Written by Jess Raubenheimer-Free
Note: This article includes references to naturopath treatment for fertility. You should always check with your own naturopath/doctor before trialing any treatments, natural or otherwise.
The journey to motherhood is different for all of us. For my husband and I it was a long road, but not one that got to the stage of being unbearable, as I know is the case for so many other women.
When we returned from our honeymoon holiday to South Africa in 2016, we decided I would stop taking the mini-pill. We adopted the "if it happens, it happens" mentality. It didn't happen.
In mid 2017, I was going through an extremely stressful time at work, and I didn't realise that I hadn't had a period in over 6 weeks. I never took a pregnancy test, but when my period finally did arrive it was an absolute doozy. Agonisingly painful and unusually heavy, I was convinced that I had been pregnant and had lost the pregnancy. Life continued, and we continued to wait for our baby.
At the same time, we started using Natural Cycles, a fertility tracking app designed to be used as a contraceptive. It uses an algorithm based on the rhythm method to tell you when you're ovulating, and what days it's "safe" to have unprotected sex (obviously you should never have unprotected sex unless you know you are safe from contracting a sexually transmitted infection). Every morning when I woke up I'd take my temperature, input it into the app and slowly the algorithm started to learn my cycle. We tried switching it to 'Get pregnant' mode, and still nothing.
At the beginning of 2018 I went to the doctor to talk about my fertility. I'd always struggled with extremely painful periods, and with a family history of endometriosis, I wanted to find out if I had it. I was desperate to know if there was something "wrong" with me that was preventing me from getting pregnant. My GP brushed me off, telling me it "didn't sound like my pain was bad enough to be endometriosis". She did a few blood tests, but the only interpretation of the results I got was "Normal". I was still in the dark, and some days it felt like I would need to accept that I'd never be a mum.
We had my husband checked out, and the doctor's confirmed that he wasn't "the problem". That moment was bittersweet - I felt like a failure. Clearly it was me who had a problem. Towards the end of 2018, I reached out to my naturopath. I'd been seeing her for a while to manage my allergies, sinus issues, gut issues and PMS/painful periods. Having read a lot of books by Dr Libby, I was keen to take a more natural approach to my health.
I'd been taking P-Lift which is a natural supplement to boost the production of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is a really important part of the female menstrual cycle, and if you don't have enough of it, you can struggle with oestrogen dominance (the other key hormone). I wanted to know why I was still experiencing issues with my periods and still hadn't gotten pregnant..
I visited my GP at the beginning of 2019 to get a round of female hormone blood tests done again. Once again, I got the 'normal' response to all my results from my doctor. But I dug a little deeper. I'd been for my tests post-ovulation, so I should have had a higher ratio of progesterone to oestrogen during this time. I found a calculator online that would help me calculate the ratio properly. When I did the calculation, I felt vindicated. The ratio indicated that I may be oestrogen dominant. It explained the years of painful periods, the bloating, the bad skin, and the PMS.
I went back to my naturopath, armed with my results. I've never felt so seen, as she immediately suggested we try something different to the P-Lift. Clearly it had helped though - when we compared the progesterone levels to the beginning of 2017, my levels were much higher. So she prescribed another natural medicine with the purpose of suppressing oestrogen post ovulation. She hypothesised that I would experience much more comfortable periods and reduced PMS symptoms.
Well, I never found out what those periods would be like because after one month of taking the new supplements I was pregnant! I strongly believe that addressing my hormonal imbalances helped me get pregnant.
Obviously we are all different humans, so this may not work for anyone else, but if you're wanting to get pregnant I would strongly recommend reading and learning about your hormones. Without the previous knowledge I had from reading the below books, I wouldn't have known to check my progesterone/oestrogen ratio.
Accidentally Overweight - Dr Libby Weaver
This book covers all the factors that can impact weight loss, including calories, stress hormones, sex hormones, liver function, thyroid function, gut bacteria, insulin, the nervous system and emotions. It's a great read if you want to learn about the beautiful biological puzzle that is your body.
Women's Wellness Wisdom - Dr Libby Weaver
I love this book! It's a complete guide to the intricate puzzle that is our bodies. As a biochemist, Dr Libby understands how the different biological systems work together and how they can be optimised for greater health and wellbeing. I found this book extremely eye-opening.
I'd love to hear your fertility stories! You never know how your experience may help others who are struggling. If you'd like to share, get in touch.