A few months ago when I opened up about my miscarriage I was simply blown away. Not only from the out pouring of love and support but because of the sheer volume of people who opened up to me about navigating similar challenges around pregnancy loss, infertility, irregular cycles, lack of ovulation or just beginning their conception journey and wanting some tips and tricks along the way. We don’t talk about these things enough! And so often we feel sorrow in navigating them alone. In an effort to open the door and continue the conversation I wanted to check in on some things I’ve done the past few months to get myself back on track physically, emotionally and spiritually. We’ll talk therapy, fertility acupuncture, womb massage, castor oil packs, diet, exercise and more. Just as I support women through their pregnancy and childbirth experiences (check us out at Atlas Birth) I’d like to support you through the journey to get there. I also realize that not everyone has the same access to the services described below so I’ve included a set of resources that are sliding scale, low-cost or that you can do at home free of charge.
Let’s dive right in shall we?
I’m not someone who ever feels stressed. I was raised in an environment and have experienced things in my life where many times stress and overwhelm simply weren’t an option. I needed to be an adult from a very young age and now when shit hits the fan I slip into a hyper focused “beast-mode”. Logical. Pragmatic. Compartmentalized. This may sound great but it can actually be a really damaging coping mechanism that requires me to push aside huge parts of my ability to process emotion- and that energy has to go somewhere. While I may not ever feel mentally stressed, for me it manifests physically. I often suffer from chronic back pain or i’ll get stomach aches/indigestion that effect my gut biome. When I experience these things, I know that I’m stressed. I’ve found out these emotional and physical triggers through… therapy!
A good therapist that you trust and feel you can be open with will change your life. The first thing I did when I realized I was compartmentalizing grief and disappointment after my miscarriage was make an appointment with a therapist that I liked and trusted. Just having a non-biased, well-educated outlet to meet with reminded me of who I was and gave me additional tools in my mental toolbox to process what I was feeling (or not feeling) in a healthy way. Stress effects our bodies in profound ways and can absolutely effect your ability to conceive. So first things first… take care of your psyche. Your mental health deserves check-ins just as much as your physical health. Keep yourself grounded, fine- tuned and resilient by building out strategies and mechanisms to weather whatever life throws your way. Conception, pregnancy and especially parenthood are the ultimate lessons in lack of control. The moment I let go of my need for control over getting pregnant, I no longer felt the need to hold onto any particular outcome. This has made a world of difference for me.
Know Thy Cycle
First things first- know your cycle. There are many different phases of a woman’s cycle. Days 1-5 are your menstrual phase (the day your period starts onward). Days 5-14 are your follicular phase (the egg is preparing for ovulation). Around day 14 is usually the day you’ll ovulate (get busy on the 4-5 days leading up to the day you ovulate). Days 14-28 are the luteal phase (you’re producing progesterone in the hopes of that fertilized egg making it’s journey from your ovaries and implanting in the lining of your uterus). Do your research! These time frames are different for everyone so it helps to order a kit off of Amazon ($20) that tracks your ovulation. I was using the Daysy thermometer as a birth control method prior to trying to get pregnant and once I wanted to use it to track my fertility it ended up being a waste of money. I’d recommend the manual testing strips and I wish I had listened to my girlfriends sooner!
After my miscarriage my cycle was all over the place. We’re talking no period one month, then random periods through out the next few only to not have a period again. My body was all out of sorts and I felt a total lack of control or ownership over my body. It was sad and disappointing (and was definitely something I talked through with my therapist). I am someone who takes great pride in the ceremony and ritual of my monthly period. For me it represents a connection to myself as well as the women who came before me. It’s something that I really value and honor and if it’s off it’s usually a sign that something is wrong. I needed to feel like I was being proactive in taking care of myself so I did some research and made an appointment for prenatal/fertility acupuncture to get my cycle back on track. I’m a big fan of naturopathic medicine and my naturopath/acupuncturist identified that my liver qi and blood stasis were off (super interesting if you want to google it!) Acupuncture has helped immensely in getting me re-balanced.
Acupuncture helps improve women’s fertility in the following ways:
Improves blood flow to the uterus and ovaries increasing both ovarian sensitivity to gonadotropins and the uterine lining for implantation (I really recommend taking the time to research and understand your cycle and the different follicular, luteal and ovulatory phases).
Regulates hormonal imbalances and FSH levels
Regulates menstrual cycle and ovulation
Improves quality of lining of your uterus
Improves the functioning of the ovaries to increase the number and health of the eggs
Assists in implantation
Helps prevent miscarriage and lowers ectopic pregnancy rates
Decreases stress in inducing parasympathetic nervous system dominance
I’ve been going to acupuncture 2 times a week for the past 2 months and it’s made an immense difference in getting me back on track and feeling at peace. I go in and consult with my naturopath on my cycle and what i’ve been feeling lately, she places acupuncture needles in different places on my body based on where i’m at in my cycle and I pass out for about 45 minutes of blissful relaxation. My naturopath also prescribes me herbal tinctures to help clear my body of any blockages.
Castor Oil Pack
Inflammation is a major cause in most bodily disfunction. Castor oil packs are an amazing way to cleanse your lymphatic system and get your body back on track. Castor oil packs can be used for:
Reproductive issues (Women trying to conceive should use these days 5-14 of your cycle or until ovulation-do not use on your period or if you think you’re pregnant-so knowing and tracking your cycle is incredibly important!)
Inflammation, pain and or infection
Breast infection or plugged milk ducts
You can buy these as packs online or head to your local PCC or whole foods and buy a wool cloth and a bottle of castor oil. Soak the cloth fully in the castor oil and then apply to your belly with a warm bottle (I use one of those old fashioned hot water bottles for cramps), throw a blanket or towel over (castor oil will stain your sheets or couch) and relax for 35-45 minutes! Let your lymphatic system cleanse itself and give your self a little TLC and relaxation. Store the soaked cloth in the fridge and you can use it up to 30 times!
What we put into our bodies matters so much! The best way to take care of yourself when trying to conceive is to be mindful of cultivating a healthy and balanced diet. This includes supporting your gut biome! A great fertility diet includes:
Alkaline rather than acidic foods. The bulk of your diet should be from organic plant sources. Alkaline food such as non-citrus fruits, vegetables, sprouts, cereal grasses help to provide the reproductive system with the right pH for conception and implantation.
Get plenty of essential fatty acids. The essential fatty acids linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid are key for ovulation. Good sources of essential fatty acids are fish, fish oil, flaxseed, and pumpkin oils. You can eat eggs, soy products, raw nuts, dark green and winter veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, beets, carrots, kale etc.
Eat organic foods and hormone free meats whenever you’re able (I am a vegetarian and cut out meat all together). Simply put, you’re eliminating pesticides, hormones and chemicals used to treat produce and animal products. A lot of these chemicals contain synthetic estrogen- like substances which occupy estrogen receptors and have negative effects on your organ and endocrine systems. (Not everyone has the resources to eat organically so i’ve included a list below on foods you can pick and choose from- Farmers markets also have notoriously cheap organic produce!)
Add more cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower to your diet. Cruciferous veggies contain di-indolymethane (DIM), a compound that stimulates more efficient use of estrogen by increasing a form of estrogen produced in the body.
Supplement your diet with a natural, high-potency multivitamin and mineral.
Dads hoping to conceive can eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin c, eat more zinc and increase their intake of calcium and vitamin D.
I’m nowhere near perfect but try my best to eat a balanced and healthy diet that follows the above principles. A big diet change for me is trying to cut back drastically on my alcohol consumption. I’m someone who is working on a balance of an all or nothing mentality when it comes to alcohol. I still find myself either not drinking at all, or going hard with my friends and ending up feeling hungover and shitty the next day. I feel intuitively that drinking has really hindered my ability to get pregnant so i’m working to find that balance. I also added in some red raspberry tea into my weekly regimen! Red raspberry tea is a great way to strengthen the lining of your uterine wall. Highly recommended!
I went into my naturopath (info below) and scheduled a womb massage but this is absolutely something that you can do at home! Womb massage increases healthy blood flow to your uterus, ovaries and entire reproductive system. Womb massage helps to:
Improve fertility by increasing circulation to the uterus and ovaries
Bring nutrients and blood flow to improve quality of developing eggs
Help clear scar tissue or blockages that may be affecting the fallopian tubes
Ease digestive discomfort and relax the stomach
Help relieve cramping during menses
Support detoxification through the liver for more balances hormones
Increase nutrient absorption through the small intestine
Support elimination through the large intestine
Womb massage helps to break up any adhesions in the pelvis that may contribute to infertility and helps to position the uterus in the optimal way to support conception. Womb massage was such a great way for me to relax and unwind. It’s something you can do with your partner as well with some essential oils for some quality time together (comme c'est romantique!)
I’ve always been fairly active and enjoy to exercise but I tend to fall into patterns of going really hard for a few weeks and then falling out of routine. In my attempt to honor myself and get back on track I made a commitment to do some sort of physical activity for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week whether that’s biking on our stationary bike in the basement (garage sale find, holla!), going to yoga, going for a run or doing some at-home exercises. You’re “supposed to” work out moderately but I believe that listening to your body and intuition always takes precedent over what you’re told you need to do. When you feel like taking a rest, rest but sticking to more of a schedule has helped me to feel healthy and to break a sweat most days of the week. Exercise through out your pregnancy can also really help during labor and delivery. Increasing your stamina as well as strengthening your abdomen and pelvic floor can be game changing!
Talk to your partner
I’ll keep it real. About a month ago I had to have a come to Jesus conversation with my husband. He was so sweet and well meaning and every time we were babysitting or hanging out with our friend’s babies he would say something like “I want to have a 7 month old baby” and give me these sweet puppy dog eyes. It wasn’t intentional, but this made me feel a lot of pressure. Eventually I sat him down and told him that just as I wasn’t solely responsible for ensuring we didn’t get pregnant before we were ready, it’s not my responsibility to get us pregnant now. I told him if he wanted to have a baby he needed to educate himself on how that happens, because as you’ve read above, there are way more logistics than you initially think of when it comes to conception. I told him to do his research and take responsibility over the process. After our conversation, I didn’t feel the need to provide something for my husband or that I had something to prove to him, myself or our community and instead felt like we were partners in this journey together. Suddenly getting pregnant moved away from being stressful and the process of getting pregnant became fun again ;)
The funny thing is, when I first found out that I was pregnant I was instantly all about my health and wellness. I threw away all the chemical products in my home, threw out my acne face wash, hell I was about to toss out the microwave. After my miscarriage I realized how misguided I was. Why wasn’t I willing or interested in making these changes when it was just me? Was I not worth of prioritizing my health? The most beautiful part of this journey has been shifting away from the end goal being pregnancy, and shifting toward the realization that I’m worth this investment regardless. I’m just now feeling like I’m truly back on track mentally, physically and emotionally and when the time is right, I feel ready to officially start trying again.
Our conception journey is just beginning but I hope to share some of my learnings over the past few months in the hopes that if you’re navigating the same process you won’t feel so alone. Some of the above may or may not be the right approach for you so please take or leave whatever feels right!
Remember that what will be, will be and that you’re not alone along the way <3
To find a good therapist I recommend going through your insurance provider. Most providers have an option on their webpage that will list a series of in-network therapists.
If you’re on a budget or currently uninsured you can check out MEND Seattle, The Psychotherapy Collective, Women’s Therapy Referral Service or The Mindful Therapy Group. There are also some awesome apps like HeadSpace or Luminosity!
I’ve been going to Glow Natural Therapy and Seattle Fertility Acupuncture for both prenatal acupuncture and womb massage but North Seattle Community Acupuncture, The Pin Cushion, and Fremont Community Acupuncture all offer sliding scale services!