The months were rolling in to years, the Big Fat Negatives were stacking up, as were the multitude of pregnancy announcements of friends and family members, and I needed to take control of what I perceived to be the shambles that was my fertility. But where to start? Not with the NHS, bless ‘em. The NHS is fantastic for so many things and what a whooper of an institution (go NHS!) but providing assistance for a long-term, complex, imbalance in your health. Nah, not so much. So the medical community was out. It was time to take things into my own hands.
Take it one small step at a time
What to change? I Googled and I read, I listened to podcasts and I asked advice on Instagram, and all roads led to the same basic principles for good fertility. These I turned in to the 10 steps on this website. In fact, they seemed to be the same action points to avoid cancer, heart disease, for longevity etc. So if they didn’t do wonders for my fertility, at least I would live about 110 long, infertile years. Something to look forward to, hey.
The 10 lifestyle factors I have been using to try to coax back my fertility:
Fixing my gut
Get a handle on stress
Add fats and fertility superfoods
Create a sleep routine
Drink the right liquids, and lots of them
Add vitamins and herbs
Limit or cut out alcohol
Start fertility friendly exercise
Reduce my chemicals
Reduce my sugar
How to change? The actions were pretty clear, but how to go about implementing them in to my life was much more of a struggle. That is why on this website I have focused on the how rather than delving too deeply in to the why and the research behind the steps themselves. If you want the research I can thoroughly recommend the book It Starts With The Egg by Rebecca Fett which covers all the research behind how to whip those eggs in to shape ready for baby making. It is fab and my ramblings could never do the evidence justice in the same way.
When to change? Just focus on one step. Not even one step. Just one small action within one step. For example, for me the biggest issues were food and stress. If I tried to tackle them both at once I would either 1) simply fail because I couldn’t keep up with the level of change, and/or b) you could find me in a ball under my desk wanting the world to disappear because it had all become too much.
So I took one step first - reduce my stress. I started small and chose a meditation programme, carved out time each day (just 10 minutes, come on, who doesn’t have 10 minutes?) and began learning how to meditate. Only when mediation had become a comfortable and expected part of my routine did I then address the next issue with stress - how to give less of a sh*t at work.
I took the same approach with food. I started to buy organic food, especially animal products. That is all I changed for a while. Then I started to drink bone broth instead of hot chocolate. Just that one change. Let it settle. Then I began eating healthier breakfasts - pick one meal at a time. That is all it takes, simple small steps accumulated over time. Before I knew it a few months had passed and I looked around and didn’t recognise myself. I had different habits and my life was changing.
So pick your favourite step, your biggest step, your scariest step, your easiest step. Whatever. Just pick one step, one tiny action within it and see how you get on.
How to track your results - How do you know if your lifestyle changes are making a difference to your fertility?
Start fertility charting - Menstrual cycles are a key component of fertility and it all starts with the data. God I love data. Collecting my stats is not just highly enjoyable (for me, anyway) but essential to understand what is happening with your fertility. A year’s worth of my charts, warts and all, are published on the My Monthly Results page, which helped to keep me accountable to myself for my 2016, 12 month challenge to regulate my cycles.
What the hell is fertility charting? Good question. The fertility awareness method (also referred to as the sympto-thermal method) is pretty simple in theory - you log your periods, discharge in your pants (gross I know) and your body temperature (that sounds laborious I hear you cry) and keep it in a chart (super geeky). It’s gone all modern these days and fertility charts are available on phone apps, which means that you have whip it out and obsess about your chart any time of the day. If you want a quick run down then the basics of charting had been outlined by the American Pregnancy Association.
The benefits of fertility charting are:
That you can more accurately predict the days that you are fertile, and therefore when to have sex.
It will show you if you are ovulating and if you have any other obvious problems with your cycles.
It will also let you know that you may be pregnant, potentially before the pee sticks can detect pregnancy.
You can see, month on month, whether your cycles are becoming healthier. If you want to know what a healthy cycle looks like check out this article on the perfect cycle.
4 key tools to start fertility charting:
A digital thermometer
I use a Braun Digital Thermometer which records my temperature to one decimal place and gives an unfortunately irritating beep to let me know that the temperature has been taken successfully. It can be used orally or under the arm pit (I wouldn’t really want to mix it up in terms of which you use, or it would be like licking your pits). There are plenty of other body temperature thermometers available online and they are all pretty cheap.
2. A fertility chart
I use the (free) Kindara app to note my information and it automatically creates the fertility chart, like the ones available on my monthly results page. It also provides access to a knowledge base with questions, answers and example charts as well as an excellent community of like minded and supportive fertility charters, many of whom are trying to conceive.
3. Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Toni Weschler's book is the is bible of fertility charting, covering the key concepts and the basics of how to chart. It is the starter manual that makes everything make sense. It’s brilliant. Be warned, it is a textbook, but easily readable and contains a fabulous trouble shooting section at the back of the book for everyone like me who has a totally whacky cycle.
4. The Fertility Friday Podcast
Listening to the (free) Fertility Friday podcast helped me to get to grips with concepts of fertility awareness. The rational voice of Lisa leads the listener through interviews on topics such as coming off the pill, irregular periods and unexplained infertility. The first few episodes of the podcast in particular focus on the basics of fertility charting. Expect a lot of chat about mucus.
Set a fertility goal. In fact, set a few
My goal was always to get pregnant. But anyone who has struggled with fertility will know how overwhelming that goal can seem and how powerless you feel about making it a reality. What really helped me was to focus on the aspects that were within my control. I couldn’t control whether I would fall pregnant naturally (and I still never have been pregnant naturally, thank goodness for IVF) but I can control sticking my hand in the biscuit tin, using highly toxic chemicals in my bathroom, living with crushing stress etc. It takes a leap of faith but you have to believe that tackling these smaller aspects that are within your control will lead to be best and healthiest version of yourself, which will in turn provide you with the best change of conceiving.
If you want some tips on how I went about setting my fertility goals, or if you just want to rip off my ones (we are all busy people right? Ain’t nobody got time for this) then you can read an interview I did with Nourish Fertility which sets out how I created my personal fertility targets.
My fertility goals
….In case you want to just crib these ones, although I will warn you, that is TOTALLY missing the point of a personal fertility goal! In summary, I designed and set myself the goal that within 12 months I would have cycles that:
1. Were less than 35 days long
2. Vary in length by no more than 2 days from the previous cycle
3. Ovulation occurs before day 20
4. Have a normal luteal phase of 12-14 days
For some women these 4 aims may not look challenging, but for me they were my personal Mount Everest. For context, in the year leading up to setting these goals, I didn’t have a single cycle that met all 4 of these conditions and half my cycles met none of them. This was despite consciously focusing on my health in preparation for becoming pregnant and trying to lengthen my luteal phase. It was quite a challenge for me. A scary one, but go big or go home, right?
If you want to find out how I got on with my lofty goals then check out My Monthly Results, which recording my successes and failings from that year.