Archive | December 2013

Chronicles of a Stress Ridden Infertile Part 2

The back story…

It’s been determined that the major source of stress in my life is my job and that it is keeping us from conceiving.  Not okay! Time to make a change.  I’m officially on a two month leave of absence from work. Unofficially I’m looking for a job.  I don’t want to be out of work for two months, but I need a few weeks to regain my health.

What could be so bad you ask?  I’ve gotten this question a lot.  Okay, folks haven’t asked it directly, they’ve said things like, “Everyone is over worked these days!” or “Tell me about it!” and then glared at me like how dare I say such a thing!  How hard could it be?

Let me say first and foremost, I’m not comparing myself to anyone else.  The only thing I’m comparing my workload to is what is in my contract.  My contract binds me to a workday that is seven hours and fifteen minutes.

Typically, teachers work way more than that, no complaints there, it’s part of the job.  When I could work ten hours a day or an average of fifty to fifty five hours per week and feel like I did a good job and accomplished all that was set before me, I was happy.  Things have changed!

This year, in order to accomplish the tasks that were set before me, I spent 10 hours per day at work. Not much of a change there.  After going home and cooking dinner, I’d sit on the couch for another two hours grading or reviewing various essential documents such as individual education plans, or 504 plans which accommodate general education students with handicapping conditions like ADHD. This really isn’t a choice; I am bound by law to accommodate those plans in my instruction, planning, and assessment.  Since these things are not optional and we weren’t given time to do them during our work day, after school, on my own time it had to be.

Again, it wouldn’t be bad if I were able to accomplish all the tasks set before me, however, I never finished! Despite all the work I was doing, I was constantly behind, new tasks were constantly being thrown at me.  Whether it was a new grading program which was implemented with no training, data team meetings every week- for which I had to make sub plans, or the loss of our team time while still having to complete tasks that were previously designated to be accomplished during that time.

too much work

My body started to show signs of extreme stress.  How bad could that be? By itself each sign is no big deal, but ask my husband what it is like to live with a woman who was dealing with everything in the list below, and he’ll tell you it’s not a whole lot of fun!

  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping, including inability to fall asleep and wake well rested
  • A really cool twitch in my left eye
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Feeling exhausted all the time
  • Perpetual hunger from my stomach producing extra acid in response to circumstances
  • Mid cycle bleeding
  • Delayed ovulation
  • Low hormone levels

 

In short, the effects of stress negated all of the treatment I was receiving from my NaProTechnology doctor!  Not to mention that I virtually had no life outside of work!  We used to entertain friends on the weekends, or I’d spend hours in my craft room, or I’d decorate the house for the particular season we were in.  Not this year, I had time for none of it.

dinner with friends

Then, it hit, the event that held the mirror up to my face and made me see how ugly this had all gotten.  A dear friend of mine lost everything in a fire.  Thank God she wasn’t home at the time, but she and her husband lost all of their possessions, as well as their beloved fur babies.

When I heard about her devastation, I immediately wanted to do anything I could to help;  not that I could restore what she had lost, but I wanted to do something to show her I cared and that she was not alone.  I spent a Saturday afternoon cooking her food and bringing it to her, it was one small gesture that I know she and her husband appreciated.  The following week we had her over for dinner, again these are small gestures that say you’re not alone.  They’re things that I know she would do for me and which made me feel that in some way I was helping her heal from the trauma.

The back lash from these small gestures was monumental.  I spent all day on Sunday doing school work to make up for what I hadn’t done on Saturday.  And during the week that she came over for dinner, I fell way behind at work.  Obviously my job had taken over my life, but there wasn’t any way I could cut back.  There just isn’t such a thing as a part time teacher in our district, nor is there any way I could spend less time on my work and still make sure that all of my students’ needs were met.

Progesterone the Misunderstood Hormone…

Whether you have been diagnosed with infertility, you’re trying to conceive, or you just happen to be a woman; knowing what progesterone is and how it affects your body is an absolute must.  If you’re like me, you sat through years of health class looking at the diagram of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, hearing the same thing year after year, and not learning much. female reproductive diagram

Let’s start with the basics, the stuff they should have told us when we first menstruated, oh so long ago.  During the first half of a woman’s cycle, the estradiol levels rise, the cervix produces cervical mucus which will allows the sperm to travel into the uterus and make their way to the ovaries, where they’ll fertilize the egg- if the ovulation is strong enough.

As estradiol levels rise, a follicle in one of the two ovaries matures.  Ovulation usually occurs within one or two days before or after estradiol levels reach their highest levels of the cycle. At the same time the estradiol levels are rising, the cervix is making mucus.  In the realm of NaProTechnology, the last day of the cycle in which a woman observes mucus is known as peak day.   Peak day typically occurs two days before or after ovulation.   Ideally, estradiol levels should be between 300 and 400 to have an “effective” cycle.

After peak day, your estradiol levels drop, not gradually, sharply.  Estradiol has had its turn, the post peak phase is where progesterone comes into play.  Once your estradiol levels drop and you ovulate, that egg will hang around anywhere between 12-24 hours if you’re lucky.  It could actually be much less.  It’s different for every woman and it’s often different for every cycle.

corpus luteum

That follicle that matured and produced your egg is now known as the corpus luteum, it is responsible for producing the progesterone your body needs.  Your progesterone levels generally reach their highest levels about seven days after your peak day.  If you are trying to conceive, your doctor may draw your “day 21” progesterone levels.  These can be misleading; if you’re not sure when your peak day is, the levels could be off by a few days.  NaProTechnology doctors rely on a peak plus 7 blood draw to assess a women’s progesterone levels, this is much more accurate for most women.

blood_tube

To conceive, your progesterone levels should be above 15, in a medicated cycle.  However, progesterone levels vary from cycle to cycle.  I’ve had cycles where my progesterone was 28 and others where it was 9!

If your body is not producing enough progesterone then pregnancy is virtually out of the question.  Not to mention that your body will continue to make estradiol in the absence of progesterone.  That means you’re at a higher risk for cancers.  During my laparoscopy / hysteroscopy / selective HSG, they actually found a large polyp which they attributed to estrogen levels going unchecked by progesterone.  The polyp was located right where a baby would have implanted.  Good thing we had it removed.  No wonder we were having trouble conceiving!

By the end of your cycle, if you haven’t conceived, your estradiol and progesterone levels will continue to drop and you’ll menstruate.

If your doctor determines that your progesterone levels are too low, you’re not out of luck.  Progesterone can be supplemented!

Once when talking with someone about supplementing hormones, I was asked “Isn’t that dangerous, isn’t that how other women have gotten cancer?”  The difference is in the details, in this case.  Like someone who has diabetes whose body cannot make enough insulin, a woman with low progesterone can supplement her progesterone levels to achieve optimum levels.  Because she is only restoring what nature intended to be there in the first place, there aren’t any risks of illness.  That’s the great thing about NaProTechnology, it only restores what should be there in the first place; it does not expose a woman to the risks that come when using Artificial Reproductive Technology.

NaPro pic

What is progesterone made of?

Progesterone is a hormone which is created by the corpus luteum, the remains of the follicle in which the egg matured.  Like many other hormones, your body makes progesterone from cholesterol.  Let me say that again, you need cholesterol in your diet to produce adequate amounts of progesterone. Yup, that stuff that you may have been avoiding is actually an essential nutrient for ovulation, and conception.

Cholesterol is found in dairy products made with whole milk, and other animal products containing fats such as butter, beef, salmon, etc.  This may explain why women who eat low fat dairy products have a higher incidence of infertility than those who consume dairy products made with whole milk.  Besides, it just tastes better!

cabot greek yogurt

I’ve correlated my diet with my peak plus seven blood draws and have noticed that when I consume Cabot Greek Yogurt with 10% fat, my progesterone levels are in the 20’s.  When I’m not on my Cabot Greek Yogurt kick, my levels aren’t so great.

If you are opposed to including the foods that contain cholesterol in your diet, you can also consume naturally occurring progesterone.  One food with the highest level of naturally occurring progesterone is the yam.  Yams are such a vital source of naturally occurring progesterone that many progesterone supplements are actually made from yams.

Are you surprised?  Stay tuned for more info about progesterone’s role in pregnancy…

Getting Started with a Grain Free Power Hour…

You may be participating in our grain free for a week challenge or you might just want to try a few new recipes.  Either way, a grain free cooking power hour or two, is a great way to get started and save yourself so much time throughout the week.

confused cook

I love my grain free cooking power hours.  I feel so accomplished when I’m done, and my week goes along much more smoothly because my menu is planned and half of my prep work for the week is done.  Oh, and the house smells fabulous, too!

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When I do a power hour(s), I work backwards, starting with the things that will take the longest.  In the case of this week’s menu, that’s the sweet potato casserole, so I’ll start by putting a large stockpot of water on the stove to boil. While the water’s boiling, I’ll load up my bread maker with the ingredients for making my grain free bread, I’d preheat the oven for the roast pork, and then start peeling some carrots.  After the carrots are peeled, halved, and then sliced into thirds, I’d set them aside.  If you have a double oven, then you could even pre-heat it and roast your carrots ahead of time.  If not, no worries, it only takes half an hour to roast carrots, they can go in the oven while you’re cooking the roast pork stroganoff on the stovetop later in the week.

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If you’re really looking to get a jump on your week, one of the easiest ways to cut down on meal prep time is to cook your ground beef/turkey ahead of time.  It takes a short while and by frying it all at once and either refrigerating it or freezing it until you need it, you’ve cut the meal prep time for cheeseburger pie, or creamy spinach bake in half!

Speaking of cheese burger pie and creamy spinach bake, many pre-shredded cheeses use corn starch to prevent caking. That’s a huge no no for me.  If I eat cheese with corn starch in it, I am guaranteed a stomach ache.  My cheddar cheese goes through my cheese grater without a problem.  If you’re using fresh mozzarella and it gums up in your cheese grater, you can slice it with an egg slicer.  Besides getting the junk out of your cheese, shredding your own cheese is beneficial.  It’s cheaper, keeps longer and tastes better this way!

The Grain Free Meal Challenge…

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So are you ready?  We’re going grain free for a week.  You can do this!  You’ve already got your grain free staples on hand, it’s time to get started!

 

This week’s meals:

Roast pork with sweet potato casserole and salad

Roast pork stroganoff with roasted carrots

Grain Free Cheeseburger Pie with steamed broccoli

Stuffed Turkey Cutlets Wrapped in Bacon  with salad and sweet potato casserole.

Creamy Spinach Bake with Ground Beef and Mushrooms

Grilled Tuna Melts with steamed veggies and salad

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I’ve chosen six meals, with the idea that you have at least enough leftovers for at least one whole meal.  Depending on your family size, this may vary.  When I cook for the two of us, I usually cook four large grain free meals each week, we have a left over night, with one of our meals being a quick fix like the Grilled Tuna Melts.  We’re realistic in our house!  At least one night each week we can’t really sit down to a full meal, so we make something quick that we can enjoy without guilt!

If you have grain lovers in your home, you might be surprised by how much they like the meals you make this week.  My husband Frank was reluctant to try my recipes at first, but now he’s game for almost anything I cook.  Once in a while, he’ll have a box of mac n’ cheese, but since he doesn’t have a grain allergy where’s the harm in that?

I recommend you start with a grain free cooking power hour or two.  It’s a simple way to get a good start to the week and get a good deal of your prep work done ahead of time.  You spend less time cooking in the long run and it takes much less time to prepare dinner every evening.  The power hour of cooking is especially helpful if you know that Monday or Tuesday will be a busy evening for your family, that way you cook and assemble your meal almost completely and just pop it in the oven when you’re ready.  If you are having a busy evening later in the week, you can always completely prep a meal and freeze it until you’re ready to take it out either the evening before or morning of that day.

I’m going to be cooking along with you all.  I’ve decided that I’ll freeze anything that we won’t eat and that will be added to my stockpile of quick fix meals since there really aren’t many grain free fast food options available.

Creamy Spinach Bake…Of course, it’s Grain Free!

This recipe goes in the comfort food category.  This concoction of ground beef, ground turkey, mozzarella cheese, milk, and spinach is a recipe that I’ve shared with my co-workers many times.  It’s quick and can be made ahead of time then popped into the oven to bake for 25 minutes when you need it.  Typically any food with a cheese sauce begins with a rue, and that means flour.  You can use either blend A or B of my grain free flour blend for this recipe.  Like the rest of the recipes that call for this flour, you can taste the individual ingredients when mixed with wet ingredients, but once cooked, you’d never know the recipe is grain free.

Ingredients:

1 lb sautéed ground beef or turkey (I usually use a 50/50 mix of each)

10 oz frozen spinach (defrosted)

1 10 oz package fresh mushrooms  or 2 cans mushrooms

½ medium onion

1T olive or coconut oil

3T butter

1 ½ T My Grain Free Flour Blend (A or B)

1cup milk

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a 10 inch skillet, sauté onions in oil.  When onions become translucent add ground beef, continue cooking until no longer pink.  If using fresh mushrooms add mushrooms to ground beef 5 min before removing from heat and cover to allow mushrooms to steam.  Remove ground beef mixture from heat.

Melt butter over low heat and stir in flour with a wooden spoon.  Gradually add milk ¼ cup at a time waiting for rue to thicken before adding more.  Once all of the milk is added, simmer rue slowly for five minutes.

In a large casserole combine meat, mushrooms, spinach, and sauce.  Mix until the sauce is distributed throughout the meat and spinach.  Top with mozzarella cheese.* Bake for 20-30 minutes or until cheese bubbles.

Enjoy with grain free bread, a fresh salad, or both!

Grain Free Thanksgiving 2013

Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit in.  Between the infertility and my grain free lifestyle, gatherings of any type can be summed up in one word: awkward!  This past Thanksgiving is a great example.  We went to my mother’s house for dinner.  It’s our annual holiday there and for reasons that can be addressed in another post, we don’t play “holiday hopscotch,” bouncing from one location to the next.

couple in car

I have an allergy to grains, so I made sure to review the menu with her before our arrival. Specifically, I cannot eat: wheat, rice, oats, corn, or any corn products such as corn syrup and corn syrup solids, barley, quinoa, wild rice, sorghum, teff, and all other grains.  Eating even small amounts of these foods causes me to become ill with a stomach ache that I can only equate to the cramps one gets with the flu.  The one exception to this is white flour.  If I accidentally ingest a small amount of white flour, I don’t get the full blown reaction.   White flour is highly refined and so dissimilar from whole grain wheat, I only get a bloated belly, gain a pound, and the stomach ache goes away within a day.

confused cook

Let me be clear, I know my dietary needs are difficult for the average host to manage, that’s why I take such care to review my allergies with them and ask what I can bring to help with the meal.  If I’m lucky, my host will understand or be somewhat sympathetic, he or she will laugh a bit when I explain that the five staples of my diet are: meat, fruit, vegetables, chocolate, and wine.  From there, we usually problem solve a bit and arrive at a menu which all can enjoy.  I ask that he or she make a vegetable that I can have, and usually I bring a bread, a salad, and or a dessert that is grain free but can be enjoyed by all.

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chcolate chip cookie bars

This was not how Thanksgiving went!  My mother was very offended when I asked to review the menu with her.  I explained that I was aware that she’d be making stuffing, but that over the past year or so I’ve found grains lurking in the strangest places and so I have to be aware of what I’m eating.  We figured I could eat the turkey but not the stuffing. I asked about the sweet potatoes she makes with a maple syrup glaze which used to be my favorite.   Her maple syrup had a corn syrup base and she wasn’t interested in using organic syrup in its place, instead she said she’d make me a baked sweet potato.  This is like watching your friends eat chocolate while you eat a chocolate flavored rice cake, it’s torture.  The rest of the meal was pretty much out as well, her cranberry sauce contained corn syrup, and once again, she wasn’t interested in purchasing or making an all-natural alternative.   We went over the appetizers; there wouldn’t be any of those that I could eat, and same with the desserts.  She wasn’t serving soup, and our conversation ended with her telling me, “I don’t know what you can eat besides the turkey and the canned vegetables, bring whatever you’d like, don’t bring too much because no one else will be interested in eating that stuff.”

question marks

Whether I’m cooking grain free or not, my food is always devoured by all.  Typically, I bring a potato skin casserole, a dessert, and maybe a soup if I’m feeling adventurous.  I’ve served grain free versions of these to grain lovers and received accolades, there’s no reason to assume that people wouldn’t enjoy them.  Rather, I think she was upset that I wouldn’t be eating her food.  Someday, I will be able to explain that my grain free diet is not a choice, but a must in my life; as for now, it doesn’t seem to be sinking in.

I decided that I’d bring the foods that I needed to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.  That meant: soup, roasted carrots, my usual potato skin casserole, homemade cranberry sauce, grain free chocolate chip bars, and grain free stuffing.  I found some grain free crackers on vitacost and brought those along with me as well so I could at least enjoy the cheese plate while others were feasting on stuffed mushrooms, and all other kinds of grain based goodness.

Thanksgiving table

So, after appetizers, it was straight to the meal. There were no courses; it was everyone grab everything you want and eat quickly so we can get this cleaned up.  I’m my mother’s only child, I’m the extra set of hands to follower her around and assist as needed.  In particular, I was in charge of setting up the buffet .  We squeezed all the food we could onto the sideboard table.  Of course, there wasn’t any room for my food, which was relegated to the kitchen, and remained in the mini slow cookers I had brought it in.  As everyone served themselves from the buffet, I went into the kitchen and helped myself to the grain free goodness which I prepared.  Low and behold, a line of guests followed me to enjoy the soup, cranberry sauce, and carrots that my mother said no one would want to eat.  I can’t blame the guests for not touching the stuffing, it’s not perfected yet, but it was something. On my way back to the table, I also stopped at the buffet table and took some turkey and some butternut squash, which I was assured was safe.

Mid-way through the meal, I felt uncomfortable. Could it have been because we sat down to eat everything at once and I’m not accustomed to eating so much food so quickly?

dishes

I continued to eat my meal, and helped with the cleanup.  When the meal had been cleared and packed away, it was time for dessert, and I still wasn’t feeling well.  I sipped coffee and nibbled at my grain free chocolate chip bars which the grain lovers raved over.  I still didn’t feel well, but I figured my emotions had kicked and the crumby feeling in my stomach had quite a bit to do with the crumby way I’d been treated that day.

Dinner ended.  We were thrilled to go home, our obligatory holiday at mom’s now crossed off the list for another year.  We took care of our fur babies and went off to bed.  In the middle of the night, I awoke with a terrible stomach ache, the one that lets me know I’ve inadvertently eaten corn.  I had the nasty stomach ache, the obnoxious gas that goes along with it, and of course the bloated abdomen that is often called a “grain baby”.  Somehow, despite being so careful with all that I ate and only eating my foods, turkey, a sweet potato, and butternut squash, I had ingested corn and my body was mad!

 

 

It was a rough night.  In the morning, the symptoms were in full swing.  Typically, when I ingest corn, no matter how much, my body experiences discomfort for about four days.   There’s nothing I can do about this.  I just have to drink plenty of water and let my body do what it does.  I did however call my mother and try to determine the source of the corn.  She made no apologies for the illness I was experiencing and was adamant that the foods I had eaten did not contain corn.  I had to disagree with her. I’ve made a fair amount of mistakes with my grain allergy, and I’m familiar with how my body reacts to wheat, rice, and corn, the grains which are most commonly included in foods that one would assume are grain free.

I thought perhaps she had put some maple syrup in the butternut squash, she hadn’t.  I asked if she had cooked the sweet potato in the same baking dish she used for the potatoes candied with maple syrup, she had not.  I was not giving up. I know how my body reacts to corn and this was a corn reaction.

wheat belly

While I was out mom called and left a message, saying that it must have been trace amounts of wheat from the stuffing in the turkey broth which I used to make my gravy.  No way, I only bloat and gain weight from wheat, I do not awaken in the middle of the night with pain.

corn II

I returned my mother’s call and explained that the wheat in the stuffing was a good thought; however, this was a corn reaction without a doubt.  She was adamant that she did not use corn or any corn products in the stuffing.  We reviewed the ingredients list and found the culprit.  She had used sweet Italian sausage in the stuffing.  She couldn’t say that it was all natural or organic, and every sweet sausage I’ve ever found that wasn’t all natural or organic has contained corn syrup solids or corn syrup.

sausage

Since it was a day after Thanksgiving she asked if I was “better” now.  I explained that it was going to be at least four days before anything close to better happened.  I’m not sure what we’re doing for Thanksgiving next year, but I know I wish that I had made her give me an ingredients list for everything she was making that day!  I could have avoided the pain, sleeplessness, and the four pounds I gained from the small amount of corn in the gravy and the turkey.