Guys-By now you know that with this blog I am committed to telling real stories that are vulnerable and raw. We’re not sugar-coating here at Elaine’s Musings!
I love the vulnerability of this piece by my friend guest guru Lauren Brindley. She writes of her infertility struggle and its unlikely cause which had been the root of health issues since adolescence. As with a health or other concern, sometimes when the answer is unclear it takes real digging and an open mind to find a solution.
Lauren’s got some great gluten-free resources at the end of this piece. (Oh and how cute are those boys!) ♥Elaine
Even as a student in junior high I knew something wasn’t right. All of my friends got their periods. I did not. This became a joke for some of my friends but a nagging worry and source of embarrassment for me. When I finally got what I thought was my first period it lasted for nearly ten days and from that point my “periods” were highly unpredictable, sometimes only coming two or three times a year. Not content with the explanation that “many young women have irregular periods” and at my Mom’s insistence, we began a decades long search to figure out why.
We sought a specialist and it was quickly determined that I wasn’t having actual periods but what they call “breakthrough bleeding.” I apparently did not ovulate, so a few times a year my body would shed the uterine lining that had built up in expectation of eggs that never came, and that was the bleeding I experienced.
Throughout my high school years I endured endless tests like blood tests lasting three hours at a time with my blood taken at varying intervals over the course of a morning. I had to keep daily temperature charts. (Try explaining that to your fellow teenage friends, or worse yet, their moms when you spent the night out.) Other times I had excruciatingly embarrassing full body exams.
The answer to my fertility woes was simple. Finding that answer was anything but simple.
None of this lead to any discoveries but it did lead to my doctor prescribing (a then 15-year-old girl) fertility pills to stimulate ovulation. (Luckily I wasn’t sexually active but ask yourself how many girls would answer that question honestly in front of their moms so their doctors could prescribe a pill to help. Can you imagine the dangers of giving fertility pills to a teenage girl in today’s world?)
The fertility pills didn’t work and after a few years of this testing and misery I’d had enough. I told my mom I was probably never going to be lucky enough to have children and that I would just have to worry about it later. For the time being I was sick of the exams and sick of the unpredictable surprise bleeding. So I did what so many girls do when they encounter “irregular periods,” I saw a new doctor who promptly put me on the pill.
Did this solve anything? No. It was merely a Band-Aid that gave me regular, predictable “periods.” At least then I wasn’t caught unawares when my bleeding began. (Oh the dread of wearing white jeans and not knowing if that was a “safe” wardrobe choice.) My doctor at the time told me that many girls’ bodies “learned to ovulate” by the regularity of the pill and that once off the pill, ovulation would come.
Fast-forward many years to when my husband and I wanted to start a family. I had been off the pill for over a year and nothing was happening. After a series of tests my OB/GYN told me I had PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and referred me to a fertlilty doctor. The fertility doctor confirmed the diagnosis and after several more tests said that while I did not fit the criteria of a typical PCOS patient (I was neither hairy, nor obese, for example), it was the only answer for my inability to ovulate.
So I began a prescription fueled journey that included among other things, massive doses of metformin (a drug typically for diabetics — I am NOT diabetic) and Clomid. Eventually after these prescriptions, hormone injections, IUI and frankly, physical and emotional exhaustion, I finally conceived only to miscarry at 15 weeks. After a D&C and a wait period, the process began again and this time, after an extremely difficult pregnancy, I gave birth to healthy triplet boys. They are, without a doubt, blessings from God I would never trade despite the hardships and heartache attached to infertility.
You would think this is where my story ends, but this is where things start to get really interesting and where I hope you, the reader, will see things in a new light. When my boys were roughly four years old my doctor moved and I was forced to seek a new OB/GYN. Upon meeting this doctor I told her that I had PCOS but that diagnosis never made any sense to me. Despite all the medicines that enabled me to get pregnant and give birth, I still wasn’t ovulating and having anything close to regular periods. After perusing my charts she asked if she could do more tests. Given my past experience, I didn’t believe she would find anything, but sure enough, this time the tests were conclusive. I am gluten intolerant and my inflammation was through the roof.
I know, I know, you are probably thinking, “Oh, please! Not another gluten-is-the-root-of-all-evil story! What an annoying diet fad!” But in my case, gluten was the cause of years of frustration and suffering and left untreated, I was on a certain path for much larger health problems. Three months after eliminating gluten from my diet, guess what happened? I had a real period. The next two months my periods disappeared again but by the time six months had passed I had regular periods and have continued to do so ever since.
To me this was earth shattering! The doctors, the medicines, the blood tests, the anxiety, the money spent — all of it totally unnecessary. The simple answer was in the food I was eating. As my doctor explained, I had essentially been poisoning myself my entire life without realizing it and my body needed time to rid itself of the ill-effects. It took six months of removing gluten from my diet to give me the answer I had spent decades and countless tears trying to find.
Now you might ask — didn’t you always realize you had stomach problems? Answer — NO! I never had food allergies and never had heartburn. I was known as a billygoat. I. Could. Eat. Anything. Nothing bothered my stomach! I did not show any of the telltale signs of gluten allergies. (Apparently, this isn’t so unusual, read this short article to learn more.)
It took the time and attention of a doctor who wasn’t willing to simply write another prescription and just chalk up my experience as strange. She dug deeper, she investigated and she changed my life. Do I think gluten is the answer to all the fertility problems we hear about today? Probably not. I am not a doctor but I am thoroughly convinced that most doctors don’t pay enough attention to the food we put in our bodies and the ability it has to wreak havoc on so many aspects of our lives. The sad truth is they don’t even teach nutrition in medical school and most doctors aren’t programmed to even consider diet as an answer. (Try searching the internet for “gluten and infertility” and see how few mainstream medical community results you get. Few doctors even entertain the idea.)
My suggestion to any of you out there who think you aren’t getting the care or attention you need by your doctors (whether it is for infertility or any issue) is to seek out a second opinion. Preferably from someone who is willing to consider the big picture. I’m living proof that a prescription isn’t always the answer. Trust your gut, literally and figuratively. Be your own advocate and your research and efforts might just surprise you.
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