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Connie’s Fertility Journey

June is a month that gives me a mixture of feelings.  First, it’s a month when I finally feel that summer is here and ready to spend some good time with my family.  However, it’s also a month when my emotions get triggered more because of my past miscarriage history.  

I remember after a few years of trying to conceive, my husband and I began traveling down the frustrating road of doctor visits and infertility treatments.  Whenever doctors told us we would never get pregnant naturally, I felt like everything I had ever dreamed of was being taken away. 

I felt like I was being punished by not being able to conceive and felt like I was a failure for not being able to be a mom.  After three years of infertility treatments, heart-wrenching disappointments, and faith-filled prayers, I finally got pregnant and delivered a healthy sweet boy.  

However, since I successfully conceived the first child, I expected it would be easier to have a second child.   After my son turned two years old, I was able to get pregnant again without any fertility treatments.  Both my husband and I were very excited about the news. 

However, within just a couple of months the excitement turned to sorrow.  After three ultrasounds, the doctor told us that the baby’s heartbeat could no longer be detected, confirming it was no longer viable. It was a missed miscarriage.  He also informed us that the chances of getting pregnant again were slim.  

This miscarriage journey was dark, lonely and frustrating.  I remember questioning why I had to go through a miscarriage after I had already suffered a lot from infertility.  It felt like I had fallen into a very dark pit and could not climb out on my own. I felt hopeless and exhausted about the whole experience, and I kept all of the feelings inside. In the beginning, I did not seek any help.  

During this difficult time, I received comfort and support from my husband, friends, and my faith community.  They also encouraged me to seek professional help though.  I’m grateful that I was able to find a counselling therapist who helped guide me to share, express, and process my feelings. 

These counselling sessions gave me a safe space to reflect deeply within myself, allowing me to to be with difficult emotions and to work toward accepting and integrating them. 

I was able to recognize my fears and wounds and process feelings of guilt and shame that arose from infertility and pregnancy loss.

Counselling helped me to become aware of my limitations as well as my strengths. With counselling support, my infertility and miscarriage journey has become a huge transformational life experience.

I’m thankful that I was able to find light within the darkness of that time. I can see that in the face of that difficult situation, I had the love and support of my family and friends and I am also grateful to now have a deeper understanding of the suffering and pain associated with miscarriage and infertility. This understanding fuels my compassion to help others going through similar experiences.

Many of us may have had experiences that carry strong emotions or psychological impacts that can resurface when triggered by certain events, people or even calendar dates. Please reach out to people who love you and care about you so that you don’t have to carry the burden of the struggle on your own. It can be so therapeutic to simply share your thoughts and feelings with others who can offer you comfort and support.

Because it can often be challenging for loved ones who are also directly involved and intimate with your reproductive challenges – it can also be so beneficial to seek extra support from a professional therapist or counsellor who can help hold safe space and provide you with some tools for dealing with the challenges of infertility and pregnancy loss. It certainly helped me on my own journey!

Contact us for a free 20-minute phone consultation with Connie about her fertility counselling sessions.

Image IG @nushu

Part 4: How Social Media Breaks Can Reduce Fertility Stress

Social Media Breaks 

When experiencing difficulties trying to conceive, it can be really hard on the psyche seeing pregnancy and baby announcements taking place on social media. It can cause more stress to an already stressful situation. 

That’s why I suggest taking breaks from social media from time to time. I know in this day and age, especially during a pandemic it might be hard to do this because this is a way that we stay connected to some people. Therefore, if you don’t want to take a break there are ways to navigate the system. 

Facebook has a setting where you can unfollow people (this will not notify that person that you have unfollowed them). This is a way to hide some people’s posts without unfriending them. This way, if you do want to see what is going on in their life you have the option to go to their page when you choose to.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, please feel free to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Image: @debbyillustration

Part 3: How Exercise Can Reduce Fertility Stress

Exercise 

Exercise is a great stress management tool. However, when trying to conceive there should be a healthy balance. This means that exercise should be done in moderation because on the flip side, too much exercise can actually hinder pregnancy attempts. 

Generally, it is best to exercise 3-5x/ week no longer than 1 hour each day.

If you would like to see more specific guidelines, please visit my recent blogs on exercise and conception and what types of exercise are safe when undergoing ART.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, please feel free to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Image: @chloealexisham

Part 2: How Mindfulness Can Decrease Fertility Stress

Mindfulness

Mindfulness supports the cultivation of awareness of difficult psychological states while normalizing and accepting them, thereby increasing the capacity to respond to stress with resilience.

A study published in Fertility and Sterility shows that Mindfulness-Based Programs for Infertility are an effective psychological intervention for those experiencing infertility, increasing resiliency and decreasing psychological distress (4).  

Whole Family Health and Elements of Health have teamed up to provide Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs for fertility. By taking part in a program geared towards fertility with people who might have a similar experience to yours, your experience is validated and your ability to cope increases, helping to navigate challenging circumstances.

For more information on Mindfulness for fertility and upcoming events click on this link: https://mindfulnessforfertility.com/

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, please feel free to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Resources

PMID: 23809500

Image: @fieldandsea

Part 1: How Acupuncture Can Help Decrease Fertility Stress

Experiencing fertility issues can be extremely stressful. In fact, research published by the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology found that the psychological symptoms of those having fertility issues were comparable to those who were diagnosed with cancer or a cardiac condition (1). 

The authors suggested that it is important for those experiencing fertility challenges to have psychosocial interventions. Therefore, it can be inferred that it is important to find ways to help cope with stress.

I’ve already shared in a recent blog about how healthy sleep can decrease stress and support fertility, in my upcoming blog series, I’ll be sharing my next top 4 choices to help you decrease stress while you are on your fertility journey.

Here’s my first recommendation and stay tuned for the rest!

1. Acupuncture 

Regular acupuncture treatments can help decrease stress and help with blood flow. Blood flow is usually restricted to certain body parts when we are stressed, and this impacts fertility. 

A study done using ultrasound to measure blood flow proved that after acupuncture, blood flow did increase blood flow in the arteries (2). 

Basically, when we’re stressed, the body increases Cortisol production. This encourages more blood flow to the brain, some organs and to the big muscles (in the past this was to help people run away from something dangerous). This also means that it diverts blood flow away from the reproductive organs. We want good blood flow to go to the reproductive organs to encourage conception. 

Another research indicated that acupuncture treatment not only activates distinct brain regions caused by imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic activities, but also modulates adaptive neurotransmitters in related brain regions to alleviate autonomic response which controls the fight-or-flight response (3).

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, please feel free to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Resources

  1. PMID: 8142988
  2. PMID: 22778772
  3. PMID: 23762116

Image: @imangibson

Book Event: Catalogue Baby

Dr. Alda Ngo is honoured to be invited to moderate a Virtual Book Event on Thursday, May 20th at 6pm MT.

Audreys Bookstore is hosting a book event with author, Myriam Steinberg, who has just published her deeply moving tragicomic graphic memoir, Catalogue Baby: A Memoir of (In)fertility, about a single woman’s efforts to conceive in her forties. 

Myriam is a dear friend of Dr. Alda, who had the privilege of supporting Myriam along her journey toward motherhood. Myriam will be talking not only about her experience trying to birth her “rainbow” babies, but also about the process of writing such an emotionally charged memoir while still going through her fertility journey(!).

ABOUT THE BOOK


A few months after Myriam Steinberg turned forty, she decided she couldn’t wait any longer to become a mother. With her family and friends to support her, Myriam began her journey as a Single Mom by Choice that was far from straightforward.  

Whether it was choosing donors or opting for one medical procedure or another, she grappled with a wide variety of difficult decisions. She experienced not only the soaring highs and devastating lows of becoming pregnant and then losing her babies, but also the silences, loneliness, and taboos that often surround the loss of a pregnancy.

Although the lack of understanding and language around fetal loss and grief often made it very hard to navigate everyday life, Myriam nonetheless found solace in the community around her who rallied to sustain her. 

Beautifully illustrated by Christache, and told with humour, honesty, and courage, Catalogue Baby is one woman’s story of tragedy and beating the odds, and is a resource for all women and couples who are trying to conceive. This book is a compassionate portrait of fertility and infertility that hasn’t been seen before. 

EVENT INFO & REGISTRATION

Date: May 20, 2021
Time: 6 p.m. (MST)

Register for the event here:https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/myriam-steinberg-virtual-launch-for-catalogue-baby-tickets-153383398875

For additional info, please visit www.cataloguebabynovel.com and Instagram at @catalogue_baby

GET THE BOOK


If you would like to purchase and read the book ahead of the event, you can get your copy at Audreys Bookstore.*

The store is closed to browsing, but they are offering delivery or curbside pick-up at 10702 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, AB


Order on-line: www.audreys.ca

Order by phone: 780-423-2487

Order by email: audrey@audreys.ca

REVIEWS

This book should be required reading for anyone working in the fertility field, as they are unlikely to find a more potent psychological study of a persistent individual experiencing infertility and loss….I found Christache’s visuals sublime, Steinberg’s story gripping
– Women Write About Comics

Catalogue Baby: A Memoir of (In)Fertility[is] an extraordinary feat of visual storytelling 
– Foreword Review

Steinberg’s solo-mother-by-choice perspective and accessible, well-paced graphic storytelling brings a fresh angle to the pregnancy memoir canon.
– Publisher’s Weekly

Warning: you’re going to need to set aside some uninterrupted time to savour Myriam Steinberg’s new graphic novel, Catalogue Baby: A Memoir of (In)fertility because it is hard to put down.
– Ormsby Review

Graphic novels are well known for tackling a wide-range of topics and presenting them in ways that convey the subject’s emotional experience in image and script. Catalogue Baby certainly succeeds…. Christache’s capturing of the experiences… is perfect.
-Vancouver Sun

“A bracingly candid, fearless, and funny look at the misconceptions of conception and the emotional rollercoaster of fertility. Myriam Steinberg has turned her journey of heartbreak and healing into something wonderfully alive.” 
—Elan Mastai, writer/producer of THIS IS US and author of ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS.

WFH on Real Talk with Ryan Jespersen!

Dr. Alda Ngo had the pleasure of joining a roundtable on Real Talk With Ryan Jespersen, one of Canada’s most popular live talk show/ podcasts.

Dr. Alda was joined by 3 other people intimate with the infertility journey, Ryan Jespersen himself sharing about his own experience.

A wonderful and meaningful conversation on infertility from the inside, the thoughts, emotions, the logistics, finances and a little bit of science.

Here’s the write-up:

It’s Canadian Infertility Awareness Week, so we check in with Dr. Alda Ngo, Kristina Melia, and Linda Hoang. What new options exist for Canadians hoping to start a family, what are some of the most significant barriers they’ll face, and what proactive steps can people take to improve their chances?

Join us for our free virtual CIAW event: Infertility During A Pandemic. Sunday, April 25th 2-330pm MT as we team up with Dr. Caitlin Dunne from PCRM and 3 courageous fertility patients who share their stories. Contact us for more info and to register.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can support you on your fertility journey, book a Free 15-minute Phone Consultation with one of our fertility specialists.

Alda’s story

As I witness so many brave people share their stories, in honour of CIAW & helping to normalize the conversation around infertility, I will take the opportunity to share my own story. I am #1in6

I’ve been working in fertility health since 2007 & for a good 7 plus years of this time, I found myself in my own struggle. Being immersed in it, it was both a blessing & a curse to be working in the industry, as I struggled to find a single moment when the thoughts & emotions associated with infertility didn’t dominate.

It was a rollercoaster of hope & disappointment & I was fortunate to know very well that I wasn’t alone but still held it close & couldn’t speak of it openly because it felt sensitive & private & I never quite knew when I would well up & cry. It was always just right under the surface & I felt the need to hold it together, so I held it mostly inside.

I did all the things & at times I did none of the things. It wasn’t a linear path, but I did my best to meet every moment with as much awareness & kindness as was available to me. Finally after much hope & heartache, surgery, acupuncture, herbs, healthy eating, terrible eating, yoga, exercise, languishing, loving my partner, wanting to strangle my partner, miscarriages, IUI’s, supplements, & the like… we managed to conceive our son.

Funny enough, there I sat in a 10-day silent meditation retreat, in the surrealness that the home pregnancy test I took in the retreat centre bathroom was positive. There I sat with the disbelief, the excitement, the happiness, the fear & the dread of another loss & couldn’t speak of any of it. Being with it in silence and watching the storm of thoughts & emotions for another 7 days. The culmination of 7 years into 7 days of silence with nothing to do but watch & accept & breathe with it all.

May you find the inner space and calm to recognize and take good care of what you do have control over, while cultivating openness and deep acceptance of whatever outcome you don’t have control over. Be kind to yourselves.

We have upcoming Online Mindfulness For Fertility programs by donation. For more information, go to www.mindfulnessforfertility.com

Self-Care Abdominal Massage For Fertility

“I am feeling stressed, worried, and anxious… I know I need to relax, but I just don’t even know where to start anymore.” 

Does this feel like a familiar sentiment? The stress of trying to conceive can be high under normal circumstances, but add on what has been happening in our world the last year and that stress begins to amp up even higher. 

Abdominal Self-Massage

When I have people come to see me, one of my greatest take home recommendations for de-stressing and relaxation is actually abdominal self massage. I tend to incorporate abdominal Tui Na (Chinese massage) into my general practice to help with circulation to the reproductive organs, but it is also a great practice to help decrease stress. 

If you are looking for a different approach to bringing some calm into your life, check out the routine below! 

Mo-Fa Round Rubbing

This practice involves using the technique known as Mo Fa – Round Rubbing. This is a gentle technique that uses the palm of the hand to bring great care to a specific area of the body. 

Mo Fa is a technique that can have many benefits to the body. It can be used to regulate digestion, relieve abdominal tension, and support fertility and menstrual health as well as creating an overall sense of relaxation. 

The abdominal work can be done over top of clothing or directly on the skin with some oil. It is best to choose a fragrance-free oil. Consider an oil like coconut, jojoba, or sweet almond oil. 

These are general guidelines to follow and it is always best to consult with your healthcare provider to determine if these techniques are appropriate for you. 

Setting the Space 

Set yourself up in such a way that you can lay down comfortably and relax. Consider playing some soft music or use a heating pad under your back to make sure you are cozy.

Do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable. Prop a pillow under your knees and cover your legs with a blanket.

As you rest, close your eyes and take a few moments to observe your breath. Relax into the space and take about ten rounds of deep breaths. 

The Technique 

Place your left hand over your heart and your right palm below the belly button, over your womb, on the midline. Begin by slowly circling your right hand clockwise over the womb.

The pressure can be adjusted to your preference, but I usually recommend just the weight of the hand to start.

Circle the palm until you begin to feel warmth under the right hand. As you notice the warmth, start to spiral this circle larger until you begin to encompass the entire abdomen. Gliding under the edges of the ribs, the hip bones, and across the top of the pubic bone.

After about nine rounds, begin to spiral the circle smaller and smaller until your right palm ends up where it started, circling over the womb. 

Move through these circles very slowly. Keep your wrist relaxed and find a comfortable rhythm staying aware of your breath. 

Let your palm come to rest over the womb and become aware of the sensations underneath your palm. Is there warmth? Do you notice a subtle tingling sensation in the fingers? End the practice with a round of 3-5 deep breaths and again become aware of how you feel in your body at this moment. 

This can be practiced for about 5-10 minutes daily. 

For a live demo of this abdominal technique, you can tune into the video premiere on the Whole Family Health Facebook page on Wednesday, April 21st!

For more information on how we can support your fertility, book a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Image @angiecouple

How to Support Fertility With Sleep

According to the APA (American Psychological Association) it is best to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. When people are not getting the appropriate amount or quality of sleep, their stress increases

A nationwide cohort study out of Taiwan found that people who suffer from insomnia were almost four times more likely to struggle with fertility compared to those who were well-rested (1).  

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is important in order to get good quality sleep. 

Here are some tips for improving your sleep: 

  • Keep sleep patterns regular and sleep between 10 pm and 7 am:
    Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Schedule permitting, aim to be in bed by 10pm and wake no later than 7am. 
    You’ll feel better if you are awake during sunlight hours. Once you get into a routine where you’re getting enough sleep each night (even on weekends) you won’t miss the weekend sleep-ins after awhile. 
  • Light/darkness support:
    If it’s not possible for you to sleep when it’s dark and rise when it’s light, you can try using blackout curtains and a sunrise/light alarm to simulate those conditions at off-times.
  • Stop caffeine intake by a certain time:
    When trying to conceive, you should already be limiting your caffeine intake. But in terms of improving sleep habits, caffeine consumption should stop at least 4-6 hours before going to sleep.
  • Turn off technology:
    Turning off backlit electronics at least 30 minutes before bed is essential. Devices like cell phones, tablets, readers, and computers emit short-wavelength enriched light, also known as blue light.

    Blue light has been shown to reduce or delay the natural production of melatonin in the evening and decrease feelings of sleepiness. Blue light can also reduce the amount of time you spend in slow-wave and rapid-eye movement (REM) sleep, two stages of the sleep cycle that are vital for cognitive functioning.
  • Relax your mind:
    You might be used to finishing up some last-minute tasks prior to bed. However, it’s best to skip things that might stay on your mind as you go to bed. Try doing relaxation techniques like meditation or breathing exercises instead.
  • Spend time outdoors:
    Spending an hour in sunlight each day can help with quality of sleep and the ability to fall asleep. This hour does not have to occur all at once, you can break it up into increments that fit into your schedule. For example, try to have lunch outside, take walks, and play with pets outside.
  • Short term melatonin intake:
    If you suffer from Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD) -a circadian rhythm disorder, I typically suggest taking a small dose of melatonin for 2-4 weeks to reset your circadian rhythm.

    It is best to stick to short durations with breaks in between, because there is a possibility of long-term use of melatonin negatively affecting your own natural production of melatonin.

    Please consult with a qualified practitioner for dosing and melatonin supplementation scheduling. 

To find out more about how we can help you reduce stress and support your fertility, book a free 15-minute phone consultation with one of our fertility specialists.

References

  1. PMID: 29136234

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