How I bomb proofed my immune system, beat insomnia, lowered my blood pressure, normalized my thyroid…and didn’t get pregnant

I work with small children who are full of snot so germs are flying and my husband is always complaining about the sniffles he believes I’m the carrier of. I may be about to jinx myself, but I haven’t had so much as a cold all winter, while most years I’ve experienced at least a few days of misery during the shortest days when the air is driest and my throat just wants to scream. This year? Not once. What was different? I’ll get there.

And the real moral of the story is: being healthy (and stress free!) doesn’t automatically get you pregnant (or help you stay pregnant). Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there is a real stigma that being infertile means you are unhealthy. I probably once even believed this myself. Exercise more, exercise less, whatever you are doing, sources lead you to believe are probably doing it wrong if you’re not pregnant (and want to be). There is so much literature out there about “fertility cleanses,” juice fasts, diets and ways to “get pregnant fast” that seem to imply that all you need to do to get pregnant is get healthy. And you know what, I am healthy. I’m just not pregnant.

The flip side of that story of course is that plenty of people get pregnant who aren’t in ideal health, and sometimes that is sadly the reality of their circumstances, no fault of their own. I heard a heartbreaking story this morning on NPR, Yemen’s Civil War Places Heavy Burden on Ordinary Citizens. They mention women with newborns who are suffering from malnutrition, and have been for years. And yet, they were able to conceive and carry their children. I hope their miracle babies bring them hope in the darkness of their situation the way only new life can.

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Speaking of new life, here’s how I got my new sickness-free life. I’ll be honest here, some of these things I started to do solely because I thought they would get me pregnant (and help me stay pregnant). Multivitamin? I’d always had good intentions here but never could remember. Until I thought it would help me conceive and carry a healthy pregnancy. This is not a how-to guide, because in fact, I have no clue which of these things helped me acquire my new found super-health, and this is an anecdote, not statistical evidence. This is a very uncontrolled experiment as the variables are many and there is no control (though control is something I very much long for!). Who’s to say it’s not just coincidence that I feel healthier? Or plain good luck, like it sometimes takes to win the fertility game. I don’t want to take for granted my good health or assume that everyone else can achieve the same. I know my privilege affords me good healthcare and my health brings with it privilege (chicken or egg?). Point is, I’m grateful and I hope that I can inspire you to at least consider trying a new healthy habit, including things not listed that might be better suited to your own individual needs.

  1. I take a multivitamin and 500mg of vitamin C daily. I know, I know, the jury is out on if vitamin C actually does anything to prevent colds but I may now be a believer.
  2. Acupuncture. I’m all about evidence-based medicine (see this is not statistical evidence about). So Eastern Medicine seemed a little hooey to me, however there are actually some scientific studies demonstrating the benefits of acupuncture. I am incredibly fortunate that my insurance covers treatment. If nothing else, it’s a nice nap and some scheduled down time. When I started going over a year ago, down time was anxiety producing for me and I talked to my practitioner and we agreed to shorter sessions initially, and now I love even the longer ones!
  3. Meditation. No, I don’t just sit there and bliss out, as I just said down time, at least previously makes me anxious. I started by listening to recordings as I fell asleep. Again, as new-agey as it may sound, there’s actually research backing it up. A couple of my favorite recordings can be found at UCLA and Berkley, both schools have conducting studies on the benefits of mindfulness. Spoiler alert: it’s beneficial.
  4. Quitting my job. And yes, I started a new one, so this isn’t a privileged story of hey I just stopped working and life got better, because that isn’t always realistic. This is a story of taking risks and seeking new opportunities.
  5. Working multiple jobs, taking a college class. For me, I’m a creature of habit and routine and having structure (as in, I wake up at the same time every day, because I work 7 days a week) is actually helpful. A lot of the research on insomnia really suggests establishing a sleep schedule, and for me having to get up is the only way to do it. Plus, my second job involves fresh air and physical activity which I’m sure helps, too. Taking a class gave me something productive to do with my “free” time.
  6. Having a supportive husband who doesn’t complain too much when I bring home the germs. Again, this is not a how-to list because I know I am just freaking lucky here. But I think the relationships we have, romantic or otherwise, really do support our health.
  7. Having a set bed time. This helped that relationship part, too because we both just got in the routine of going to bed at the same time. There are sleep tracking apps that can help you figure out the best time to go to bed, too, based on your wake up time. I used the CBT-i Coach app designed by the VA to help veterans suffering from insomnia and PTSD.
  8. Modern medicine and having a PCP who knows me. I was comfortable asking her to check my thyroid when I realized I had symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Turns out, my blood tests a year and a half ago came back showing sub-clinical hyperthyroidism. Not enough to treat with medication. But enough that I had symptoms, like high blood pressure and insomnia. No idea what the chicken and egg here was, but after three tests in a 6 month period confirming the same hyper result, a year later, my thyroid levels are now smack dab in the middle of where they should be. It’s tangible proof that something is different.
  9. Counseling. See #8. Before a career change, my counselor had been my PCP’s son’s first grade teacher. My PCP pointed me in that direction. Counseling, like acupuncture made me anxious at first (telling my feelings to a stranger!) but in the long run has been very helpful! My PCP normalized that experience for me or else I probably would’ve given up.
  10. Naturopathy. I ultimately am much more of a modern medicine type person, and I didn’t mesh with the provider I used, but I do still take a magnesium supplement she recommended and I’m glad I gave it a shot.
  11. Gained weight. Yup, my BMI was just wavering on side of increased risk for miscarriage when we lost our first pregnancy and with my thyroid being no longer in overdrive this was much easier to accomplish.
  12. Yoga with Adrienne. Look up her you tube videos!
  13. Biathlons.
  14. Getting a pet rabbit. Obviously.
  15. “Stopped” stressing. Ok, its not actually possible to full out stop stress. In fact positive stressors are good! See #4 a #5. Here’s how I reduced stress- 2,3,4,9, 12, 13, 14! The cliche is “stop stressing and you’ll get pregnant,” and I’m really happy for anyone that is true for. I’m also really happy to be less stressed, even though it didn’t equate to pregnancy for me.

Now it’s not all perfect. Sometimes I still have insomnia. Sometimes my blood pressure is high, like the other day when I was stuck in traffic on the way to an appointment (my lovely PCP took it again at the end of the appointment and it was just fine). Sometimes I still forget to take my multi-vitamin. But something has changed for the better. And it didn’t make me pregnant. Happy National Infertility Awareness Week!

**You may have noticed I didn’t say “how I bomb proofed my immune system, beat insomnia, lowered my blood pressure, normalized my thyroid…BUT didn’t get pregnant.” I said AND. My friend Rachel Whalen wrote a beautiful piece about “The Power of And” AND I encourage you to check it out. The difference of “but” vs “and” was first pointed out to me in a training for supervisors at a job. We were encouraged, when giving feedback that was a mix of positive and so-called constructive, to never connect the two with the world “but” because it is dismissive of the everything before it. “You are great at “x” BUT you stink at “y”. How about “you are great at x AND  you stink at y.” (Obviously, that was just an example because you’ve got other things to work at in your feedback giving if you tell people they stink:)). It did leave an impression on me.

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