Friday, June 16, 2017

Growing

Part 1


March and April were pretty jam-packed with fun stuff—maybe too many distractions with my birthday, sailing lessons, another epic Ragnar with Team Endurance Planet, a wine tasting trip, and plenty of dolphin sightings from my SUP. Thinking about pregnancy truly became an afterthought.

Then it all started to chill out around late April, no more distractions, at which point I began feeling emotionally discontent, despite really trying to keep a positive mindset. It seemed like I was in a good place, but apparently not quite yet. I had no idea why I felt so shitty and was lacking my usual happiness and spunk. Not every day has to be all unicorn and rainbows, but this was dragging on. Unhappiness is usually a sign that change—in some way, shape or form—is needed and I was ready to see what else that meant for me.

I felt certain that trying to conceive (TTC) was not the source of these woes. I had truly changed my attitude toward baby-making (as discussed in previous posts here and here), and I knew I had come so far in letting go. Perhaps TTC was still related, probably was, but it was not the forefront; this felt like something else, something bigger than just that.

John and I both agreed it’d be a good idea for me to talk to a therapist. Hire a professional to help get it out of me—instead of continuing to keep whatever it was pent up inside. Right away I found someone and got started. One of the smartest things I’ve ever done for myself.

Another reason I decided to hit up therapy was after reading Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard’s memoir, In The Water They Can’t See You Cry. She also sought out therapy later in her career, and it seemed like things really fell into place for her thereafter. Her whole story really resonated with me, and while I’m not an Olympic-level athlete, it doesn’t matter, female athletes with intense minds like ours can cause havoc in our own lives. We just put ourselves through a lot of shit, often unnecessary, and as we get older we realize it doesn’t have to be so tough—and also how to seek help and not be so damn stubborn!

Therapy felt so relieving, just the mental housekeeping I needed—it's basically like having a coach except she's not also telling me how to train and eat, lol. I am and always have been a very thoughtful, deep person, and when I sat on that couch I just spewed it all out and we made some sense of it. My therapist did a great job of giving me the feedback I needed to hear. I have great people in my life with whom I can talk about anything, but having a therapist is just different. I’m a fan. 

It really doesn’t matter what the nitty gritty of my issues were, the fact is we all have our shit and sometimes we just need to talk to someone and find peace. I think I’ve done a pretty good job about addressing most my shit, and even opening up about it on a public platform, but apparently there was more work to be done, more deep digging. I ended up going to places I had yet to go. It was hard but so good for me.

In addition to adding therapy, I worked on a few more minor changes, things like...

I realized that in the past couple months I had been drinking more, probably at first as a way to rebel against not getting pregnant. I was basically having a nightly glass (or two) of wine and more on weekends, and for me that’s just too much to feel ideal. So I cut back on wine as soon as I recognized it. Leave it for the odd night and special occasion. Easy.

I also tweaked my free-time routine—mostly investing more time into my mental wellbeing. I started meditating a bit more, stream-of-consciousness writing and reading books on happiness. One book in particular hit home with so many wonderful messages, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams.

I also went back to the fitness & diet style I love best; not trying to manipulate things in hopes of getting pregnant. I allowed myself to workout more freely and not put restrictions on it—SUP, a bit more running miles and strength training. I even got my butt back into bikram yoga after feeling too lazy and frumpy to go in recent months. Second, I started lowering my carb and crap-food intake; I had started eating more liberally for fertility reasons but didn’t like how I was feeling from that. I just do better on a nutritionally and calorically dense lower carb diet—and I know my limits as to not let it screw with hormones, wellbeing, etc. There’s certainly always room for indulgences IMO, but eating mostly a clean nutrient-dense diet along with limited drinking seriously is what I prefer.

Next, I decided to move forward with taking a break from hosting Endurance Planet for a few months. I had been dabbling with this and kept going back and forth. It was not easy to come to this conclusion and quite frankly felt (feels) scary, but it's for good reason, it's just a break, and not forever. I actually already miss it a ton, so don’t worry if you’re a loyal EP listener, I’ll be back! Not to mention, I recorded extra shows in advance before the break, and Lucho will still be doing our ATC show, woot!

In the midst of all this, early May we had a wedding to be at a couple hours away and it’d be with many of my old high school buddies and lifelong friends. It ended up being a wonderful night away; John and I somehow hung with the group till after midnight (that literally never happens anymore). The timing was perfect—it really helped me hit the reset button and put things in perspective. I was relaxed and happy with old friends, and I felt a sense of relief, like I was getting back to a good place with everything I had going on not to mention a new and better understanding of myself.

Last but not least, after a few therapy appointments, of course pregnancy and babies had come up, and for whatever reason I decided I wanted to fully stop trying to get pregnant for now, and John was ok with that. I was literally thinking about telling him the next time we… ya know… that we needed to use protection again. 

So all that in a relatively short amount of time (we're talking weeks!) and, man, that was everything I needed! I was feeling a lot better and it all seemed to happen so fast.

Then one morning in mid/late May I woke up feeling odd for that time of month in my cycle. I should have started my period the day prior, and I shouldn’t have had the symptoms I did. We had plans with friends that night and wine would possibly be involved so just to be safe I took a test...

Two lines.

It was positive.

Holy f---!

I took another test because I didn’t believe it.

Positive again.

I'm pregnant.

I did some quick thinking on when we likely conceived—that wedding!

Getting pregnant was truly the last thing I expected to happen during all this. We were both in shock. Just like that, our lives changed forever.

Baby Gibson arrives January 2018.

Oh yea, and I still did that standup paddle board race I mentioned, at 6 weeks pregnant, but switched to the short course (5 miles) and battled nausea all the while. As for the post-race Napa trip? We went of course, but obvi NO wine for me haha.

* * * * * * *

Part 2


To be honest, I really debated whether to say something on my blog and social media at all about getting pregnant. After my first couple posts about not having success I connected with many amazing women who shared stories of their own struggles with TTC. Many had gone on to have babies. But many hadn’t yet—and I could feel and sympathize with their pain. Trust me, I know what it feels like to see the news that someone else you know got pregnant and you still aren’t—it’s tough. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be that person saying, “Hey, look at me, I got pregnant.” So I hope this post doesn’t come across as a brag or insensitive. I’ve always openly shared my journey—the highs and the lows—and this turn of events it simply another chapter. Plus, if Im being totally honest, finding out I was pregnant didn't quite come with the response you'd except. It was mixed emotions. Of course I’m thrilled—we're thrilled—but it’s been a mindf*ck to be on this rollercoaster.

I decided to share the news because I’m hoping that my story can provide some comfort to women out there who are wondering if they’ll ever get pregnant. Whether it’s a gal with amenorrhea wondering if she’ll ever get her hormones back on track and one day start a family, or a gal who’s been trying for months with no success. Obviously I can’t sit here and guarantee success for everyone and there are mysteries of infertility in which it seems no one has the answers. But you just never know. I am reading a book on natural childbirth right now (Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth) and one of the birth stories is by a German couple who said it took them 15 years to conceive—they never used birth control because it just never happened, and then one day it did.

My journey to conceiving was a long one, if you think about it. It actually started in 2013 when I decided to change my ways, scale back on training and stress, and get my period back after 10 years of amenorrhea (I got my period back in about 10-12 weeks after making the official commitment). Obviously I was in no rush to have kids then, but certainly having kids in the future was a huge motivator—and having a partner like John definitely made me realize I wanted to have a family with him. Years went by before it was time for us, then from that moment in Hawaii, October 2016, when we decided to start trying to the moment it happened, May 2017, it was an 8-month journey. Quite frankly, I'm a better person thanks to the many months it took.

To all you gals who have depleted hormones and absent periods like I did, have faith that you can get your body back to a womanly state in which having kids is totally possible if you desire that. There’s no reason to believe you’re doomed. My story is a victory for all of us!

That said, it’s not just about your hormonal state or your man’s sperm. Those things matter but they aren’t everything. I’m fully convinced that in our case hormonal or medical issues were not the reason it took so long. It was my mind—and this goes beyond the advice of, “Just relax,” which, for the record, is still the most annoying thing ever that you can say to a woman who’s trying (so don’t it). I had to reconnect with my happiness, find peace with certain things in my life and work on me. In months prior, I had tried acupuncture and so many pregnancy hacks, none of which worked. Then when I went to therapy, mostly for reasons other than TTC, right away I got pregnant. I know that’s not the answer for everyone, I totally get it, but crazily enough that’s what worked for me.

Getting pregnant is such a mystery. Then when you do become pregnant it seems like there are so many more mysteries that no one has clear answers to because we’re just all so different. What I’ve learned the most so far (I'm 8 weeks pregnant at the time of publishing) is that pregnancy and having a kid is all about letting go of control. When I let go, it didn't take long to get pregnant. Now that I’m pregnant I’m continuing to let go of things. For example, once I got pregnant, I started freaking out about a few things (miscarriage risk, those multiple glasses of wine I had before I knew, whether my baby will be healthy), and I was a bit of a mess for a few days. Thankfully it didn’t take too long for me to realize I had to let go or I’d go crazy—there’s absolutely nothing you can do except enjoy the process, minimize stress, and do your best to treat your mind and body well. Otherwise, this whole process is completely out of our control. As a control freak, that scared me, but already it’s allowed me to grow and mature at an incredible rate. For the first time in forever I’m 100% at peace with just letting things be as they’re going to be and not overthinking or worrying about things at all. Even right now as my nausea and fatigue are through the roof and my food cravings and aversions are completely psycho, I’m just living each moment and listening to my body. I’ll eat gf waffles instead of vegetables, I’ll take 2-hour naps, and it just is what it is.

I also plan to have a natural birth, and out of everything thus far I’m actually the least afraid of that despite all the things that could be freaking me out regarding natural births.

So, no matter where you’re at in your journey, I hope my story can help give you a glimpse of hope and please know I have your back.

Decided not to wait the tradition 12 weeks or so to share the news. Here's our nugget at about 8 weeks!

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Not Waiting For Life To Happen

Started my period today. It's that one day of the month that kinda sucks and I don't just mean the cramping. Although, I could have told you five days ago I wasn't pregnant and was going to start my period soon. I just know my body too well.

Is it crazy to say I'm cool with it? Yea of course I'm confused, I don't like not having answers, I don't like not getting results, blah blah, but I've let go. Literally not overthinking it nor trying to investigate it at this point. That shit was just making me a hot mess.

I made a shift in my attitude and approach to this baby-making stuff about 6-8 weeks ago (that long already?!) and I know for sure it was the best thing for me—and for John lol. We still tried (or should I say we weren't trying to prevent it) and in all actuality it's ok that I haven't become pregnant in that time, and it's even ok that the changes I made weren't "the trick" to conceiving. I'm happy with where we're at either way.

We're living life not waiting for life to happen.

I'm slowly going back to how it was before we started trying. We've decided to plan a couple trips this year, and with what's on tap coming up it's making me think that I'd rather hold off on getting pregnant until after. Seriously! That's allowed, right? Besides, we have Finley and he's enough of a kid right now.

~~~

First, I signed up for a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) race—yes RACE!—on June 3 in one of my favorite places ever: the Russian River in Sonoma County, Northern Calif. If you're wondering, yup, that would be the (old) Vineman swim course! This race will actually ends at Johnson's Beach where the Vineman swim start/finish was, and will start 8 miles up the river from there.

I've always wanted to stay in Guernville but never did (after all those years racing Vineman), and we finally get to! We found a cute house rental tucked in the forest (there are dozens out there from which to choose). After that we're heading over to Napa for a few days—just like we used to after racing Vineman. Ah memories. This is also serving as special getaway for our first anniversary, so we even splurged on a dinner res at French Laundry (OMG!). All in all, I suppose I'd rather be sipping wine for a few days than having to abstain. ;)

Then we're talking about potentially some more summer travel as well, but nothing official yet. When we plan and talk about these things, it makes me realize that I want to soak up more time with John and do things we haven't done together before we bring a human into the world. So maybe it's a good thing that I haven't gotten pregnant yet.

~~~

Ok, how about me signing up for a freakin race?! Um, yea! I've made it no secret that I've fallen in love with SUP more than ever this year, and am starting to feel pretty fit on the board. But I'm not "fit fit," and certainly nowhere near the old me as, nor would I want to be putting in that kind of effort into training these days, it's just does not appeal to me at all. But for SUP, I'm fit enough to get in some decent miles and feel strong on the board. I have a very reasonable goal of wanting to go sub-2 hours for the 8-mile race. To put that in perspective, right now when I SUP in the open ocean I'm doing 12:00 to 15:00 minute miles—and that can be anything from an aerobic/MAF effort to tempo effort depending on conditions. Anything sub-13 pace is basically a hard effort! I have no idea what girls who are actually good are doing but that's not what this is about. I could be dead last for all I care. My fitness and satisfaction with this is all internal and for me. Plus, this race I signed up for seems super mellow and nothing too serious, so we'll see. It was mostly the location that got me to sign up for it. I have done one SUP race before in 2015 and it KICKED MY ASS, so I have no idea what I'm getting myself into, and I love that.

Work-wise I've made some peace with things too. I also have plans to finally pursue some backburner projects that I've always wanted to do but haven't "had time" to pull the trigger and excuses follow. The way I see it these days, THE TIME IS NOW. And that goes for everything. Don't sit on something, some idea, some goal, and just hope it can happen someday. Make it happen. Live your life on your terms. Do cool shit.

~~~


We all go through lows in life, we all have shit going on, we all get curveballs thrown our way. Guess what: We have a choice. A choice over our attitude, our mindset, and a choice to make the most of even a shitty situation. 

And that fucking rocks. What a gift.

And hey, that doesn't mean you have to suck it up and always put on a smile or have happy thoughts every second of the day. I don't think that's possible! We will still have shitty days and shitty moments. We are still allowed to feel sorry for ourselves every now and then and let it out in the form of tears or whatever your thing is. But my point is, over the long term we have a choice to choose a good attitude and make it a good life; we don't have to be stuck in a living hell.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Year Of Babies, But Not For Us (At Least, Yet)


Writing is like therapy for me, it helps when I need it, so here it goes.

These past six-plus months have been straight up emotional, challenging and personally transformative. In many ways, the old adage holds true: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

So let me back up.


Ready To Try
When we were in Hawaii this past October (2016) John and I had a lot of good times, enjoyed the big race, went on scuba dives, hikes, and had our share of date nights and cocktails, but in particular one thing came from the trip that would potentially change our lives forever. We decided we wanted to start trying to get pregnant! Even though we’re still newlyweds, we’ve been together for a long time and we’re at a point in our lives where we’re just ready. When you know you know.

So me being me, I got all ready for this baby-making process by becoming an expert on it and following concepts of the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). Actually, I had already been measuring BBT and tracking cycles on Kindara so that was nothing new. But I started doing everything else from OPKs (to watch for the LH surge) to timing our sex—all new territory for sure. I also did a lot of other little things that I felt would help make my body baby-ready—got acupuncture, gained a little weight (which I’ve discussed here; the changes took some getting used to but now I really enjoy my body), kept exercise to moderation, ditched intensity (most the time), ate more carbs*, weaned off coffee, abstained from alcohol for a month, ramped up the supplements, etc.

*In fall 2016 I logged on MyFitnessPal for a week just to see what I was eating intuitively these days, and I was averaging 90-130 grams of carbs most days, and on exercise days usually eating anywhere from 150 to over 250 grams of carbs a day. I figured that now trying to conceive I shouldn’t be going chronically less than 130 grams a day even if that was working fine for maintaining a regular monthly menstrual cycle and normal bodyweight/BMI, hence the increase. 

That first month of trying, October, totally messed with my head. I was obsessed over it… I was excited… I was nervous… I was tripping out over the idea of getting pregnant… I wanted it really bad… I was over-thinking every little thing. Looking back I went totally over board and let that ol' control freak take over.

Worst of all, I expected it to happen just like that. A lot of my friends shared their stories of getting pregnant on the first try and said "watch out what you wish for!" Then I look and John and I and think, “I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, John’s a very healthy dude, we take care of ourselves, we’re not too uptight or stressed, I’m an expert on healthy living… not to mention, I’m no longer too lean, not training too hard, and all my tests show that my hormones and biomarkers kick ass so I should be 100% ready to build a baby!” (PS studies show that there’s no reason to believe a woman who had amenorrhea in the past will face infertility as long as her hormones and cycles are back to normal, which mine have been for years now, thus this has never been a concern for me).


The First Negative
That first month we did not get pregnant—and it’s not surprising looking back. I was pretty sad the afternoon I started my period, and there were tears, but also something else happened: I immediately felt myself relax and loosen up. Right then I learned a couple huge lessons. 1) I had been so worked up over how to do everything perfectly for trying to conceive (TTC) that I forgot the most important thing to just relax and let nature take its course. I knew I’d never get pregnant if I kept up like this. And of all people, I should have known better than being in a state of stress like that does not usually lead to desirable outcomes. And 2) the negative result was also humbling. You can be the healthiest in the world, but that doesn’t guarantee anything with getting pregnant, apparently. The more I learn the more I realize pregnancy is a giant mystery in many ways.

November and December continued to be active months of trying, but I was working on changing my attitude and approach. December I especially let go of trying so hard, and poured myself some wine over the holidays. All the while I was still tracking and timing “stuff” (because at the end of the day things like timing sex do matter), but I was truly making an effort to be more relaxed and less obsessed about it. I wasn’t perfect, but I was managing it better. Here’s the thing: When I set my mind on a new goal it’s hard for me to just to be casual about it, and if I’m not reaching the goal, I tend to get even more intense about the effort I put in. But in this case that had to change, and that’s been part of my transformation…


Finley The Vizsla
Thankfully on Dec. 9 a new little member to our family arrived to our home, the fur baby kind. We had committed to getting a vizsla puppy (my dream dog for the past decade) way back in summer—even before the decision to TTC—so I had been eagerly waiting his arrival and the timing was absolutely ideal. I had no idea how quickly I’d fall in love with our boy, Finley, and also had no idea I’d need this little guy in my life so badly during this time. Finley’s filled our hearts with so much love and happiness, and no matter what he is and always will be our first baby. Lucky for him, since he’s our only child as of now, he has one hell of a good life with a mom and dad who both work from home and give him lots of love, attention, walks and treats.

As far as TTC goes…

More disappointing outcomes for us in the final months of 2016.


The Baby Boom
Meanwhile, a handful of my girlfriends and best friends from various circles in my personal life were announcing their pregnancies, had recently become pregnant or about to pop. It was crazy. Apparently everyone else was trying too. I’m sure my age has something to do with it, but still, the pregnancies seemed way more than normal. In February alone I went to three freakin' baby showers ha!

I started seeing the same thing happen in the triathlon/endurance world and everywhere else I looked—it felt like every damn day for months someone else was announcing a pregnancy. There are people even claiming it’s the “year of babies.” It was a bit overwhelming for me to stomach…

I never expected I’d react this way, but the flood of announcements started breaking me down emotionally and really fucking with my head. I wasn’t jealous of anyone, but the situation just made me really sad and confused. I couldn’t help but compare and wonder—why them and why not us? Of all times for this to happen, why the hell does this pregnancy boom have to happen now—right when it’s become a very sensitive subject in my life?! These mom- and dads-to-be are feeling the most happiness ever while I’m over here crying at the start of my period and feeling like a failure.

Pity party. I know. I’m not saying I’m proud of it… I’m just telling the truth. I'm sure many women can relate.

Thankfully I got over that shit with time; it was making me bitter, anti-social and even more resentful at social media, which I didn’t like. Meanwhile, the baby boom is still going strong. No matter where I look it’s “baby this,” “baby that.” Baby bumps galore. To this day I’m seeing new announcements once a week or more on average. But now, I react with laughter. Literally. Whenever I see or hear of a new gal who’s knocked up, I laugh to myself and say, “Of course she’s pregnant!” (And then I remind myself that I have a pretty good life and the freedom to do lots of things pregnant women can’t do.)

Let me also say, I am certainly not ignorant to the fact that there are, no doubt, plenty of women like me out there right now who so badly want to get pregnant but aren’t, month after month, and these women probably also have a hard time hearing about all the baby talk from their friends and social connections… We’re more of a silent group; when you’re going through it it’s harder to talk about it publically. Personally, I never knew it would be so hard to talk openly about trying to get pregnant. I consider myself an open book these days, but this is tough stuff and it even took me months to build the courage to write this blog post. So to all you women TTC and having a hard time, my heart is right there with you.


Now Into 2017
January… February… March…

Half a year of trying.

Not pregnant.

Gradually, it’s gotten back to life as usual, I definitely think about it less, and am doing way less. I’m not so emotional about it. When I look at my friends and acquaintances who are pregnant I don’t get a lump in my throat anymore. At some point you realize you just have to live your life, be in the moment each day, be grateful for what you DO have, don’t fret over the things you DON’T have, and not be obsessed over that which you cannot control. Oh, and let go of all expectations.

And, hey, after all it's only been six rounds so far. It certainly feels like forever, but in reality it's not that long to be trying!

However, the one time of month that sucks no matter what is when I start my period. Aunt Flow (AF) now comes with a different type of emotional response (i.e. not PMS)—and it’s when I get all choked up. I can tell when AF is coming days before, and for those few days, it’s just a hard time of month for me.

I’ve also let up on how much I was doing to TTC. I’m not trying to be perfect during the two-week wait anymore (if I workout a bit harder or have some wine, so be it). I'm not trying to "hack" this one. Less is more. Keep it real. Until I see a positive pregnancy test with my own two eyes I have to live life normally, not cautiously thinking “what if.” I still keep up with a few things I find valuable—mostly things I’d be going even if we weren’t TTC—such as acupuncture, taking certain supplements, using Kindara, clean eating, etc.

Meanwhile, I’ve gradually been putting in more effort on myself in other ways and have searched for underlying stress that could be plaguing me (more on that below). The transformation has been real!


What About My Guy?
We did get John’s sperm tested because every expert with whom I speak always says, “Keep in mind it’s 50% the guy when it comes to getting pregnant, not just the girl.”

The results show his “stuff” was about average and/or potentially borderline low in one or two areas depending on whom you ask (the standards for what constitutes good, healthy sperm are somewhat vague and inconsistent in what we researched and resources we were given). So what we know is that John’s stuff could be better, but it’s certainly not problematic at a clinical level and nowhere near infertile. (PS - John gave me permission to disclose this tidbit).

Given his results, we built out a plan to aid in his fertility and he was very willing and open-minded to it despite not being the type of guy who likes supplements and health plans (go figure). It’s funny because we've each had to take a somewhat opposite approach in this: I relax more; he puts in a bit more effort. I’m very proud of the man he is, the efforts he’s making and most of all how he’s been incredibly relaxed about the whole process. He sets a good example around here.

So at the end of the day, thankfully there’s zero reason at this point to believe that he or I are infertile in any way, which means we’ll just keep on trying and this a practice in patience. If I find the need or desire to do more testing and investigating down the line, then we’ll discuss it, but again, it still has only been six months of trying, which is not that long all things considered!


Love & Life
Meanwhile, all this has brought John and I closer together (not just talking all the sex we get to have, which of course is another big bonus lol). We’re taking more time as a couple, having fun date nights and little adventures (Finley’s always included too) and we’re in a great groove. I’ve never felt so in love with my man.

A good friend and mentor told me about her efforts on trying to get pregnant (it’s not been easy for her either), “Truly, I live an amazing life, and am wanting for nothing. So I give thanks for that daily, and trust that the rest will fall into place for reasons that I may never understand the details of!”

This spoke to me. I couldn’t ask for a better life with John. Wanting a baby is just that: Want. It’s not about needing one. We don’t need a baby. Once you understand that it really puts things in perspective and I’ve learned to not let myself take for granted the good things that are happening right now.


Uncovering and Eliminating More Underlying Stress
I knew I was stressed in the beginning, but over time I know in my heart of hearts I’m not like that about it anymore! It really is life as usual for the most part. I really don't feel stressed. HRV is fine (if I get around to measuring). My body feels healthy and robust. I feel like I've learned to handle this pretty well. So I've despised it and still despise it every time someone says, “Oh you just need to relax and it’ll happen.” I’ll admit to having stress when it’s clear I have stress—I’m not ashamed—so how could there be stress and lack of relaxation if I really truly don’t think that’s the case? Even John is amazed at how chill I've become—a lot of it thanks to him and his naturally chill demeanor.

But maybe there was something I was missing? I was willing to dig deep and figure it out. And actually, I discovered something…

My work. Being self-employed.

Therein lies the hidden underlying stress.

So I had the chance to do something about it, and long story short: I’ve temporarily and purposefully cut back on work despite that being a terrifying concept in my world. Turns out this is something I’ve needed for a while but was too scared to ever do. Thank goodness I have the support of my amazing husband in this.

The longer version:
For a while I’ve been having some feeling like work was taking a bigger toll on me and that perhaps I was starting to experience burnout, but then I’d have a bunch of shit to do so I’d have to ignore it. I was also confused because I love what I do so damn much—how could I be burnt out?

What it comes down to is being self-employed and fearing a plateau or decline. When you’re self-employed it can be intense and stressful in different ways than a traditional job. I put a ton of pressure on myself that I always need to be growing, building, expanding, making more money, figuring out new ways to stay fresh and relevant, and that each month and each year needs to be better than the last. Granted, it’s not so bad that I’m back to being frazzled and dealing with work-stress insomnia like I have year’s past. These days I certainly take better take care of myself, I know when to say NO, and I don’t get completely overwhelmed at my workload (getting organized has helped a ton). But even if I’m mindful of my wellbeing and time management, I’m always of the mindset that as a small business owner I need to do better each year, make enough money to cover all my costs and still have enough save, invest in my future, pay for health insurance, be on top of my game as an expert in the field (thus find extra time to do research and continuing education), and so on—while god-forbid I stay status quo, plateau or experience a decrease in business; that would make this Type A gal an anxious mess. I discovered that this mindset has been a huge source of underlying stress.

So I pondered, “What if I challenged myself to cut back on work, live a bit more simply, be a bit more of a hermit, and see what happens?” The timing seemed right given the main subject of this blog post you're reading. The idea of a sabbatical also floated around for a bit, but the more I thought about that the more it didn’t seem realistic, desirable or necessary for several reasons. So instead, we decided (John of course has been very much involved in this) that I’d cut back on work for a month or so. Of course, I’d keep all my current full-time coaching clients and the regular work I do for them, but not take on anyone new, and cut back in other areas, e.g. podcast once a week instead of twice, scheduling fewer consults per day, blocking off certain days of the week as “personal development” days and so on. Last year I decided to do more consulting and less full-time coaching (thus I scaled back on how many full-timers I accepted) so that actually made this shift in workload easy.

Once I pulled the trigger I immediately felt the difference. Holy shit did I need this extra room to unwind a bit, reconnect with my whole self and feel the work pressure lift away. For once it’s ok that I’m not striving for more or worrying about how much money is in my accounts. I can’t emphasize enough that this would not have been possible without my John, he’s simply incredible and couldn’t be more supportive.

By now, you probably know as well as I do that I can be a serious put-your-head-down-and-do-the-work kind of person and have unwavering commitment to my schedule, work and goals; I take things like health, wellness, performance very seriously—my own and that of my clients—all to the point where sometimes I get so wrapped up in the work and chasing optimal, that I forget to lighten up and realize I’m just human; we’re all just human. So this transition/break has allowed me the opportunity to be more of the carefree person that lives within me (thankfully she's alive and well); to spend my days moving at a slower pace and take more of a ultra-chill happy-go-lucky approach; to laugh off shit that happens rather than turn on the “flight or fight” mode. 

This little self-discovery project has also taught me to truly live in the moment and not get worked up over what the future may hold; to find some space and just be comfortable with “what is;” to be more process oriented than outcome oriented. I’m good at that mindset when I’m on vacation or out backpacking, but I’ve had to learn how to be this way at home during regular day-to-day life.

“When we practice ‘being here’ during less stressful times, we'll be more equipped to respond mindfully when dealing with strong obsessions.” – Tara Brach


So That’s Where TTC Has Led Me…
It’s funny how this journey has taken me down paths that I never expected. I’ve realized that in life, no matter what it’s been, nothing has ever come easy to me; I feel like I’ve always had to work a bit harder, go through some shit and overcome tough times, and go a step further to peel back layers and discover more. If I had gotten pregnant the first try none of these good things would have happened, and I wouldn’t have learned these lessons or have taken the time to explore more on how I want to live my life. So maybe we didn’t “get lucky” and conceive on the first or second try like so many I know, but in a way I feel just as lucky if not luckier on this journey because it’s making me a better person, making my husband a better person, it’s making our relationship and love for each other better than ever … and it’s making me more compassionate to all those out there who face tough times—whatever their definition of “tough times” may be; it doesn’t matter, it’s all relative.

So that’s it for now! I wish I could say this post was ending on a happier note and something like, “Surprise, we’re finally pregnant,” but I’m not. We’re not pregnant. Who knows what’ll happen. 

Someone asked me if I’m worried about that yet, i.e. what will happen, and the honest truth is no, I’m not worried about it. I’m really not. Have I worried about different variables as it relates to getting pregnant? Yes. But I’ve let go of that. Overall I have no worries about the future. There is only the now to focus on—and enjoy the hell out of my little family and this life we have built.


~~~ BONUS ~~~


Helping My Hormones
Last tidbit because it's relevant and may also be helpful to other women out there if they’re experiencing something similar; it's when all the tracking and investigating pays off. Just please do me a favor and work with a practitioner when starting any new supplements or health plan.

Backing up a bit to those early months of trying (last fall)… I did discover that my hormones potentially could use some balancing. My cycles were regular but there were little things that were “off,” all of which I discovered thanks to the tracking I’ve done on Kindara dating back to 2015. Before we were TTC and even the first couple months of TTC, I saw that I had been ovulating relatively late in my cycle and having short-ish luteal phases, as well as inconsistent cycle lengths during a lot of last year (I’d cycle every month, but it’d bounce around a lot). I also have suffered from PMDD for over a year, which is not normal! (And yes, I’ve tried managing diet and carbs to alleviate the symptoms, which is another topic for another day.) I wondered if the short luteal phases were due to not enough progesterone sticking around and if this was causing a luteal phase defect that can have a negative effect on getting pregnant.

To fix things, I decided to start on vitex back in early December (specifically I’m taking Chastetree Berry Extract by Vitanica) and this had an immediate beneficial effect. Within a month, I started ovulating at a normal time (Day 14), luteal phases improved to 13-14 days and cycles stayed consistently 27-29 days. It’s been like that since.

Meanwhile, I consulted with my amazing functional practitioner/fertility expert, Brie, about my health, hormones and fertility in general, she eased a lot of worries and gave some great insight and thoughts. In particular, I asked about the idea of taking progesterone just to see if that would help and we decided it wasn’t absolutely necessary (my progesterone looked fine on my most recent DUTCH) but she also said it wouldn’t hurt trying it. So I’ve been on sublingual progesterone the past two cycles—haven’t really noticed a difference nor did it magically lead to a pregnancy; not that I was expecting that. (Note: do not start taking progesterone on your own, please only do so under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.)

All this work I’ve done to aid my fertility—from the acupuncture and herbs to vitex and lifestyle—has greatly relieved my PMDD symptoms, to the point where I don’t have to hide away that time of month, lol. So that’s a bonus!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is Amenorrhea That Big of a Problem? Helping Those Silently Suffering

I had an email from a super nice Endurance Planet fan the other day that promoted this post. He was wondering if amenorrhea is really that big of a deal. He's noticed how I've been talking about it more these days, in particular this new episode on hypothalamic amenorrhea that just dropped, and also more candid discussions over at lifepostcollective.com, but from what he sees in the endurance scene, it doesn't seem like that big of a problem, especially, as he mentioned, "More often than not there is an overwhelming number of athletes who are too heavy [over-fat]."

~~~

I'm so glad he brought this up!

There's no doubt that athletes come in all shapes and sizes, even endurance athletes. And sadly, we're seeing an epidemic of a population that is over-fat, which certainly spills into the athletic community. Over-fat athletes are a real issue, and participating in sport alone isn't the "cure" for a healthier body composition (this is an issue we often discuss with Dr. Phil Maffetone on EP and have covered extensively in past episodes). So I'm totally on board with the need to help this population as well.

At the same time, though, there's another population of athletes who are silently suffering from hormonal dysfunction and hypothalamic amenorrhea, but you have NO IDEA because outwardly there are no obvious physical signs necessarily -- even body composition isn't enough to tell whether a female is menstruating are not (a woman can be a "normal" bodyweight but still have amenorrhea for other reasons, like too much stress). At the end of the day, hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA), the female athlete triad and/or RED-S syndrome are incredibly common issues in female athletes, in particular endurance athletes and any sport that values leanness, but we often let it go under the radar because it's a touchy subject that's often still "taboo" to talk about it.

"In women who participate in sports that emphasize aesthetics or leanness, such as ballet or running, the prevalence of secondary amenorrhea can be as high as 69%, compared with 2% to 5% in the general population" (1). 

Compared with the over-fat epidemic, having amenorrhea can be kept a secret and often women are ashamed, embarrassed and/or are scared to talk about it--as a result, many of us may have no idea that she is suffering inside. I was that woman for years. I was terrified to talk about my missed periods for fear I'd lose all respect and credibility; for fear that I'd be seen as an alien; for fear that I'd be labeled as tarnished and inadequate; for fear that is was unacceptable to even say the word "period" in public. Actually, there was a point where I built enough confidence to try and talk about it on this VERY blog! I wanted to be real. I wanted to talk about it--talking it out always makes me feel better. So I hit publish and the backlash started. I got NASTY hate comments on the post and people telling me things like, "What kind of role model are you is you don't even get a period?!"

I was too weak and scared at the time to stand up and fight it. So I deleted the post. This was likely 2008-09 ish.

Back then, I knew enough to know this wasn't healthy or normal (although, fairly unaware of long-term consequences*), so out of concern I talked to my doctor (a conventional PCP). Other than that only a few close family members and friends knew. As far as getting help from my doctor at the time? Honestly, she was a nice woman but she did nothing to truly help me; conventional medicine did absolutely nothing to truly me regain a healthy period--other doing a provera challenge, then telling me to go on birth control, eat more, exercise less and gain weight. Really? We know that eating more and exercising less (i.e. energy balance) and appropriate bodyweight are indeed ways to heal and regain menstruation, but this information was told to me in a very matter-of-fact way that didn't register with me whatsoever. It basically felt like they were saying, "Go eat some fatty burgers and ice cream, stop working out, retire to the couch and get fat." To which I wanted to say, "Fuck you." They had no idea who I was, they had no idea how my brain ticked, they had no idea I was a dedicated athlete who "had" to maintain fitness and my physique to perform in my sport. The Western doctors made me angry, so I gave up on seeking help from them. What I needed was an education and someone who could relate to me and be sympathetic. I didn't have that person. I felt alone.

Female hormonal imbalance and amenorrhea are about more than just "eat more - exercise less - gain weight." It's a sensitive psychological issue and must be handled with love, care, and sympathy for the female suffering. This is why I like the, "Relative Energy Deficit in Sport" (RED-S) Syndrome, which ties in the psychology of it, and also makes note that males can suffer form this as well!

"Psychological consequences can either precede RED-S or be the result of RED-S. The clinical phenomenon is not a 'triad' of three entities of energy availability, menstrual function, health and athletic performance" (2).

In other words, it's complex. It doesn't have to fit the tight definition of the female athlete triad to apply--it can be more, it can be less, it can manifest in different ways, but at the end of the day it's a problem when hormonal dysfunction occurs in athletes. Thankfully, there is a way to get the body back in balance and restore function, and to do so you have to address the mental and physical.

That's the beauty of HA, the recovery rate is undeniably high. After feeling like Western medicine failed me, I made a huge effort to self-educate to learn more for myself about amenorrhea; if I had to go it alone so be it. But then the catalyst for me was finding the right mentors in 2013-14 who talked to ME, listened to ME, and who weren't just reading out of a textbook on what "should" be done. I took the proper steps to heal and recover. Yea, I had to change a lot but the payoff was worth it. Low and behold I got my period back and it STUCK (took some time to normalize), and I was happy and comfortable with the process. I was still happy with food choices, exercise habits, and my body. Mentally I got cozy with everything and accepted my new ways. It required a mindshift and some soul searching, but it wasn't that scary after all!

I WANT TO HELP

I'm still angry that conventional medicine doesn't offer an education and proper tools to heal, so now that I know better I want to help! I've gained the confidence to speak up over the years, and I want to be a voice for many women who are silently suffering, confused, or perhaps don't even realize the depths of what amenorrhea really implies. I want to be someone they can turn to for help, with zero judgement just love. I want to inspire women how to regain normal functioning or simply treat their bodies better, with more compassion and love.

I am not medical doctor so there are certainly things I can and can't do to help women with their health, but as Nico and I discussed in this podcast, oftentimes you just need to find someone who can relate to you and the situation, and that'll be the ticket to success in regaining menstruation. As such, I love spending my days working directly with women on how to regain their menstrual cycle. And guess what, we don't talk too much about eating more and exercising less. They usually know those things so we touch base on them to make sure it's being executed smartly and without a lot of stress involved. From there, honestly the conversations are about so much deeper than food and exercise talk. These are living, breathing, feeling women who just need someone to bet here for them, listen and be the voice of reason so that they can get out of their own head. Sometimes there are harsh truths, like telling a girl, "Yea, maybe you have to give up training and racing for a while just to fully relax, but it doesn't have to be forever!!! You can of course get back to it, I did and kept a period (BQ 2015)!" It's better when that comes from me, a woman who's been there and gets it.

Anyway, a few closing thoughts:

1. Don't judge a book by its cover--there's a good chance you have NO IDEA what's going on inside.
2. Amenorrhea is as much psychological as it is a physical issue.
3. We need to be sympathetic to all sensitive health issues, not judge and offer support--whether it's helping someone who's over-fat or someone with amenorrhea.

~~~

Resources

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435916/
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24620037

*I talk about some potential long-term consequences and much more on HA in athletes in particular over at lifepostcollective.com, where I recently launched a new women's health video series. Check it out for free with code "lpc4me" at sign up.