This might be one of the hardest posts I ever write.
I struggled with sharing this personal side of my life with you for a while now. As a blogger, I wear a lot of my emotions and opinions on my sleeve, but there are a few things, like my fertility, that I’ve kept to myself and to close friends for a number of reasons.
However, as time went on I started to feel very lonely, so I began opening up more about my journey. And the more I talked to people about it, the better I felt.
Turns out I wasn’t alone at all, and there is this sort of comfort in knowing that you aren’t the only one suffering… which I’m sure is rooted in some psychological theory…
Regardless of why it helps to talk things out and identify with others like yourself, I’ve decided to share my story with you today and to spread the word about the F word:
Fertility doesn’t have to be such a taboo topic. So many people struggle with it, yet no one ever talks about it.
Had I known how common fertility problems were before I set foot in my doctor’s office, I wouldn’t have felt quite as scared, anxious or lonely.
By sharing my fertility story I hope to do a few things:
1. Tell you that you are not alone
2. Enlighten you on some not-so-well known fertility conditions
3. Start the conversation around fertility and help put an end to the infertility stigma
I am a strong believer that everything happens for a reason. So I’ve decided to use this challenge as an opportunity to be a voice and to help others who are also struggling.
On that note, I’ll get into my story. You’ll notice this is part 1 because I do plan to have a part 2. How part 2 will unfold is uncertain, but I trust that whatever it is, it will be right for me.
My Fertility Story – Part 1
I always had a feeling that I would have trouble getting pregnant.
When I went off the birth control pill in my early 20s, I never got my period for an entire year. My doctor at the time said I likely had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and put me back on the pill. And like so many other women in their early 20s, I didn’t think anything of it, so I did what she said.
Now fast forward to October of 2016, I was 28 and Mike was 29 and we were thinking about having kids in the next year or so. I knew my cycles weren’t regular so I went off the pill months before we were going to start trying in order to get my cycles regulated.
After 3 months and no sign of a period, I called my family doctor and she decided to run some screening tests. We did an ultrasound to check for any structural abnormalities and blood work to check for any hormonal imbalances.
I’ll never forget the day she called me. I knew something wasn’t right because she called the same day I did all the testing.
“You have a deformity of your uterus, and it will require surgery.”
I had what’s called a uterine septum, which is essentially a piece of tissue that divides the uterus in two, significantly increasing the risk of early miscarriages, some studies showing up to 80%.  
I had never heard of this before. How was this never picked up on previous ultrasounds? I was completely devastated. I felt ashamed and frustrated all at the same time.
My doctor was very helpful to reassure me that the surgery is minor and very common. She referred us to a specialist immediately, however, I had no idea it would take 6 months to get in for the consultation. 😐
Being who I am, as soon as I hung up the phone I immediately had to research everything about it. Turns out the septum develops when you are in utero and 3-7% of women are born with it. Some women who have a septum have no issues with pregnancy and don’t even know they have it, but depending on the size and other factors, the embryo can implant on the septum where it doesn’t have enough blood flow to support the pregnancy. Thus, the reason for such high early miscarriage rates.
I was also referred to a fertility clinic to see a reproductive endocrinologist (RE).
Before going to see her, I did some research and discovered that I might have something called HA (Hypothalamic Amenorrhea). Essentially, this is where your brain senses that your body is under high stress and in deprivation mode so it shuts off reproduction because it’s getting signals that things are not safe.
As a result, you don’t ovulate and therefore don’t get your period (and a whole whack of other problems from not cycling regularly).
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Being underweight or having a low BMI
- Having absent or irregular cycles
- No sex drive
- Feeling cold all the time
- Thinning hair
- Brittle nails
- Fatigue (having to take naps regularly)
These symptoms are common to other conditions too, so don’t diagnose yourself just yet. However, they might be more applicable to you if you also fall into the categories/causes below.
What causes it?
- High Stress
I was literally a walking billboard for this condition.
I couldn’t believe that my “healthy” lifestyle was harming my chances of conceiving and becoming a mom.
Here are some of the things I was doing that I thought were healthy, but turned out to be obsessive and harmful to my body:
- Measure exact amounts of food and track calories and protein/carbs/fat ratios in My Fitness Pal everyday
- Eat the same thing every day because I knew exactly how many calories, etc. were in it
- Refuse myself any desserts or treats
- Feel bad if I ate too many carbs
- Restrict night time eating, only allowing 1 small piece of dark chocolate before bed if I was starving
- Eat at specific times of day, no earlier or later
- Exercise at least 1 hour/day, sometimes more, 7 days per week and feel guilty if I didn’t
- Bike to and from work, multiple times/day (20 minutes each way) and feel guilty if I didn’t
- Often feel light headed and like I was going to pass out during exercise and at work
- Would work during meal hours to avoid going for lunch or dinner
- Over-commit myself in both my professional and personal life, increasing my levels of day-to-day stress
After taking a hard look at my lifestyle habits, I knew I had to make a change in order to have a chance at fertility.
But how does someone whose entire life revolves around exercise, healthy eating and high achievement just throw away everything they know and who they are for something they aren’t even sure is going to work?
Well it’s not easy, and it still isn’t. But you have to have faith. Finding a tribe of women like you who have gone through the same thing is also very helpful and reassuring.
I still have moments of relapse, but I finally understand that what I thought was healthy before, wasn’t at all.
I was putting my body under extreme amounts of stress everyday just so I could “look good” or “fit in”, which is absurd.
Our bodies aren’t something we should be manipulating for aesthetic reasons. They are the most amazing things and we should be praising them. Treating them with love, kindness and care.
Enter The Healthy Sweet Potato blog.
I created this blog with the intention to help women like me understand that we don’t have to look or eat a certain way or achieve certain things to be healthy or successful. We need to listen to our bodies and stop trying to control them.
I think I could write an entire post on Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (and I still might), but for now, if you think this could be you, I highly recommend you pick up the book: No Period. Now What? By Nicola Rinaldi. It’s been like my bible through this whole journey.
But if you really think this could be you. Please reach out. Just because the media has portrayed that certain habits are healthy, doesn’t mean that they are. Nothing in extreme is ever healthy.
Ok let’s fast forward to my first appointment with the RE. After speaking to her, she scheduled more testing including blood work, a Hysterosonogram (HSG) and an endometrial biopsy of my uterine lining.
Ok I just have to say that HSG’s are not pleasant. This is where they put a catheter through your cervix and push saline solution in to get a good look at the uterus. They are fast but they friggin’ suck!
And don’t even get me started on the biopsy. If you don’t need to get one, don’t.
After all the testing we found out that I did in fact have a complete septum, my hormone levels were all very low and I had subclinical hypothyroidism. I had multiple follicles on each ovary which is indicative of PCOS, but the hormonal profile was not necessarily supporting that diagnosis. (Typically with PCOS you have high androgens levels as well – like testosterone). All of Mike’s tests were normal, thank god.
The doctor diagnosed me with HA and recommended a surgeon for the septum. She recommended we try fertility meds first to see if we could conceive and only address the septum if we experienced multiple miscarriages.
Well, we decided we weren’t comfortable with the idea of experiencing multiple miscarriages, so we waited 3 more long months to see the surgeon.
In the meantime, I looked into my thyroid issues and discovered I had antibodies to my thyroid… meaning my body was attacking healthy thyroid tissue (aka Hashimotos Thyroiditis – an autoimmune condition). My naturopath recommended I cut out gluten and dairy as this was something I was sensitive to in the past and added more supplements to my ever-growing list.
After a few months of taking that approach and seeing no improvement in my antibodies or TSH, I decided to start Synthroid (thyroid medication) under my doctor’s recommendation and continue to eat gluten-free and dairy-free because, well, it couldn’t hurt.
In June of 2017 we had our consult with the OB surgeon and he recommended we have the surgery so we decided to go ahead with it.
Now this decision was a lot harder than it sounded for a number of reasons:
- We had never experienced a loss before, so fixing something that isn’t necessarily “broken” poses a risk, when technically things could have worked out without needing the procedure
- There are always risks to surgery, including scar tissue that could develop
- We would have to wait another 3 months to have the surgery, plus 2 months of healing and then possibly needing a second surgery (which we did and would include another 2 months of healing). Thus, setting us back 7 months before we could even attempt conceiving again.
Wow, when I lay out like this, I don’t know how we decided to do it.
But the odds were stacked against us. There was an 80% chance that any pregnancy would end in miscarriage if we left the septum. And the fact that I would have to use expensive fertility medications and stressful cycle monitoring to even ovulate, made the decision clearer for us.
In the meantime, I worked closely with my naturopath and focused on recovering my cycles naturally by decreasing my exercise, increasing my food intake and lowering my levels of stress.
I eventually decided to leave one of my jobs that I loved in Toronto to take better care of my mental and physical health.
Speaking of stress… the surgery timing was not great as it was 3 days after we moved from Toronto to Peterborough and 2 days after Allen went in for his 3rd surgery in the animal hospital.
But I knew if Allen could do this 3 times, I could do it!
In the end, I ended up needing 2 surgeries, both were successful and my doctor was very happy with the results.
We are relieved that that part of the journey is over so we can move on.
We are now going through cycle monitoring and using fertility drugs to help with ovulation.
And if I thought I was emotional before, I had no idea what I was in for.
The thing is, people don’t often talk about how hard this part is. Not only are you literally injecting hormones into your body, but you’re spending time, money and effort driving back and forth early in the morning pretty much every other day to have testing done. In addition to that, you’re frantically hoping that everything works out this month so you can just stop doing this and start living your life again.
Even though I know this is just the beginning for us, the emotional roller coaster can consume your whole life.
I can’t even tell you how many emotional breakdowns I’ve had in the last few months! (Well, Mike probably can).
Maybe it’s just my personality, but I think going through fertility treatments, no matter what stage you are at, is a lot harder than what people make it out to be.
Every failed cycle I have the belief that I did something wrong, or if I just changed this one thing then this all would have worked out. Or if I just wasn’t so hard on my body for all those years, I wouldn’t be in this place.
I compare myself to my friends who are all having kids and I feel so inadequate. Like there is something wrong with me; that I am less of a woman, or less of a person for it.
And don’t even get me started on how guilty I feel for Mike. There are so many days where I feel like I just wished he had met someone else so he wouldn’t have to deal with this. He would be the best father, and I don’t want to take that away from him.
Luckily I have met some pretty amazing women along this journey who have had similar struggles to me. And it’s these women who have inspired me to share my story. Because I know after talking to them, I always feel better. They give me hope that one day things will all work out for us too.
One of the best pieces of advice that I ever got was from a good friend, Roseann Knechtel, who has been struggling with fertility for over 5 years now. She is an amazing human being and has been such a strong woman that has kept pushing through and eventually made it to the other side.
Here is the advice she shared with me, that she also wants to share with you:
“#1 – Your struggle and issues are just as important and just as heartbreaking as anyone else’s. Never belittle your situation.
#2 – You have done nothing wrong. Having that one cup of coffee, going for that hike, staying up late that one night…. none of those decisions would have made a difference. This is NOT your fault.
#3 – You are not a failure or disappointment as a woman ( I still struggle with this one).
#4 – Do not ever feel like you are holding your husband/partner back in life. He married you because he loves you and wanted to spend his life with YOU regardless of what that life may bring.
#5 – Stay open and never stop talking to your husband/partner. Do not let this struggle tear you apart. He is going to have a harder time understanding. If you keep explaining and talking to him it will be easier to get through and will hopefully bring you closer together.”
I want to end this post here. I know this is not the end of my story, and I am hopeful for the future.
This journey has taught me a lot about myself. I have learned how to be more patient with myself and others, how to let go of control and to have more compassion for myself and for others.
I am so grateful for all of the support I’ve had through this journey – I can’t even believe I have so many amazing friends and family members. <3
I hope one day this whole experience will make me a better mom, a better wife and a better friend.
If anyone out there is currently struggling with fertility issues, or if you know someone who is, please talk about it. Reach out. Ask for help. It’s the only way to get through it (sanely… if that’s even possible).
I want to start talking more openly about fertility. I want to give it the voice it deserves so no one has to suffer in isolation anymore.
Please share this with a friend and get the word out.
Let’s start talking about #Fword together.
Update: My story has a happy ending – check out My Fertility Story – Part 2 🙂