Infertility + Trying to Conceive
by Anna Victoria in Lifestyle
I want to preface this by saying that never in a million years did I think I would be here. I am one of 7 children and my mom had us all naturally. My whole life I have dreamt of having kids and I always thought that, because my mom popped us all out so easily, it would be the same for me. I never thought that I would be struggling to conceive and, honestly, it’s been really hard.
I’m going to start at the beginning and recount the main details from the beginning of our TTC (Trying to Conceive) journey. For those of you who have not yet been on this journey, there is SO much to learn; it still blows my mind how many things I’ve learned in such a short amount of time that I never knew about, especially regarding my own body!
First, I want you to know that I lead a very healthy and balanced lifestyle and I don’t believe in going to extremes. I don’t beat my body into the ground at the gym, I workout to feel strong and healthy, and I don’t do hours of cardio. I eat a very balanced diet; I don’t cut out carbs or fats, I am always trying to make sure that I eat ENOUGH calories, and it’s very rare that I’m trying to stay under a certain calorie limit. For the most part, I am a very healthy person and I think a lot of people stereotype those with fertility issues as people who are unhealthy. Working out and eating healthy absolutely does increase your chances of conceiving, but it’s not everything.
I went off of birth control in November 2017. It was the first time I’d been off since I started it when I was 17, which was 12 years ago. I’ve read reports that say that the first month of being off of birth control is the most fertile time, and others say it takes a year or more for those hormones to completely get out of your system.
Though I wasn’t taking birth control, December of 2017 wasn’t when we officially started trying. Speaking of “trying,” there’s one that you learn when you’re on this journey which is that it is NOT sexy, it is NOT hot, and it is actually more stressful and organized than you would think, which has definitely added a lot of stress for both Luca and me.
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January of 2018 was the first month that we started “trying” and subsequently learning about all of this ovulation stuff. That first month, I didn’t get my period for 35 days. I honestly thought, “Oh, I don’t have my period? I’m pregnant!” (I wish it was that easy!) There were definitely multiple times that I thought I was pregnant and, you guys, I was SO convinced that I was pregnant that I even bought little things off of Etsy like “Baby Due March 2019” or “Baby Due June 2019.”
The reason I was so convinced so many times that I was pregnant was because I was “symptom spotting.” If you aren’t familiar, symptom spotting involves paying attention to every little thing that is going on in your body after you ovulate. When you learn to symptom spot, you start to notice little things that are “signs” that you may or may not be pregnant. Honestly, I drove myself nuts googling anything and everything. For every symptom, there are 50 women saying, “That was my pregnancy sign!” and then 50 women saying, “That happened right before my period.” I learned that the key thing to remember is that a sign for you that you’re pregnant has nothing to do with anyone else, it’s all about what is normal or not for your own body.
Unfortunately for me, my symptoms were different every single month. I don’t know if it was my hormones regulating after stopping my birth control or what but every month I was like “Oh! This is different! I’m pregnant!” Nope. Got my period. Then the next month: “Oh! This is different! I’m pregnant!” Nope!
That was the cycle for essentially the entire first year of our TTC journey. In the beginning, I honestly didn’t get that upset. I felt like I had no right to be since there are couples who try for 1 or 2 years to conceive, so I couldn’t complain if I didn’t get pregnant in 6 months. But after about 6 months, it started to really get to me when I would get my period and realize that I wasn’t pregnant. And it was hard because Luca was so in it with me and he was always aware of when I was ovulating, what DPO (Days Post Ovulation) I was, and how that connected to implantation and fertilization; it was hard because he was on the roller coaster with me.
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It was about 4 months in to TTC when I went to my OB. He said that everything looked perfect and that I have a “perfect uterus,” whatever that means! Luca also got checked out and his count was totally fine. And then in September, my OB suddenly passed away.
It’s always hard when someone passes away, but my OB was a very special doctor to me because he was Italian. He was from Rome and he and Luca were born in the same hospital! He moved to the US 20 or 30 years ago and he’s lived here ever since. I had asked one of the nurses if he did deliveries, which he did, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing! He’s from Rome, he speaks Italian, he can deliver our babies and speak to Luca’s family because Luca’s family only speaks Italian!” So I always kind of fantasized about having him deliver our babies, being able to communicate to Luca’s family, and just allowing them to have that experience of communicating with the doctor that delivers their grandchildren. So when I got the phone call that he passed away, I was shocked. He was an amazing doctor and you ladies know how hard it is to find an OB that you trust and are comfortable with. It was devastating on all fronts and I suddenly had to find a new OB 9 months into our journey when I knew that fertility treatments were possibly around the corner.
Fast forward to November and we got a consultation at SCRC (Southern California Reproductive Center) and met with Dr. Alexander. I got an ultrasound and some bloodwork to test my initial levels and everything was great. She was raving about how many eggs I had and ultimately diagnosed me with “unexplained infertility.”
That consultation was 1 DPO (Day Past Ovulation) so I still had a chance to be pregnant that month. I mentioned symptom spotting earlier, where you learn about things that happen to your body when you’re in the early stages of pregnancy, and one of them is apparently a pinching or tugging below your belly button. It’s similar to cramps but it’s not that dull achy feeling like you get when it’s your period, it’s more like a sharp poking, prodding, tugging, or pulling. And, sure, this absolutely can be a sign of your actual period, but for the most part they say that it’s a sign of implantation.
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I had those poking and prodding feelings at 9 DPO, which is around when they say implantation would occur, and then the next day my boobs got so heavy and sore. It literally hurt to not wear a bra and it felt like my chest muscles were sore and so heavy and I was like, “Oh, I’m pregnant! This is 100% because I’m pregnant.” And then 12 DPO, those symptoms went away and I got my period 2 days later.
After the consultation appointment, they’d told me I would need to come in during the first few days of my next period to get blood work done to check my levels. So I went in on CD 2 (Cycle Day 2) and I got bloodwork done, another ultrasound, and pretty much started planning for an IUI.
An IUI stands for Intrauterine Insemination, which is very different from IVF (In Vitro Fertilization). If you are unsuccessful with IUI after a certain number of cycles, that’s when you become a candidate for IVF. We opted to do an IUI and, even though a part of me wanted to keep trying naturally, a part of me was scared that it was just going to mean another 6 months or a year of not being able to conceive and then we’d be right back at the same decision where we want to do an IUI or, eventually, IVF.
After my bloodwork, I got a call from my doctor about my hormones and my blood work saying that everything looked great. I told her on the call about how I had been convinced that I was pregnant because of the poking and prodding feelings and because my boobs had been so sore. Her response was, “It sounds like your body is REALLY trying to get pregnant. You might just have low progesterone.”
Progesterone is a hormone that your body releases in your Luteal Phase. So, just for some context, the time before you ovulate is called the Follicular Phase and the time after you ovulate is called the Luteal Phase. The Luteal Phase is when implantation, fertilization, and ultimately becoming pregnant happens. So in your Luteal Phase, your progesterone levels increase and, if you’re pregnant, they continue to increase. However, if you’re not pregnant, then they drop during the Follicular Phase and then start increasing again after ovulation.
So obviously you need progesterone to get pregnant and my doctor seemed to think that there was a chance that I have low progesterone, so she told me to take Selenium or to eat 3 brazil nuts a day. I opted to eat 3 brazil nuts over taking a Selenium supplement. But I do want to note that it is very important to not exceed 3 brazil nuts a day because of their level of toxicity. When they grow, their roots go deep into the ground and, because of that, they have higher levels of radiation exposure.
A few days later, I got another call from my doctor saying that they’d gotten my blood work back and my AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) levels were lower than expected. My level was at a 0.7 and they wanted it to be at a 1.4. They recommended that I come back another day and test it a second time, just to be sure that the day where it was at a 0.7 wasn’t just a fluke.
After she told me that my AMH was really low, she told me that I should be eating a Mediterranean diet, which means more things like fish, legumes, seeds, nuts, and avocado. I’ve been told multiple times that I need to be eating avocado and I’m NOT a fan! I’m not a fan of fish either but I can definitely stomach it on a regular basis and, especially for a fertility diet, I’m absolutely ok with eating ALL the fish that I need. She also said to focus on getting a lot of fruits and veggies, and she said that I need to reduce stress.
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Stress management has become the main focus of my entire fertility journey so far. 2018 was my most stressful year to date. I am normally really good under stress and I even do some of my best work under stress. In life, I have not had it easy; I have had to support myself financially from a young age and support myself mentally and emotionally from an even younger age! 2018 was a completely different experience from what I’m used to, though, and apparently that stress got the best of me.
I’m not surprised, but I am a little let down. I feel like I should be able to handle this, but it’s something that I’ve never experienced before. It’s been really hard on both me and Luca, and when I worry about Luca, that makes me stress more. Then HE stresses more and it’s a big cycle.
My doctor also told me that she wants me to do acupuncture and, the big one, take it easy on my workouts. As you girls know, I normally do really high intensity workouts and that has been something that has weighed on me very heavily. There have been times during my Luteal Phase where I would be in a Fly Wheel class just KILLING it, heart rate through the roof, and I would think to myself, “Should I not be putting my body through this much physical stress when this is supposed to be the time when implantation and fertilization should occur?” So I always had that voice in my head. And then finally one month I thought, “you know what? Yes, I am going to chill. No workout, no loss of any amount of body fat, is going to be worth compromising my ability to conceive.”
When I shot this first YouTube video, it was day 3 of me preparing for the IUI. I was currently taking Letrozole, which is similar to Clomid (both promote the growth of eggs). I also had to inject a hormone into my lower belly that is called Ovidrel (a “trigger shot” hormone to introduce ovulation) and I was scared. A few days later, I had my first IUI.
This is all very new to me, which might also be why I’m a little bit more timid. But I want to say that I’m really thankful for you guys. The fact that I can share this with you and know that you girls are all an amazing group of supportive women is huge. And if you have ever had trouble conceiving, my heart goes out to you. I am here for you and I hope that this is just the beginning of us all being able to bring more awareness so that women don’t feel like they’re broken or that something is wrong with them. Hopefully we can give women in our position some hope that their day is coming. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Thank you so much for reading about my TTC journey, and I’ll have more information for you guys in my next update.