Wednesday, 27 April 2016

#StartAsking about your Reproductive Health

As National Infertility Awareness Week continues, I reflect on my experiences to date and wonder what I would have liked to have known when I started. Well, first off, I'd have liked to have known that 1 in 8 couples will struggle with infertility. I would have liked to have known that a perfectly healthy couple has a 20% chance of conceiving each month (assuming timing is perfect), and I would have liked to have known that I'm not alone... that so many others are experiencing this struggle, repeated disappointment, and heartbreak too... That's why the #StartAsking initiative by has been so important to me this year. I don't want any of my friends or acquaintances to ever feel alone or unprepared like I did. I don't want any stranger to feel that way either, frankly. So I ask all those in the Infertility Community, and all those tied to it by a loved one or friend or family member, to #StartAsking too!

I can't really accurately describe the moment I first sensed I might have fertility struggles. My husband (boyfriend at the time, though we owned a house together) came home to me crying on the floor blabbering on about how I had a weird gut feeling I was going to struggle with getting pregnant and how we should start trying right away.

He dismissed my anxieties as something like a weird emotional breakdown, founded in no reality... and really I don't blame him. Unfortunately, I've had very strong gut instincts and intuitions in the past, and those who know me, know that those intuitions often proved to be (or become) reality.

First lesson - trust your gut! If you feel like something's up GO TALK TO SOMEONE. You know your body better than anyone else, but at the same time, try to avoid consulting Dr. Google... he's like Chicken Little or the Boy who cried Wolf. 

Looking back there were a lot of red flags related to my health growing up. I learned very early on that I was quite severely lactose-intolerant, though it took me many years (and a little growing up) to accept it fully and make the necessary changes. It took even longer though to discover that I was celiac. You'd have thought my yo-yo eating habits (tied to appetite and feeling sick), severe bloat, and severe fatigue among other indicators (random rashes and the like) would have been indicators that something was up, but no one was really talking about celiac at the time. It took even longer still to fully diagnose... dun dun dunnn..... Endometriosis. It was suspected at one point, but as I changed my diet to eliminate wheat and dairy fully (among other foods after allergy panel) my pain diminished substantially. And we weren't trying to conceive at the time, so we weren't really aware of the implications.

Second lesson - if you have symptoms of endometriosis, allergic reactions etc, see a doctor, trust their guidance and expertise, but push for testing... don't wait and let the disease spread and worsen. Take action early on and you could substantially improve your fertility.

When we finally did start trying for a family, shortly after getting married, we were SHOCKED to discover we weren't pregnant after month one. Hilariously naiive, I know, but I really did feel after all the years of being told how important contraception use was, I swore he would sneeze and I'd somehow end up knocked up. As the first few months rolled by I started researching and the statistics were staggering. Wow... I have a 20% chance each month IF we time everything perfectly??? What?!??!? All those years of being told to be so careful now seemed so necessarily filled with unwarranted fear. I'd be a few hours late taking the pill and worry I was going to be pregnant as a result. Gosh... if only. 

Third lesson - learn about fertility. Learn about your reproductive cycle. If you have questions about your fertility, #startasking your doctor and #startasking for testing. You can check so many things like ovarian reserve with a simple blood test that there's really no excuse to remain uneducated. You need to advocate for your own fertility, just like your own health. 

I had a fantastic family doctor who did all this for us no questions asked. Unfortunately, most of my testing came back (and continues to) as perfectly normal. This is where perseverance is key... I knew something was up. I knew "Unexplained" was merely them saying they didn't know why I couldn't get pregnant or what was preventing conception. I know in my gut that it's immune related and that my body attacks the embryos. It's like I can feel it. So I refuse to take their answers of everything's fine and it's a matter of time and trying again. I refuse to accept there's nothing more to be done. So I continue to #ask for more testing... more insight, and I continue to be my own biggest advocate, because no one else will do it for me. 

Have strength. You can do this. 

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