In my last post, I wrote a bit about how TTC #2 is different this time. More grace and less time. More understanding and even less energy to cope. There is a give and a take to this IVF journey that terrified me just mere months ago.
How would I ever care for Abby while also giving myself injections?
How would I endure medication-induced nausea while twirling in circles with an energetic toddler?
How would I emotionally connect with another embryo enough in order to fall in love? To hope? To take pregnancy test after pregnancy test, believing for a positive?
I don’t have the answers yet to most of these questions. But, I do have hope.
Hope. The anchor of the soul.
Endurance. The courage to keep trying.
Bravery. The steadfastness to fly free in the face of overwhelming odds.
I’m clearing my schedule and my extraneous responsibilities, so that my heart can rest. Can dream. Can plan for another baby. I’m preparing to make this conception story beautiful. Not traumatic. Not invasive. Beautiful. Precious. Healing. Redeeming. Even if a laboratory and an ex-military RE are involved. While talking to a friend today, I realized my perspective has shifted from viewing self-care as “frivolous” to rather “foundational,” creating the core of loving myself and my family with more joy.
For starters, I’m waking up early to journal and start my day with some quiet before Abby awakes. GAME CHANGER. Some mornings I squeeze in a quick workout (gentler than before TTC). Some mornings I relish the chance to sip coffee and put on make-up. But nearly every day I’ve been seeking the Lord in prayer and finding peace in reminders of His promises. This is a rhythm that my soul clings to when all else is unknown and out of my control. This is rest for me. Even if it means that I’m familiar with the 5 am hour and the darkness that enshrouds my windows. I am comforted when my world is calm and my coffee is strong.
Second, I have completely changed my normal eating habits. And, I have been a religiously healthy eater for years now. But, in the past six months or so, I’ve been struggling with migraines, horrible cramps and bloating, slow but steady weight gain, joint pain and inflammation, and allergic reactions strong enough to cause my airways and sinuses to begin closing. So, while I abhor dieting, I embarked upon an elimination diet in January to ascertain what new sensitives may have cropped up (apparently allergies can change every 3 years or so). I’ve certainly discovered that not being able to breathe is an amazing motivator 🙂
Anyway, thanks to nutritional therapist Emily Shromm and her 21-day superhero challenge, I’ve discovered that I’m (1) allergic to corn, (2) sensitive to several other grains (final list not determined yet), and (3) function better when my diet is primarily high-quality fat, protein (plant and animal-based) and veggies. Within three weeks, my knee and foot pain were nearly gone. I had lost five pounds of bloat. And, I feel empowered to eat “healthy” for what MY BODY needs to be strong and whole.
But, I will be honest that I wasn’t content to leave my findings there. I have been researching how this “paleo-ish” diet would affect conception – specifically through IVF. And, I’ve been astounded. New research is pointing to much higher pregnancy rates with IVF when mamas have been keeping their carbohydrate percentages low and their protein consumption percentages over 25% of total caloric intake.
Lead investigator in one of the studies Jeffrey Russell, MD, from the Delaware Institute for Reproductive Medicine, reported that “When protein intake was more than 25% of the diet and carbohydrate intake was less than 40%, the clinical pregnancy rate shot up to 80%” (Johnson, May 8, 2013). He started his study when seemingly-healthy women couldn’t produce healthy embryos. (His study found that his control group of women normally consumed between 60-70% of their calories in carbohydrates prior to the new diet.)
He summarized his findings by noting that “There is no caloric restriction, but they [women attempting to conceive through IVF] have to get above 25% protein. This is not a weight-loss program, it’s a nutritional program. This is not about losing weight to get pregnant, it’s about eating healthier to get pregnant.”
So, I’m convinced. I’m scouring new cookbooks. I’m eating a ridiculous amount of healthy fats and proteins with sides of fruits, veggies, and starches like sweet potatoes. (If you are even at all curious, definitely check out this scholarly article discussing Russell’s findings.) I truly feel like this was a missing piece of the puzzle for me.
Third, I’m seeking professional help. I think this will have to be further explained in a much more in-depth blog post in the near future, but my current list of experts include a perinatal fitness expert, a pelvic floor physical therapist, and a former-midwife who now does Mayan abdominal massage. Let me be clear. My finances are beyond tight in the sense that I can’t even create a budget right now. Most months, we don’t have much new income, but are instead pulling from savings to make it until my husband graduates in May. So, I’m bartering for services where I can. Driving long distances to see a therapist who accepts Medicaid. Making myself vulnerable and asking for help. It is worth it, and I’m so doing these things sooner after giving birth next time and actually enjoying HEALING from pregnancy next time around. You would think that I would have taken my own advice as a birth doula, but no…SIGH.
Finally, I’m evaluating what will add meaning and beauty to what will be a physically painful conception journey, as well as an emotionally challenging one. Let me be clear. Most of you are on this journey with me and don’t need any further elaboration. But, I will not conceive this next baby in a candlelit room after too many glasses of wine. I will not get away for the weekend with my husband and spend all day in bed, dreaming about getting a positive pregnancy test later in the month. I will instead give myself daily injections in my stomach. I will squeeze my belly fat together and give myself bruises from daily needles. Then, I will strip and don a hospital gown, walking into a weird laboratory space where my pelvic area will be surgically cleaned and a catheter placed past my cervix. I will then watch my doctor’s hands and an ultrasound screen simultaneously as my five-day-old embryo is placed in my uterus. There is nothing romantic about these logistics. Nothing at all.
But, I’m a birth doula. I now know that you can change the emotions of a situation by simply changing the dynamics of the space. By choosing to focus on what IS good. To focus not on HOW the baby is placed in my body, but rather the miracle that is conception. Any darn way it occurs.
So, I’ve asked an amazing henna artist from my Denver birth community to come to my home next week before I begin the injections and decorate my belly. The same belly that will soon be bruised. She will paint the word “BRAVE” above my belly button, and I will have a guidepost of sorts every time I draw up the Lupron and inject it into myself. I will see this reminder of who I am as a woman and a mama, and I will grow stronger with each injection. More ready to be pregnant again. Braver.
I am ready to fly. To rest. To dream. To model bravery for my toddler, my community, myself. And, when I come out the other side, I will be a stronger advocate for mamas around me, for couples all over, for researchers. To make conception beautiful. To change how we view self-care. To eliminate the stigma that is infertility.
What are you doing today to take care of yourself? How are you brave? Because, believe me, you are.