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Food Allergies & Our Ability to Conceive Part II

Allergies word cloud

Three months after my food allergies were identified; I learned to live a life free of: apples, almonds, bananas, corn, all dairy including butter, all grains except rice, potatoes and soy.   Although I had made these changes, I didn’t learn about them in time for it to make a difference in my pregnancy. There I was, back in the office of Dr. M, my Naturopath, the doctor who had helped me identify my food allergies and MTHFR genetic mutations, copies A&C.

Though I was no longer pregnant, I was more determined than ever to get healthy enough to conceive again. In fact, the thought of having a baby to hold was what got me through most days.

I won’t say that I was excited about getting my results. I spent most days surrounded in a cloud of grief, my body still bleeding as my levels of HCG, the pregnancy hormone, declined.

At the follow up appointment, I was ready for the results of all my hard work.   Dr. M asked if I stuck to my diet. I replied I had, with the occasional unknown exception. I was bracing myself for bad news. I thought it hadn’t worked, I thought my efforts had left my values unchanged. I was surprised when Dr. M revealed the results.

proud-woman-in-red

“Your results certainly show you’ve been working hard. You’ve done as much in three months as some of my patients do in a year!”

I was so happy to hear something was working!

Although I was overwhelmed with grief from the loss of our child, this good news gave me hope that we might be able to conceive again one day.

It was two and a half months after our loss; and yet, my HCG levels had not yet hit zero; and so we were not allowed to try to conceive. Dr. C, my NaProTechnology doctor, suggested we wait three months after my levels hit zero to avoid having sequential miscarriages. The idea of going through another loss was something I couldn’t even handle thinking about! After a D&C we waited three months before we even considered trying.

couple grieving

Those three months were a time of healing for us. We cried a lot. Sometimes we walked around as empty shells that just went through the motions of everyday life. We didn’t feel much other than pain. We did the best we could to put one foot in front of the other. Thank God, we had each other! I can honestly say I would not have made it through this time without the support of my amazing husband, Frank.

Just as we were getting ready to try again, I received a letter from Dr. C, my NaProTechnology doctor, telling me he was closing his practice to help other doctors learn to treat patients with the respect and kindness for which he is famous.

I was devastated, again! There I was, about to get back on the TTC roller coaster, and my doctor was getting out of the NaProTechnology business!!! It was one of those moments that made me question my journey in life and whether I was following God’s plan for me or walking the path of my own desires and wants. I quickly reminded myself that while I am strong willed; I am not patient. The only reason I could have ever stuck on the TTC roller coaster after IUI, surgery for endometriosis, and a miscarriage would be because God was with me, giving me the strength to take each step down this path. I reminded myself of something I said to my dear friend, Jordan, a few weeks before she conceived her miracle baby: “God wouldn’t have gotten us this far, only to leave us here.” I wasn’t going to quit.

Still, I had a problem. I needed a new doctor. Thankfully, Dr. C had included a list of possible new NaProTechnology doctors in his farewell letter. I made an appointment for August and called Dr. C to request lab work. He authorized estradiol and progesterone levels to be drawn on peak plus 7, what we NaPro patients call 7 days after ovulation.

Analysis of blood in the hands of a medical

Analysis of blood in the hands of a medical

If you’re uncertain as to why my doctor ordered estradiol and progesterone levels, the short explanation is that based on those levels NaProTechnology doctors prescribe doses of ovulation assisting medications such as letrozole, to help compensate for any ovarian dysfunction. I was unable to conceive without this medication the first time, so I was fairly certain I would need to take the medication again.

The results of the estradiol and progesterone tests were very surprising. While I was previously unable to conceive without the assistance of medication, the initial peak plus seven blood draw showed that I wasn’t having this difficulty eight months after miscarriage. My post peak estradiol was 249 and my progesterone was 28.4. I was stunned. The test results showed my levels were above normal, they had reached the optimum range for conception. Other than my vitamins, I was taking no medications.

To put this in perspective, to conceive, the post peak level of estradiol should be above 120 and progesterone should be above 15. I had gone from sub-fertile to fertile!

My husband, Frank, and I were over joyed. It appeared that it would only be a matter of time before we conceived! We followed doctor’s orders, taking the vitamins, and mucus enhancers to compensate for the damage done to my cervix by years of birth control.

Month after month my peak plus seven blood draws continued to be in the optimum range. And yet we had not conceived. At my first appointment with my new NaProTechnology physician, Dr. R flat out asked why I was there with numbers like those.

Miscarriage & Insensitivity

I am continuously surprised by the insensitivity of others. If there is nothing nice to say, the least someone can do is say nothing at all. Not in our family however. We kept the news about our pregnancy discrete deliberately because we didn’t want to have to deal with everyone knowing our sorrow and holding it up to our faces when we’d rather grieve in private.

couple grieving

This is something that is not uncommon. Many couples don’t disclose their pregnancy until they are in their second trimester because of the very same reason. Our culture doesn’t have a place or even a word for a parent who has lost a child, so grieving in private is how we cope.

About a month and a half after our miscarriage, I was on the phone with one of the few people who knew of our pregnancy and loss. We had made it clear how important it was not to disclose the news until we heard the heartbeat, and when we didn’t we thanked everyone for not sharing our news as we did not want this to be broadcast to the rest of the world. So, when she told me that she disclosed our miscarriage to a distant relative whom I haven’t seen in a decade, I was more than hurt.

woman crying on the phone

I couldn’t help but interrupt her at that point. How could she share our private business with the world as if it were her own?

I lost it. I raise my voice and expressed my displeasure at her choice to share my personal information without my permission. Her response was stunning, “it’s over now” Over? Over? I was still bleeding at the time of this conversation. I hadn’t had my D&C and I was pretty raw.

I couldn’t believe she thought it was over. For me it wasn’t over, it isn’t over. I’m still mourning the loss of my child, feeling raw inside and out. As shocking as it was to hear that she thought it was over, the next few minutes of our conversation took her coldness and cruelty to a new level.

oh no you didn't

Grieving mother: “How could you share my private business with her? I asked you not to share this with anyone!”

Insensitive individual : “So I can’t tell anyone then. Will I be allowed to tell people when you’ve had a child?”

Grieving mother: “Seriously? This is not about you! You do not get to make this about you! This is my personal health and well-being, this is not your business to share!  Never mind the fact that you have no respect for me and the process I’m going through”

The conversation ended shortly after that. It has been almost two months since then. I have not spoken to this person once since. And if you’ve been following my blog, this is the same person who was cold enough to mention nothing but babies the day Prince William & Princess Kate’s baby was born, and the same person who ditched me in the middle of a crisis.

Family or not, I’ve had enough. This person needs to find someone else to bother. I haven’t heard from her in more than two months and I don’t feel the need to involve her in my life. ON the one hand I should have made that decision long ago. On the other hand, having waited this long, I feel no guilt, no remorse. Instead life is better without her and her negativity.

Miscarriage, Honnoring the Child We Lost-Part III

Here I am, a month after hearing the news that our baby had passed away.  There is no way to describe what has transpired, except to say it has been an unpredictable rollercoaster filled with ups, downs, and moments that I do not care to ever repeat again.  This is without a doubt the hardest most draining experience of my life.  In addition to the physical experience that is still occurring inside my body, there’s the loss of our child, the loss of the joy we had experienced, the loss of all we had hoped for this child, and the loss of all we had dreamed for us as a family.  We always knew that there was a risk that we’d lose the baby; but with Christmas coming right around our six week mark, we decided that would be the time we’d share the news with our immediate family.  This is the story of the most joyous Christmas I have ever had; thank you for allowing me to share this beautiful memory with you.  Love, Catherine

After learning we were pregnant, there was nothing in the world that could compare with the joy we felt!  Not only had my leave of absence been successful, but we’d be able to tell our families that we were expecting on Christmas, what could possibly be better than that?

We wanted everything to be so special for our families.  If they could only feel 10% of the joy we felt then it would surely be the most spectacular gift we could ever give them.  This would be the first grandchild for my in-laws, and my mom.  My dad has other grandchildren, but he’s a sucker for kids, so it’d be pretty special for him as well.  We decided that we’d surprise everyone and tell them on Christmas by presenting them with special gifts.

snow flake ornament

I spent almost two weeks pouring and painting plaster ornaments in the shape of snowflakes.  I painted them pink and blue and added some glitter for a great “pop” of sparkle.  On the back I wrote, “Miracles happen at Christmas, and 8 months after.  Awaiting baby Sterling, August 2014”.   I also put together a paper magnet with a poetic pregnancy announcement that read:

Good things to come as we await

Baby Sterling’s arrival date

Two little hands and two little feet, one sweet baby we are waiting to meet

With hearts full of love and heads full of dreams,

We patiently await August 2014.

 

Our families were beyond thrilled when we shared the news.  To say that jaws hit the floor would be an understatement.  There were tears of joy, screams of surprise, and so many hugs.  We knew how special this would be, and  made sure to arrive long before the other guests.   We made sure they understood how early in the pregnancy this was and despite wanting to share their joy with everyone on Christmas, they agreed to keep our secret.  As excited as we all were, we knew that there existed the possibility of losing the baby, and that if it happened it was something we would not want to discuss repeatedly with the extended family.

christmas presents

 

Everyone wanted to know when they could share the news, with all that we had been through we wouldn’t be waiting until the 3 month mark.   We did ask that they wait until January 6th,  the day of our first ultrasound; when we expected to hear our baby’s heartbeat and see our very first baby picture.

 

It was our best Christmas ever!  We had given our families a gift like they had never received before!  I had one of the ornaments on our tree and a magnet on our fridge, and was filled with hope and expectation each time I laid eyes on them.  Just watching the HCG levels climb week by week, watching my body change, and feel the ever growing pressure in my belly was truly amazing.  We waited with anticipation and excitement to share our news with the world!

 

We dreamed of how we’d tell our extended family and how excited they’d be for us.  We dreamed of next Christmas, when we’d have a 3 month old baby.  There was no limit to what we dreamed for the future of our baby and our family.  Of course, we prayed daily for our baby’s health.  Since I was on leave of absence at the time, I prayed hourly for our child.  Every time I felt pressure, or got unusually tired, I’d pray that these were good signs that our baby was growing and developing properly.

couple in car

On January 6th, we made the long drive up to Dr C’s office.  My husband, Frank, is known for his work ethic: for him, taking time off work is no small deed.  Despite his commitment to his job, there was no way he’d miss the ultrasound.  Together, we checked in to the radiology department at the hospital and were so excited to see the first picture of our baby, hear the heartbeat, and make that first guess as to whether our baby would be a boy or a girl.  We didn’t want to get our hopes up, but we couldn’t help it!

 

When it was finally our turn to have the ultrasound, the technician led us into room where the procedure would take place.  I undressed from the waist down and got ready for the procedure.  Having had transvaginal ultrasounds before, I was familiar with the routine.

woman having an ultrasound

The probe went in. The technician took measurements of the uterus, ovaries, and everything.  When we asked if we could see pictures, the technician told us that she “couldn’t say anything.”  When we asked about the heartbeat, her response was the same.

We were worried about an ectopic, or some other complication.  We remembered that Dr. C, my NaProTechnology doctor,  requested that she print out her notes so that he could interpret the results of the ultrasound at our appointment which followed the ultrasound.

 

While we waited to meet with Dr. C, we poured over those notes trying to find some meaning in them which we could understand.  Neither of us have any medical background, but we were able to decipher that it was not an ectopic pregnancy.

Male doctor talking to couple in waiting room

We waited patiently to meet with Dr. C.  Thankfully, he read the technician’s notes and contacted her at the hospital before he met with us.  When he sat with us he explained that the baby was smaller than expected.  Instead of being the size that a baby is expected to be at 8 weeks, it was the size that a healthy baby was expected to be at 6 weeks, 6 days.   Everything else was fine.  By his understanding, all that had happened was that we had miss-dated the time of conception and so our due date would be a little later.  The baby was in the right spot and everything else looked normal.  We made an appointment for another ultrasound two weeks after that, when the baby would be developed enough to hear a heartbeat and we would get our first baby picture!

8 week ultrasound expect image

We were thankful that the baby was okay.  Although we were disappointed that we didn’t get to hear the heartbeat, we didn’t get bad news.  As far as anyone knew the baby was just conceived later than expected.  My family is known for a propensity towards tardiness, so on the ride home we joked that this was an indication that our baby was taking after my side of the family.

Our parents were on pins and needles over the news when we shared it with them at Christmas.  They had barely been able to hold their tongues over Christmas and New Year’s.  That night we made calls and notified them that they’d have to wait another two weeks before sharing the news.  They were surprised to hear this, but like us they took it as a sign that things were developing normally.  They said they’d continue to keep us and our baby in their prayers and that they wanted to be informed the moment we knew what the heartbeat was!

Miscarriage–Honoring the Child We Lost, Part I…

At the moment, I’m in the middle of a miscarriage.  This is quite honestly the most heartbreaking time of my life.  There’s nothing anyone can do.  Our baby had already passed away when we went for our ultrasound.  At the moment I’m experiencing cramping, and spotting.  It gets worse by the day, which in this case is a good thing.  As much as my heart aches for the loss of this child, I dread hearing a doctor say that it won’t happen naturally and I have to undergo a D&C.  As I grieve the loss of our child, I’d like to share some beautiful memories  of my brief pregnancy with you.  Thank you for sharing this experience with me.

Love, Catherine

The day we learned we were pregnant…

It was a Wednesday, the dreaded and blessed peak plus 17, the day that we NaPro ladies wait for.  It had been 17 days since my identified peak day and despite a few hours of what could have been implantation bleeding, followed by days of very light brown spotting, I had not experienced a period.  My husband, Frank woke me at 5AM, the time he usually wakes for work.  He was aware of what day it was and wanted to be there when I took the test.  I tested without expectation.  We’d gotten countless negatives in the past and even once good old AF decided to show up mid test taking.  I tested and I waited.  When I saw that faint blue line make the plus sign on the test I was in heaven.  We had done we had successfully conceived, we were going to be parents!

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I ran into our bedroom and said, “Congratulations Daddy, it’s positive!”  We were so happy!  NaProTechnology had worked!  My body was healthy enough to conceive naturally.  God had answered our prayers and blessed us with a child! I was aware the test would fade at some point, and I wanted to preserve that moment forever, so I snapped a quick pic before I tossed it.

 

Next, I needed to call Dr. Carpentier, but since it was 5:30 in the morning, I thought best to call once his office opened.  I couldn’t go back to sleep, I was so excited.  I stayed awake in a state of bliss until about 7:00 when I drifted off.  I woke again at about 9:00 thinking it was a good time to call Dr. C.  As I got up and dragged myself out of bed, the phone rang; it was Dr. C calling with the results of my peak plus 7 blood work.

mobile phone

 

I was amazed that he called me at the very moment I intended to call him.  He had just received the results of my peak plus seven blood work, in his words: “Like 12 seconds ago”.  I wanted to hear the results, but I couldn’t hold my joy any longer.  I blurted out:  “I’m so glad you called.  I was just getting ready to call you because it’s peak plus seventeen, I tested this morning and I’m pregnant!”  He responded “YOU GO GIRL! Can you get to my office today?  We’ve got a lot to talk about!”

 

Even though it was a Wednesday and his office closed at noon, he was willing to wait till I arrived.  I got dressed, fed the furbabies, packed up my chart, prenatal vitamins, and hit the highway to make the 90 minute drive up to his office.  This was really happening!  My leave of absence had paid off!  I was pregnant and blessed to have an amazing doctor who would do everything he could to support our pregnancy from the moment we got a positive test until delivery.

 

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!

First grain free holiday

Since I was diagnosed with grain intolerance in October of 2012, Thanksgiving was my first holiday without grains.  The Girl Scout in me said that preparation would make the difference between a successful grain free holiday and starvation.  My mother hosts the holiday every year and had no intention of changing her menu.  This was totally understandable, none of us knew a single grain free recipe and I was still making bread with gluten free flour that contained sorghum, a little known grain.  Yeah, I had a lot to learn!

confused cook

I tried my best to bring food that I could eat.  I brought the bread that I had been making, a stuffing I had made from the bread, I brought my usual potato skin casserole, and some grain free chocolate chip cookies (I later learned that mix contained sorghum as well).   Because the flour I was using at the time contained garbanzo bean flour, the bread, cookies, and stuffing all tasted way to much like beans.  I’ve put a lot of time into perfecting my bread recipe since then and I have to say, it doesn’t taste at all like beans anymore.  It tastes like a homemade sweet bread made from white flour!

IMG_0297 - Copy

As we ate, I got lots of questions.  Why wasn’t I eating the appetizers?  Weren’t the stuffed mushrooms delicious?  To each of these I explained that I’m unable to eat grains due to an allergy.   The question was always followed by a gasp and then this question, “You can’t eat grains, does that mean you’re gluten free?”  I tried to be polite and explain that gluten is the protein found in wheat.  I am gluten free but not just gluten free, I have an allergy or sensitivity to the proteins in all grains including rice, oats, corn, barley, quinoa, etc.  This was followed by the question, “You can’t eat wheat, you can’t eat rice, what can you eat?”  I gave my standard response: “meat, fruit, vegetables, chocolate, and wine.”

It wasn’t the greatest holiday for me.  I kind of felt like a freak, between not being able to eat all the foods that I had been accustomed to eating and the ridiculous questions that folks were asking about my diet, and the unbearable pain from the endometriosis, I just wanted to hide!  Needless to say, I drank a lot and made my way through the holiday as best I could.

Needless to say, this Thanksgiving is going to be a lot different than last year’s.  No, my host isn’t being any more accommodating-that’s a topic for another blog post.  The difference is that I’ve done my research and created recipes that are grain free but don’t taste different from grain based recipes.   I’ve learned to cook many more grain free recipes over the past year.  This year our menu will feature Italian Peasant Soup, potato skin casserole, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, roasted candied carrots, creamed spinach, homemade cranberry sauce, chocolate chip bars, and bread pudding

Having an it’s not fair moment

A few weekends ago, I had one of those moments that just makes you scream: IT’S NOT FAIR!burger I’m normally pretty good at staying off the pity pot, but I just couldn’t avoid it.  There we were in the middle of a restaurant staring at the delicious items on their menu and all I could think about was that I could hardly eat any of them!  Nachos, corn chowder, mozzarella sticks, salad dressing loaded with corn syrup, breaded chicken, burgers made with bread crumbs.  It was enough to take the joy out of the evening.

Normally, when we go out, I go with a game plan.  I snack a bit before we leave that way I’m not starving, so if the restaurant doesn’t serve any grain free appetizers, I’ll be okay.  Sometimes I’m really organized and I bring my own bread so I can feel a bit more normal.   I skipped step one before we went out and by the time we were seated, I was ravenous.  Facing a dry salad, I opted not to have an appetizer.  This seemed like a good choice until my husband’s nachos came.   It’s not as if nachos were a favorite of mine before I went grain free, they were more of a take’em or leave’em kind of food.  But for some reason watching someone else enjoy foods that are forbidden just did me in.

steakSo you’d think that a juicy sirloin steak would have gotten me out of this funk no way.  When it’s a treat it’s delicious, when it’s your only option on the menu, it’s not so special.  After months of steaks being my only option all I could think of was a deliciously creamy bisque with white flour to make it so thick it coats the back of the spoon.   I wanted French fries deep fried in soy bean oil, or mozzarella sticks, or pie, anything but the grain free diet.

After we left the restaurant, my case of the “it’s not fairs” quickly subsided as quickly as it had come on.  Why don’t restaurants have menus that are more a la carte or at least considerate to dietary needs?  I know, I’m asking too much.   Every once in a while these things just get to me