure.
3. The connection between egg quality and nutrition.
Over the course of my time in the “land of IF” I went gluten-free for several months, upped my fruits and veggies significantly and basically followed most diet recommendations found in fertility books at one point or another with no real plan or path, and no sense of what nutritional plan was truly suited to my personal situation and needs. I also tried Chinese herbs and several versions of nutritional supplements recommended in books and blogs, but had no basis upon which to choose them. I didn’t know about NSF certification or where to go to find supplements with evidence of effectiveness and sources where the purity and integrity of the product was assured. I didn’t know that particular substances like CoQ10 and DHEA in the right formulations can truly help the right patients.
4. The importance and prevalence of male factor
Now my DH (dear husband in fertility speak) has 3 kids and 2 grandkids, so it was not likely that he had issues, although the years may have taken a toll on motility, quantity, and oxidative stress may have caused DNA fragmentation, factors older fathers must consider. For 30% of couples, a challenge from the male partner was a factor in infertility. It also just made me feel better with all that I was enduring, to focus for a moment on his eating, vitamins, and health behaviors.
5. The Importance of Vitamin D for enhancing the interplay between egg quality and uterine receptivity.
My husband and I actually produced very few but all reportedly high-quality embryos and it breaks my heart that we lost every one somewhere inside me. New research has emerged that demonstrates that vitamin D levels can significantly increase or decrease the odds of successful implantation.
It may all start with the egg, as the excellent new book by Rebecca Fett, a fertility patient and molecular biologist, details, , but the journey to a healthy pregnancy is multi-factorial — a miracle — when you think of the nutritional, hormonal, immunological, and physical variables involved.
6. The importance of patience in the fertility journey
At one visit to the fertility specialist I saw a woman laying down on the floor, curled up in a ball. Everyone else was walking around as if she were invisible. I guess it was hard to know just what the right response was. I decided to lay down on the floor next to her. At the beginning I thought that infertility would be like other medical problems I had had. I would bring them to the right doctor, they would give medicine and/or a procedure and I would be fixed and move on. I have never been tested more as a woman, as a human being, as a person of faith. One of my best resources was the nurturing and normalizing of the experience with other patients in a mind-body support group offered by my acupuncturist.
7. What you value most in building a family.
Today there are a variety of options for building a family from donor eggs to surrogates to adoption. There is no one right answer. Don’t let anyone tell you there is. Listen to your heart, listen to your spirit. I truly wanted my own child – part me, part my husband – and my husband agreed. When that became no longer an option, my journey ended. I feel a sense of peace with how much I did, how far I went, what I did and didn’t try based on what I knew at the time and the resources – financial, physical, and emotional – I had. My journey as best stepmom (and grandmom), aunt, godmother, mentor, and puppy-mommy ever is just beginning. Be warned, if your child comes anywhere near me I will ply them with toys, treats, jokes, stories, and overwhelming love and fun until they would much rather be with me than go home with boring old you.
Here’s hoping that you end National Infertility Awareness Week not only knowing more, but feeling wiser, empowered, and supported.