As we struggle to conceive and the months pass by, we’re faced with the question of when to consider IVF. IVF is expensive and our insurance doesn’t cover it, but it’s also not foolproof and I think having it not work would be really hard for me to deal with. I know people who it worked for and people who it didn’t work for but one round is essentially a year of college tuition, not to mention the physical and mental toll, so obviously my preference would be to get pregnant without it. Before we go down that road, I’ve been researching alternatives and trying to make sure I’m doing everything I can to help myself get pregnant, which means reading lots of books on infertility. Some of these books suggest lifestyle changes, including diet, especially for those dealing with PCOS, which I may be.
I do believe how we treat ourselves and what we put into our bodies has a real impact on our health, and at least it’s something. I can control in this whole crazy process, so I started focusing on diet and exercise recently. Beyond potentially helping with my fertility, I think it’ll make me a better example for my family and when I do get pregnant, help me keep the baby weight in check and feel better. I also want to treat my body as kindly as possible to reduce stress and get in the healthiest condition I can. Maybe it won’t help me get pregnant, but at least, I’ll know I did everything I could and won’t beat myself up whether my crappy diet or failure to get to the gym is the reason that I’m not pregnant.
When it comes to diet and exercise and fertility, though, it’s actually really confusing – the research and advice is all over the place: Exercise. Don’t exercise. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Rather than sticking to one strict plan or theory, I decided to pick and choose based on what I felt made the most sense with my symptoms and that overall I thought could help me feel better and less stressed. My periods haven’t been regular since having James, and in fact, I didn’t get my period until a year after I had him and had to use hormones to kickstart it. Before starting on Clomid, I wasn’t ovulating regularly or at all (the jury is still out on the eight months of potentially wasted sex). Even though my doctor doesn’t think I have PCOS, I think it’s a real possibility, or at least, it’s clear that my hormones are out of whack. I also have acne that has really resurged, which is a symptom of PCOS. Even if it’s not PCOS, my progesterone levels are low as well, so I’ve been taking supplements. After reading more about PCOS and how diet can effect many of the hormones involved in getting us pregnant, I decided to tweak my diet and incorporate more regular exercise to help get my hormones back on track. If something is out of whack in our bodies, I believe it’s showing us something is wrong. Medicine will often treat the symptoms not the cause, especially in fertility medicine, and I’d like to try to treat the cause and let my doctor worry about treating the symptoms in order to get me pregnant.
I’ve been reading more into PCOS and one of the top ways to control the symptoms is diet and exercise. I exercised regularly before I became pregnant with James and I think it helped regulate my hormones and body in general, so I’ve started to get back into running and cardio. I have felt a big difference in my body and how I feel even if I don’t know if it’s helping anything else. Now I workout at least five days a week in the morning and I try to be as active as possible on weekends. There are some books that recommended not exercising or only doing gentle exercise during your period, but I prefer to follow what we’ve been taught forever is a cornerstone of health — regular exercise. Also, it’s not like I’m running a marathon every day. I’m jogging for like 30 minutes or doing a dance workout DVD.
As for diet, I’ve read about how sugar, carbs (especially refined) and gluten can be bad if you have PCOS and throw your hormones out of whack. I am usually good about sticking to multigrain and brown rice and all that, but I definitely eat a lot more carbs than I used to and I think I sometimes use multigrain as an excuse to eat more than I should. And I also eat off James’ plate or sneak bites of muffin or cookie or whatever way more than I used to pre-my first pregnancy. I’ve also relied a lot on frozen dinners — and even the healthy ones probably have a lot of carbs, salt and chemicals. After work and putting James to bed, I’ve been too tired to cook but those frozen dinners can be packed with chemicals and carbs etc. even if they are technically calorie controlled. The idea of cutting back on carbs and gluten is not a favorable one for me (I’d live off carbs if I could), but I want a baby more than anything so I’m willing to try. Plus, I am so sick of the bloat and extra weight I’ve been carrying lately. I know some of it is from the hormones and fertility drugs, but it’s only making me feel worse about myself and my body, so if I can tweak my diet and exercise to help control some of that weight gain or at least not exasperate it, I am hoping that’ll make me feel better about my body and those good vibes in turn will help me get pregnant. (One of the books I read was very into the idea of positive thinking and reminding yourself constantly that you love your body and that you are fertile and can have a baby. For what it’s worth, I do think there is power in positive thinking and imagining and that infertility really messes with our heads and going down those rabbit holes of other people’s fertility struggles just makes it harder to believe it’ll happen for you, so I’m trying really hard to avoid that and to believe in my body and my fertility.)
So in an effort to control my diet for optimum fertility, I’ve decided to cut gluten and carbs and sugar dramatically. I am also really focused on the right foods. Rather than worrying about calories, I’m really focused in making sure I’m getting lots of vegetables and protein and that I’m eating a wide range and more fish. Typically I have a salad or soup for lunch, but I’ve been mixing in salmon with sweet potatoes and veggies, which is a heavy lunch for me, because those are all superfoods recommended for fertility. I also read that I should be eating more red meat (lean and grassfed), which is something I don’t do, and less chicken. So I’m trying to limit my chicken intake to 2-3 times a week, which honestly, I’m not doing that great of a job of, but I feel like substituting in fish and other forms of protein when possible is a great start.
I am also trying to cut back drastically on carbs. I no longer eat a multigrain roll with my soup or salad. I skip the calorie controlled frozen dinners with pasta even if they are under 300 calories and organic. I try not to eat the muffins bites and cookie bites off James’ plate. I try to only have carbs in the morning and go for low-glycemic and gluten free bread or oatmeal (because honestly, I can’t live without carbs in the morning) and then stick to fruits, veggies, and protein the rest of the day. It’s only been about two weeks, and I’ve already fallen off the wagon (actually badly one weekend), but I do feel better, my body is feeling less bloated and gross, and I feel in control of something and that is making me feel better about this overall. Ultimately, I’m not sure if this is the secret. I’m still going to go to an IVF class this week and continue with my treatments, but being healthier and taking better care of myself will help me be a better parent to James and his future sibling(s).