Progesterone wrap-up

Its an amazing day when you finally see that this…

…has turned into this…

and these…

Today we celebrated our ceremonial last shot!  Yahoo!  Not quite per doctor’s orders, but we’ll only be doing the suppositories 2x a day for the next two weeks.  That means we’re getting close!

Here is a little chart I put together for our own sake about our progesterone levels, but maybe it will help someone else out so I’ll post it here.  We had several draws that were “bad” (due to inaccurately taking the previous dose too close to the draw date) so those data points aren’t shown.  Also, I’ve read that The National Hormone Lab uses a specific method to measure the progesterone and hence why we had to go to the extra hassle to send it out there to be run instead of running it in our local lab.  For thoroughness, not all of my data points were run at the same lab, in case you’re trying to publish a paper on this or something :)  The last half of them were though.  And I cannot for the life of me find our conception chart that has our peak +7 (on HCG) and our first progesterone blood draw data on it.  I think both were in the low 20’s though.

(The zones are based on the data taken from about 850 normal pregnancies.  Blue line is the average of the data with the dotted lines flanking on either side one standard deviation).

From the book Dr. H wrote, there were also no findings of birth defects and/or increased weight gain of the baby (as my midwife was concerned about) with progesterone use.  Not only were there no detrimental side effects to the baby, but there were also some good side effects found for the mother.

Anyway, useful information for someone else that might be wondering if extended use of progesterone in pregnancy is beneficial.  It seems that literally no one else has done research on 2nd trimester progesterone use besides Hilgers (though many have found that first and third trimester use of progesterone can be very effective at preventing miscarriage and preterm labor, respectively).  So, though its hard to think about and hard to explain to your local doctor/ob-gyn, at least I finally rest easy knowing that there is no data saying that its harmful.  And that maybe I’d avoid some post-partum depression while we’re at it.

But anyway, here’s to the last progesterone shot of the pregnancy!  Thank God for the medicine that helped keep this little one safe and sound in there all this time.   It took some convincing (I’m a difficult patient) but it seems our progesterone levels never stayed high enough on our own, so at least we know my levels were higher on the juice which = better for the baby.  And that’s really what its all about.

Surviving and Thriving on Mother’s Day

A year ago was the first Mother’s Day I had that I was aware of what I wasn’t.  I remember thinking that I would probably cry when they had all the mother’s stand up for recognition at the end of mass.  I did cry, but I cried throughout the rest of the mass too for other reasons.  Earlier that morning, shortly after midnight, we got the word that my grandma passed away.  Tears ran down my cheeks as I was acutely aware of who we were missing in our lives and more importantly, how my mom was feeling on that being her first mother’s day without her mother, let alone the terrible irony she’d live with during subsequent Mother’s Days.  My thoughts weren’t consumed with myself and while it was at the cost of grief for our family, I took that as a small blessing to remember – Mother’s Day is not a narcissistic day to celebrate ourselves (that would be your birthday!), but a day about celebrating our mothers and all that they sacrificed to give us life.

I think that’s where women everywhere could do a better job at making it less about ourselves and more about celebrating our mothers.  Because whether or not each person is ever a mother themselves doesn’t change the fact that every person ever born has, or had at one time, a mother.  And while sometimes I get the suspicion that on Mother’s Day moms just sit around and give each other high-fives and talk about how awesome they are and how they’re in the ‘cool club’, we would always do well to honor that woman who gave us life regardless of whoever we are.  I’m not sure if I’m being too idealistic, but it seems that if we all just celebrated the woman who sacrificed enough to give us life, rather than focus on ourselves and how many kids we have, how great of a mother we are, or how we’re suffering at the absence of that coveted title without children of our own, then maybe we’ll be able to take it a little less personally and not only survive but thrive on Mother’s Day.

Everyday I’m aware of the absence in my life and a day dedicated to my mom doesn’t really make me feel it any more or less than I already do.  But I could do with a little less Facebook status updates and memes about your children.  But then again, me and my Facebook beefs go way back.  Just as no one likes a Debbie Downer, no one likes a gloater either.  Just my melodramatic, sub-fertile, but only slightly bitter thoughts.

My battle with “natural”

I may be a secret hippie at heart.

I use many ‘natural’ products. I’ve made my own laundry soap, shampoo and conditioner.  I don’t shave my legs nearly as much as is appropriate – and not at all in winter (does it still count as winter?).  I use reusable feminine products.  I avoid buying unnecessarily packaged food.  I prefer the idea of using less over buying more.  I want to knit my own everything.  I dream of having a garden and a compost when we ever have a house together again.    I’m learning more about the truth behind what foods I eat and I’m trying to change my decisions daily (although old cravings die very, very hard).  I’m not over the top on this by any means and I try not to talk about these things, but I do try to make those small changes if its possible and more importantly, I enjoy doing these things.  I like to feel as self-sufficient as possible.

As a Catholic, I think natural law is the coolest thing ever.  As should be obvious by now, I am a big proponent of naturally spacing children and avoiding hormones to control healthy, naturally occurring reproductive processes.  I love the idea of having a natural birth and breastfeeding.  You know, doing what your body is supposed to do and feeding your child as it would happen, naturally.

Are you sick of that word yet?

I am.

Because the problem is I’m staring down the barrel of an ideological crisis.  I’m realizing what I would really want more than anything is a natural conception.

And if that’s the most important thing for me, then at this rate it may mean never conceiving at all.

Yes, if I do ever conceive it will be the ‘old-fashioned’ way with an act between my husband and I (as a Catholic, what I consider ‘natural’ and ‘moral’ are separate ideas – the latter being a non-negotiable, the former being, well, what I’m trying to figure out) but ideally I’d want it even more natural than that.  I’d love nothing more than the truly natural ‘Hey look honey we didn’t abstain this month and weren’t pumped full of fertility drugs and no doctor was monitoring my blood and look just what happened naturally, we’re pregnant!”

Oh, how hard it is to let go of that dream.

Equally hard is accepting that while for some couples, it is as simple as that, for others it isn’t.

I realize that so many of you are so far beyond this that you’re probably rolling your eyes right now and thinking “Natural or not, I just want a conception. Period!” Maybe there are others saying “Maybe if it doesn’t come naturally, you’re just not meant to have children.”

I’m stuck somewhere in the middle.

I imagine this is similar to those women trying to decide what matters to them in the delivery room.  There’s so much thought and preparation that goes into how to deliver a baby and its a very important decision.  Keyword:  decision.  It appears it is a choice.

I know that not all women want to have a natural birth.  That is their decision.   Some women do and they fight tooth and nail to get it.  More power to them. I know that many women do want one and end up for one reason or another (usually life threatening) having medical reasons and needing help either through pain medication or a cesarean.  Other women get pushed into it by their doctors for less serious reasons.  I’ve talked to several friends who associate such trauma with birth precisely because when it came down to it, they had no choice in the matter.  What happened had to happen because lives were at risk.

At the end of the day you’ll say “All that matters is that the baby is healthy” anyway, right?

If I thought I was that woman who would fight for a natural birth, doesn’t that mean I’m that woman who would fight for a natural conception?

I don’t know if ‘deciding’ on a natural conception is the same because it does not seem to be an even choice.  It’s not that I have a fair choice between having a ‘natural’ or an ‘aided’ (is that the opposite?) conception in the first place.  That decision seems to be taken away from me already.  The choice is rather between, ‘aided’ or potentially, none and really, let’s admit that that’s not even a choice I get to make either since pursuing fertility treatments doesn’t guarantee anything.  But the choice I do get to make is if I go down that path at all.  It is a choice to wait indefinitely.

And it’s not really a life or death situation,  so I don’t know if it’s the same ‘non-choice’ that a woman in a life threatening situation in the delivery room has.  Unless we consider it as a life or death situation for our future biological non-existent children (which I don’t believe in a pre-existence so, I can’t).  Or the life or death of my biological motherhood which at the end of the day isn’t the death of an actual person – I am still alive, it’s just the death of an idea or a dream (as painful as it is).

I don’t write this to upset people but because I’m truly trying to figure out why I have this attachment to the “natural”.  I know that regardless of my moral beliefs, it would be impossible to allow myself to do IUI or IVF on this idea alone: that we were being stripped of such a naturally occurring process of our love literally making a baby.  I think many fertile couples take for granted how spectacular that is.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t let anyone take away from me that most intimate detail of the miracle of conception even if I had no religious guidance on the matter.

Ultimately, infertility in most cases is what is unnatural.  I guess I say most cases because I feel like in my case, what has given all illusions to be unexplained infertility, this just may very well be our natural state.  If you’re using modern medicine to help you conceive and overcome a disease or a known problem, then that would be restoring health.   But if all those processes are already happening and you just can’t conceive?  I don’t know what I would do next.  Could I just give up and accept that?  If I decide that natural conception isn’t important, well then natural birth or breastfeeding wouldn’t be either.  Can I have it both ways?  I know despite my efforts, there are many things I do in my life that aren’t natural so I find it curious that I seem to have drawn the rules at reproduction.

So this is my battle with the “natural”.  It’s horribly inconvenient given my situation.

But I don’t know if I can bring myself to believe that convenience is what matters.

Free BC?

This article makes me sad, but I guess its not really that different from the uphill battle we already face.  It just makes it feel a little steeper.

I recently went grocery shopping with my friend at Whole Foods to get chicken and veggies that were sold without hormones and pesticides.  All while she’s ingesting a tiny pill jam packed full of hormones everyday.  I resisted pointing out the irony, as she already knows my stance on contraception.  I don’t know if I’ll be as strong the next time.  I do want to be a peacemaker but I could cut the hypocrisy with a knife.

This is the same girl that I listen to routinely complain about her nausea and lack of sex drive.  What else can I say?  Are the other options really worse?  And when I explained the next steps medically recommended for us to try to have children, she remarked that “taking a little pill everyday is so much easier”.  Yes, yes it is.  Unfortunately, that little pill won’t give you a baby.

Of course, then she could just pop in an IUD, which sound even more terrifying.  Its interesting that while she will take the pill, at least she draws the line at an IUD.  I guess everyone has their limits of what’s ‘natural’?  I don’t know how a woman could ever make the decision to put one of those in their body.

The things we do to have control.

We’re getting smarter…in all ways!

My brother-in-law sent my husband and I an interesting article published in the New York Times from this past weekend, entitled Educated Women Opting for Motherhood.  Did anyone else happen to see it?

The crux of the article is that in general, the percentages of women not having children are increasing across racial and ethnic boundaries, as compared to 1992.

However, when we look at this same information across educational degree attainment, we see that the percentage of women who are achieving advanced degrees (Professional, Master’s, and PhD) and have never had children is decreasing.

So what does this mean? There are probably several takes on why this is happening, so I’ll just throw my hopeful idea for what I think out there.

Maybe this idea of New Feminism is finally catching on!  Educated women are realizing that being mother’s is not only a fulfilling career option but also a smart option, for themselves and our society.  The outdated view of feminism that includes our reproductive biology as a burden is becoming a thing of the past, especially for those most educated. Now if only we could get past the stigma of having more than two children

One can hope this trend continues!

Do you have some other ideas for why this trend might be occurring?

“Its not that we didn’t try”

I saw this video about 5 years ago when it first came out on PBS and its still resonating in my ears… Its a special about this amazing female professor who is working on a cure for cancer using nanoshells.  A cure for cancer, people.

She was interviewed by PBS in order to not only explain her research, but also to address the issue of the lack of women in her field of research.

As a female researcher, when I saw this video 5 years ago there were a few lines that stuck out to me. There has always been an issue of retention with women in any intensive field of research and as the interviewer pointed out, it sometimes has to do with the fact that women have troubles balancing family and work.

Interviewer: Naomi I noticed, did not have children, which made me wonder if that’s about work.

Dr. Halas: No, I cannot have children.  Its not that we didn’t try…I mean that’s another thing that people sometimes do look at someone who’s childless and say you know well, ‘You like science more than children’ but no, I like kids too..

When I saw that years ago I naively thought, Wow, how much does that suck? You practically find a cure for cancer and all “they” care about is why you have no children!!

Now I watch that and I tear up, because I feel like I understand her struggle more now .  Its deeply personal.  Its not they putting this desire to have children in you, it comes from within.  How horrible to feel judged about something that no one understands.

I wonder, does her research truly fulfill her or would she still give it all up for a child?

I wonder what will fulfill me if I really cannot have children.

PS: You really should  watch the video, its only a few minutes long and will also give a quick and easy intro to nanotechnology!

Thank you, Phoenix!

I saw this video this morning at one of my favorite blogs and I wanted to re-post it here since a line in it really connected with everything I have been writing about for the past couple of days!

In my last few posts, I was really just trying to focus on the concept of faith and on my journey to being able to have faith in God.  The story of “Specifically Why Catholic” would be a much longer, detailed post, probably more like a book.   But if it isn’t obvious already, learning about God’s plan for human sexuality and how NFP promotes that was a huge component.  I thought this video was a cute reflection on that!

A line from this video touched on the “faith” component, when one of the guys interviewed says,

“You’re either going to put your faith in something that a pharmaceutical company says is going to get you the result you want or you’re going to practice natural family planning and in that case, you’re basically putting your faith in your biology as God designed it and intended it”.

So powerful!  Using NFP helps us to truly extend the concept of faith to all aspects of our lives, not just where its comfortable.

Donating your body to science

Being the true engineering nerds we are, my husband and I agreed to donate our bodies to science!


Ha, we’re actually participating in a study on natural family planning through Marquette University to determine the effectiveness of two internet based methods.  It’s pretty awesome.  No more paper charts for me!  Its a randomized stud.  One method uses the Clear Blue Easy Fertility monitor to directly measure the hormones I discussed here and the other method uses more “traditional”, secondary observations, if you get what I’m saying :)  Just to keep it interesting, I’m not going to tell you which one we got !  Heh heh.

Buy anyway, if you’re interested in postponing pregnancy for a year try out the study over here and see if you’re eligible.  It was a lot of soul searching to figure out if this was right for us but ultimately I think the amount of couples that fall under the “not trying for a baby but we’d also love to have one” category is pretty small, so we felt like we should step up.  Most people want to have absolute control over this aspect of their lives and can’t really understand that mentality.

But, if you’re not necessarily wanting to postpone for an entire year but still interested in the study?  You can also sign up for this 6 month study to give them feedback about the website and automatic fertility algorithm here.

Incidentally, that website is also really helpful with answering other basic NFP questions.

Happy (electronic) charting!

More than a “Friendship Certificate!”

Before I write the series on marriage, I first wanted to shed light on the current popular perspective on marriage by doing a little movie analysis in light of what I learned this past weekend on a movie that you may remember from a while back, “He’s Just Not That Into You”.


When I saw this movie last week I realized what a good place it was to start looking at the modern perspective on marriage, especially since the movie is based on a dating advice book that should eventually lead you to marriage, right?  And while I do understand that the movie is meant to be a fluffy chick-flick, I think it should still have relevant social commentary on the topic of dating/marriage.  What I saw instead made me feel like I was the only one out there in crazy land!

Incidentally, I have read much of the original book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (as it was left in our lab by my undergrad – thanks Candace! – and it takes 20 minutes to collect a sample, the perfect amount of time to read a few chapters!) and the movie matches for the most part with the book.  The movie intertwines a few plot lines (much like ove, Actually) of different characters each playing out their own scenarios from different chapters in the book, illustrating for us the different “He’s just not into because….” reasons (things like, because he doesn’t call you back or because he’s still with his wife,etc.).

He's Just Not That Into You

For the most part the stories are cute but interesting, however there was one thing that stuck out to me.  Ben Affleck’s character and Jennifer Aniston’s character have been dating (and living together, I might add) for 7 years.  JA’s character gets a phone call one night about how her little sister is engaged and getting married to which BA’s character says “Oh that’s great!” to which JA’s character (naturally) responds “Why is that great for them and not for us? Don’t you think we’re going against nature or something by not getting married too?” (slightly paraphrased).  Here’s what BA’s character says in response:

“You have a lot of girlfriends that you’ve had for life, right? Best friends that you’d do anything for and they’d do the same, but you wouldn’t go down to the courthouse and pay $45 for a ‘friendship certificate’ with them, would you? Of course not, so why should marriage be anything different?”

Ok, that was definitely paraphrased some more (forgive me, I already took the movie back!) and he goes on to say that people who get married are just insecure who overcompensate by sharing their feelings with the world. SO, to that pitiful explanation, JA’s character actually AGREES.  She AGREES people!  Even though she an inclination that they’re literally going against nature by living together and not getting married she accepts the idea that marriage is no more important than a platonic relationship with your best friends. Seriously?  Never mind the fact that you are intimate with your husband and that two opposite sexed people living and sleeping together could spontaneously create another life with needs and wants completely separate from their own.  They both (or mainly him) view their sexual relationship as no different than a casual friendship.

This is the type of mentality that has marriage on the decline everywhere and self-destructing, if it ever gets off the ground in the first place.

I wish the movie would have developed BA’s character further, since there is no background given or reason for why he views marriage and “truly doesn’t believe in that institution”.  Unfortunately, I can think of many men in my life (not so much on the women, though – wonder why?) who believe the same thing, either that marriage is outdated or is unnecessary to define a relationship between a couple.  I think we could learn a lot from BA’s character and maybe understand the decline.    Instead I’ll just have to settle for showing why we all SHOULD believe in marriage :)

In another post of course…

“Nothing worth doing is easy”

As NFP teaching volunteers in the Diocese, this past week we were invited to a celebration mass on Sunday night at the Co-Cathedral with the Cardinal (twice in 2 weeks!).  It was a simple celebration consisting of mass and a potluck dinner afterward with other NFP volunteers in order to commemorate the last day of NFP awareness week.  I think it was worth going just to watch Mike’s head spin from the chaos that happened when multiple children got together and started running around during the potluck!  Talk about sensory overload!  [Sidenote: I was talking to one of the fathers and they said that luckily that only really happens when tons of kids get together…I guess one day we’ll know first hand if he was lying…].

So I already know what you’re thinking “See? Lot’s of kids?  I knew NFP doesn’t work!”  Maybe one day I’ll post on the correlation between kids and NFP users, but for now also know that we are one of the youngest teaching couples, not only in age but also in married age.  Many people become teaching couples after they have kids and have been practicing NFP for a couple years.  Although sometimes I think that maybe we would be more effective teachers and our clients would take our advice more seriously if we had been married longer and had kids of our own to serve as a better example, I always try to recall our reasons for becoming NFP teachers in the first place:

  1. This is too great a gift to not share what we know.  Growing up I didn’t know that charting your fertility was even possible and I for sure didn’t understand the teachings of the Church surrounding it.  I feel now that I almost have an obligation to share regardless of my age since I was so blessed to have people take the time to share it with me.
  2. Being in graduate school, this is one of the most flexible times of our life to begin teaching and last winter/spring was a good time for us to make this a priority to attend the workshops, study for the tests and take them, precisely because we don’t have kids yet.  From what we hear (ha!) being a parent keeps you busy with your own vocation/mission of caring for your children, so if our lives are only going to get busier, why put it off when we can make an impact now?
  3. Maybe we could take some of the burden from the teaching families!
  4. Last night’s Cafe Catholica was all about the history of St. Paul, evangelizing and witnessing.  This is one way that we as a couple felt called to witness to others.
  5. In Mike’s words, as a couple we were already going to go through the “life lesson” of using NFP, so why not just learn the material enough to be teachers?  We were going to have to learn it all anyway…
  6. It always helps to have a teaching couple you can relate to.  Since most of the engaged are young couples, I think having a younger couple, or at least someone close in age, teach you allows you to see yourself in them more and identify with them (at least that worked for us!).  Also, we felt like clients would feel more comfortable in asking us the necessary-but-embarrassing questions than they would an older couple.

Anyway, so last night I was looking forward to catching up with some friends with families but unfortunately a lot of them didn’t come.  Instead this left us time to meet some new couples and families, which was just as fun!  One woman and her husband sitting at our table had specifically come to try to find a doctor who could help her with her cycles.  She went into excruciating detail of her hormonal problems within like the first 5 minutes of meeting her  (Mike struggled to keep down his food) and luckily I was able to introduce her to some people who might be able to help her.  Although this woman was really probably the master of TMI and her kids had some crazy names, I really applaud her and her husband for trying to follow the Church’s teaching on contraception.  Using NFP is definitely not the easiest route to space children even if you have regular cycles, and in the face of that difficulty I can see how it would be very easy to write it off and proclaim that its not possible for you because you are the exception to the rule, the one that needs to be on the Pill.  Here this woman was at 36 after 14 years of marriage with many, many miscarriages, 2 miracle children, and several cysts that required surgery, still admiting that she had some fertility left and that it would be wrong to remove any “parts that were causing these issues”, despite the fact that she was in pain and did not want anymore children.

No one said this path would be easy or that it would be without sacrifice, but we all know the mantra that “Nothing worth doing is easy”.  The benefits do outweigh the sacrifices, although sometimes its hard to see past the obstacles in our way.  We can never completely put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and know their situation, but it also helps to look to others, like the woman from last night or saints, for inspiration along this path to holiness and to remember that we aren’t walking it alone.