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What my husband and I went through in the first few years of our relationship is something most couples hopefully never go through. At the age of 29, my fiance – who referred to himself as a “sweets and meats” guy – was diagnosed with a cancer that could have possibly been prevented through the right nutrition.
I wanted to do everything I could to help him, so once he was diagnosed, I redirected my anxious energy on researching what we could do from a nutritional, holistic standpoint. We began eating an all organic, plant based diet, with no artificial or refined sugars, no processed foods, no GMO’s, and we juiced daily. My husband adopted a change in food, and regular meditation practice to go along with his strong mental attitude and chemotherapy. And it worked; he was cancer-free.
Since we knew we wanted to have a baby and we were told that chemotherapy would likely leave him infertile, we had to freeze some of his sperm. This meant that I now needed to go through IVF (in-vitro fertilization).
We both assumed that I would get pregnant on the first try since the fertility issues were not mine. So when our pregnancy test came back negative, it was a bit of a shock. I had done everything I was told to by my doctors, including not exercising. I have a daily yoga practice which also serves as a means of meditation and stress relief for me, so not being able to practice during this stressful time took a toll on me mentally, emotionally, and physically. But my doctors told me that I could not exercise during the IVF process, and I listened. I didn’t take into account that my rising stress levels were not helping my odds of getting pregnant.
I had done everything I was told to by my doctors, including not exercising.
After receiving the news of our negative pregnancy test, we began to prepare for a frozen embryo transfer and I was put on another round of synthetic hormones. But this too resulted in a negative pregnancy test. Our doctor had no answers for us, other than to start IVF all over again.
At this point, I had had enough. I felt like I had been overmedicated throughout this process and that it was hindering my body’s natural ability to get pregnant. It was time to look elsewhere, so I took my embryos and found a different doctor with a more natural approach.
I chose to take a break for a few months to let my body flush itself of the synthetic hormones and get back to my natural cycle before trying again. During this time, I focused in on my diet. I was already eating all organic and had been for years. I made sure that I was eating every 3 hours to keep my blood sugar levels stable. I did this because the amount of insulin in circulation affects the amount of sex hormone binding globulin, which is a protein that cloaks and protects estrogen and testosterone in the bloodstream and helps them get to where they need to go. If insulin levels are too high, then this protein becomes too low. In return, testosterone levels rise and estrogen levels fall, which can have a direct negative effect on ovulation.
To avoid this hormonal and ovulatory disruption, I ate at regular intervals to keep my insulin levels stable. I ate an abundance of dark leafy green vegetables from kale to chard to spinach, an array of colorful vegetables and fruits, high quality protein from mostly plant based sources such as lentils, tempeh, beans, sprouted quinoa, nuts and nut butters, grass fed full fat dairy, pastured eggs, bone broth, and some organic, pasture raised chicken and turkey. I sprouted all of the grains that I ate by soaking them overnight to make them more easily digestible so that my body could better absorb their nutrients, and I ate healthy fats with each meal.
Healthy fats are absolutely essential to fertility because they contain omegas, which are the building blocks of a healthy hormonal system. Our bodies cannot make omegas on their own, so the only way to obtain them is through our diets. Knowing this, I made sure to include foods naturally high in omegas such as avocados, nuts and nut butters, eggs, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, grass fed butter and ghee, and chia seeds in every one of my meals. I cooked my food with coconut oil or avocado oil, ate full-fat organic dairy such as yogurt which also has a probiotic effect, and drank a LOT of water. I continued to take a food based prenatal vitamin along with a fish oil supplement.
I didn’t take into account that my rising stress levels were not helping my odds of getting pregnant.
I resumed my daily yoga and meditation practice and almost immediately felt the stress begin to melt away. Stress can have such a negative effect on our bodies as well as our fertility and I desperately needed an outlet for mine. I was also holding onto some anger and sadness from the failed attempts at getting pregnant and I knew I needed to mentally work through before I could try again. I saw an acupuncturist once a week who specializes in fertility and pregnancy, and she helped me immensely through the entire process and also during my pregnancy.
Within a month, I began to feel like myself again. I felt healthy, vibrant, and happy. I had let go of the anger and defeat I felt from our two failed attempts, and I knew that it was time to try again, about four months later. This time we would be seeing a new doctor at a different fertility center, who specializes in taking a more natural approach to assisted reproduction. I felt strongly that I did not want to be on extra synthetic hormones or medications this time around (aside from a progesterone suppository to ensure my lining remained thick enough for implantation of the embryo). I wanted to track my body’s natural cycle. Our doctor agreed. We tracked my cycle closely, and once our doctor gave us the green light that my body was ready, we went in for our embryo transfer.
One week later I went in for a pregnancy test, and it came back positive!
I had listened to my body and took care of myself in the way I know best, and I had success. I went on to have a beautiful, healthy pregnancy and gave birth to my son at 42 weeks. He is magic and the greatest gift I have ever been given.
My experiences led me to go onto counseling other women on nutrition for fertility in that very same fertility center where I had success. I was able to empower many women to take charge of their own health and wellbeing, and give them a sense of control as they entered into their own journey to becoming pregnant. Many of them continued to work with me throughout their pregnancies as well.
After becoming a mother, I decided to take my career and passion further by becoming a Pre & Post Natal Corrective Exercise Specialist, through Fit For Birth. I now use specifically designed, innovative pre/postnatal fitness coupled with holistic functional nutrition to support women from pre-conception, throughout pregnancy, and post-birth. I opened a space in the San Francisco Bay Area (USA), The Luna Center, which now provides an array of holistic programs for women. I am dedicated to providing these women with the tools they need to feel empowered, educated, and strong in their pregnancies and births, and to have happier healthier pregnancies and babies.
Sarah Bradford is a mama and the founder of The LUNA Center in Marin County, CA where she provides innovative fitness & wellness for all stages of motherhood. Sarah is licensed in The Bloom Method, and holds certifications as a Personal Trainer through NASM, Pre & Post Natal Corrective Exercise Specialist and Diastasis Recti & Core Rehabilitation Specialist through Fit For Birth, and Holistic Nutrition Counseling. Sarah is truly passionate and dedicated to helping other mamas feel strong, empowered, and educated in their pregnancies and births, and providing her clients with the tools they need to have happier, healthier pregnancies and babies.