2 1/2 years ago, after I had my second surgery, Mason - my then fiancé - and I decided it was probably time we started trying to get pregnant. We were getting married in a few months, embarking on a house building journey, and had been together for 10-freaking-years. We knew we wanted a family... even if we didn’t know anything about kids ;) It was my surgeon who brought it home, saying the year after surgery was the best time for conception, before the endo started growing back. Ugh.
At the same time, I didn’t know if I could get pregnant. It had been beaten into my head by basically every doctor I saw starting at 16, then again at 19, 20, and 24. At 28 I was strongly recommended a hysterectomy by a doctor, then another head shake at 30. I remember each of these times distinctly, which is kind of weird considering I don’t have that great of a memory, but every time a doctor told me “children may not be in your future” it fused into my brain. It’s a lot of times to be told you’re infertile by doctors before you even try! So it kind of became my story, I even told Mason 11 years ago when we were dating that I doubted I could have children.
So anyways, against all odds, we started trying! In reality it was more like not trying to not get pregnant, because I look back and realize I had no idea what was going on. Sex ed had taught me too well: getting pregnant is soooo simple you must fight it from happening at all costs. I didn’t understand my cycles, the follicular and luteal phase, the nuances of fertility.
It’s like school made me fear fertility and endo made me fear my reproductive organs. I had a lot to learn.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility
This is embarrassing, but when we started trying I was so naive about fertility I didn’t understand until a few very irregular cycles later that you can only get pregnant a few days (2-5 depending) per cycle. And as for pregnancy success rates humans are actually pretty inefficient reproducers, with about a 25% chance of conception in a pair of healthy partners each cycle, if timed perfectly. Hmmm, I decided not to look up the endo percentage.
I read the blogs and forums, and everywhere I looked I saw recommendations for the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”, so with a click from Amazon it was on the way. I can’t recommend this book enough. If you’re interested in either natural birth control or pregnancy, this book will literally allow you to “take charge”. It teaches you how to read your body’s signs for fertility, and basically demystifies the woman’s mystical body so you get down to the science. Ovulation = fertile. Non-ovulation = not fertile. Simple enough.
Reading my own fertility signs: not looking good
After taking charge myself and learning all about fertility, I read my own fertility signs and, well, all the signs pointed to an absolutely-non-fertile-woman. My cycles were incredibly irregular (averaging 2-3 months apart), I couldn’t tell when I was ovulating because my cervical fluid was never fertile quality, and I had a luteal phase progesterone deficiency made obvious by my spotting for 3-5 days before my period. The progesterone deficiency alone was enough to not be able to get pregnant (the egg can’t implant), not to mention everything else. I was not in a fertile state.
This made sense, in a sad way. My body was in no condition to carry a child! I was chronically fatigued, sick often, underweight, had shoulder pain and knee pain, and overall felt sickly. The endo pain was at bay only after the surgery but all the other symptoms were right there, front and center. The first thing to shut down in an overworked body is your reproductive tract, which biologically is awesome if you’re running from an ancient Roman army. It’s your body’s protective mechanism that knows when is not the right time to get knocked up.
I think my whole life was an ancient Roman army chase…
On top of that, the endo started coming back again 8 months after my surgery! We had gotten married, were in the middle of hand-building a house (which I don’t recommend if you want to de-stress), I'm just figuring out this timing- to-get-pregnant thing when OMFG - was that endo pain? Yup it was. 8 months later it was growing back. There’s nothing like endo pain returning to make you clam up, and I was every emotion smeared all over: sad, depressed, anxious, and freaking furious. I was sooooo over endo and couldn’t begin to imagine it taking over my life. Again. It must be stopped.
Turning it all around
I’m a pretty positive person about making changes, maybe to a fault. It’s what I credit to my fix-it attitude from my autoimmune disease (ITP) in my childhood to my endometriosis in my adulthood. I always thought there was a way out if I could just find the clues. That's why I suppose I've tried every diet and exercise regime under the sun (or so I thought), and I took the same approach to my fertility. Here is where the magic lies. I finally found my answer.
So here is how I stopped the endo from growing. Then reversed it. Then became fertile. Then got pregnant.
My mother in law had gotten me a book called Nourishing Traditions based on the philosophy of Weston Price, all about how traditional societies ate before modern food society. This book alone planted the seed that’s responsible for this site and my current career trajectory, and I fell in love with it. At first I was terrified, as a former decade-long vegetarian and currently a savvy endo-dieteesta, I couldn’t fathom how traditional societies ate butter, lard, egg yolks, bone broths, cod liver oil, organ and grass fed meats, raw dairy and cream, plus every other taboo food on my endo protocol and were healthy. Not just healthy, VIBRANT. Made me shudder.
It wasn't that I was eating unhealthy! Well I didn't think so anyways. I ate what a lot of healthy, vivacious-looking Instagram girls did. Mostly plant based, lots of fruit, green drinks galore, low fat, high fiber, smoothies, gluten free, dairy free, blah blah blah. I watched Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead and was even convinced for a while that juicing alone would heal me. Yes my food looked pretty, looked "clean", and I've heard numerous stories of how people were healed eating this way. For me, though, it wasn't what I needed. How did I know? Because if I was honest with myself, I felt it! I wasn't feeling vibrant like the proponents of this vibrant-making diet told me I should be feeling. Yes, I felt better than before I cut out gluten and processed dairy, but I certainly wasn't getting any better. I kept wondering just how many expensive cold pressed green juices I had to drink to cure the chronic fatigue that kept me in bed all day...
That's why although this may be other peoples solution, but I finally had to begrudgingly admit that it wasn't mine. That's why this new diet struck an ancestral chord in me. I had to learn more.
I poured through Nourishing Traditions and got really excited, eventually devouring every piece of literature I could find about the REAL human diet, before nutritional scientists, germaphobes, and processed foods giants stepped in and told us everything we were doing for hundreds of thousands years of evolution was wrong.
This was something new, yet ancient, and it hit me deep. I learned how meat wasn’t inflammatory if it was grass-fed, how raw, fermented milk products had billions of probiotics and naturally lactose free, how organ meats could heal the incurable, how pastured butter was rich in fat soluble vitamins … heck I didn’t know fat had vitamins. I even realized I hadn’t eaten a truly fermented vegetable in my whole life! This was my ah-hah moment, that my endo diet was so nutrient poor it was no wonder I had chronic fatigue, endo coming back, couldn’t fight any bug, and my joints were falling apart.
To get started I did a nutrient dense, 6-week gut healing diet, to heal my food allergies and knit my innards back together. 6 weeks felt right for me, others might want to do it longer. Then, when I found out there was a Weston Price Fertility Diet I immediately hopped on the train and never looked back. This diet was the opposite of my previous 8 years of learning to totally fear food, and I absolutely loved how I felt both physically and spiritually as I reconnected to my food sovereignty in ways I never knew possible. My chronic fatigue of 7 years disappeared in 3 months. I had finally found the diet that would heal my body.
You want to know what I ate? A LOT OF FOOD, that’s what. Here was my quota:
- Fresh vegetables, raw or cooked, 9 servings
- 4 cups raw milk or kefir (I made my own kefir from the raw milk. Kefir is 99.9% lactose free)
- 4 tablespoons grass-fed butter
- 1/2 - 1 cup homemade fermented veggies
- 1 cup bone broth
- 2-3 tablespoon other ancestral fats, including grass-fed tallow/lard, olive, avocado, coconut, or cold pressed flax or hemp oil.
- 2 tsp extra virgin cod liver oil (MUST be specially crafted or will be rancid. I recommend this brand)
- 2-3 eggs from my pastured chickens
- 75 g protein total/day, from grass-fed, pastured, healthy, happy animal products. And always consumed with the fat.
- 6 ounces fresh liver (I did 3 oz, 2x week)
- 2-3 servings salmon roe or sardines. I bought this caviar and ate 1-2 tbsp/day, it's actually quite tasty!
This might look like a lot of food to the average woman, but in reality it’s around 2000 calories depending on the types of veggies. And the truth is, we NEED it for our malnourished bodies! There’s a big disconnect from health and “looks”, and many women think they can be healthy and thin by eating 1400 calories a day. The truth is our bodies need lots and lots and lots of nutrients to simply survive, so for those of us living in chronic, debilitating pain, we need to eat for two. Not necessarily in bulk, but in nutrient content. And if your body naturally needs to gain or lose weight to be at its peak fertility, this diet will put you back to in your natural equilibrium.
And remember, the gut healing protocol first is an absolute must. Find that info on my site HERE
Movement Nutrient: The lost vitamin
This is also the time I started really focusing on my body mechanics. Years of knee pain, hip pain, shin splints, low back pain (all on and off) was eating at my soul! Not only was my running passion down the drain from years of IT band issues, but my lower back could barely make it through one night of work bartending. Stupid body. This is when I discovered Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement and started to understand just how much my pelvis was out of whack! Through all of Katy's books and website I learned that lack of blood flow to the pelvis directly causes pain, and a pelvis and core misused or underused (like mine) was basically in a circulation drought. Insert Sahara desert scene and a tumbleweed. I had my work cut out for me.
But slowly I started knitting my core back together… turns it’s totally possible to do this even for someone as crooked as me. I simultaneously started my walking practice, working up to 5 miles/day. My new diet had finally given me the energy to do all of this, and I felt my previously cold uterus - no blood flow and all - start to warm up. It was the first time in the history of ever that I realized I could directly impact the blood flow to my uterus by correctly using my body. I started smiling a lot more :)
Okay, but I did outsource something that I can’t recommend enough for those of you girls with serious alignment issues. I did a Rolfing 10 series. I highly, highly recommend doing this if you can. Highly. Rolfing is a form of body work that works with your fascia, the connective tissue under your skin. Rolfing can do for you in 10 sessions what physical therapy can do for you in 2 years, not even kidding. Rolfing helped reposition my pelvis, untwist my legs, calm down my shoulders, and shove my rob cage back in to place. It was like using the Millennium Falcon at lightspeed versus a Chevy Pinto on the Freeway (sorry if the younger generation has no idea what that means), they both get you there but one can realllllllly expedite the process.
This is a magic bullet we all look over because it’s so much more work than, say, eating salmon eggs. But it’s so important! Remember the Roman Army… if you’re being chased (high cortisol) your body will prioritize making the cortisol over all other functions. That includes digestion, brain power, and duh, reproduction. I have a whole page dedicated to how you can start working on de-stressing that I mandate you read HERE ;)
Put it All Together
It kind of sounds like a lot but it's not really. Okay it is, but it's worth it :) Simply put, I ate a lot more both in quantity and quality of different foods, moved a lot more and in new ways, and learned to release my stress. Then, somehow, my endo stopped progressing. It was a silver lining I never ever, ever, ever, ever imagined possible. It first stopped progressing for a month or so, and then the pain started reversing. REVERSING! I would never believe it if it hadn’t happened to me, but eventually, with a war-like approach of deep nutrition, movement, and mind work my endo pain fully disappeared. So too did my endo belly, my chronic/debilitating fatigue, and my monthly infections. Then, low and behold, my cycles started becoming regular, my luteal phase deficiency disappeared, and about one year after adopting this nutrient and movement rich diet my cervical fluid finally became truly fertile for the first time in my life.
I was and still am in awe that my body had the power to heal itself if I just gave it the tools it needed. Turns out the body I thought was "always against me" was actually just screaming for help.
After a year of intense re-fueling I looked at all the signs and realized my formerly depleted body was now ready for a baby. So were we, because we finally finished building the house. Thank goodness!!
The Last Steps: When all the signs point to pregnant but... you're not
Honestly, everything about this story is listed quite in depth throughout the site: To become fertile (and heal endo) you must heal the gut, eat a very rich, nutrient dense diet, make sure your body mechanics are lining up, detox your life, and de-stress. Oh, and then be patient, because if you’re chronically ill it’s going to take a little while to fully heal :)
But, when everything is said and done, sometimes there may be an extra hurdle you weren’t expecting: your mind.
January of 2017 we were moved into our house and feeling ready to start this family. It had been just shy of 2 years from my surgery and our decision to start trying, and one year since we had an early miscarriage. Now, though, I was so confident my successful pregnancy was around the corner that we actually stopped trying for 2 months in case we succeeded and it would impact my coming nutrition school.
But as a two more attempted cycles passed unsuccessful I did start to wonder… why am I not pregnant yet? I’m fertile, I’m doing everything nutritionally and physically right, my enormous house stress is gone, so what’s the hold up?
I did what any modern girl would do and Googled it :) I stumbled upon a few ideas that made spiritual sense. These were different aspects I hadn’t tried, and I was hopeful just like I was when I stumbled upon the Weston Price diet and felt renewed hope. This was new information that I felt would help. Here are the 5 things I did, becoming pregnant immediately. I wish I could say one was more important than the other, but the effect was so immediate I’ll list all 5 of them here in hopes they help another endo-sister out there overcome some last minute hurdles:
- Tell your body it’s okay a get pregnant: After a lifetime of fearing pregnancy and popping birth control pills like candy, we have no idea what this psyche does to the body. Telling it month after month to not get pregnant, and then suddenly switching gears, can be self-confusing. Kindly telling your body that “it’s okay” and “we’re ready now to get pregnant” is a first step in allowing your feminine self to take a deep breath of relief and open to new possibilities.
- Write a new story: how many times have doctors or family members or even your own brain told yourself you’ll have trouble conceiving? Like I said at the beginning, I was told way too many times before I even tried, not to mention being pushed towards a hysterectomy, and it all stuck in my brain like a tumor. If you’re an endo-warrior reading this I know you can relate, so it’s time to write a new story about yourself in which you’re fertile, feminine, sexy, and abundant. Fill yourself up rather than tearing yourself down, and make sure to write it all in an inspiring way that makes you beam. Re-read or even re-write this story throughout the months to remind yourself of your strength as an empowered, fertile woman.
- See past the pregnancy: often when we’re trying to get pregnant we can only see the positive pregnancy test and imagine the excitement of telling our guy! It’s a single instance we’re looking forward to rather than the whole story, so when that doesn’t happen month after month we’re chronically disappointed. Instead, close your eyes and imagine what life is like after the pregnancy, and even further after that. Imagine what your child looks like, what they’re doing, whatever else you feel like imagining :) The goal is to visualize your future as a whole bringing you happiness, rather than that one moment of pregnancy success. Do this often.
- Fertility and Bloom visualization: I downloaded this as a visualization technique, and it’s really cool. It is $50, but has 28 days of guided 15 minutes meditations and it felt like I was subconsciously orchestrating the healthy elements happening in my body. I highly recommend, and I will say that I conceived the month I started this program, although I was doing, like, everything else in the world at the same time too… just sayin'.
- Cut out all stimulants: this isn’t spiritual but cold, hard reality… The cycle I conceived was the cycle I completely cut out coffee and alcohol. I didn’t drink either in excess, but I still had 1 cup of coffee/day and maybe 4 glasses wine a week. Not much! But I eliminated them the first day of my last period, and low and behold, that was the exact cycle I got pregnant. I read somewhere (and stupidly can’t find it now) that cutting out caffeine will increase your chances of conception as much as IVF, which is why many IVF clinics demand you quit. Sometimes we don’t realize just how much the little things affect our bodies, even one cup.
Lessons learned: Advice from an Endo Warrior
This of course my own unique story, and since everyone has their own story to write you should, of course, take everything I say and do with a grain of salt while finding the path that works best for you. What worked for me may not impact your own body at the same rate, while things I didn't do might be your missing link, so simply be aware but don't be afraid to try :) That being said, I hope anyone dealing with fertility or endo issues who read this story all the way down brought you some renewed faith. Whether you’re on TTC year 2, year 4, or far from trying, know that there is hope in conceiving and life after endometriosis. If you give your body the tools, it can heal. Indeed it wants to heal as much as you do.
One piece of advice I’d love to pass on to everyone is to start healing your body and your fertility signs before you start trying to conceive. So many women today put off baby making until later, and then they’re suddenly ready. Ready like at that very second ready to pop one out. But most of us endo-ladies can’t schedule in conception like other life events… unlike my annoyingly fertile Kauai friends. That being said, you’ll have a much better chance conceiving, much less stress, as well as a much easier pregnancy if you’ve properly prepared both your body and that of your partner. Like I said, I only saw fertile quality cervical fluid about a year after I started my healing protocol, so that would have been a year of a lot of stress if I hadn't realize my body was not actively allowing me to procreate :)
Plus, properly preparing your body BEFORE you get pregnant will help your baby’s growth and health tremendously, which is why the preconception diet as equally as important as a pregnancy diet. If you want to avoid morning sickness and other debilitating pregnancy woes, preparing your body for conception is a must.
If you want extra information and specifics about all of this, I will be updating this site over the next few months to incorporate everything I can about the sacred foods that will heal your body, including grass fed meats and organ meats, raw milk, fermented foods, cold water fish, egg yolks, and ancestral fats. These are the foundations of a fertile, healthy body, one that can beat endo and get pregnant too. In the meantime please buy the book Nourishing Traditions and read it cover to cover.
I additionally would urge you to work with an alignment specialist (find one here), or buy all of Katy Bowman's book as I did and pour over them. And, if you can afford it, invest in a 10-session of Rolfing for some deep and intense body alignment work. Deep nutrition can reverse your endo to a point, but for nearly all of us endo-girls our alignment is whacky — super whacky — and it’s pivotal to start moving correctly to bring that lovely, nourishing blood flow back to our pelvis. This additionally can stop early miscarriages, which can be induced by not enough blood flow to the uterus.
Then there’s stress. I’ve heard so many stories of women who tried to conceive, and when they finally stopped trying they got pregnant. What does this tell us? TTC can be extremely stressful! To avoid the stress, I again reiterate preparing your body beforehand so that you’re not trying in vain, as well as start a de-stressing initiative to learn to deal with daily stressors. A body showing signs of infertility and compromised health will most likely have a) excess stress and therefore b) difficulties in achieving pregnancy, so if you give yourself at least 3 months (or 15 months in my case) your body will respond better once you start actively trying, minimizing the TTC waiting game.
Oh, and don't underestimate the power of the mind! This is why I don't recommend defining yourself by your infertility, either in your journal, to your spouse, or especially on social media. The amount of impact I felt from removing a few mental hurdles at the end of our TTC story was a powerful reminder of the strength of the mind. If we're telling ourselves every cycle that we have infertility (and doctors are telling us too) the body will believe it as much as the mind. Of course if it's been a long time and you still haven't conceived it's hard not to fall into the "I'm infertile" state of mind, which is why I recommend re-phrasing it so it becomes positive. Try something like, "I'm in the process of healing my body and fertility" or "I'm on a health journey and every month I'm closer". It's so much more uplifting and empowering than "I'm dealing with infertility" which allows your mind to dwell on darkness.
Lastly, trust your body, and learn to listen to what it's telling you. If you’re not getting pregnant, there are often real reasons why, and it could be physical or mental barriers, or even a sperm issue that has nothing to do with your eggs. Indeed the health of your partner is just as important as your own health in achieving pregnancy. Of course, if you have endo you can assume your body is playing a role. And annoyingly, it's often not just one thing but many things. Follow the clues to start uncovering the blocks and eliminate them one by one, through diet, movement, stress relief, or whatever else is calling you. Get a nutritional therapist on board to help you get to the deeper issues you may not even see yourself. You own the power to take control of your fertility, never let a doctor or anyone else tell you otherwise.
I wish you all happy journeys that end in pregnancy success, and healthy, happy babies :)
A note on IVF: There are times a couple may decide to use to IVF or other assisted reproductive technology, and there’s no shame in that! Sometimes we need an extra hand, and we're lucky in this day and age to have a back up plan.. However, do know that your chances for conception with these technologies are much improved if you follow a fertility diet for at least 3 months in advance and strongly prepare your body for the nutrition requirements of growing a little human.
A note on other stuff: I never mentioned acupuncture, chiropractic, meditation, etc, tools that are often recommended for couples TTC. It’s not that I’m against these protocols, I didn’t mention them only because these remedies weren’t part of my own TTC story. I have heard, like many of you, that these are extremely helpful in many cases, so please know that if they resonate with you they’re always worth a try.