I didn’t believe we could conceive a child naturally. Science had proven that we needed help. I’d heard stories of natural conception after IVF, but that wouldn’t be us. It just wasn’t possible. Until it was.
We had tried to get pregnant for 3 years before our unexplained fertility diagnosis led us down the path to ICSI treatment. Science didn’t know why we couldn’t conceive. Aside from increasing age (why does no one stress how much our fertility – for men and women – deteriorates with age?) there was no magic answer. Luckily our first round of ICSI worked. But the number of eggs harvested was low. Those that fertilised even lower. We had just two viable embryos. One of which grew into our Bee.
As I grew into motherhood, I knew deep within me that I wanted another child. A sibling for Bee. And selfishly, another chance to experience pregnancy and birth for me. To do it exactly how I wanted this time (more on that in a future post).
I had little faith in my body. I was pretty certain we’d have to use our only other viable embryo. Our one frostie.
We set a date, and whilst we waited, we thought there’d be no harm giving it a go the natural way. I figured I’d try everything. Throw it all in the mix. What did we have to lose. So I read up and researched and learnt loads of things about fertility. About reproductive health. And about getting pregnant. Things I hadn’t realised when we tried the first time round.
We made several lifestyle changes. For our fertility chances, but also for our greater health. For me, they were changes that at the very least would make our bodies healthier for further assisted fertility treatments.
But something must have worked.
Just 10 cycles after implementing them we were pregnant. Natural conception after IVF.
Where science had helped us before, we’d done it ourselves with just a few little changes and a whole lot of knowledge.
I wonder. If I’d known this all earlier. If I’d known how to protect my fertility. Would we have had to venture down the path of IVF at all.
So here we now are. Soon to be a family of four. With one perfect miracle of science, waiting to meet one little miracle of nature.
This is what I learnt.
Learn About Your Body
I’ve been clueless for so many years about my body. Utterly out of tune and taking no notice of its rhythms and cycles. The female body is seasonal. It ebbs and flows with the moon. And it’s only when you start tapping into that. Start noticing how moods and symptoms and timings are connected. That you can work with your body, rather than despite it.
I read a great book ‘Taking Charge of Your Fertility’ by Toni Weschler. In it I learnt how to track my menstrual cycles using the Fertility Awareness Method, taking a basal temperature every morning, and noting emotions, physical symptoms and cervical fluid consistency. I discovered so much about my cycle.
Firstly it highlighted a short leutal phase (the space between ovulation and bleeding, which needs to be long enough to give the potential embryo enough time to implant) which I was able to monitor and watch lengthen as the months went by and Bee breastfed less.
It was also perfect for knowing exactly when I had ovulated (several days later than the assumed day 14), allowing me to see the signs, and predict with greater accuracy my ovulation in following months.
Have Lots Of Sex
I now knew, with some degree of certainty, when i was ovulating. But it’s not a good idea to save up sex just for then, especially if there is any male factor infertility. The best equation we found was a simple sum to tell us the days to have sex between.
Length of shortest cycle (in past 6 months) – 20 = day of cycle to start
Length of longest cycle (in past 6 months) – 10 = day of cycle to stop
My cycles ranged in length from 26 – 31 days, so our perfect window was between days 6 and 21. Sex every two to three days with an increase in frequency over the days pre, during and post predicted ovulation worked for us. It sounds like a lot. It is a lot. And when you’ve been trying for a while, it can seem like a chore. But you can’t make a baby without sex. And the more you have, the more normal it gets, the more fun it gets. It’s manageable. We did it, and we co-sleep with a breastfeeding 2 yr old who doesn’t yet sleep through the night!
Move To Natural Menstrual Products
Have you ever looked into how sanitary towels and tampons are made? Have you seen what chemicals and bleaches they’re infused with? Having them so close to our reproductive organs cannot be healthy for our reproductive health. When trying to create the optimal environment for conception and pregnancy, random toxins flying around on a regular basis are not helpful.
It had never even crossed my mind. But shortly after Bee was born, and alongside our decision to use cloth nappies, I switched to a menstrual cup and cloth sanitary pads. At first I was squeemish. I didn’t like the idea of getting blood on my hands. But I figured that we used cloth for Bee’s nappies anyway, so night-time cloth for me wouldn’t be much of an effort. And actually, I needed to woman-up and not be so repulsed by my own body. Hello society and your blue liquid periods – I blame you.
Moving to natural menstrual products was quite a revolution. Cloth pads are so comfortable. No stickiness. No sweaty senstions. Just gentle, soft, comforting fabric. And as for my menstrual cup (once I got the hang of it) – life changing. It would last me 12 hours before needing emptying. I almost forgot I was on my period.
Avoid Environmental Toxins
It made sense, once I’d switched to a more environmental, non-toxic menstrual system, to address all the other toxins that seeped into our lives. I changed all of our household products to natural, environmentally-friendly alternatives. I switched out all my make-up, skincare routines, and bathing products. We began getting rid of plastic. I bought beautiful metal lunch boxes and drinks bottles. We ditched cling-film and began using beeswax wraps. And we invested in a water filter.
We’re by no means ‘clean’ living, and life and finances sometimes dictate how much of a toxin free lifestyle you can maintain. But just those small changes, in the things that we could control, I think, have had a positive impact on all aspects of our health.
Feed Your Fertility
Another key read for me was ‘Total Fertility’ by Emma Cannon. (She was recommended to me some time ago by Annie of That Boho Life.) The book bridges the gap between western medicine and complementary therapies, looking at fertility with an holistic approach.
A large chunk of the book is on food. Food recommended to increase sperm quality. Food recommended to protect egg quality. And lists of specific foods to eat at specific points in your cycle. Foods that would help the body achieve what it was trying to do at that moment. Blood-moving foods during your period, then blood-nourishing foods before ovulation. Egg-healthy foods for ovulation, and then warming foods for the post-ovulation incubation stage. It was simple to plan our meals in sync with my cycle. And I felt better for it.
We often forget how food can impact on our health and wellbeing in such a specific way. But when we think how sluggish and grey we feel, how our skin breaks out, and we start getting colds, when we don’t eat healthily – then of course eating the right foods can have positive impacts on specific areas of our health.
This I learnt through Mizan Therapy. The importance of keeping our core and our feet warm. It sounds strange, and my love of thermal socks is often mocked by my much more fashionable best friend, but keeping warm helps our bodies circulate blood. And good blood circulation is key for the health and functioning of our reproductive organs and cells.
So thermal socks and slippers. No barefoot on cold floors (as much as I love being barefoot). And warming foods, spices and hot drinks. No eating or drinking straight from the fridge. And definitely no ice cream, especially post ovulation.
All these little changes, these small steps towards better reproductive health. They ended up making a difference.
Even though I wasn’t quite convinced. They worked.
Three years ago I was amazed by the wonder of science, that gave me the child in my womb. Here today, as I write, and this little baby wriggles and kicks within, I’m amazed by the wonder of nature.