I always joked I was having menopausal hot flashes in my early 20’s. And it turns out that I was! At them time I had irregular periods (my period only came 1-2 times per year), yeast infections, acne (previously I had great skin in my teens and then adult acne set in) and a weird fungal rash on my chest. I went to my doctor and was placed on hormone birth control (really I just wanted to fix the acne) and birth control seemed like an easy option.
Fast forward, I got married at 25 and then wanted to have my children at 28. So I came off the birth control pill and my periods were still very irregular and my acne never really improved! I went to my OB/GYN and was told that I had premature ovarian failure (or the loss of function of ovaries before the age of 40). I was completely shocked! She told me that the only way I would have children was to use donor eggs. She handed me the brochure for the IVF clinic and off I went. I did not take any time to grieve; I did not get a second opinion, and most of all I didn’t think any of my health issues were linked to my infertility.
I went to the fertility clinic and got on a list for a donor egg. This is almost 18 years ago, so I was sent the donor profile by mail. We received a health history for the donor, donor’s parents and maternal and paternal grandparents. We also received the donor’s education level, physical characteristics (we did not receive a picture of the donor – which I know is different from today – where we see sometimes see pictures of the donor as babies or current pictures) and personality type (such loves music, likes dogs or extraverted). For me height was a big requirement –as I’m 6 foot tall, so I wanted a relatively tall donor.
We selected a donor and were lucky enough on our first fresh transfer to have our daughter. We had 2 embryos left over and I wanted our children close together. So after my daughter was one year old we went back to the clinic. My husband told me to slow down and wait, but I was bound and determined to get pregnant again. Unfortunately these embryos did not work. So we went back on another list for a separate donor and we were lucky enough to have our son on the first fresh transfer.
I get a lot of people asking me if I was able to bond with my child. Since they are not genetically mine, there is a lot of concern about the early bond. For me this was absolutely not an issue. The children grew in my womb for 9 months, they have my DNA and I never once thought they weren’t my children. It’s funny how many people tell me my daughter looks like me (I personally don’t see it), I think children take on our mannerisms.
Another question I get is would we tell our children that they were from a donor egg. For me it was very important that I was very open with my children about how they were conceived. I felt that it was not my story; it was their journey and story. One of my children wanted to see the health history from the fertility clinic and my other child was not interested. From as early as we could age 4 or 5, I read books to them about human conception and told them, “Mommy had to borrow eggs from another woman, because hers didn’t work anymore”. Now there is more support available, but it is a very personal decision and each family has to do what feels right for them.
After I had my daughter my health began to suffer I had nine colds in one year, every cold went to a sinus infection and I thought it was a good idea to take antibiotics for every infection (not a good idea – I destroyed all the beneficial bacteria in my gut). I also experienced chronic bladder infections (I was urinating blood), I had toe nail infections, vertigo, headaches, and chronic yeast infections. I became allergic to the majority of the antibiotics that could help my chronic infections.
After many years of struggling I discovered functional medicine. I found out that I had food sensitivities. I was sensitive to dairy, gluten and later discovered corn too. After I removed these foods from my diet my health began to improve. The sinus infections went away, the chronic bladder infections disappeared and my overall health improved. A few years after that I discovered I had a gut infections (H. Pylori – even though I didn’t have any of the classic acid reflux/GERD symptoms, streptococcus and fungal overgrowth and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (even though I was gluten free – I was still being exposed – so I had to eliminate cross reactors such as corn, oats and more).
I did not discover functional medicine until I was fully in menopause. If you are still cycling naturally there are steps we can take using the tools of functional medicine.
What I wish I knew when I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure/Premature Ovarian Insufficiency:
- Food sensitivities do matter. My recommendation is to start with an elimination diet – it is the gold standard to figure out how food impacts your body. Dig in further with food sensitivity testing. I like the Leap MRT, and Vibrant Wellness Zoomers. Take it even further by doing an AIP (autoimmune protocol diet) as some reports indicate POF/POI could be an autoimmune issue. Do this with your partner too! Especially if you find you are sensitive to gluten – making the whole house gluten free is imperative – as it can take weeks-months to recover from an exposure to gluten (for the very sensitive).
- Get further gut testing. If after going gluten free and dairy free for a minimum of 90 days you are not pregnant (this is for both partners!), my recommendation is get further gut testing. Especially if you have been on long-term hormonal birth control (which impacts the ability to absorb nutrients and adversely impacts gut health). I like the GI MAP test. It looks at the DNA of your stool and checks for parasites, bacterial and fungal infections. When there is an infection the body wants to survive not procreate. Taking targeted supplements for a specified period of time, instead of guessing can give faster results. The health of your gut is linked to your hormone health. From improving estrogen, thyroid functional, cortisol levels and mineral absorption, gut health is key.
- It’s not just about the food. Eating a diet that is customized for you is an essential part of good preconception health. Many of us took 12-18 months to plan for our wedding, why do we expect to get pregnant after the first month of trying? Once we have the diet optimized, it important to dig into lifestyle factors such as taking time for self care, learning to set boundaries, limiting toxic people, getting honest about our mental/emotional health and asking for support. The journey to conceive can be very lonely and emotionally draining. Taking time to mother ourselves, beforehand can lead to a healthy pregnancy and postpartum period.
- Listen to your body. We’re all different. Your body will whisper to you and when you ignore the signals it will start shouting at you in for the form of disease. Watch out for symptoms such as digestive issues (gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea), joint issues (stiffness, arthritis), mood issues (irritability, anxiety, depression, ADHD), skin issues (acne, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis) and autoimmunity (Hashimoto’s, Celiac, Type I diabetes). These are all clues to dig deeper. Some of these symptoms are common, but not normal.
I am very fortunate to have both my children, however I didn’t work on my preconception health and my postpartum period was quite rough! Plus both my kids have food sensitivities (which could have been prevented). Taking a minimum of six months to one year to prepare the body for a baby establishes a solid foundation for a healthy postpartum period and healthy children.