Be Courageous

Everyone’s experience of trying to conceive is unique. Whether it’s months or years, there’s a common theme – resilience:

The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

At the heart of resilience lies strong relationships. A support team of wonderful family and friends that can provide a security blanket of warmth and comfort when you need it most.

When we first started treatment, a few years ago now, I kept myself to myself. It can be an alienating experience from your nearest and dearest, including your partner.  I didn’t read the baby forums or community pages. For a start there were too many acronyms and at the time I didn’t take comfort from other peoples journeys. I found it disheartening. I read of couples that had sadly separated. I could see how it could damage even the strongest relationship. Ross felt helpless and didn’t know what to say alot of the time. He wanted to solve things for us but there was no quick fix. I on the other hand wanted him to feel what I was feeling. I wanted comfort not solutions.

It can become hard to relate to one another as your experience and how you deal with it will be entirely different. I found it difficult to explain the sense of loss. An unexplainable grief. I have felt like I have lost babies that I’ve never technically had. Your partner won’t share these feelings or understand them. So try not to kill them when they say they would be happy if it’s just the two of you. I knew I needed an outlet to process what I was feeling. I was lucky to find a local psychologist that I could confide in. It was a safe and friendly environment where I knew I wouldn’t face judgement. Ross and I went together on occasion which gave him a better understanding of how I was feeling. She helped us identify each others coping mechanisms and how to talk through our feelings without it ending in tears. Literally. It was such a valuable and positive experience for us. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a therapist. Sometimes it’s not always possible to get through the hard times on your own. Sometimes we don’t know how to. Find that support group, person/s or therapist who you find to be understanding, nonjudgmental, and supportive. Let these individuals know when you need help and support. Let them know how changeable these feelings can be day to day during your treatment. Reaching out doesn’t make you needy or weak. It makes you COURAGEOUS.

A person who has more recently become a friend of ours took my hand a couple of weeks ago and told me he had read my blog and offered his support to us in any way we should need it. There was a genuine connection in that moment. I had that feeling of being held up and comforted. I wasn’t feeling down or upset at the time but regardless I felt like I could stand taller. I can’t explain it anymore than that.

The more I talk about infertility the less I fear. I talk about appointments or procedures like I’m going to the dentist. This is my normality and for so many others it is too. I have found it to be empowering supporting others, even when I feel in need of support myself. It’s a real reminder of my own strength when facing adversity.

I promise you will be in awe of the support that is around you if you just open yourself up to it.

Diagnosis:

As the Dr spoke, all I heard was that it was my fault. I felt ashamed. He told me my lifestyle was the cause. I was the reason we couldn’t have a baby. What was I doing wrong?

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovaries (PCOS) at 20 after discovering cysts on my ovaries. I’ve had issues over the years but thankfully nothing too sinister. My lack of cycle (period) I assumed to be a side effect of the contraceptive injection, Depo-Provera which I had been using for 10+ years. When we decided to start trying for a family, I stopped the injections and waited for my cycle to return. I was advised that it could take up to 12 months after the last injection but it never arrived. To be honest I didn’t really know how conception worked. I didn’t know about the signs of ovulation. I didn’t know there was a tiny window (3-5days) during your cycle that you could conceive. I thought it would be easy. It appeared that people were ‘falling’ pregnant all around me. But the chances of conceiving in any given cycle is actually very low. I’ve learnt that pregnancy is undoubtedly one of life’s beautiful miracles. After 18 months of waiting and trying we met with the Fertility clinic.

After some simple routine tests for both of us I was diagnosed with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). It is the technical name for when the hypothalamus stops sending “go ahead and reproduce” signals to the pituitary gland. There’s a disconnect somewhere! This results in absent menstrual cycles, along with other symptoms such as failure to ovulate, troubled sleeping, depression, anxiety, low libido, low energy and always feeling cold.

The crux of it is I have a hormonal imbalance. Medication can help to a degree but there’s an underlying problem that it won’t solve. That is why other types of fertility treatment don’t work for me. My hormone levels are hard to control and they can’t provide my body what it needs to conceive. I’ve researched both of my conditions and a common factor is diet and gut problems. This encouraged me to meet with a Dietician for food allergen tests as mentioned in a previous post. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) has troubled me for as long as I can remember. I do wonder how detrimental my early 20’s were to my health. For a few years I followed a scarily low calorie diet with very little carbohydrates. I couldn’t digest them so I avoided them like the plague. I was very thin and despite exercising alot I was probably very unhealthy. I didn’t know any better. The last few years my IBS has been at it’s worst. I believe this to be because of the stress of treatment, moving countries, moving house… lots of moving!

The Dr’s advice for HA was – “eat more and exercise less”

I looked at my life and panicked. My body fat percentage was low, but I never felt it was too low. Eating more sounds like a ‘fun’ prescription to many I’m sure. Who doesn’t want to eat more? But gaining fat as a Personal Trainer scared me. I had worked hard to get to the condition I was at. Add to this less exercise and I was having palpitations. Exercise is my life, it’s what I thrive on, it’s my medication. I looked at my regime and knew I could reduce the intensity and frequency of my training. I felt gutted that what I was doing was apparently wrong and damaging. But I focused on the bigger picture and made the changes as advised.

I follow progressive strength based programs to stop me from going hell for leather in sessions. I still push myself to a degree as I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t hitting goals. It isn’t about aesthetics anymore. I want to feel good and strong in body and mind. I am approximately 10lbs heavier than I was when we first started treatment. I don’t measure my body fat %. I don’t care. The less strenuous activities such as running or practicing slower paced yin and restorative yoga is a welcomed break from the gym. It enables me to focus on breathing, stretching and calming the mind. I watch my calorie intake to make sure I’m eating plenty for my activity but I am very aware of not becoming obsessive or overly restrictive with my diet. Initially I felt like my diagnosis sent me in a downward spiral. I over-analysed everything – food, drink, exercise, sleep. It was soul-destroying.

I gently remind myself that I’m not to blame for this. I live day to day as I know how. Knowledge is power and I feel I’ve learned so much about my body since we started this. I don’t know when doing everything at 100mph became a habit. Embracing peace and quiet has been nothing but good for me. I cook, bake, enjoy a glass of wine with a trashy book and more quality time with family and friends. I have bubbly aromatic baths which are definitely more enjoyable with a gin! I also treat my body to a relaxing massage every other week. Despite doing all of the above I still have no cycle. I try not to let this deflate me despite always feeling like I am waiting for something. I have read countless stories of women in the same shoes who haven’t successfully regulated their cycle. I take peace from that.

I have come to the realisation that it’s not in my power to reverse my diagnosis. The exact cause of my infertility as I see it is unknown. Maybe it’s not in my destiny to have a baby. I’m not being negative, I’m being realistic. Please don’t tell me not to give up because I won’t allow infertility to define me. I have the most wonderful husband, a loving family and a beautiful circle of close friends who all support me 100%. This may be what I choose to be my version of family. My diagnosis won’t dictate how I live my life anymore.

Breathe your stress away

All sorts of situations can cause stress and will affect people in different ways. The physical response to stress and anxiety can be uncomfortable and at times, debilitating. I often find myself driving along the road with my shoulders hunched up around my ears, or sat at the laptop deep in thought with my body stiff as a board and even walking along the road in a hurry, I can find myself not breathing properly!

Our breathing reflects our thoughts. When we are stressed our breathing pattern naturally becomes more shallow and our breaths short. We tend to overuse our upper respiratory muscles (chest breathing) and forget about our diaphragm, which is a huge dome shaped muscle sitting at the bottom of our rib cage, designed to bring air (oxygen) into our lungs. This shallow breathing can become habitual if you are often tense, or in an anxious state and can lead to postural problems and very tight muscles around your neck and the top of your back.

Short and shallow breaths, also known as excessive breathing, is really common and can even lead to altered CO2 and O2 content in our blood – in other words your body isn’t getting sufficient amounts of oxygen to function normally. That sounds extreme but this can lead to headaches, fatigue, poor sleep and more feelings of anxiety, that only enhance the excessive breathing response. Hands up if you suffer from any of these? It’s a viscous cycle.

So what can you do? Firstly check in on your breathing patterns. Can you take a huge deep breath or are your breaths short and mainly from your chest?  It can be tough to take a really deep breath if you’ve become accustomed to shallow breaths.

Breathing through your stomach is a great stress buster and can dramatically relieve associated symptoms of stress and anxiety. Focusing on your breath in that moment of stress will calm you down. If a client is really fatigued during a workout and their HR is elevated I always have them focus on their breath and take 3 big ‘belly breaths’ to help get their heart rate down. It’s brings back control and normally takes it down fairly quickly.

Here’s a simple exercise to help engage your diaphragm again..

  1. Lie on the floor face up with knees slightly bent or legs flat – whatever feels comfortable!
  2. Place your hands lightly on your stomach.
  3. Concentrate on inhaling through your nose for 5 counts, filling your belly with air and feeling your stomach rise as your lungs fill with air.
  4. Exhale through your mouth, to a count of 5, letting the stomach fall naturally as your breath out and the diaphragm relaxes.
  5. You can progress this by practising this breathing pattern standing up. This may be more challenging and require more concentration.

Pick a time that will allow you to relax, maybe first thing in the morning or before bed and find a quiet and comfortable place in your home. Try this out every day for at least a week and form new breathing habits. By taking control of our breathing and making it more relaxed, our body tunes in and becomes relaxed, which leads to better functioning in general. No matter what we do, we do it better if we are relaxed.

So remember to

  1. Breath deeply in through your nose, down to your belly and out through your mouth
  2. Find your breathing rhythm – slow it down, relax and let it flow
  3. Smile and take control

Feel the benefits that you can gain from proper breathing, and improve your health, greater harmony, less anxiety, less fear, better relationships and just a happier life in general.