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This gallery contains 2 photos.
I made the 90 minute drive to visit Dr. C., my NaPro Technology Dr. I was filled with the type of anticipation that belongs only to children waiting for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. When the medical assistant let me to the exam room, she checked my vital signs, took my weight- which was up 24lbs from when we began trying, she took a brief medical history and told me that I had come to the right place. Shortly thereafter I met Dr. C. He didn’t say very much at first, instead he asked me questions and seemed to really listen to my answers. He looked at the food diary I had been keeping and told me that the cause of my weight gain was an inability to digest the proteins found in grains. He explained that because my body could not digest the grains, it was making extra insulin which was making me gain weight.
This was a shock, eating is one of my dearest pleasures in life and I was sure that taking away grains would leave me with a diet devoid of enjoyment. That however wasn’t the most shocking thing Dr. C. had to tell me. After looking at my chart and listening to me for almost forty minutes, Dr. C. was pretty sure that I had endometriosis, a condition where the lining of the uterus sheds into the abdominal cavity and forms adhesions around the ovaries, and other organs in the abdomen. As he continued, he explained that my immune system was working overtime trying to destroy the adhesions and as it attacked the adhesions it was attacking my reproductive system as well. He said that my best chance of getting pregnant would be after surgery to find and remove the adhesions. Once the adhesions were removed it would take from nine to twelve months for my immune system to calm down and stop attacking my body. The good news, he said, was that pregnancy shouldn’t take that long.
I left Dr.C’s office in gleeful shock! I knew the cause of my weight gain and I finally knew why we were experiencing infertility; better still there was a way to get rid of the pain, the fatigue, the irregular bleeding, and possibly become pregnant. If I didn’t know better I would swear that I was dreaming. So many other doctors had told me I was perfectly healthy, they told me that the bleeding and pain were “just part of being a woman,” others told me I was depressed, some doctors had prescribed exercise for my fatigue. Before Dr. C, nothing had come close to fixing the problem. I had just about given up on doctors. I finally had answers and I was as excited as I was terrified.
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I turned to a friend for help. I had told her we were going through the fertility treatments, she shared in my joys and sorrows throughout each cycle. When I told her how devastated I was and how I felt that no one was listening to me, she suggested that I see her doctor. I was cautious and not overly excited about seeing another doctor, spending more money, and being no closer to conception than when I started. She explained that her doctor was a bit different than others. Although he is a licensed MD, he doesn’t use traditional fertility treatments, instead he practices NaPro Technology. NaPro stands for Natural Procreation and while I’m not a doctor, my understanding of NaPro is that its underlying principle states: if you’re not getting pregnant there must be a reason. NaPro doctors use the Creighton Model of charting to analyze a woman’s cycle, help her get healthy, and hopefully pregnant.
I wasn’t sold yet. After having placed my faith in experts to no avail, I was not about to do so again. After more conversation, and extreme patience on the part of my friend, she convinced me I had nothing to lose. I wrote the practice and applied for acceptance in their NaPro program. While I waited for acceptance, my friend informally schooled me in dietary and environmental effects on a woman’s reproductive system. She talked about the phytoestrogens in soy, and how they interfere with many normal body systems and processes. She explained that she had completely cut out soy from her diet. I researched this independently and found some compelling reasons to eliminate soy from my diet. She also talked about the possibility of petroleum interfering with our ability to conceive. My first thought was that she was crazy and that I was on the train to looneyville myself, but something nagged at me. I asked myself what it would hurt to cut out petroleum products. I couldn’t see any adverse effects other than the $100 it would cost to replace all of my personal care products. Come to find out there was petroleum in my shampoo, conditioner, laundry detergent, fabric softener, moisturizer, body lotion, soap, makeup, and pretty much anything else that touched my skin. Seeing that there was so much of it in my personal care products perhaps removing it might make a difference.
After two weeks of a diet free of soy and switching to petroleum free personal care products, something strange happened: the hives that had covered my body on and off for almost two years disappeared. Prior to the switch I needed to take 3 allergy pills per day to keep from breaking out in itchy, ugly, red bumps. Within three weeks of going soy free and petroleum free I was also antihistamine free. Already my life was changing. I felt better, I was healthier, I started to think NaPro might just work.
I felt like a failure. Even with medical assistance I couldn’t complete the one task that my body was created for. I could have filled buckets with the amount of tears I cried. There were so many questions that no one could answer. Why was I broken? Why couldn’t anyone find and fix the cause of our infertility? Why did doctors keep treating me with drugs and medications before identifying the exact cause of my problem? I was angry, not at myself, but with doctors who had been treating me like a one woman drug trial.
Throughout these fifteen months I had prayed harder than I had ever prayed before. I prayed that we might conceive, I prayed that the fertility treatments would work; I prayed that God would clearly tell me what he wanted for me. I had no answers. I gave up. It was around this time that I gave up trying to make any sense of all this. Obviously my answers were not to be found within traditional infertility treatments. My diagnosis of unexplained infertility pretty much said my doctors were clueless as to what was wrong with me, and I felt as if they weren’t interested in finding out. I admitted that this was bigger than me, that there was nothing I could physically do to make conception happen. I gave up and in between tears, I prayed, “God, this is too hard, the waiting, the anticipation, the disappointment, the depression, and the self-doubt. I can’t handle it anymore. I give up, I’m not going to try to make this happen, this is out of my hands, and beyond my ability to change. Whatever you want for me I will accept, but I can’t do this anymore.”
This was a very difficult for me; failure is not something I accept. I thank God for my husband, close friends and family who were so supportive during this time. I could not have made it through all of this without them. I can’t say that I felt empty or more depressed than while undergoing fertility treatments. I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to go through any more of the ups, downs, and side effects, but I wasn’t giving up hope on motherhood. My husband was onboard with whatever I thought was best for my body, he has always been patient and understanding. There was no question whether or not he was willing to consider adoption; we both are committed to having a family whether it is created naturally or through adoption.
When we began our fertility treatments, we discussed what we would do if the treatments were unsuccessful. We agreed to try for two years before pursuing adoption. At this point we were little more than a year into our agreement and not yet ready to give up on having a child naturally. I had read numerous articles about a woman’s health influencing her chances of conception, especially her BMI, body mass index, the ratio of body fat to lean muscle mass. I decided that I needed to get my weight under control if I was going to get pregnant. Since medicine couldn’t give me any answers about my weight gain, I decided to speak with a nutritionist about my diet. She asked that I keep a log of my food and exercise. My diet was rich in vegetables, lean protein, contained some whole grains, an occasional fruit, a few glasses of wine a week, and a piece or two of chocolate a day. She gave me an overview of what a balanced diet should include, and then pronounced that my weight gain was due to an imbalanced diet that was too heavy in protein, and did not contain enough whole grains.
Once again, I trusted the expert and began including more whole grains in my diet. I ate steel cut oats for breakfast, had whole wheat pasta at lunch, and brown rice with dinner. I ate more fruit, less chocolate, and virtually cutout the wine. The weight gain wouldn’t stop. The more I followed my nutritionist’s advice, the more weight I gained. At my next visit with her, she told me I must be doing something wrong, not recording my food intake accurately, over estimating my exercise, or omitting late night snacks from my calorie count. When I told her I wasn’t comfortable with all the carbohydrates she had me eating, that they made me feel run down she said that was because I really wasn’t eating whole grains, I must be eating foods made with enriched flour. That was too much. Here I had invited this woman into my home to help me identify the source of my weight gain, and there she sat across the table accusing me of lying! I had trusted an expert and again I had been burned. All I got was ten more unwanted pounds.
We hit the twelve month mark. Twelve months of trying to conceive made it official; we were dealing with infertility. I felt broken, like something was wrong with my body. This was truly the first time in my life I had not been able to achieve a goal. I had no answers to why we couldn’t get pregnant, why I was still gaining weight, and why my pain kept getting worse. I had always taken care of myself, followed doctors’ orders, I had always eaten good food, why was this happening to me? My husband and I couldn’t do this without some help, so like it or not, it was back to the ObGyn.
After extensive panels of tests, they pronounced that I was normal and found one slight abnormality with my husband’s sperm. The doctors wouldn’t say that it was definitely the cause of our infertility, but there was a strong possibility that was it. We were told that IUI, intrauterine insemination, would help us bypass this difficulty, and that the procedure was most often effective within three cycles. We were given a quick overview of the procedure: I would take a drug to help me ovulate, undergo an ultrasound, then get a hormone injection of a drug called HCG, and a few days after the injection we would collect my husband’s sperm and perform the insemination. In our desperation to become parents, we decided to go through with the procedure.
I was told that mood swings could be a side effect of the ovulation drugs; that was quite an understatement. In fairness, ovulation drugs don’t affect most women the way they affected me, many women go on to conceive successfully without any side effects. In my case, the fertility drugs took over my body. One Saturday afternoon, while tidying up our bedroom, I noticed that my husband had left his socks on the floor. In my head I thought, “I should tell Frank to pick up his socks.” However, something different came out of my mouth. The next thing I knew I was screaming, “ Damn it Frank! Why the heck are you always leaving your things around the house! Why can’t you ever pick up your socks!” I was completely shocked by what came out of my mouth. I’m usually not the type to get angry over socks on the floor, especially since there is usually a pair of mine lying around somewhere. But in that moment I was angry in a way that I have never before been angry with my husband, and my normal voice disappeared and was replaced by that of a screaming banshee. I should have taken that as a sign that fertility treatments weren’t going to work for me, but I thought they were my only alternative and I was willing to put with to conceive a child.
The first round of treatments didn’t work, and round two was no better. My doctor’s answer to the first failed cycle was an increased dose of the drugs which made me unbelievably ill in the first cycle. I had acne from my chin to my forehead, I was nauseous, and in pain. Once again I called the doctor’s office and was told that people sometimes have bad reactions to the treatment. I can tolerate a lot and was willing to put up with all the negative side effects if it meant conceiving a child. When it was time for the ultrasound, the doctor said he thought we had a good chance of conceiving. Unfortunately, despite our good chances we still were not successful. The doctor suggested that we try again.
Half way through round three I reached my breaking point. I had taken the pills which the doctor prescribed but they didn’t have the desired effect, so the doctor prescribed even more of the fertility drugs. Taking the extra dose in my 3rd cycle of fertility treatments meant that I was taking four times the dose which was initially prescribed for me in the first cycle. I felt terrible, I was irritable, tired, cranky, bloated, puffy, and sore everywhere. The thought of taking the last injection and completing the cycle made me even more ill. Each time I had taken the injection I got unbelievably ill, I experienced hot flashes, moodiness, cravings, and unbelievable pain; all of this was on top of the irritability and moodiness from the pills. As much as I wanted to be pregnant and become a mother I knew in my heart that making myself ill wasn’t the way to make it happen.
Life was great, my husband and I had been married for 6 years, and were living in a home of our own which was ideal for raising a family. We both had good jobs; we recently refinanced, which gave us a little bit more cash every month. We always knew that we wanted children, but felt that it was important to have certain things in place before we started trying. Since I was working full time and had only 12 months of graduate school left, we decided it was finally time for us to try for a baby. After meeting with my OBGYN, I was told that I could stop taking birth control at any time and should conceive within 12 months. Perfect! If all went well, we’d be pregnant by the time I graduated.
Although I was in good health I decided it was time to step it up and begin a regular exercise program and began working out on a circuit 3x per week. I was 29, weighed about 145lbs, and at five foot seven, I was very happy with my body. After a few months of trying we weren’t surprised when we hadn’t conceived, but there were a few things that didn’t seem right. First, I was gaining weight like crazy! The only changes I had made to my diet were positive ones: more vegetables, less processed foods, etc. Second my body was not following the normal 28 day pattern. This wasn’t new for me, as I had experienced this in my teens, but it was something I needed to discuss with my doctor.
After 6 months of trying to conceive and a weight gain of ten pounds, my ObGyn told me not to worry, not to get impatient, and that pregnancy is something that takes time to achieve. He dismissed my weight gain as both bloating and “ just something that happens when women turn 30”. He instructed me in basal body temperatures, a means for tracking ovulation by taking your temperature first thing every morning, and sent me on my way, saying that both my weight gain and irregular cycle patterns were “normal”.
Two months of charting using basal body temperatures and it was easy to see that my body was not following the normal basal pattern. I also began to have significant back pain which increased as I got further into my cycle each month, my cycles were increasing in length and my bleeding was getting heavier with each cycle. Again, I contacted my ObGyn and spoke with a nurse who suggested that the weight gain might be a sign of PCOS/PCOD, and that I should wait until an upcoming appointment in two months to confirm diagnosis. I absolutely could not wait two months. The intense pain which worsened with every cycle made it impossible to do my job well. I hung up the phone, called my insurance company, and found another ObGyn who agreed to see me within the week.
Dr. P, my new ObGyn, was a bit more thorough than the first. She listened to me and recognized that my symptoms weren’t normal. She gave me medication for the pain and heavy bleeding; which was a huge plus, as it allowed me to continue working. She also insisted that I was clinically depressed and that depression was the reason I was having trouble both sleeping at night and waking in the morning. I don’t know how many women have stared a doctor in the eye and been told that they are not “right” when they have a medical problem, but I can tell you that the insinuation that my pain was not physical, but mental made me feel more helpless than I had ever felt in my life. If I were clinically depressed how could it be possible for me to function working full time, taking 2 graduate courses, maintaining my home while caring for my husband and animals? There was no way I was accepting that diagnosis. I left the office and managed to hold it together while I filled my prescription, then proceeded to burst into tears while I drove home.
As a result of my parents’ divorce early in my childhood, I had been through enough counseling to know when I needed help and my gut told me this just was not one of those times. Within hours of taking the naproxen which Dr. P prescribed, my pain went away. I was able to sleep at night and wake in the morning, even my students noticed how much better I was. Eventually my script ran out and I had to get to the bottom of my pain- the bleeding I could deal with-but the pain was keeping me from functioning.
By this time I was done with ObGyns. I decided to start from the beginning at a walk-in clinic where no one knew me and I might have a chance at objectivity. The Dr. at the walk in agreed that my pain was not normal and decided to take X-rays. The X-rays identified arthritis as the cause of my pain. While it is unusual to have arthritis at 30, I have scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, so it’s not unusual for arthritis to form around a curve like mine. I got more pain meds, and a script for Physical Therapy. After two months of PT the pain didn’t go away, but it was manageable. I was still exercising, still gaining weight and still not pregnant.