Over the last two years I learned a lot about my body. When you’re trying to conceive and having difficulty, it can be increasingly frustrating and you can feel like your body isn’t doing what it “should” do. I just want to start this post by saying, it’s so important to have grace for yourself. Your body is a beautiful thing and everyone has a different one. It seems so common that people just get pregnant easily and have healthy full-term pregnancies, but that just isn’t the case. It also isn’t your fault. It doesn’t make you any less of a woman or man because of the difficulty and I want to be sensitive about that right from the beginning. Trying to conceive doesn’t come with ease for many and miscarriage is incredibly common. I’ve experienced both of those feelings and at the time it felt really isolating and lonely. I can look back now and see all the lessons, strengthening of my faith and the valuable insight I gained through those trials that have prepared me more mentally and physically for pregnancy and to be a mother, so I try to have gratitude for that. I have been open that it has been painful, there was suffering, but all of this wasn’t in vain because it has also made me deeply appreciate being on the other side of it. Not that I don’t think I would have been grateful if I was able to easily conceive immediately, but I do trust in God’s timing and purpose for everything. He is good and I believe He was the one who created this life. I did my best to support my mental and physical health through trusting Him and today I am sharing what that looked like for me.
My prayer for this blogpost (knowing that if you’re reading this, it is probably because you are coming here trying to seek an answer and frustrated by your circumstances), is that you would hold on to hope. I pray that God would send you peace about how (whether it’s through your womb, science, adoption etc.) you will mother (or father, if you’re a man reading this). This phrase “you will mother” stuck with me throughout my journey (I found this account online that really encouraged me) and it became my mantra whenever I felt unsure. I declared it over myself and I declare it over you! 🙂
I have to say before going any further, it’s so important to listen to your own body and consult with your own doctors on what is best for you. Anything I talk about in my post was because I did certain blood-work, research and testing to make these decisions. What may work for me, may not work for someone else and vice versa. I also can’t say “one thing” specifically helped us conceive, I think it’s a combination of many different discoveries and lifestyle changes. I won’t ever know for sure, what I do know is I attribute all of this to God and His plan. However, regardless if anything mentioned below helped us conceive, I wanted to support my hormones and health in the best way possible and from what I’ve read that plays a big role as well. So, I pray this post will be helpful in some way, shape or form, because I remember seeking these same answers, feeling depleted. I want to be a reminder there is hope!
Investigating & Testing
Before we began trying to have a baby, Neal and I both went to our family physicians for a full physical. I think it’s a great idea to get advice from your practitioner and inform them of your plans to see if they would recommend anything prior to TTC, as well as going over any health issues you may have had in the past. This was our first step and we were thankful everything came back great. Neal and I naively assumed we would be able to conceive quite quickly, even though in the back of my mind I knew there was a possibility from being aware of others struggles that it may not. Still, we were optimistic.
By spring of 2019 I went to see my naturopath doctor, as it was taking a little longer than we expected for us to conceive, to consult with him. I wanted to see if I could be supporting my body with some supplements or a specific diet for my fertility. My doctor recommended Vitex because I had some estrogen dominance which I would take on cycle day 15-28 (assuming you ovulate on cycle day 14). I also needed to increase my iron (I’ve always had issues absorbing and keeping my iron levels up) and reduce some inflammation that was found on a live blood cell test at my naturopath’s clinic. If you’ve never had a live blood cell test, it’s where they put your blood under a microscope and you can see it on a screen — it’s actually fascinating, I love learning about this stuff! So, I took those recommendations and yet still, months went by.
Doing further research, I started learning how much periods can indicate something is going on with your fertility. Your period can tell you a lot about your hormones and mine was saying I had some estrogen dominance going on in my body. You need a good balance of both estrogen and progesterone to conceive and hold a pregnancy. So, I started looking at my PMS: I had bad migraines before my periods, intense cramping and clots in my period blood (TMI, but it’s a TMI kind of post). This online quiz was a starting off point and then I looked into things deeper with my doctor. I learned although bad cramping is common, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily good/normal and painful periods are your body’s sign of something else going on — (more on this later). This supplement Vitex helped me bring some balance in, I noticed my migraines went away during some cycles but some other symptoms persisted. Months went by and still, nothing happened, so Neal and I decided to go to a fertility clinic to do some further testing. Nine months in, I had some ultrasounds done and blood-work and Neal got to the blood-work portion but in between the testing we found out we were pregnant naturally so we paused testing on everything. The purpose of our testing was to find out why weren’t getting pregnant and then when we did, we didn’t feel the need to continue. Unfortunately I did miscarry that pregnancy early (I’ve shared my story here). We didn’t continue our testing, so we never received our results because we assumed we could get pregnant naturally again. I let my period come back one cycle after to make sure everything was okay before trying to conceive again. Many women get pregnant shortly after again but this was not the case for us and I definitely compared myself to those women. There is also this 3-month statistic (that I should be able to get pregnant within that window again), but again — not the case for us. It took exactly one more year before we could get pregnant again and interesting enough I found out I was pregnant this time a week before we were due for a follow-up appointment at the fertility clinic to finish our testing and start exploring other treatment options to help us. I cannot speak to the tests and such because again, we didn’t get results or complete them but I know this can be helpful in understanding more of your bodies in the process to give you some answers. I also want to note, testing both partners is very important, many assume it’s just the woman who needs to undergo this and that’s not always the case, so blood-work and a semen analysis would be beneficial as well for your male partner. We didn’t get to this point in our testing because we did conceive naturally but had plans to so we could seek out answers. Trying to conceive and waiting without answers can be incredibly hard so I would encourage you to seek them and advocate for your health and bodies even if things are coming back fine. The reason I say this is because I also know many who weren’t aware of some health issues and tried to conceive for a year and if they had known sooner they could have possibly interjected to support those things. It can really get heavy and I felt encouraged by women who shared these personal stories with me to seek answers for our own journey when we felt it was right. We were told it can take 6 months to 1 year for most couples in our age range to conceive (we began trying when we were both 28) and we went in to get testing done at 9 months because my doctor could tell I was extremely anxious and concerned something bigger was at play possibly. Sometimes you need that assurance and you don’t have to feel silly or impatient just because you may need that. I’m thankful I had a supportive doctor who understood my mental health and that this was putting my body into distress not knowing. I know some areas (depending on where you live, Canada and the USA are very different and I live in Canada) or doctors won’t see you for testing until one year. If you feel anxious and need reassurance, try going to a naturopath first to understand more about your hormones and body, there is nothing wrong with advocating for yourself. I felt like I needed to be actively doing something about my fertility, at times I do think I was operating anxiously trying to make it all happen on my time and control everything and that’s where I needed to lean in to trust and surrender. God taught me a lot in that season of my life. So the year after we miscarried, I changed the way I did things, I focused on nourishing myself mentally, spiritually and physically as best as I could while supporting my hormones. The last year, we focused on Jesus and our marriage and we waited patiently to see what He would do and by the fall He brought us our rainbow baby and I am so thankful for that. It was completely unexpected. Neal never had a doubt we could conceive, he just always had a strong confidence and belief and I am so grateful for his positivity and the way he cared for my heart and mental health during the times I felt very unsure, mad, sad or distressed. We grieved our loss together, we shared the same pain of longing for a baby and we strengthened our marriage more in this time than in our entire relationship (which we’ve been together for 12 years). I am grateful for that.
Diet & Body Work
Balancing hormones and managing stress in my body became the focus of my diet and “body work.” I personally have not used birth control for years and it is not what we used as contraceptive prior to trying to have a baby (I did go on it at one point for my skin before getting married, but got off it and felt very different while I was on and coming off). Birth control is something I have researched extensively and it just isn’t the best option for me or my body. That could be a whole other blogpost, haha, but I would just encourage you to do your own research. If you are thinking of coming off, there are great books and supportive professionals to help you transition off it and support your hormones.
Now let’s talk diet! To be honest, I didn’t switch up my diet too much other than adding more fibre to help me metabolize my excess estrogen. I always ate a balanced diet and still enjoyed occasional treats/takeout (I don’t think depriving yourself is healthy). We cooked mainly from home all of last year, which during the beginning of the pandemic especially we just ordered our groceries and stayed inside cooking everything. We only really began getting food/takeout when I got pregnant in the fall because I had certain cravings (lol). I listened to my body and focused on getting what I needed daily (protein, iron, fibre, ample hydration, movement to release the cortisol and stress from my body). The fibre I think was the most important piece for me because it helps metabolize estrogen in your liver and I got this in me more through things like adding ground flax seed over fruit in the mornings, veggies and high fibre crackers. Due to my estrogen dominance, fibre was a key I was missing!
The other thing I did was eat for each phase of my cycle – interesting right!? One of the most helpful tools and books I read last year while supporting my hormones and fertility was the book WomanCode (I did a whole blogpost here), I had two friends recommend this to me (one even did a blogpost on her experience TTC with this book you can read here) and it is truly life changing. Not just for fertility, but overall health, our hormones play a big role as women because of the totally different system that lives inside us. I took a prenatal right when we started trying to conceive (doctors even recommend starting a prenatal 3 months before TTC), as well as Omega 3 fish oil and Vitamin D. Preparing your womb and body with those nutrients is definitely something all my doctors recommended. I additionally took magnesium (as opposed to CBD oil while TTC) to help me sleep at night, ease some anxiety, calm the nervous system and PMS. Getting blood-work done with a naturopath/nutritionist will help identify what minerals or vitamins you could possibly be deficient in and support your overall health.
I also learned the importance of balancing my blood sugar/pressure (I’ve always been on the low blood pressure side) and how many toxins around us can disrupt our endocrine system through reading WomanCode. If you take anything out of this blogpost, I hope it will be that you read that book because I found it very impactful! I followed her exercise and eating for each phase of my cycle (I would incorporate more of these foods for the phase of my cycle) and noticed such a difference in my period, cycle and symptoms finally:
Another factor I focused on the month before I conceived was keeping my womb warm, which is something encouraged in traditional Chinese medicine. A friend of mine shared these amazing red Chinese dates with me and I’d slice two (de-pit) and place in hot water to sip throughout each day. I love cold drinks and ice, but I wanted to create a warm environment in my womb, so I refrained from drinking cold water, smoothies, cereals (that would require cold milk), ice cream etc. which actually wasn’t too difficult as we were entering the fall. I craved broths, stews, soups and teas more and more. I drank room temperature water, the date tea and then rose tea during my period which helped with my stress. I tried acupuncture for a little while, which is helpful for circulation and fertility, but it didn’t make a huge difference for my own personal body and it got expensive. Some find it extremely helpful, again, what works for one person doesn’t always work for the next.
My period would be very triggering (it comes with those lovely hormones as well) making you feel defeated you’re not pregnant — but I reminded myself it was my body doing what it needed to do each month to prepare to one day hopefully conceive. So instead, I started becoming more grateful for it and less frustrated with my body. Allowing the process to take place, instead of resenting it helped me release tension and practice self-love. I was happy to also see my PMS improve through the changes I was making and I didn’t dread it as much. Castor oil packs were something I did two cycles before getting pregnant that I learned about mid last year. The claims with this are that it can help improve with painful PMS, clear blocked tubes and support your fertility. It was natural and I found it very relaxing. I only did this for 3 days in the month (right after my period finished to just before I was entering my fertile window). You don’t want to do this during your period, if you think you could be pregnant or during ovulation and I followed this video instructions: (linked here).
Neal also made lifestyle changes to support his fertility, seeing the naturopath as well for supplements he could be taking for his specific body (everyone is different again, so do the blood-work to make those conclusions for you and your partner), he joined me in eating balanced (we still enjoyed things like I mentioned), moving our bodies even it was just our daily walks and during our fertile window he would refrain from alcoholic/soda beverages. Alcohol isn’t something I drank often at all (I enjoyed a glass of wine or a cocktail here and there) but I did cut it out completely while TTC. I had it a few times when I was on my period, the first year trying to conceive, but then the second year I just didn’t want it. I also don’t drink coffee daily (I enjoy tea more and occasional lattes/specialty drinks from coffee shops, but it wasn’t part of my daily routine). You can read more on how caffeine can impact hormones in the WomanCode book, but again do what is best for you. There are varying opinions on everything I have mentioned and approaches to health and fertility (like anything), some studies and doctors will say its fine, while others would encourage you to not have or do something. Listen to your body and your care team and find out what works best for you.
The last thing I did for my body was I used this oil called Progessence Plus, my friend recommended and sent to me after my miscarriage. I found while reading WomanCode by Alisa Vitti that she also recommended to use a progesterone cream (wild yam/vitex) to help support fertility (if the issue was estrogen dominance, which my naturopath said was fine, always consult your care providers). This was a pure and natural option, safe to use and I had also read another woman’s success story on using this oil to help her conceive as well as hold her pregnancies after miscarriage (you can read that post here). So, from day 15-28 of my cycle I would apply 1-2 drops alternating each night from my thighs, to my wrist to my belly. When I got my period I would stop using it and let my body do its thing. When I found out I was pregnant again, I continued to use it daily up until 11 weeks of my pregnancy (again just 1-2 drops on my wrist at night, then alternating locations: thighs, tummy). I used this oil for a few months before I actually conceived, again I’m not sure if it helped, but I’ve heard and read many women have success stories with it.
Removing Toxins from Skincare & Home
Most of 2020, I really did my best to remove as much toxins from our home, body, hair care, skincare and makeup (I wrote a blogpost on these lifestyle changes here). We don’t even realize how many things can disrupt our hormones in little every day things we enjoy like beauty products, shampoos, perfumes, candles, lotions, cooking ware etc. Our hormones are very sensitive! The pandemic lockdown also prevented me from doing things I normally would regularly such as my hair, nails etc. and I gave everything a good breather, which actually felt good (now I miss it, haha). I switched to clean skincare and haircare (for Neal and I), natural deodorant only (I did a whole blogpost on that here), as well as using more non-toxic items in the home (no plastic) using glass, switched my non-stick pan to this non-toxic one from Our Place that I love so much, and changed most of my cleaning products solely to things like vinegar, baking soda and essential oils! My goal wasn’t to overhaul overnight, but to slowly switch things out and become more aware of the toxins around us to protect our health, hormones and fertility. I want to continue a more non-toxic lifestyle like this as well going forward in pregnancy/nursing, for our child and just life in general, so I am glad I started and educated myself now.
Mental Health, Heart Work & Prayer
There isn’t a specific way anyone should or can pray, this is unique to your experience and relationship with God, so when I discuss prayer below, that is completely unique to you. Some reading this may not even have a relationship with God either (I want you to know I do not judge your beliefs or try to impose mine on anyone), so this could look more like speaking positive affirmations into your daily life and mindset.
My relationship is with Jesus and so I speak through that lens because that is personal for me and my own personal journey I’ve chosen to open up about here. With Jesus, He knows my heart, He knows my spirit, my anxious thoughts — nothing is hidden from Him. I feel known. I saw a Christian counsellor that helped me see myself more how God sees me, as well as manage my anxiety (that I have also been open about online). Stress can live in our bodies and bad news, the more I read about it the more I realized how it affected hormones! It may seem odd to discuss this as one of my tips, but it plays a role. A bigger role than we realize or think.
Speaking with a therapist, I evaluated my worth, my traumas I needed to process, grief, my negative thinking styles and anxiety – I needed to work on all of this. There was a lot of heart work involved and I highly advocate for mental health support, especially in your fertility journey. Holding those feelings of anger, frustration and grief is not good to store in your body and we must process and release them (I wrote a blogpost on grief and what helped me through my miscarriage here). To prepare my womb, I believe I needed to prepare my heart also. Healing is not linear, so you will feel up and down naturally even while in therapy but in my experience and what I believe — it does bring you to a more healed, open place to receive. I am thankful I was already seeing a great therapist before my miscarriage. Life doesn’t stop while you’re trying to conceive, I lost people I loved, difficult things were happening in the world (i.e. a global pandemic), you can start having confusion or tension in your relationships, you can get news you weren’t expecting about your own health/journey — and I was thankfully more equipped to handle a lot of this because of my faith and my counsellor. As I mentioned, I learned a lot about my negative thinking styles, limiting beliefs and how to manage my anxiety/need for control. Through a lot of work I put in, I learned to declare and speak life over myself and how I viewed the TTC journey. I noticed a shift in my worried, anxious prayers to prayers of hope and belief that God could work His miracles and how that gave me so much more peace while I waited. I prayed to Him every morning asking Him to fill my womb with life as I lit a candle with a rainbow on it. I released it every morning and then went about my day, trusting this was truly in His hands. I prayed God’s word back to Him and filled my mind with scripture and praise. I began to feel hopeful in the most unknown season of my life after loss.
My prayer is that you would have peace on your way as you continue TTC and that you would give yourself a world of grace. I wrote many devotionals that helped me through this time you can read here if it would encourage your spirit. Sending my love and prayers to you all. You will mother. xo
A few TTC-friendly items mentioned in this post…