Thursday, September 25, 2014

Attempting to Achieve Hormonal Balance


Previous fertility post: Starting From Scratch

This may be really repetitive/redundant and long and boring. Ha ha. But I don't care. My brain is recapping right now and I need to get it all out. :)... (I learned it's really hard to keep track of what I've written here and what I haven't, because I'm constantly writing in my journal.)

When it comes down to it, hormonal imbalance is what's keeping me from getting pregnant. And if I had ever been lucky enough to get pregnant, I would have had a higher risk for miscarriage. So, looking forward... if I want to get pregnant, and if I want to prevent miscarriage as much as possible, I need to achieve some hormonal balance. I need to figure out how to be my healthiest self now to have a healthy pregnancy later. And not just a general "eat right and exercise" kind of healthy. That's a part of it and that may work for 90% of the population who wants to be healthy/fertile. But not for me. So instead of whining and complaining about how life's not fair in that regard, I just need to suck it up and do what it's going to take. I've got my motivation back. Let's do this thing.

A year ago, I knew something was up with my health. Even more so than usual. I wrote out all my symptoms that I could think of at the time and my list looked like this:
  • general anxiety, over-worrying
  • social anxiety
  • moody, exhausted, depressed, overwhelmed
  • infertility: irregular periods, don't ovulate, haven't gotten pregnant in 9 years of marriage (now 10)
  • anxiety level increased dramatically after failed adoption last July, stayed high
  • can't relax, overly focusing on negative things or things out of my control, kind of paralyzes me
  • feeling super tense and like I'm hyperventilating
  • sweat all the time because I'm nervous/anxious all the time
  • trouble sleeping, jolting awake in the middle of the night or early and can't get back to sleep
  • difficulty focusing on more than one thing at a time, because too much is going on in my head, foggy brain

This was not normal. Normally, social anxiety and infertility was all I was dealing with. I was fighting through all these new problems, trying to be strong, thinking they would go away after I "got over it," and trying to look on the bright side of things. But I started to recognize that something was really wrong and I wasn't handling the grief of the first adoption falling through very well. The second adoption situation being iffy wasn't helping either. My brother told me I needed to get my thyroid checked and up until that point I honestly had no idea what my thyroid did, but he was insistent because he had just been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (which can be hereditary). Turns out he had been suffering from debilitating anxiety because of an undiagnosed thyroid condition. I found an endocrinologist, talked about my symptoms, got my blood tested, and sure enough I had a problem. So I started treating my thyroid and that opened up a whole world of education on my hormones and how they are supposed to interact and how mine weren't.

The things I had been trying to do to get pregnant (taking a synthetic progesterone and then Clomid over and over to induce ovulation) weren't really addressing the underlying problems. I was so ready to get pregnant and not deal with all the underlying issues that I found a reproductive endocrinologist and started making a plan to do a few IUI cycles (insemination) and then IVF if I had to. I dreamed of twin girls. :) Wouldn't it be so nice to just do a procedure and get pregnant? (Or just have sex and get pregnant? ha ha)

But something kept telling me to wait and try to heal first. I could waste a lot of time and money and emotional energy to go through these treatments just to get pregnant and it may not work because my body is just not in the healthiest condition hormonally speaking to carry a pregnancy. To seek treatment where the only goal is to get me pregnant just didn't feel right. I was grieving. Losing two babies we thought we were going to adopt was hard. I needed to get through that first. I can't just "rebound" into fertility treatment because I'm grieving. I need to rest, relax, take care of myself. Treat the underlying problems and get myself healthy. The grief triggered a lot of things and forced me to look into what was wrong. I know so much more about my body now. Looking back, I can see the timeline of how everything worked out and how everything pushed me to find a doctor who would check the right things and guide me in a better direction.

I am worth it. My health is worth it no matter if I ever get to a point where I can have children. Not treating this hormonal imbalance puts me at risk for a lot of serious health problems in the future (for example: diabetes, ovarian or uterine cancer, heart disease, etc.)... Yeah. Ignoring the problem just because it's easy and feels like my "normal" is NOT healthy for me in the long run and I deserve better than that.

On top of that, I will never, ever, ever give up fighting for my children, including my hypothetical future children. I will NOT give up on that. Ever. I will open every possible door for us to grow our family, including keeping myself healthy enough so that if I do miraculously get pregnant one day I can increase my chances of staying pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy. I can only accept "whatever happens" (whatever God's will is) if I know I did everything I could and didn't give up. I do not subscribe to the thinking that God made me this way and I should accept my health and infertility as is. Because it's a sign or whatever. That's bull. If you want something, you do what it takes to get it. If you're sick, you do things to get better. God made intelligent beings who can solve problems. Not victims to just moan and whine about our plot in life. Maybe in Old Testament times, accepting such a condition as a curse made sense... and relying on Him to miraculously fix it was wise because we didn't have the knowledge we have now. I am going to have faith in God that He has guided me to the knowledge I have now and that He expects me to do something about it.

I have wanted to give up so many times. Give up on trying to get pregnant. Give up on trying to adopt. Give up on taking these foster care classes that are soooo long... and emotionally draining. But I can't do it. Not now. I'm not ready to give up this fight. I feel like I'm just beginning.

I felt renewed when I found a good doctor. Finding a good doctor is not an easy thing to do! I met his wife first. My FB status that day was:
Met someone today - the mother of the girl whose hair I was braiding, a new client. I was describing my struggles with my thyroid and polycystic ovarian syndrome, all the symptoms and how finicky treating my thyroid has been and the resulting infertility that is devastating in and of itself. I've been coming to the conclusion that I just have to accept that my body/health is this way. Finding peace with that. There's too many things wrong, too many things I could try that "might" help. I feel stuck. She looked me dead in the eye and said, "NO. You do not have to live this way." And she gave me the number to a place I'd heard about before, but I was going to so many doctors at the time that I didn't check him out. Something about the way she said it and the good things I've heard about this doctor made me want to burst into tears... Someone cares. Maybe I'll get some answers. All the doctors I've seen have all been varying degrees of helpful all the way down to useless, and I'm only now starting to understand things about my health that I wish had been told to me 10-15 years ago. I'm ready to see a doctor who knows what they're talking about and doesn't just throw a bunch of medicine or synthetic hormones at me. Living with something that other people tell me to "get over" or "just do this" or "just do that" to solve the problem has always made me feel like an idiot for saying there's something wrong with me and wanting the answer to WHY. Today, I feel understood. And that felt pretty dang good.

Going to this new doctor has been good because I trust him. That's not always easy to do with doctors. And my research and his research coincides, so that's good. Sometimes I'll bring things up to a doctor and they won't know what I'm talking about. That's a red flag. I can't know more than my doctor, come on now. Lol.

So, this is what I've learned and this is what I'm doing to "achieve hormonal balance":

Step one was to relax and rest and manage my stress. Learn to live in the present and enjoy the way things are right this second. I spent the whole summer with Kal and laying around and reading books and catching up on shows and just really paying attention to my own thoughts and my own needs. I stopped saying "yes" to everything everyone requires of me. I did what I wanted to do and I had fun. I got rid of the things that were unhealthily stressing me the most, including people. I wrote in my journal and daydreamed and treated myself better than I have in a long time. Made sure I was right with God. I just enjoyed each day... living in our new cute little duplex next to a peach orchard. It's so "home-y" feeling. I love it. I watched a whole lot of The Walking Dead (omg, I love it). I enjoyed not having a calling at Church. I learned to unplug and sit outside and enjoy the trees and the clouds and have cute little 3-year-old conversations with Kal. I ate good food and there was lots of husband & wife time to go around. I got comfortable in my life again, counted my many many blessings, worked through the grief, and came out a better, more confident, happy, optimistic version of Alice Anne. Step one, done.

Then we've got the basics - eating right and exercising and getting to a healthy weight.

I figured out my problem with food:
  1. I crave carbs and sugar all the time. Taking probiotics is supposed to help with this.
  2. I overeat when there's food available. This stems from my childhood.

A lot of people have a bad relationship with food for one reason or another. Mine is because I subconsciously think there's not going to be enough food to go around, or after today I won't have any food, so I eat everything in sight. Big grocery shopping trips are bad for me because I will want to eat all the new food in the house that day. Smaller grocery shopping trips help me spread the food out, but who's got time for that? So, changing my diet has been a challenge, because it's so engrained in me to hoard free/cheap food (not necessarily healthy food at all) when I come across it and eat a whole package of something because it's there right now and if I don't eat it, someone else will and it'll be gone. I'm still working this one out in my mind. Limiting myself or temporary diets are no good and I don't feel safe and then I break down and eat, eat, eat. I don't want to call it an eating disorder, but maybe it is? This is something I'm working through and trying to figure out. In the meantime, I have been doing Bountiful Baskets... where I pay and go pick up a basket of fresh fruit and veggies once a week. It's like a volunteer co-op thing. That way I always have fresh fruit and veggies in the house and if I'm going to snack on something, I'll grab something from that instead of something sweet & processed. That has been helping because I hate shopping for produce. I feel like I'm lost and don't know what to get and Bountiful Baskets just provides what's in season and I don't have to choose. It's cool because I get stuff I've never had before - like cactus pears. :)

I began exercising again. I went to the gym for awhile, but that turned out to be Zay's thing and not mine. I like exercising at home. Right now I've gotten into a habit of getting up 45 minutes earlier than I need to and getting in 30 minutes of exercising (mostly stretching and some yoga) before I start my day. It makes the whole day go better and at the end of the day I can just relax instead of feeling anxious/guilty because I still haven't exercised that day. I get it done first and make it a priority. Even an easy light stretching for 30 minutes feels amazing and boosts my energy/happiness for the rest of the day. This is a habit I want to stick for good.

My goal for this year was to lose 26 lbs... and then next year I want to lose another 11 lbs. I've lost 19 so far. Very slow and steady, ha ha... But seeing the progress has been awesome. My doctor was happy with me. And I've still got a few months to knock off those last 7 to reach my goal before the end of the year. Easy peasy. :)

Managing stress, eating right, exercising, getting to a healthy weight. Then it's important to take the right vitamins/supplements. That's major. I had low Vitamin D. Not having enough Vitamin D can contribute to all kinds of hormonal problems. Many people have low levels and it can be tested and it's easy to pop a Vitamin D pill. I am officially no longer deficient. Woot woot! A lot of people with hormonal imbalances are also deficient in B vitamins or iron or all kinds of other things, so it's nice to get bloodwork done and see where you're deficient. I also researched a butt load of other supplements that are good for an underactive thyroid and PCOS. I found out my cortisol levels do weird things throughout the day (my doctor called it adrenal fatigue) and I found a supplement for that as well. I have been super persistent in taking my handful of vitamins every single day. No excuses. A lot of times supplements can take months before they really start to make a difference, so I have been taking them religiously. I absolutely hated taking pills before and even now they make me gag sometimes, but I knew I needed to get the heck over it. And I have. It's just part of the routine now. Easy peasy. I also let my doctor know exactly what I'm taking. I even made a spreadsheet for him with all the ingredients/amounts in all my supplements. Ha ha. He was impressed with my regimen.

What I'm taking right now:

Other things I want to try:
  • True Cinnamon
  • Plexus Probio5 & cleanse 
  • CoQ10 (I was taking this but I ran out)
  • D-Chiro-Inositol (I was taking this but I ran out... it's hard to keep up sometimes, ha ha)
Along with my supplements, I'm treating my low progesterone, underactive thyroid, and insulin resistance with medication. I'm taking a bio-identical progesterone pill 14 days a month rather than birth control pills (which is what a lot of people do to fix irregular cycles). I think taking birth control pills in general is silly if I want to get pregnant. HERE is a good article on cyclic progesterone therapy. I'm taking what works best for my thyroid - a combo of Synthroid and Cytomel. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what works for my thyroid and as of this week my labs looked perfect! Woot woot! It's about time! I'm taking Metformin for insulin resistance. I'm in such a good routine taking pills and taking them at the right times, that it doesn't bother me anymore to take medication. I used to be pretty anti-medication. I feel so much better now that I'm taking what my body has needed all this time and my labs look GREAT for the first time ever. The cyclic progesterone therapy and Metformin combo got my high testosterone levels all the way down in the normal range. I am amazed. It was so high. That is great news!

As of right now, my doctor says that I just need to keep doing what I'm doing and my health should continue to improve. I went in last week. It looks like I've found the right combination of changes and it shows on my lab results and in the way I feel.

Important things to note: I have a "regular" cycle now, but I still haven't ovulated on my own (that's okay, I don't expect to be "fixed" that quickly), and the length of my cycles have been fluctuating all of a sudden. It's almost like my body is trying to figure out how to really settle into a 28-day cycle for the long-term. It's being quirky. But that's okay. I'm trying to teach my body a rhythm that it never learned when I hit puberty... so it's gonna take some time. I just keep documenting it, taking my basal body temperature every morning, and taking ovulation predictor tests around the time that I could possibly ovulate. I'm not so sad anymore when I don't ovulate. I just record it on my Fertility Friend app and think of it all as data to analyze. Ha ha. I'm figuring my body out! It's kinda cool. Like a science experiment.

I am SO not used to having a cycle every month. I don't know how the average woman does it. I feel like I'm bleeding to death. Ha ha. But it's good. It's healthy. It's normal. And having a period is a huge step in the right direction to better health and better fertility.

Other thoughts: The weirdest thing happened when I first started taking Progesterone. It puts you to sleep pretty quickly, so you have to take it at night. I slept so deeply the first night that I woke up the next morning with a CRAZY crick in my neck and had to take it easy and stretch it and massage it ALL DAY for like 5 days before it went away completely. What the heck. That really sucked. But now it helps me get to bed earlier and sleep deeper and not jolt awake at random times. Getting enough sleep is important for my overall health too, so I'm glad I've got an aid with that.

This is going to be a gradual process. Impatient me is just going to have to shut up and get over it. A friend told me I was a goddess of patience. Ha ha. Life circumstances has just made me that way. This is going to take time. I have to accept that. And I have to be okay with not having my life planned out. That is HARD. I like to know what's coming next. I like having a goal and being prepared. Nothing about all this allows me to make definite plans and have an idea about the future. AhhhHH! As of right now, the plan is to just keep going with what I'm doing. No definite timeline about that. Just keep going. I can do that.

Like I've said, this whole fertility thing isn't just my problem. So I finally got Zay to go to my doctor. And he got some bloodwork done, which he'd never done before. And of course, the results were low Vitamin D and low testosterone. I could've told him that. I have been telling him that, ha ha. I didn't need a blood test to know that's what the problem was. But he did. He needed that in writing. He's been on a high dose of Zinc for a few months now, but now he's gonna add Vitamin D and Clomid (ironically, Clomid helps male fertility too) and I've gotta get him as serious about taking his pills daily like I've done. I'm picking up his Clomid prescription today. Woot woot! Maybe since I've got my whole "achieving hormonal balance" thing down, I can work on him. :)


Next fertility post: Keep On Keepin' On

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