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October 2018

Babe In My Arms, Babe In My Heart, Blogs

Infertility and the Road to Comedy

October 18, 2018
Written by Meirav Z, guest blogger and creator of “Inconceivable”
I never thought I’d one day talk so much about infertility.  And it would be about me.  And I definitely never would’ve guessed it could be funny.
So first off, blogging isn’t easy for me. I’d much rather stand on a stage in front of lots of people with a bright spotlight on me.  Really.
My name is Meirav (pronounced May-rahv).  I’ve experienced unexplained infertility and unexplained secondary infertility for a total of about 10 years, including hormone shots (for those who aren’t familiar– those are needles, not drinks), countless examination with that overly-evasive and completely unmagical vaginal wand, industrial amounts of lube, awkward IUI’s, surreal IVF, heartbreaking miscarriages, emotions galore, and everything else that’s very familiar to the ttc community— a community which I only became aware of this past year.
Professionally, I’m in theater, so I’m familiar with putting on a happy face and having that show-must-go-on attitude. And maybe now you can better understand how it’s easier for me to stand in front of a crowd and talk about my private parts and mood bungee-jumps than to write a blog about it.  Yes, “you” as in the one reading this.  Hi there. I know for a fact we already have at least one if not many things in common, and that’s so amazing that it’ll just help get me through writing this.
I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and as a young adult and adult, I was very aware pregnancy (you have sex = you get pregnant, it’s in all the books, sex-ed classes, movies, songs….How could anyone imagine it not being so?) When I was actually ready to have kids, I was shocked it didn’t happen immediately after my husband and I stopped using birth control.  It took us a long while to figure out that maybe we had some sort of problem.  Did I take birth control for too long?  Was there something that I missed in Sex Ed?? Nobody around us talked about this as an issue, we didn’t know this was something that affected so many couples.  This was all taking place in Israel, where I live now.  It’s a very family-oriented country, but we never really heard anything about problems while family-making.  We were totally clueless, and it took me a while to get over the embarrassment and shame and guilt and contact a doctor to inquire.  I mean, how were we not doing it right?!  I had a couple of miscarriages during that time as well.  Ugh, that horrible feeling of failure…  The doctor’s response was an immediate “oh, this happens to lots of couples, don’t worry about it” and we were sent to start fertility testing.
All the testing showed that everything was fine and in working order with the both of us, so we got the explanation of “unexplained infertility”— The thing you can’t pinpoint and fix because you don’t know what it is.  So off we went to fertility treatment.  I know, I just made it sound like we were skipping and hopping along with joyous background music. Nope. So how can you treat what you don’t know is malfunctioning? Well, with extra hormones, scheduled sex, and lots of intervention by medical personnel who are also complete strangers, of course!  I know, sounds exactly like a sexy resort vacation.
I remember that we were at this tiny fertility/IVF clinic, it was practically a hallway with a couple of chairs.  I was about to begin fertility treatments towards an IUI, all of this being a completely top secret assignment from anyone besides my husband and me, of course.  The nurse gave me a detailed explanation on how to self-administer the hormone shots with this special kit I was given.  I had to start on the third day of menstruation (“Day 3” later became known as this magical day for anything fertility-related). I listened very carefully, I even took notes.  I was a good student, I was going to ace this thing.  Then, sure enough I started getting my period, and I knew could finally begin the sure-to-work treatment in only 2 days.  But then my period wasn’t really, and something seemed off. I called the clinic and spoke with the nurse.  She had me come in and take another blood test, just to be sure.  Later that day the nurse called, congratulating me that I was pregnant, naturally!  We were amazed and so happy, and I got a speedy graduation from the fertility clinic, I felt like a star student.
My husband and I had our amazing daughter and felt overjoyed.
And then we wanted another child, and there we were “trying” again with no pregnancy.  Why?? This time we knew to go back to the fertility doctor right away.  We were then labeled as having “unexplained secondary infertility”, which is like “Really-Unexplained Infertility” or “Unexplained Infertility: The Revenge”.  We got ready to start treatment once again (well, for the first time, technically), and then I found out how little I knew about fertility treatments. I knew nothing. This time, I was waiting for that Day 3, totally thinking I’ll be pregnant again minutes before administering that first hormone shot.  But not this time.  This time I had to go through with it.  And then some.  So many shots, several failed IUI’s, then IVF. Remember that tiny IVF hallway-clinic I mentioned eariler?  Now it was already a few years after that first visit, and that clinic had expanded to be huge and shiny with nice leather couches and sliding glass doors… So many people going through IVF now.
The hormones and fertility treatments were too much at one point.  It was a huge strain on our family, and on our marriage.  We decided to take a break and just enjoy and appreciate what we have, and our daughter will have to make do without a sibling.  A couple of years later, which was about 2 years ago, I found out I was pregnant. Naturally again, and I found out pretty late in.  But within about a 2 week period we got on an insane fertility roller-coaster: Found out about the pregnancy, heard the heartbeat for the first time, and then didn’t hear a heartbeat. We were shocked, crying, I had to get a D&C.  No words.  But we got through it.
My husband always wanted me to talk about all of this with someone, and I wouldn’t.  I just couldn’t.  But then, after that last crazy roller-coaster loop, I decided to try.  But how??  I started collecting all my thoughts on paper, and when thinking about it, I found lots of comedic moments.  That fertility roller coaster is so surreal at times, it’s funny.  I had figured what worked for me.  So I invited some friends over to my house one night, they didn’t even know what they were coming for.  And there I was, telling them my fertility journey.  What it really means.  Everything you have to do, everything that’s done to you, all the feelings involved.  And being an actress who loves comedy, I presented it to them using characters, songs, and lots of humor. I was so nervous, I think I was sitting down reading from my paper the whole time.
When I was done I was so relieved that I got through it, now everyone could go home and that was that.  But instead, they all started telling me I need to turn this into a real show.  And even more surprising, they stayed over for a long time afterwards, because they all started TALKING.  They started to open up about their own related stories, that other friends in the room didn’t really know about.  And there suddenly was this deeper understanding and connection.  That’s when I knew this was worth exploring.  Because it got people talking about this thing nobody ever really talks about. Honestly and openly. And it got people laughing, too.  It’s like the comedy broke the ice of this taboo.
My husband wasn’t in the room that night, I made him stay in the area near our daughter’s bedroom to make sure she wouldn’t wake up and hear random songs and phrases about vaginas, sex, and other child-inappropriate content.  When everyone eventually left that night, he came up to me and just said he had no clue what that evening was about, he only managed to hear bits and pieces, but he was so proud of me and hugged me.  We stood there hugging for a good long while.  He’s been my biggest fan and best partner from the beginning. Infertility is so hard on men, too.  And yes, I’m crying as I’m typing this.
So fast forward about a year later, I now have a new show (this time it’s a solo show… about my personal stuff… yikes), titled Inconceivable: The Totally True One-Woman Semi-Fertile Quasi-“Musical”.
I have the privilege of performing it on stages big and small, including the National Theatre of Israel, and will be making a U.S. debut this October at the world’s largest solo performance festival, the United Solo Theatre Festival in the heart of New York City’s theater district.  My performance already sold out and I’ve been fortunate to receive an additional show date!  It’s crazy!  But crazy good, because now I’m on a mission to get more people talking about infertility, and laughing, and talking some more.  I’m learning about others who are on this mission in their own way, and it’s great.  More talking will create more awareness, and more awareness will drop that associated stigma, help educate, and make necessary changes or lead to advancements.
I’ve performed this show numerous times by now, essentially telling my story over and over again, and despite all the comedy it’s still very challenging.  But I keep doing it for the sole reason of what happens after each performance.  The live experience with this show is so energetic, it’s completely different from reading something or watching a screen which can be powerful in their own right, and this live energy is even more true for the complex topic of infertility.  The response for the show is amazing.  Some audience members find me after the show and tell me directly.  Most confide how they’ve experienced similar journeys and it’s so good to know they’re not the only ones, some thank me for educating them on what their children or friends are going through or have gone through, some are medical professionals who got some clarity to the patients’ side of things, and some just relate to the show in one form or another.  I’ve learned so much from the whole process of this show, both professionally and personally.
I have this guest book where people can write their thoughts, reactions, etc. after seeing the show, which I love reading after I pack up each performance.  One audience member wrote that people all over the world should see this.  And it’s true, people all over the world are going through the same things other people are, and may not even know it.  Thousands of miles apart feeling lonely but in reality so close.  And all of it boils down to the fact that we can all connect on one if not many levels, just like you and I already have things in common, which I find to be so exciting and empowering. I hope anyone reading this can identify with that.
Babe In My Arms, Babe In My Belly, Babe In My Heart, Blogs

The Thyroid – Fertility Connection

October 4, 2018

Written byAlyssa Hustedt, guest blogger

Did you know that 1 in 8 women will experience a thyroid imbalance or disorder in their lifetime?  In addition to those diagnosed, there are many others who do not fit the medical criteria of thyroid disease but will feel the effects of poor thyroid function.  The thyroid gland influences almost every cell in your body and its hormones play a huge role in maintaining health, vitality and even fertility. Today, I am here to share with you the signs and symptoms of a thyroid imbalance, which lab markers to ask your doctor for and what you can do to support your thyroid naturally.  

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ at the front of the neck and its function is to take iodine and other nutrients and convert them into thyroid hormones—thyroxin (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).   Every cell in the body depends on these hormones for regulation of their metabolism. Thyroid hormones regulate body weight and control the rate at which the body produces energy from food thereby directly impacting energy levels.  Hypothyroidism can cause infertility by preventing ovulation and adequate levels are critical in pregnancy because these hormones greatly influence growth and development of a growing baby.

Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism can include feeling sluggish or tired, difficulty losing weight, dry skin, hair loss, constipation, cold sensitivity, lack of sweating, feeling mentally sluggish, depressed, experience a “pins and needles” sensation like when a limb falls asleep, puffiness in the face and/or neck or have loss of the outer 1/3 of the eyebrow.

Not as common–but just as concerning–are the signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism.  These can include increased BMR, weight loss, increased appetite, heat intolerance, hypertensive tendencies, feeling anxious or irritable, difficulty falling asleep, may suffer from rapid or irregular heartbeat, brittle hair, an increased number of bowel movements per day and hyperpigmentation of the skin or flushed skin (a red face).  

Many, if not all, of us have had our TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) tested because many doctors solely rely on TSH to determine if there is a thyroid dysregulation.  TSH is not a thyroid hormone itself—it is the hormone that the pituitary gland uses to signal to the thyroid to release thyroid hormones. Anything below .5 can be considered hyperthyroid and anything above 5.5 hypothyroid depending on the lab you use.  These numbers may be a bit opposite of what you would expect and that is because when your thyroid hormones (T4 and T3) start to get low the pituitary will begin to “yell” at the thyroid gland resulting in higher TSH.  In other words, the pituitary starts to send more TSH to the thyroid to signal it to start releasing more hormones. The opposite is true as well: when thyroid hormones are sufficient or too high in the body, the pituitary will back off sending TSH to the thyroid and the number will drop.  As a functional practitioner, I like to see TSH between 1 and 2. This is a much narrower range than lab range but is generally where a person feels the best. The closer the TSH gets to 3 and beyond, the more you may begin to experience hypothyroid symptoms.

The problem with only testing TSH is that you could be missing some key components in the equation.  For example, your TSH could be perfectly normal (so between 1 and 2) but your T4 and T3 might be out of lab range low and cause hypothyroid symptoms because you are not obtaining adequate amounts of actual active thyroid hormones.  When I run a lab panel, I like to see the full picture. This includes TSH, Total T4, Free T4, Total T3, Free T3, Reverse T3, T3 Uptake and TPO & TGB antibodies. Testing for the TPO & TGB antibodies is important with any thyroid imbalance because this will indicate if you have any thyroid autoimmune (meaning that your body is producing antibodies that attack and destroy the thyroid gland itself).  This is something to be concerned about and supplementing for autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s or Graves ’ disease may look different than only having a thyroid imbalance or insufficiency. The autoimmune component in any system of the body should not be ignored.

SO what can you do to support your thyroid gland?  

  1.  If you have any type of thyroid imbalance, dysregulation or autoimmune, it is crucial that you eliminate all gluten from your diet.  Gluten is like the Devil to your thyroid gland. Besides the fact that gluten is a gateway to leaky gut and other autoimmune conditions, thyroid hormones and gluten molecules look very similar.  Gluten sensitivity can exacerbate an attack on the thyroid and in return Hashimoto’s can set up gluten sensitivity.
  2. Focus on eating a nutrient-dense diet.  Throw out the packaged foods, sugary drinks and drive-thru meals.  Eat to nourish, not deplete your body. Choose whole, well-sourced foods.  Shop on the outer edges of the grocery store and always check labels for added chemicals and preservatives.Specific nutrients to fuel your thyroid include:  Iodine which can be found in sea vegetables. Selenium (which helps turn T4 into active T3) found in well-sourced brazil nuts, fish, eggs, raw dairy and grass-fed meats.  Zinc is in seafood, beef and lamb, pumpkin seeds and mushrooms. Magnesium can be found properly prepared beans and nut, brown rice and green leafy vegetables. Other nutrients to support thyroid include Vitamin C, A, B2, B3 and B12.  You are likely to obtaining these vitamins if you are eating a nutrient-dense, well-sourced diet and if your body is properly digesting. Side note: You can have a pristine diet but if you are not properly digesting and absorbing your nutrient rich foods, you can become deficient.
  3.    Removing toxins.  Toxins will compete with iodine specifically.  Remember that the thyroid’s job is to turn iodine into thyroid hormones.  Certain halogens have a similar structure and will compete with iodine—specifically fluorine, chlorine and bromine.  One of the reasons you may be struggling with an underactive thyroid is that you are not getting acquiring adequate amounts of iodine and in turn your thyroid is displacing iodine with these toxins.  Estrogen dominance is another condition that will affect the thyroid. Also emotional toxins affect the thyroid. Prolonged stress will fatigue the adrenal glands and cause the thyroid to put on its breaks.  This can be any kind of stress—illness, being in a bad relationship, work stress, overuse of caffeine or alcohol, lack of sleep, excessive exercise, prescription drugs, persistent fears, financial stress and more.  Any kind of stress if it becomes chronic can become toxic to your life. Learning how to manage stress is the key.
  4.  Lastly, if you struggle with thyroid issues, I encourage you to find a functional practitioner to work with to help you investigate further into where the root of your imbalances lie.  Is it poor digestion? 20% of your non-active T4 is converted to active T3 in the gut. And 40% of that conversion process happens in the liver so if your liver is not functioning correctly it can prevent that conversion from happening.  Or maybe it is adrenal fatigue or food sensitivities, anemia or heavy metals. Working with someone who can help you support these systems, not just manage them but work towards healing can seriously change your life.

It has changed my life.  I have spent most of my life in a state of extreme fatigue and being able to experience the flip side has been amazing.  Life truly is so different when your body is working the way it was intended too and the opposite is true as well—life can be so crippling if you are facing a chronic illness or if you have a thyroid imbalance.  My heart goes out to you today. Don’t give up. Keep searching, keep seeking, find a practitioner that can give you answers, guidance and direction and move you towards a full and happy life. Doing things naturally is not easy—it takes some determination, disciple and patience but it is WORTH it.  YOU are worth it.

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