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10 things you should know if you’re trying to conceive



If you and your spouse have recently decided to grow your family, congratulations! What an exciting time in your marriage! We know that when you start trying to conceive (TTC), it can be tempting to overthink, worry and search all manner of concerns online, so we’ve compiled our ten top tips all in one place to give you some pointers, including some helpful advice from some lovely experts and friends of The Fruitful Hollow. At the end, we share some quick-fire tips and a glossary of fertility-based acronyms for anyone who’s new to all this!


Taking care of your health


1. Nourish your body

(Victoria Coglianese, registered dietician)

Protein, healthy fat and fiber provide essential functions to support fertility. When you set out to build meals with these food components, you also turn the focus towards WHAT to eat rather than what NOT to eat, and in doing so you simplify your nutrition plan. My clients often find this perspective shift more positive and compelling to take effective action to support their fertility. When choosing to include foods that naturally contain fiber, you simultaneously get all of the other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in those fibrous whole foods that are essential for ovarian function. Whole foods that contain fiber include colorful vegetables, dark leafy greens, berries, avocados, beans, and nuts and seeds. Aim for at least 10g fiber per meal. Fatty fish, avocadoes, coconut, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and even other animal foods provide healthy fats used to synthesize reproductive hormones. Generally aim for at least 1-2 servings of healthy fat per meal. What’s more, meals with adequate protein, healthy fat and fiber help support stable blood sugar levels as these three food components prevent spikes in blood sugar, which is crucial for ovarian function and preventing inflammation.


Find Victoria at @wonderfullymade.rd on Instagram.



2. Don’t trust an app; learn to chart your cycles

(Dr Amanda Buadi, FertilityCare Practitioner)

The last 5 years have seen an explosion of fertility apps at low or no cost which are designed to monitor fertility. Most offer assurance in predicting the fertile window in a woman’s cycle, as well as the day of ovulation and the onset of menses. While it is great that women are interested in body literacy, there are other factors to consider before using a fertility app. Firstly, many use pre-set algorithms in their predictions similar to the outdated and ineffective rhythm method. Apps can be accurate for 28-day cycles, but accuracy can vary otherwise (note: only 5-10% of women have 28-day cycles). Modern fertility awareness-based methods (FAbMs) (eg. Creighton Method, Sympto-thermal Method, Billings Ovulation Method, Marquette Method, FEMM or Boston Cross Check to name a few), with decades of research as their evidence base, are far more effective than the rhythm method. Many employ one-to-one tuition with an instructor to teach them to identify real-time biomarkers (eg. cervical mucus, basal body temperature, urinary hormones, cervical positioning) to determine fertile windows, ovulation days and to predict the onset of menses. This one-to-one tuition also empowers women to navigate their cycles, whether regular or irregular, and can help them to interpret what an app is reporting (and potentially override it with real-time information if needed). It also gives you access to an expert to ask questions when you see any cycle abnormalities - you can’t ask the app! Finally, learning a FAbM independently of an app gives assurance that if the app malfunctions or your phone is lost, you can still track your fertility accurately.


Find Amanda at whollynaturalfertility.com or @whollynaturalfertility on Instagram.


Coping as a couple


3. If sex if painful for you, it doesn’t have to be

(Dr Lauren Peterson, PT, DPT)

Enjoyment from sexual intercourse is different for everyone, but painful intercourse is never normal. “Dyspareunia,” or pain with intercourse, is estimated to affect up to 1 in 5 women in the US. I think that estimate may be too low because so many women are scared or embarrassed to discuss pain with sex. The truth is that painful sex can occur for a variety of reasons, including: a history of abuse, anatomical differences, a birthing injury, any painful or difficult experience with your hips or pelvis, and/or just discomfort around your body or with intercourse. All of these reasons make your pelvic floor muscles too tight and this can be treated with pelvic floor physical therapy. Regardless of the reason, you do not have to live with a painful sex life. Pelvic floor physical therapists treat a variety of pain syndromes related to the pelvic floor, including dyspareunia. If you cannot enjoy intimacy with your partner, find a pelvic floor physical therapist who can help you love your life!


Find Lauren at FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers in Oklahoma City, OK.



4. Don’t let TTC ruin your sex life

(Brandy Norton, creator of the blog “Good Catholic Sex”)

When my husband and I were first trying to conceive, I had romantic notions about getting pregnant. I expected a beautiful and memorable sexual encounter. As the months went on, that romance morphed into tension. Our sex life became forced and awkward. My brain would be a million places: “Try to relax, try to relax, will this be it? Is this the night we’ll make a baby? What if it’s not? Are we in an optimal position? Try to relax…” Once, when my husband was sick I even complained, “But I’m in my fertile window! We can’t miss a month!” Our firstborn is now almost 3 years old. I have zero memory of the sexual encounter that created her. It’s not because I was just going through the motions: it’s because I had finally stopped focusing on getting pregnant. God’s graces helped me re-focus on the gift of my marriage and the beauty of our sex life - with or without a pregnancy.


Find Brandy at www.goodcatholicsex.com



5. Take breaks!

(Emily Frase, co-founder and president of FAbM Base)

One of the hardest parts of the TTC journey is not knowing if or when it will bear fruit. Good things like charting and even sex can become a source of frustration in the wait. This is a totally understandable part of the journey. Sometimes, it may be prudent for couples who find themselves bogged down by the demands of charting, testing and treatments, or scheduling sex to take a break. Yes, you read that right. Take a break. Take some time to remind yourselves of your own intrinsic goodness and the fact that you are already a family, despite the narrow views of some. Take some time to remember that sex is life-giving for you both even when a longed-for pregnancy is not the result. How and when a break is taken is certainly up to the prayerful discernment of each individual couple, but it’s important to know that it is an option on the table.


Find the nonprofit fertility awareness organization, FAbM Base, at fabmbase.org or @fabmbase on Instagram. Find Emily’s blog at totalwhine.com or @totalwhine_ on Instagram.



Getting tested


6. Get good at bloodwork

If you start to investigate your fertility and reproductive health, one intervention you may become familiar with is regular blood draws. Your physician may order tests for hormone and vitamin deficiencies (or overabundance) which help pinpoint a treatment course if you are struggling. They may have a lab preference, or you may need to find one yourself, and they may provide you with a draw kit to take to a lab, which you would then send to your physician. Ideally you will have a phlebotomist you see regularly enough who becomes used to your particular veins, making blood draws much easier! Prepare to be well hydrated because this helps with plumping up your veins (some hormone blood draws require fasting, some don’t, so check with your physician). If your veins are particularly deep or otherwise difficult to draw from, pump your fists or otherwise exercise your arms a short time prior to a blood draw. And for needle-phobia, look away when getting poked and try to chat to the phlebotomist to keep you distracted and relaxed!



7. There is a licit way to get semen analysis done

(Dr Amanda Buadi, FertilityCare Practitioner)

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 30% of infertility is due to the male factor. This makes semen analysis a critical part of evaluating infertility. The typical way of collecting a semen sample is through masturbation, however for many men (and according to the teachings of the Catholic Church), removing ejaculation from the marital act is not morally acceptable. The good news is there is a way of obtaining a semen sample through an act of intercourse which does not obstruct the potential for transmission of life. This is through a seminal fluid collecting device (SFCD - also known as a Male Factor Pak), which is a perforated condom allowing some semen through during intercourse with the portion remaining within the SFCD submitted for analysis. The marital act is therefore still open to life. A high-quality sample is needed for analysis and there are studies to show that semen obtained through sexual intercourse tends to be better quality (eg. better sperm concentration, motility, volume and percentage of sperm that are normal in shape) than semen obtained through masturbation – another reason to consider this method of collection.


Please note: Always check first with your doctor or lab facility before creating a game plan. Some labs will have certain specifications regarding containers or the timely delivery of a sample produced off the premises.


Find Amanda at whollynaturalfertility.com or @whollynaturalfertility on Instagram.



While you wait


8. Sharing your struggles

(Mary Helen Dennihan, Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist)

When you and your spouse are trying to conceive, you may or may not want to share this with others. If you chose not to share this personal information and a few/several months have come and gone without becoming pregnant, one or both of you may wish to reach out to others for support. Talk together first. Decide whom you are both happy to share with - people who love and support you, your marriage, your future parenthood - what you will share, and if you will ask for their prayers, support, well wishes, and/or advice. Try to prepare yourselves for unsolicited, insensitive suggestions, as well as loving, heartfelt and supportive responses. If more time goes by without becoming pregnant and you have not already done so, talk with your healthcare provider, NFP organization, people who have had similar experiences, support persons/groups in your area or online to find someone who understands.



9. Self-care is key

(Mary Helen Dennihan, Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist)

If your conception journey is taking longer than expected, self- and couple-care are imperative. Whether you are both in the same emotional, mental and spiritual space or not, try to understand and be patient with each other. It is not unusual for each of you to be experiencing different moods, emotions and thoughts at different times and this can be challenging. Day by day, month by month, take time to practice self- and couple-compassion, kindness, gentleness. Do things you love, enjoy and can afford. Stay true to your values. Be grateful. Pray, play, work, stay connected to others, go places. Manage stress, anxiety, depression and anger by incorporating healthy activities that relax/bring pleasure, eg. music, special interests, projects, reading, writing, art and more. Modify your diet and sleep as needed to prioritize your wellbeing. Set daily goals. Remember you are not alone, people care.



10. Be fruitful in the wait!

You may already have been asked “Sooo, when are you going to start a family?” by well-meaning friends, relatives, co-workers or even complete strangers and we know how uncomfortable and embarrassing that can be. Well, we’re here to remind you first of all that you and your spouse became a new family the day you got married: you are a family, whether or not you have children. It can be tempting to put your life on pause while you’re trying to conceive and waiting for the next chapter of your marriage to begin, turning down opportunities because you feel they won’t be compatible with parenthood or putting off pursuing a passion until further down the road when you’ve had children. The call to be fruitful in your marriage is not limited to childbearing. Your marriage can bear fruit in every season of life and here at The Fruitful Hollow it is our mission to foster that fruitfulness. Take a look at some of our posts on fruitfulness such as “Fruitfulness is not productivity” and “The one thing I know” which encourage you to be fruitful in the wait.

 

Some quick-fire tips!

  • Have you ever noticed how expensive individual pregnancy or ovulation tests are? Save your money, buy in bulk if you love to test often! Search for “pregnancy and ovulation test strips”.

  • Did you know that most common lubricants are not actually sperm/conception friendly? Search for TTC friendly or non-spermicidal lubricants and do some research!

  • Some doctors may recommend taking a prenatal vitamin when you are TTC. Major side effect: pretty nails and hair!

  • Try to avoid googling what you think may be early pregnancy symptoms during the 2-week wait. Early pregnancy symptoms and premenstrual symptoms can look a lot alike!

  • If you speak to your doctor about any concerns you have surrounding TTC and you don’t feel listened to and supported by them, find a new doctor!

  • If TTC becomes difficult for you emotionally, do not hesitate to seek counseling - alone or with your spouse. Your mental health deserves to be put first!

  • There are a lot of Catholic infertility/TTC support groups on Facebook. Depending on your specific situation these may or may not be helpful.


 

Glossary of acronyms


AF = “Aunt Flo” (menstrual period)

BBT = basal body temperature

BD = “baby dance” (to have intercourse)

BFP = big fat positive (positive pregnancy test)

BFN = big fat negative (negative pregnancy test)

CD = cycle day (eg. CD4 is day 4 of your menstrual cycle)

CM = cervical mucus

CrMS = Creighton Model System of fertility awareness

DPO = days post ovulation (used in some fertility awareness methods)

DTD = “do the deed” (to have intercourse)

FAbM = fertility awareness based method

FCP = FertilityCare Practitioner

FRER = First Response Early Result pregnancy test

HPT = home pregnancy test

HSG = hysterosalpingogram

HyCoSy = hysterosalpingo-contrast sonography

NAPRO = NaProTechnology, or Natural Procreative Technology

ND = naturopathic doctor

NFP = Natural Family Planning

OB-GYN = obstetrician/gynecologist

OPK = ovulation predictor kit

P = peak day

P+7 = 7 days after peak day (used in some fertility awareness methods)

PCOS = polycystic ovarian syndrome

RD = registered dietician

RE = reproductive endocrinologist

SA = semen analysis

STM = Sympto-thermal Method of fertility awareness

TTA = trying to avoid

TTC = trying to conceive

TW = trigger warning

TWW or 2WW = two week wait (between time of ovulation and start of next cycle)


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