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!