Why we should stop treating painful periods and endometriosis with the birth control pill and what we should do instead.
By Shirelle Edghill, Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner
Last week I wrote about common medical reasons that doctors prescribe the birth control pill, and why I think there is a better way to approach treatment for things like painful periods. If you haven’t read part I, I recommend that you catch up here.
Today I’m going to address one of the common reasons that women start using hormonal contraception: painful periods and endometriosis. Pain is always something that is hard to quantify, but I’d like to talk about what we would consider “normal” as far as period cramps. Mild or moderate cramping that can be helped by a heating pad or an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen, is normal. Being curled up in the fetal position in bed unable to go to work or school, vomiting due to pain, having diarrhea during your period, passing out due to pain—all of these things would be abnormal.
In order to bring you real patient experiences with the NaPro approach to treating painful periods, I reached out to four different women who sought treatment for their painful periods, first with a non-NaPro trained physician, and later with a NaPro trained physician. I wanted to really get a feel for how NaPro is so different from the mainstream approach by talking to real women.
The NaPro Technology trained doctors first had each woman chart her cycles with the standardized Creighton Model FertilityCare System charting method. Creighton practitioners teach women how to chart in a way that will allow the doctor to fully understand exactly what she is seeing as far as how many days of bleeding she has, what other discharges she has, how long her overall cycles are, and how long her pre-ovulatory and post-ovulatory phases are. All of this information is invaluable to the doctor to help him/her begin investigating what might be wrong, and to properly time tests and procedures to the correct phase of the cycle. As a practitioner, I often will see clues on the chart that can indicate what the problems may be.
In the group of women who shared their stories with me, three of the women had struggled with painful periods since puberty. All three eventually also struggled with infertility. I also spoke with one younger, single woman who turned to NaPro Technology for painful periods. Each woman who shared her story with me said that the only treatments she had ever been offered by her mainstream OB/Gyn was the birth control pill, getting pregnant, or hysterectomy. Prior to turning to NaPro, only one of these women had been diagnosed with anything that might be causing her pain.
Each woman was from different areas of the United States and worked with four different NaPro trained physicians. Each described the lengthy amount of time that the NaPro doctor took with her during her first appointment, reviewing her Creighton Model FertilityCare chart, and discussing her health history at length.
Today, I will give an overview of some of the different approaches the doctors used to diagnose and treat these women. It would be impossible to tell you the exact treatment for “painful periods,” because painful periods are just a symptom of some underlying disease or dysfunction. In the cases of the women I spoke with, every one was diagnosed with endometriosis, but some had other underlying issues as well, including hormone problems, cysts, uterine infections, and pelvic adhesions.
I’m going to put on my teacher hat for a moment (did I tell you I used to teach third grade?), so bear with me. Endometriosis is a condition in which some of the lining cells that should be inside the uterus, migrate outside the uterus and implant in different areas of the pelvic cavity. These cells are reactive to the normal hormones from the menstrual cycle. They can attach to the walls of the pelvic cavity, the ovaries, the bladder, and the bowel. This is likely why some women who are eventually diagnosed with endometriosis also have gastrointestinal issues. Scientists really aren’t sure what causes endometriosis. Endometriosis affects approximately 1 in 10 women. There are theories that it is caused by the period “backing up” into the fallopian tubes, or that it’s really an inflammatory condition caused by an immune response. It can cause painful periods, very heavy periods, painful sex, pain with urination, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and infertility. Endometriosis is difficult to diagnose. It can only be definitively diagnosed through a small surgical procedure called a laparoscopy. Only large areas of endometriosis, or endometriosis in certain areas can be diagnosed through a pelvic exam or an ultrasound. Endometriosis also sometimes happens without noticeable symptoms of pain. I have worked with women who’s only symptom of endometriosis was infertility.
Okay, back to my ladies. For diagnosis, what each woman described to me was a bit different depending on her circumstances and causes of the pain. But each one received extensive bloodwork, including testing for things like thyroid dysfunction and monitoring the function of the ovarian hormones. Each woman had ultrasounds and pelvic exams to see if the causes of the pain could be determined. The hysteroscopy procedure was also often used to put a scope inside the uterus and see if diagnosis could be obtained this way. Several of the women were advised to change their diets to remove processed foods and foods that might cause more of an inflammatory response. Weight loss recommendation and support was another treatment that one woman found helpful. In the case of moderate pain, a medication that can be helpful is one known as Ponstel, which has been shown to decrease menstrual pain as well as excessive bleeding during the menstrual period. Eventually, each woman in my group felt that she wanted a definitive diagnosis, for which laparoscopic surgery was performed. You can read and learn more about this technique here.
So, why are many OB/Gyns opposed to any kind of surgical techniques to diagnose and treat gynecological problems that can ONLY be diagnosed or treated by surgical interventions? This is really important to understand, because when you go to your neighborhood OB/Gyn, they will likely look at you like you're crazy if you ask about surgical options. Pelvic surgeries to treat pain and infertility were much more commonly used before the advent of the birth control pill, drugs like Clomid, and the IVF procedure. The procedure fell out of favor with the medical community because the original versions of this procedure often caused more damage than the problem itself. When you operate on the pelvis, there is a risk of what are known as “pelvic adhesions.” They’ve been described as looking like slime and cobwebs in the pelvic cavity, basically scar tissue that can create a lot of issues. They can cause pain and problems like infertility. For good reasons, this method of diagnosis and treatment was questioned as whether or not it was worth the risk to get definitive answers if we created more problems in the process. But the creator of NaPro Technology, Dr. Thomas Hilgers, has addressed this problem by developing and teaching other physicians an adhesion-free protocol for performing gynecological surgeries like diagnostic laparoscopies. Now we have the benefit of this extremely useful procedure for diagnosis and treatment, with significantly less risk. Most non-NaPro trained doctors are not familiar with these techniques, having not been taught them in medical school, and will still have the problem of creating pelvic adhesions if they do attempt to operate on a woman’s pelvis, causing more damage. One of the ladies who shared her story with me, had experienced this situation of pelvic adhesions from a previous pelvic surgery with a non-NaPro trained physician. When a NaPro surgeon went back in later, he found that her endometriosis had returned and she also had pelvic adhesions which were causing her further pain. The NaPro doctor surgically removed the pelvic adhesions caused by the first surgery, as well as the endometriosis and she is now feeling much better.
For the treatment of endometriosis, the technique that best prevents the endometriosis from recurring is known as excision-literally, the “cutting out,” of the endometriosis. Other techniques that some doctors use usually result in the endometriosis returning. The birth control pill does nothing to remove these areas of endometriosis. The birth control pill turns off the normally functioning ovarian hormones which can stimulate the areas. For some women, this can temporarily decrease their pain. There is a myth that hysterectomy can cure endometriosis, and that childbirth can cure it. In fact, some doctors tell women to try to get pregnant in order to cure the problem, which is what my friend Nicole Havrilla experienced and talks about in her blog about endometriosis.
The great thing is that the NaPro Technology trained physician would be able to use this surgical technique to diagnose and also perform the needed treatment at the same time, removing the need for two surgical procedures. The procedure is done with a very small incision, often using a da Vinci robot. During this diagnostic procedure, other abnormalities can also be corrected, specifically those having to do with PCOS or removal of pelvic adhesions from prior surgeries. Several corrections can be done all at once, and there are often several problems happening all at once.
After surgery, each woman I talked with, described having the first normal menstrual periods they’ve ever had in their lives. In the interest of full disclosure, one woman was still having pain after the surgery. Her NaPro doctor continued trying to correct this for her, and decided to have her try pelvic floor therapy. After receiving this therapy, she described the difference as “amazing.” For one woman, she was finally able to conceive children naturally. All were very pleased with the care they received with their NaPro Technology trained physicians, and described it as a significantly different approach to the care they had previously received.
Through this post, what I hope you’ll realize is that there are other options other than the birth control pill to treat painful periods and endometriosis. I hope that women will realize that both medical and surgical options have a place in women’s healthcare, just like they do when we treat any other area of the body. By way of analogy, I’ll share that I’ve had back problems for years. Two years ago, I decided I really needed a proper diagnosis in order to figure out what my next course of action should be. My doctor was able to diagnose my lower back pain as being related to my L5 disc, and she felt that physical therapy would be my best remedy. But, she did bring up surgery as an option to permanently correct it. She gave me the OPTION and I was the one that could decide if the benefits and risks were worth it. I am arguing that women need to be given all of their options when it comes to gynecological health problems. Not just the option that the doctor has already decided will be best for her.
I would love to connect with you! I can be reached at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com . I’m also on Facebook @ShirelleEdghillFCP
By Shirelle Edghill, Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner
If you are a woman who has ever been to a gynecologist for just about any reproductive health related problem, I am willing to bet that the first, and probably the only treatment option you were offered for your problem was the birth control pill. Or maybe the doctor got really creative and offered you an IUD instead. Period cramps? The pill. Bleeding too much? The pill. Acne? The pill. Irregular cycles? The pill. I worked with a woman who was given the pill for infertility! The doctor told her she should take the pill for six months to “regulate her cycles” and then she should be able to conceive. Guess what happened? She took the pill for six months, got off and still couldn’t get pregnant. And now she was 6 months older and still didn’t know why she couldn’t have babies.
In an age where we see daily technological advances in science, medicine, and technology, have you ever stopped to wonder what the heck is happening in women’s healthcare? We’re getting close to a cure for Alzheimer’s, can help AIDS patients live long, full lives, we’ve seen huge advances in treatments and cures for certain kinds of cancer, but for women with any gynecological issue, we’ve got just one treatment: the pill. I would like to argue that in no other field of medicine have we seen this kind of trend toward ONE treatment for EVERY problem. One disturbing thing that I’ve heard from some women is that they now don’t even want to go to the gynecologist when they have any kind of problem because “I already know he/she will only offer me the pill.” That’s scary, folks.
If you are a woman who hasn’t been to a gynecologist in a long time, or if you’re a man and don’t know what this is like for the women in your life, I’ll give you a little case study.
Two months ago I was contacted by a woman who told me that she was an otherwise healthy woman in her mid-30’s who had always had normal periods and regular cycles. A few weeks before, she had begun to bleed heavily every day. She described it as, “I’ve been on my period for a month.”
“First it was the bleeding, but yesterday, something really scared me. I’m having really sharp abdominal pain that takes my breath way. I was at work and I nearly passed out. This just really isn’t normal for me.”
She told me of her attempts to receive treatment. She called her OB/Gyn’s office and got a nurse on the phone.
The nurse said, “Excessive bleeding? Oh, ok, we’ll call you in a script for the pill.”
She replied, “I really don’t want to be on the pill. I’m concerned about being put on hormones. My cycles have always been normal. Can’t the doctor see me and find out what’s wrong?”
To which the nurse informed her, “Well she would probably just start you on the pill anyway, no matter what was wrong. At your age, it’s normal to have weird stuff like this (except it’s not).”
The woman responded, “But my grandma died of a blood clot, and my mom has cardiac problems, too. I take blood pressure medicine every day. I think I read that the pill isn’t good for people like me. Shouldn’t I really be seen by the doctor?”
(Major back pedaling) “High blood pressure? Oh, ok, yes, well, maybe we should see you. The doctor’s next available appointment is in 6 weeks. Would you like this appointment time?”
This is typical women’s healthcare. One solution for every problem. Being brushed off. Problems that are seen as “female problems” are often not taken as seriously as other types of problems.
In The Atlantic article “How Doctors Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously,” author Joe Fassler tells the agonizing story of his wife’s brush with death due to a dangerous condition known as ovarian torsion. In the ER she was brushed off, misdiagnosed, and left to writhe in pain for hours with no answers. He states, “Nationwide, men wait an average of 49 minutes before receiving an analgesic for acute abdominal pain. Women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing.”
So why does it seem like all doctors take this one-size-fits-all approach to treating women’s health issues? Well, the birth control pill is a pretty good bandaid. Essentially, it turns OFF a woman’s naturally functioning cycle. Cycles can be a pesky “woman’s problem,” so if something isn’t working correctly, we just turn it off for a while. I think the woman’s reproductive cycle is very much viewed as something optional….perhaps even something undesirable. Like an appendix. It’s a switch we turn on when we want to use it and a switch we turn off when we don’t want to use it. It’s a part of the body that is seen as unimportant to the overall health of the body. The pill has become a crutch. It’s easier than actually finding the problem and trying to correct it. Sometimes it’s viewed as a less invasive way to stop the symptoms, and honestly, I think sometimes it’s a way to make women just be quiet and go away.
Over my next few posts, I want to tell you about the treatments that another group of doctors use to treat common gynecological conditions. NaPro Technology trained physicians practice a different kind of gynecological healthcare. First, women are taught to chart their fertility cycle in a standardized way using the Creighton Model FertilityCare charting system. The woman’s chart is the primary diagnostic tool that the NaPro Technology trained doctor uses to guide them in their treatment plan. To be clear, these doctors are not alternative medicine doctors. They are board certified OB/Gyns, surgeons, or family practice physicians, who want to practice better women’s healthcare. Many of the treatments that they use have actually been around for a long time, but have been modernized and updated to reflect the latest research. Many of the treatments are newer treatments that may incorporate aspects like beneficial dietary changes and hormone therapy that is targeted to the woman’s individual cycle. The focus and the goal is for the woman’s fertility health to be restored, and the evidence of this is in seeing a healthy fertility chart. That is the NaPro Technology doctor’s goal.
If you are interested in hearing about other treatments for things like unusual bleeding, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, and excessively heavy and painful periods, I invite you to come back and read my next few posts! If you would like to contact me directly to talk about your own gynecological health concern, I can be reached at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com . Thanks for reading!
By Shirelle Edghill, Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner
One morning over breakfast, I told my husband that I looked up to him as someone I wanted to be like. When I think of the ways he's grown and changed during our 19 year relationship and 14 years of marriage, I just feel like I can only hope that I've had that kind of growth. To me, it was a very natural thing to say, and I didn't think much of it. But later, it dawned on me. THIS is this secret sauce for a great marriage! When you admire your spouse like this, you become different yourself. You care what they think. You care how they feel. You are constantly trying to up your own game because your spouse is pretty freaking amazing and you don’t want to be the slacker in the relationship. Conversely, you can see the opposite happen as a marriage starts to deteriorate. When one spouse begins to lose respect for the other, you see it in the way they don't monitor their tone of voice, their body language, in the way they speak about their spouse to other people.
I think two things have continued to help us in our mutual admiration for the other. The first is that we have continued to intentionally work on having a better, stronger marriage. The second is that we have continued to actively work to be better people ourselves.
One area we've had to really work on is communication. A few weeks ago I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with my work load around the house. Michael began a new career about 18 months ago. With Michael’s new job meaning increased work hours and responsibility, I had taken over all the household related things that he used to do. When he took the job, we talked about how this would probably be necessary while he settled in. Now, one thing you should know is that my husband has always helped out around the house and when he’s home, he’s been there in it with me, taking care of the kids. If on any day in the last 18 months I had said, “Could you take care of a load of laundry?” he would do it if he said he would. The problem I was having was that since he started his job, I knew that ultimately I was responsible for all the laundry, or delegating that job to someone else, and that went for every household or kid related task. I was feeling overwhelmed one day because I had not specifically asked him to do the laundry while I was working on the weekend, and since he sometimes did it on the weekends, I had expected him to do it. Big mistake, those expectations. Monday morning rolls around and our 4 year old yells, “Mom, I don’t have any clean underwear!” I cringed because I did not have an immediate solution to this problem, and I was irritated that he hadn’t taken care of it on the weekend, because he had the weekend before. I could feel that my resentment over being responsible for everything around the house was growing. What I wanted to do was to complain about how no one ever helps me around the house. I wanted to send him a passive aggressive text with a picture of Mount Laundry. Maybe I would go on strike! What I did instead was to decide to think first about how I should communicate with him about this in a respectful way. This is NOT in my nature. I am naturally really impulsive when I’m angry (and in general!) and I’ve tried to work on this. I waited until I was no longer irritated and for when Michael was able to talk about it, and I calmly told him that I was feeling mentally overwhelmed. I asked him if he felt like his job had calmed down enough for him to commit to a few household tasks so that I didn’t have to have so much mental clutter. I suggested he take over the finances again and maybe cook one dinner a week.
So what did Michael do? He got his calendar out and scheduled himself to cook TWO dinners a week, he scheduled a block of time to do the finances, AND he committed to doing the laundry on the weekends. And he’s done that. We’re a month in and he’s taken care of all of those things. They are now off my mental to-do lists. He went above and beyond what I even asked him to do. And you know what that makes me want to do? The same for him! How can you not admire someone who goes above and beyond like that? That makes ME want to go above and beyond for him. I think that is what I had been trying to do by taking the home workload off of him so he could focus on his new job for a season. I tried to offer a lot of extra grace during this transitional time.
One of the biggest things that has contributed to the growth of our marriage over the last 15 years might be kind of surprising, but it has to do with the way we practice family planning. If you have stumbled on this site for the first time, I’d like to invite you to read a little bit about the system we use to plan our family without hormonal contraception, barriers, or devices. We plan our family by using the naturally fertile or infertile days in my cycle. The system is called the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and it’s good stuff.
We have this term in the Creighton Model that we call SPICE. Each letter represents an area of intimacy in a relationship.
Creative and Communicative
We teach couples to think about these areas of their relationship and discuss which areas are their strengths and weaknesses. We ask them to pick concrete things they can do to become stronger in these areas. As I've mentioned, communication was an area for us that needed work. Practicing Creighton has helped us learn to communicate about my fertility and my health in a really open way, and these skills can transfer to the other areas of your relationship. In a natural fertility awareness system like the Creighton Model, there may be times when couples choose to practice periodic abstinence in order to plan their family. This is when SPICE practice most comes into play in our marriage, and is one of the reasons I think Michael and I have such a strong marriage. During times of periodic abstinence we are intentionally working on these other areas of our relationship. We hug and cuddle more (physical), we take walks (also physical), we go on dates to talk (intellectual), we sit on the couch and talk about plans (communication), we share our work struggles with each other (emotional), we plan a vacation (creative), we go to church together (spiritual), or we have friends over for dinner that we both really enjoy talking to (intellectual). These are all things that help us to feel connected and intimate. Sometimes I think couples default to sex as the only way to be intimate, and the only way to show love and affection to one another, and this might lead to a limited view of intimacy. It could even lead to one of them feeling a little bit used. At the core of our relationship is a tenderness, affection, and respect that will hopefully be there when we're old and gray in our rocking chairs on the porch.
Our desire is that our sex life simply be a reflection of the relationship that we have the other 98% of the time.
Ok, so maybe your husband or wife isn’t in a place where they would have pulled out their calendar and committed to do all of those things. There was a time when Michael probably wouldn’t have responded in that way, and where I would have picked a fight with him the moment I became irritated. But you can start with you. You can choose today and everyday to go above and beyond for your significant other. A surprising thing often happens when you start to regularly do that. Sometimes, even if you’re just lost that lovin’ feeling, it begins to come back when you put that person's wellbeing at the forefront of your mind. They notice, they begin to feel that love and affection, and want to return it. It makes them want to be better. I would also challenge you today on this Valentine's Day, that if you do admire your spouse and desire to maybe even be a bit more like them, that you tell them that. It will go a long way.
Thanks for reading! I'd love your comments or thoughts on how you are working on being the person your spouse looks up to. I can also be reached at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com
By Shirelle Edghill,
Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner
Consider this combination of seemingly unrelated symptoms: headaches, depression, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and miscarriage. What do these have in common? All of these symptoms can be signs that your body is deficient in the hormone progesterone.
First, a little review of how the fertility cycle works. In my last post I discussed the fact that your cycle is not your period. Your cycle is that time from the beginning of your period to the beginning of your next period. Your cycle has two parts: the pre-ovulatory phase and the post-ovulatory phase. The pre-ovulatory phase is the time from the beginning of your period up to the day that you ovulate and the post-ovulatory phase is from the day after you ovulate, up to the start of your next menstrual period. In the pre-ovulatory phase of the cycle, the hormone progesterone is naturally very low, which you can see if you look at the red line on the graphic. Notice how low it is before ovulation (the line in the middle). If we measure it in your blood, the reference value in a healthy woman would be less than 1 before you ovulate. Progesterone is created in your ovary after ovulation. The same tissue that the egg was developing in, now takes on a different function. The tissue is now called the corpus luteum. This corpus luteum is what causes the progesterone hormone levels to rise to higher and higher levels in the post-ovulatory phase.
So what happens if you don’t have enough progesterone? Well, you may have some of the PMS symptoms listed above. Yep. PMS. That often joked about 'women's problem.' You can also experience bloating, weight gain, crying, and insomnia, to name a few other symptoms. As a side note: low estrogen hormone occurring with the low progesterone in the post ovulatory phase may also contribute to PMS symptoms. One misconception is that these symptoms happen while you are actually ON your period. But true PMS caused by low progesterone will typically occur before your period begins. Some women begin to experience symptoms as many as 2 weeks before their period. And for some women, these symptoms are severe enough to really impact their quality of life. That ‘woman problem’ that is the object of many a joke is a real disorder, caused by a real hormone problem, and the consequences of this may be as serious as debilitating migraine headaches and multiple pregnancy losses. It gets a lot less funny when we think about it that way. I have a theory that there are probably a number of women being treated with anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications who may actually have a hormone problem that isn't being addressed.
When it comes to the early stages of pregnancy, the hormone progesterone is vital. The progesterone hormone causes the lining of the uterus to become rich with blood and nutrients that will sustain the life of the new little tiny baby. It is the progesterone produced by the corpus luteum that essentially “feeds” the baby for much of the first trimester. NaPro TECHNOLOGY doctors have used progesterone to effectively treat women who are at risk for miscarriage for decades now. It is only this year that more mainstream medicine has begun to realize this benefit.
So what should you do if you think your progesterone levels are too low?
#1. Chart your cycle! Find a Creighton Model practitioner and learn how to understand when you’re ovulating. You can count the number of days from the day after your estimated ovulation day up to the beginning of your next period, and that can be a good indicator of healthy progesterone levels. As a Creighton practitioner, I teach all women how to calculate their post-peak phase every single cycle, because this is an important indicator of health! Short post-ovulatory phases are a hallmark of low progesterone. You should have a minimum of 9 days from your estimated ovulation day to the start of your next period. Less than that indicates you may have low progesterone and you may be at risk for miscarriage if you did conceive. It may also explain certain symptoms that you have.
#2. Don’t self medicate with creams, herbs, etc. First of all, usually these creams have tiny amounts of progesterone that probably are not enough to help you if your levels are truly low, so you may just be wasting your money. Secondly, check out that graph up there. Your progesterone levels before ovulation SHOULD be low. The only time you would want to supplement progesterone is AFTER ovulation. Be ware of any doctors, naturopaths, etc. who would have you take progesterone all the time. This just doesn’t make sense at all, and actually might be harmful, potentially delaying ovulation if taken at the wrong time.
#3. After you’ve learned to chart your cycle, your practitioner can help connect you with a NaPro doctor that will use YOUR chart to check your levels at the correct time in your cycle. If you’ve ever had your progesterone levels checked and been told that “they were fine,” I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The reference ranges that mainstream doctors use to determine this are huge. They include both the pre-ovulatory and post-ovulatory levels and they do not take in to account where you are in your cycle. The other thing I’ve seen is women who’s doctors check their progesterone levels on a standard ‘day 14’ and when they come back at less than 1, they are told, “Oh, you aren’t ovulating.” We know there is a range of normal when it comes to when a woman ovulates, and it is entirely possibly that she just hasn’t ovulated YET in that particular cycle. Timing is everything when it comes to checking cycle related hormones. If you struggle with PMS symptoms or have had pregnancy losses, supplementing with the correct type of progesterone at the correct time in your cycle could be really beneficial to you.
I hope you found this information helpful! I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have experienced PMS symptoms or miscarriage. I can also be reached at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com . Thanks for reading!
By Shirelle Edghill, FCP
Misunderstanding #1: Your period is your menstrual cycle.
“I’m on my cycle,” or “My cycle is usually 6 days long” are phrases I commonly hear women say when referring to their period. I think women tend to refer to their period as their cycle, because it is such an obvious event, and it is the only event in their fertility cycle that they have to think about and manage. But in actuality, a woman’s cycle is much more than just her period. The period marks the first day of her cycle, which actually ends the day before her NEXT period arrives. The period is of course a really important biomarker of health and fertility, but it is not the ONLY biomarker of health and fertility over the course of the cycle. The total number of days in the entire cycle is also important. The number of days from ovulation to the start of the next period is important. The quality and quantity of the cervical mucus which is produced during the cycle is a great indicator of fertility health, and the presence of any spotting or unusual bleeding between periods, also gives us helpful information about the woman’s fertility.
Misunderstanding #2: Knowing exactly which day you ovulate.
The next misconception I’d like to dispel is for the health conscious women out there that do track their cycle and know something about when they might be ovulating. In a 2012 study at Tufts University researchers had women who were trying to conceive attempt to identify their own time of ovulation over the course of a cycle. What the researchers found was that most women actually do not know when they ovulate, even when they were paying attention to their body’s signs and symptoms. Only 55% of the estimated days of ovulation even fell within the time of fertility, and only 27% of the time did the day the woman's estimate fall within days of peak fertility. I think there is a lot of confusion out there about how to determine the time of ovulation. You actually cannot know, based on any symptom the exact day that you ovulate, but you can get pretty close! There is no symptom or gadget that will tell a woman exactly when she ovulates. There are certain helpful biomarkers which give a very good estimate of ovulation day, but it is always just an estimate. Let’s take cervical mucus, for instance. The presence of good quality cervical mucus and then its subsequent drying up tells us that ovulation probably occurred. But it’s not an automatic shut off switch. Once an egg has been released for possible fertilization it is viable for about 24 hours. The cervical mucus sign tells us usually within a + - 3 day accuracy of when a woman ovulated. The same is true for ovulation predictor kits, and the shift in basal body temperature that we can note after ovulation has passed. All of these things help us estimate ovulation. The only definitive test we have to know for sure that ovulation has occurred is an ultrasound series where a doctor can actually watch the process over a number of days. For purposes of family planning, it’s important to bear this in mind. A couple trying to avoid or achieve pregnancy should understand that the woman is fertile for a number of days before and after her estimated day of ovulation. In the fertility awareness based Creighton method, which I teach, the woman determines a peak day (estimated day of ovulation) based on cervical mucus symptoms, and she is considered fertile for 3 full days past the peak day, even if she has no mucus at all in those three subsequent days.
Misunderstanding #3 You can have a period while using hormonal contraceptives or You can use hormonal contraceptives to ‘regulate’ your cycle.
I wanted to touch on this myth because I hear it so often. Some women use hormonal contraceptives like the birth control pill to try to help regulate their cycle. Doctors will often use this term “regulate the cycle” when trying to treat their patients who are having cycle related issues. When a woman begins taking the pill and sees regular bleeding every 28 days, she thinks she has done just that. But what the birth control pill actually does is suppress the naturally occurring fertility cycle. The bleeding that occurs at the end of a 28 day pill pack is what is called a withdrawal bleed. It is not a period. The final 7 pills in a pack of birth control pills are placebo pills. So instead of receiving the normal dose of hormones that you would get from a regular birth control pill, you get a sugar pill. This causes a bleed due to the abrupt withdrawal of hormones. What’s interesting is that recently more doctors are advocating stopping this practice of inducing a bleed. New research suggests that these days of bleeding are not really believed to be necessary, and may be used for more historical/cultural reasons than anything. The doctors that originally invented the pill wanted to mimic a real cycle. It is unlikely that there is any kind of health benefit with this practice. True periods occur as a result of ovulation, which is suppressed when a woman takes the birth control pill or uses other hormonal contraceptives.
If you are interested in learning how to chart your own fertility cycle for family planning, or to discover information about your own fertility health, please contact me at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com . I teach in person in the North Texas area and online. Thanks for reading!
In which I get personal about how NaPro TECHNOLOGY's approach cured me of postpartum depression and anxiety
As I sat nursing my 2 week old baby in her perfectly decorated living room, the smells of warm banana bread floated from the kitchen. “Would you like a piece?” she questioned, “I thought I’d do some baking while the baby napped.”
My stomach churned with the anxiety that set in every day by 3:00 and I knew I wouldn’t be able to swallow it if I tried. I declined and mumbled something about baby weight, to which she nodded understandingly and said, “I feel like I can lose all the baby weight with breastfeeding, but this POOCH. It just never goes away, does it?” I looked for a pooch on her roughly 125 lb. frame and wondered what she thought of me in my X-Large t-shirt and yoga pants, having gained more weight in this pregnancy than any other.
Her baby was born just one week earlier than mine, and she had invited me over to let our kids play, she with 3 little ones, and me with 4. It was my first time at her home, and I was overwhelmed with feelings of shame at how my own home looked, compared to hers. Not a dish in the sink, nothing on the kitchen table, save a bowl of fresh fruit. Her baby slept upstairs, while my baby fussed at the breast, having not even yet reached his birth weight due to my low milk supply.
I told myself that maybe she was hiding the same secret that I was. Maybe this was all an act. Maybe she, too, felt constant anxiety and sadness. Maybe every day at about 3:00 she would feel like instead having had a baby, that someone had died. Maybe every night she would lay there while the baby slept, unable to sleep, despite utter exhaustion. Maybe she knew what I was feeling?
“How are you doing since you had the baby?” I asked. “Do you feel like yourself?”
She kind of shrugged and said, “Well, you know, I’m tired, but yeah, I feel fine.”
“Do you ever feel kind of anxious or sad?” I tried again.
She cocked her head a little. “Mmm, no. I don’t feel sad. Things are good, not quite back to normal yet, but good.”
I gave up. I must just be weak. And crazy.
That moment with my friend was not the first time I tried to reach out for help with my postpartum anxiety and depression. There was the time after my first baby that I called to donate some baby clothes to my church and found out that the coordinator had just had a baby. I thought I would try to reach out to her to commiserate about how hard this new motherhood gig was, but she said she was great, the baby was sleeping great, things were great.
There was the time that I had a complete emotional breakdown after my second baby, laying flat on my living room floor screaming and sobbing at my husband that I couldn’t take it any more. I remember the look on his face that said, "She really has lost her mind." That time I actually did manage to call the doctor at my husband’s insistence, but we were dirt poor college students and my Medicaid had run out. I couldn’t pay for the medication. I remember almost nothing from that child’s first year of life. I only get a few highlights when I try to recall it.
This time, I knew what was happening, but I didn’t want to admit it.
During my fourth pregnancy, I had undergone training to become a Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner. Through it, I had heard about a new NaPro TECHNOLOGY treatment for postpartum depression using injections of progesterone. During the pregnancy, I had made a plan with my husband that I would try it if I felt like I was struggling after our baby was born. But even then, I was hesitant to follow through. That’s the funnny thing about mental health, isn’t it? Those struggling with a mental illness aren’t exactly known for their ability to make great decisions. It was my husband who urged me to call, took the baby from my arms, corralled the toddler, handed me my phone and said, “Call. Now. Please.”
I remember I had my first injection on a Wednesday, at about 2pm. I found out at that appointment that my baby was failing to thrive. I went home and honestly I remember nothing about the rest of that day, until dinner time. I was outside in our backyard, sitting at our patio table under the pecan tree, and I had the distinct feeling that I had just woken up. My mom said something funny and I laughed. I laughed! For the first time in weeks. Later, my husband said that at that table, he couldn’t stop looking at me and said to himself, “Oh my gosh. She’s back!” That night I slept when the baby slept. I did not have night sweats that forced me to get up and change my t-shirt multiple times. The next day I made arrangements for a lactation consultant to come out, decided on a new feeding strategy, and made an appointment with the pediatrician. I was still tired, but I was tired ME, and not some person that I didn’t recognize.
Two days later I felt the familiar anxiety creeping back, and arranged for another progesterone injection. The next day I was back to feeling like myself. I did not even feel the need to complete the 5 injection series for the entire NaPro TECHNOLOGY PPD protocol.
While it is rarely acknowledged as such, PPD and PPA are the most common pregnancy related health issue. Is is estimated that as many as 15-20% of all postpartum mothers are suffering with PPD or PPA.
The theory behind why progesterone works is that, while a woman is pregnant, she is receiving a steady influx of the progesterone hormone by means of the placenta. When the baby and placenta are delivered, there is a rapid drop in the progesterone hormone. This sudden drop in the progesterone hormone can cause hot flashes, night sweats, and mood changes like anxiety and depression. We see similar changes in women experiencing PMS and in pre-menopausal women. Women can experience PPD or PPA for up to a year after giving birth.
I wanted to share my story because I believe every woman should have access and knowledge to all of the available options for PPD and PPA. For this particular PPD situation, progesterone was all I needed to feel mentally healthy again. With my previous children and the severity of the PPD/PPA, I believe I could have benefitted from multiple approaches, such as counseling and medication, particularly with my second child. Progesterone therapy is not meant to replace other treatments for PPD/PPA but can compliment them.
To find a NaPro TECHNOLOGY trained doctor who will use the progesterone protocol, visit: http://www.fertilitycare.org and click “find a medical consultant.” If one is not available in your area, you can work directly with the doctors at the Pope Paul VI Institute, in Omaha, Nebraska. They are able to do long distance treatment for a very reasonable cost.
You can also find a wealth of postpartum depression support resources at www.postpartumprogress.org . If you would like to chat with me about PPD or about any other fertility health related topic, I can be reached at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com . Thanks for reading!
Today, my friend Tawny Crawford, FCPI, shares with us her experience struggling for over 5 years with infertility.
Our NaPro story begins before my husband and I even met. From a young age I experienced irregular cycles, pain, and frequent migraines. I was told this was perfectly normal, but placed on the pill to 'help'. Time went on and symptoms got worse. At one point my hair began to fall out! It was a never ending cycle of doctors telling me that everything seemed normal and changing the brand of pill I was prescribed.
Shortly after my husband and I met, we learned how the pill worked and some of the side-effects associated. We were horrified by the things we were never told. I immediately stopped The Pill. After we were married, we began practicing NFP using a self-taught Sympto-Thermal Method. As my symptoms began to worsen, we again sought medical treatment. We were told over and over that nothing was wrong, that my pain was normal, that my lack of regular cycles was nothing to worry about, and that short of ‘the pill’ there was no way to treat the irregularity. My cycles continued to be wildly irregular, often going more than 3, 6, 9, months or even a year between periods. We saw our regular OB/Gyn yet again who recommended we try Clomid. After 3 rounds of Clomid without conceiving, we were done.
We felt our doctor was not listening to us. We tried other doctors only to find the same. There was nothing to do, other than getting a referral to an IVF doctor. According to them, there was no reason for the pain. We began to experiment with alternative therapies: chiropractics, herbs, teas, crazy old wives tales, anything and everything with no luck.
By chance, I saw a card for a “FertilityCare Practitioner.” I posted in an online group asking if anyone had heard of FertilityCare. It so happened, that the practitioner was a member of the group and that night we talked. Creighton Model FertilityCare was so different than anything I had heard of before! We truly had no idea how much we did NOT know until we completed our Creighton Intro Session. The knowledge was amazing and so empowering. We began charting my cycle the next day. 3 months later it was clear we needed to see a NaPro Medical Consultant. My husband and I had vowed early in our journey to NOT see a doctor for infertility. We didn't want to undergo invasive and ethically questionable procedures. We didn't want to know who was to “blame” for our infertility. We did NOT want to pursue IVF or feel pressured to do something we didn't feel comfortable with. I shared these concerns with my practitioner. She assured me we would be treated with dignity and that our views would be respected, so I made an appointment. Regardless of what she had said, I felt so defeated. I felt broken. I was flooded with emotions and cried for several days. I was so sure the experience with this doctor would be a repeat of the pain we had experienced so very many times before.
We arrived at Caritas Clinic and instantly realized that this was going to be a different experience. We were greeted by a warm receptionist. There were beautiful pictures and comforting images of the Madonna and Child. Dr. Jemelka was so welcoming and attentive. Within minutes I was at ease and knew we had made the right decision. Dr. Jemelka took over an hour speaking with us, explaining things to us, and really getting into our history. For the first time, I felt like a whole woman with a whole husband and a whole marriage- not just a uterus!
With NaPro, we were never pushed into anything. Every procedure was ethical. Our marriage was respected. Our mutual fertility was addressed. There was never a feeling that anyone was to blame or that anyone was broken. What was once a nightmare and strain on our marriage, was now opening up communication and bringing us closer together.
It was determined that I had PCOS and endometriosis. Dr. Jemelka took time to explain the surgery she was recommending, why she was recommending it, and why she thought is was the best course of action. I was given time and resources to discuss the procedure with my husband and for us to make our own decision.
In July of 2014 we traveled to Houston, about 5 hours away, to undergo treatment. I had an Ovarian Wedge Resection, which is a procedure in which part of the enlarged ovary is surgically removed and repaired using the minimally invasive da Vinci Robot. I also had excision of Endometriosis. After the surgery Dr. Jemelka told my husband that one of my enlarged ovaries was the size of a grapefruit and the other was the size of an orange. It was healing to know there was a reason for my pain. I fully recovered in just 2 weeks.
Our adopted daughter was placed with us exactly 2 weeks after surgery. I ovulated 21 days later and had consistent, textbook beautiful 28-30 day cycles from that point on. The pain that had once been near debilitating during my period had vanished. The constant waiting game of if I was going to see a peak, if I was going to have a period, if I was fertile, all the anxiety and “ifs” were gone.
The menstrual migraines were gone! I felt good! I felt normal for the first time!
We used the Creighton Model system to avoid pregnancy and give ourselves time to bond with our daughter. When we were ready, we continued to meet with our practitioner and sought treatment for low progesterone. Bio-identical progesterone became my best friend!
A few short months later, I took a pregnancy test 12 days post ovulation, just out of curiosity. It was positive! In well over 7 years and hundreds and hundreds of pregnancy test, I had never seen a positive! I scoured the box to be sure it wasn't a 'trick' test. For most of my marriage I had planned how I would tell my husband we were pregnant, but I couldn't contain my excitement!
I screamed, “Come LOOK AT THIS!!” I thought I would pass out. Very groggily, my husband crept into the bathroom. Through squinted eyes he looked at the test and said, “I see two lines.” He started to walk back to bed, then stopped. “Two Lines?” he asked.
I replied, “We are pregnant!”
We hugged, both in shock and disbelief. We immediately called our NaPro doctor to confirm the pregnancy. We are now 18weeks into that pregnancy, and things are progressing wonderfully. It still feels so unreal.
After 7 years, after giving up several times, after a journey of heart break, we are pregnant! Our daughter is going to be a big sister! This is something we never imagined could happen.
None of this would have been possible if Pope Paul VI had not answered the call of Humanae Vitae for men and women of Science to create better methods of family planning. None of this would have been possible without my kind and patient FertilityCare Practitioner. None of this would have been possible without Dr. Jemelka and the amazing staff at Caritas. If we had not found NaProTECHNOLOGY and Creighton Model FertilityCare, I would still be hurting and my disease would be progressing. We would have continued to try to wade through the daunting sea of infertility looking for help, not knowing what was wrong or that anything could be done.
Creighton Model FertilityCare truly changed my life, improved my health, and healed my marriage.
In part 2 of Andi’s story, we’ll learn about her journey to healing through NaPro TECHNOLOGY. If you haven’t read part 1, you can catch up here.
When Andi’s midwife first tracked her down to tell her about NaPro TECHNOLOGY, she almost didn’t want to hear it. At this point, she and her husband were just so tired of the world of infertility. But she decided to tentatively find out more information. Her first step was to contact a Creighton FertilityCare Practitioner. FCP’s work with women to teach them how to chart their fertility cycles to access NaPro TECHNOLOGY. This step is crucial in the diagnosis and treatment of the woman, as it is the primary tool that the NaPro doctor uses. The practitioner that she first reached out to, Nicole Havrilla, shared with Andi her own story of healing from infertility caused by severe endometriosis. You can read Nicole’s story and see pictures of her two beautiful “NaPro babies” here.
Nicole was unable to be Andi’s practitioner at that time, because of another project she is working on. Visit her website to read about her efforts to bring surgical NaPro to the DFW area:
Andi began reading and learning all she could about NaPro. She learned that NaPro TECHNOLOGY is a different way of approaching the treatment of women struggling with reproductive health problems, including infertility. Infertility is seen as a symptom of underlying disease, and as we saw with Andi, it is very often accompanied by other symptoms which may affect the woman’s quality of life. She learned that NaPro doctors use medical and surgical approaches to correct abnormalities. In the NaPro world, a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” just means that they just haven’t looked hard enough.
Andi began working with Holly Baril, CFCP to learn to chart her fertility cycles. She would work with Holly through her medical treatments, timing tests and medications to her specific cycles. Holly would also teach Andi and her husband the best possible days in her cycle to try to achieve pregnancy, something that was never taught when her traditional reproductive endocrinologist was treating her. For her medical care, she turned to to Dr. Kalamarides of the Vitae Clinic in Austin, Texas. Her first appointment with him was on the third anniversary of her ruptured ectopic pregnancy, a date she would never forget.
“What was your first appointment like?” I asked her.
“He was so compassionate. I realized that through all of my previous treatments none of the doctors had ever even told me they were sorry for what I had gone through. Dr. K. was so caring and concerned about us as people. He spent an hour with us, going over everything.”
According to Andi, Dr. K’s first concern was that her three cycles of charting showed a problem with the amount of progesterone that her body was producing. Progesterone is essential in the development of a newly conceived baby. Dr. K. used her specific chart to properly time the progesterone level testing to her post ovulation phase. He would test her progesterone at several points during this phase of her cycle, when it should be high. “Days 3 and 5, post-ovulation were normal, and then they plummeted below the scale,” she said. She felt that this could have contributed to her ectopic pregnancy. This was also contributing to the PMS symptoms she was experiencing each cycle. Dr. K. chose to treat this with injections of HCG, which works on the brain to tell the ovaries to produce more estrogen and progesterone.
“Had any of your other doctors checked your progesterone?” I asked.
“The infertility doctor never checked it at all,” she responded.
In addition to the progesterone problem, Dr. K. believed that Andi’s problems were probably organic in nature, that is, that there was something happening with her reproductive organs that was causing her pain and affecting her fertility, and it could not be seen with an ultrasound. He scheduled her for a diagnostic laparoscopy for the next month, where he planned to look inside her pelvic cavity to see what was going on, at which time he would also correct the problem if he could.
“How did you feel knowing he was recommending surgery? Especially after your surgical history?” I asked her.
“I actually felt really at peace with it. I trusted him. What sold me is NaPro’s near adhesion free protocol.”
One of the risks of any pelvic surgery is the risk of adhesions, that is, inflammation and scar tissue, which can further impact the woman’s fertility. NaPro’s precise surgical techniques seek to eliminate the risk of adhesions. The typical gynecologist is not trained in minimizing adhesions, and may cause further damage to the woman’s fertility while attempting to surgically correct a problem.
The first week of December 2015, Andi would finally have the answers she sought for her infertility. After waking from a 3 hour surgery, Dr. Kalamarides told her what he found and what he had corrected.
“He described it like slime and cobwebs in my pelvis,” she said. “It was like a bomb had gone off from my ectopic pregnancy. Pelvic adhesions covered everything. My uterus was basically fused to my colon, which explained all the rectal pressure I would have during my cycle. My right remaining (fallopian) tube was twisted and covered with adhesions. The tube wasn’t anywhere near my ovary, where it should have been. There is no way an egg could have ever gotten through all of that to get to the tube.”
I could hear tears in her voice as she told me, “Being validated was the most unbelievable feeling.”
Andi was about four months post-surgery when I spoke with her.
“How are you doing now?” I asked.
“I’m doing so well,” she said, emphatically. “I feel so much better. By this last cycle, I had no pain at all. I used to be able to pinpoint ovulation exactly, but only because I was in such excruciating pain on that day. Now I really have to rely only my chart to know when I ovulate, because I don’t feel it at all! It’s been so cool to see my cycles change for the better. The brown bleeding I used to have for days after my period is going away. I used to have 7 days of emotional misery with PMS symptoms before I started my period. That’s all gone now.”
“What did Dr. K. say he expected as far as you being able to achieve pregnancy now?” I asked.
He said, “Okay! You’re good! Call me when you’re pregnant.”
For a brief moment, I hesitated to write this blogpost now, because it is so soon after Andi’s surgery and she hasn’t gotten pregnant yet. I hope very soon to do a follow up piece to share the happy news that she is. But I felt like there was another story to tell here, and that was about Andi’s healing. So often I think we tend to see a woman’s fertility as nothing more than having babies when we want to or not having babies when we don’t. It’s nothing more than a switch to turn on or off. What we sometimes fail to see is the whole woman, who’s health and well-being can become secondary to her body’s ability to produce a baby. Andi is a prime example of why women’s healthcare in America needs a revolution. She was in pain. She was struggling with the effects of PMS. She was grieving the loss of an unborn baby and struggling with the trauma of two past medical emergencies. She was grieving the loss of the children she had hoped to have. She was desperate for answers as to WHY she could not conceive and why she was in pain. These issues were not being addressed until she found help through Creighton and NaPro TECHNOLOGY.
“With Creighton there is such a network of support. There is a feeling of collaboration with the medical consultant, practitioners, and network of other women going through this. I want to know what real people are doing and what success they are having. I didn’t have that going the IVF route,” she said.
“I feel so bad for women going through IVF. Maybe they will have a baby. Maybe they won’t. But so many of them will walk away with the same problems that made it impossible for them to have a baby in the first place.”
As we wrapped up our conversation, she added, “I can’t even describe in words what I feel for Dr. K. The whole experience was wonderful, so healing.”
Finances are often a huge factor when dealing with infertility. In an effort to help other couples understand the financial side of IVF vs. NaPro treatments, Andi shared with me how much the treatments cost. IVF was not covered under her medical insurance. The estimated cost of IVF with ICSI was $15,000, not including the $2,000 they had already spent. NaPro is not considered ‘infertility treatment’ under most medical insurance plans, so her NaPro treatments were covered as necessary for her health. Her out of pocket cost for NaPro treatment was $2,400.
“I don’t understand why this isn’t more mainstream,” she said. “If there is a better way to treat women, why isn’t everyone doing it?”
Why, indeed. Perhaps it’s because the idea of ‘women’s reproductive healthcare’ in America has become synonymous with two things: birth control pills and abortions. But that is a post for another day.
If you would like to learn more about charting your own cycle using the Creighton Model, I would love to chat with you. I can be reached at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com .
Dr. Andi provides hearing screenings for babies born out of hospital in the DFW area. I used her services after I had my own baby, and highly recommend her. She makes house calls so you can stay in your PJ’s! She can be reached at www.littleearsaudiology.com or on Facebook.
Part 1: No Answers with IVF
Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Andi, of Little Ears Audiology to talk to her about her own story with infertility. Andi’s story gives us the unique opportunity to see two different treatment approaches for infertility: the standard American medical approach, which usually involves working around the problem with IVF, and the NaPro TECHNOLOGY approach, which seeks to find and treat the root cause of the infertility so the woman can conceive naturally.
Andi and her husband easily conceived and were blessed with a son in 2009. He was born via C-Section after a diagnosis of failure to progress in labor. In 2012 Andi and her husband were excited to find that they were expecting again. Their joy turned into a heartbreaking loss as Andi was rushed into emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy, a condition which can be fatal to the mother if not treated immediately. She lost the baby and also her fallopian tube, which ruptured. At this point, Andi had experienced the loss of her unborn baby, and had also suffered two traumatic surgical experiences related to becoming a mother.
Another 18 months passed and Andi and her husband were unable to conceive. She visited her OB/Gyn to begin trying to make sense of what was going on with her body. Her doctor’s solution was to offer her the drug Clomid, a drug which causes the body to ‘super ovulate.’ She asked the doctor how she would be monitored, to ensure that she wasn’t doing any kind of damage to her body, as Clomid is a potent drug with known risks. Her doctor shrugged and said that “they just give the drug and see if it works.” They chose not to proceed with this recommendation.
Because of the ectopic pregnancy, Andi was concerned about the viability of her remaining fallopian tube. She decided to visit a Reproductive Endocrinologist to have an HSG test done. This is a test where dye is first inserted into the tubes, then the doctor uses X-Ray to watch the dye moving through the tubes to determine if the tubes are open. The doctor struggled at first to get the dye to move through the tube, having to readjust and force more pressure through in order to get the dye to move. The doctor pronounced the results as normal, though Andi always felt concerned that it had taken so much trouble to force the dye through the tube. She was still left with the question of why she could not conceive.
Another year went by. They visited another office in the same RE group to begin the standard process of infertility treatments. She had blood drawn on one day in her cycle to test several hormones specifically related to ovulation. She had an ultrasound to see if she had any noticeable masses in her uterus. After her evaluation, the doctor presented her with the treatment plan: they would be using the most aggressive infertility treatment of IVF with ICSI. The cost, which would largely not be covered by their high deductible insurance plan, would be $15,000.
I asked her what her diagnosis was. “Unexplained infertility,” she replied, “Basically he shrugged his shoulders. I don’t know, but this is what we do for it.”
When asked how she felt about this treatment plan, she replied, “ I never felt good about it. I didn’t want to put drugs in my body that could possibly cause cancer. It might not work, and then we’d be out all that money. And then, if they created all of these embryos of ours, what would we do with the ones that were frozen?”
She and her husband walked away from this process knowing it wasn’t for them, feeling disappointed and perhaps a bit hopeless.
“I felt like I needed counseling after seeing this RE and there was no support. It was very emotional. Maybe even embarrassing. When you walk in the door, you know why everyone is there. It's just such a sad place. It’s like we’re all broken. It’s this unspoken grief that everyone shares. Guys walk in with their brown paper bags, and you know what’s in there. The emotional aspect of why we were all there was never addressed. I felt like, why am I broken? Why can’t anyone tell me? The RE was a nice man. I liked him. He was funny! But I wouldn’t call him compassionate. He saw me as having a problem that he could work around and fix. It was all very medical, very sterile.”
Feeling dissatisfied with her experience with the mainstream medical community, she began seeing a nurse midwife for her well woman care. She explained that her cycles were beginning to change. They were growing much shorter, often with one cycle beginning just 23 or 24 days after the last. She had begun to experience debilitating pain around the time of ovulation, and pain during intercourse. She experienced odd sensations of pressure in her pelvic area. She reported all of this to her midwife, who was understanding, but could offer no other answers. Andi and her husband were given the choice to try intrauterine insemination (IUI) with the midwife. The cost was much less than IVF, so she and her husband attempted it.
“We hated it,” she said, “it was like we were brought to a whole new low with this process. And of course it didn’t work anyway.” She related how she was feeling increasingly traumatized by these types of invasive tests and procedures, which were exacerbating the pelvic pain she’d been experiencing.
“Nobody would take me seriously,” she said, “I felt deep down that something was wrong, anatomically. Pain isn’t normal. I shouldn’t be in pain.”
During this time, Andi had begun working at the birth center doing hearing screenings for newborns, when her midwife tracked her down one day, excited to tell her about a conference she had been to. In mid-2015, the midwife had learned of NaPro TECHNOLOGY and wanted Andi to consider looking into it to treat her infertility.
……………….To be continued in part II of Andi’s story.
Thanks for reading! I'd love to connect with you! I can be reached at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com
My last post regarding the four abnormal fertility signs that women often miss received a lot of comments and questions, so I’d like to do a follow up post to address one of the main questions that women seemed to have.
Valerie (not her real name) from Toronto asks, “I have a lot of the brown bleeding before and after my period. I also recently had a miscarriage (my first pregnancy) and I’m heartbroken. What do I do now?”
One of the first proactive steps that women like Valerie (and really all health conscious women) can take, is to begin charting their fertility cycles. Here are a few reasons why:
First, your fertility cycle is full of biomarkers which indicate the health of your fertility and your overall health. Just as you would do a breast self exam, take your temperature, weigh yourself, or take your blood pressure to gain knowledge of your health, charting your fertility cycle adds to your self-knowledge. It is data about YOU! This becomes a good starting point for getting quality medical care.
What is happening with your cycle reflects a number of different hormonal and physical processes, so if they aren’t functioning properly your chart can be your first clue. For instance, the amount, color, and length of your period are all relevant biomarkers. Brown bleeding before or after your menstrual period can indicate that your body is not producing enough of the progesterone hormone. Excessive bleeding can be due to fibroids or endometriosis. During a healthy woman’s cycle (that being the length of time from one period to the next) she should expect to see an external flow of mucus as her ovaries prepare to release an egg. The quantity, color, and consistency of the cervical mucus can indicate if a woman may be at risk for infertility, cervical inflammation, or polycystic ovaries. You can also become aware of where in your cycle you might experience PMS symptoms and how long they begin before your period. In my opinion, the two main signs that a woman should always chart would be any bleeding and her cervical mucus from day to day, but there are other symptoms, such as basal body temperature, that can be helpful.
Another obvious reason to chart is that you can use your chart to plan your family without the added health risks of contraceptives! You don’t have to take a pill, have an IUD, or use a condom in order to be a responsible person. The birth control pill is a known carcinogen (increases the risk of cancer). You and your spouse can enjoy sex without increasing your risk of cancer when you decide to use a natural method to avoid or achieve pregnancy. Modern, scientifically based, natural methods of family planning are generally 99% effective for avoiding pregnancy, depending on the method. For help with determining the days of fertility and infertility in your cycle, I highly recommend contacting a Creighton practitioner or other qualified natural family planning teacher.
Use of hormonal contraceptives also makes it impossible to be aware of your body’s natural fertility signs, and thus you miss out on this incredible health tool.
Charting your fertility cycle can be empowering! Good charting should include the days that you chose to have sex, which can be helpful in calculating a due date for a pregnancy. A typical pregnancy length is calculated based on the day the woman began her last monthly period, which basically assumes that all women would ovulate and become pregnant around 14 days after their last period started. But consider this scenario from a colleague of mine, which is not uncommon:
Rachel was charting her fertility cycle using the Creighton Model. Due to stress, Rachel did not ovulate until very late in her cycle. Through her charting, she and her husband were certain that the date of conception was Day 37 of her cycle. Had her care provider insisted upon calculating her due date based on her last menstrual period, her due date would have been adjusted more than three weeks in advance. This could be the difference between a full term and premature baby. A mother can also use these dates to advocate for herself when it comes to scheduling an appropriate date if she needed an induction or C-Section.
So what should you do if you find that your chart shows concerning biomarkers? You can make an appointment with your care provider to discuss your concerns and request that the doctor investigate the underlying causes of your issue. If your doctor doesn’t take your concerns seriously, another excellent option is to seek out a doctor trained in NaPro TECHNOLOGY. These doctors use the woman’s Creighton Model chart to diagnose and treat gynecological health issues. To find a doctor trained in NaPro TECHNOLOGY go to www.fertilitycare.org or google your state/country and “NaPro TECHNOLOGY.”
Thanks for reading!
As always, I can be reached for questions or comments at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com
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