A lot of you have heard me share about my journey to motherhood and have asked about the fertility testing we’ve pursued after two miscarriages. Honestly, it’s been a painful and frustrating journey to find answers, one that sometimes has me feeling like I’ve got a one-way ticket on the struggle bus.
It’s weird because I’m not doing traditional fertility testing, since we don’t have trouble actually getting pregnant. It’s just getting to the bottom of why pregnancy itself has been a royal hurdle that’s been a process.
Some days feel like I’m taking one step forward and then two steps back. I’ve had to continually advocate for my health and the health of my future family, and that takes effort.
In the process, I’m learning what it looks like to remain so fiercely committed to my family while also walking in faith because so much of this is just out of anyone’s control.
I’ve also learned that solutions don’t happen overnight. You can’t just Amazon Prime your life (although trust me, I wish I could). 🤷
There are still a lot of questions I’m figuring out, but we’ve also seen progress and made big steps forward. So, I want to share with you the steps I’ve taken on this rocky (rough, hard, painful) journey to motherhood.
And for those of you who are in or have been in a similar place, I also want to speak to your heart and let you know: you’re not alone, it’s not your fault, and we’re going to freaking get through this with the grit and grace it takes.
My Miscarriage Story and the Journey to Motherhood
This journey really started last year, just a few weeks before Christmas, when my husband and I had learned that we were expecting our first child. We were so excited to welcome this new life into our family, but on Christmas Eve, I started bleeding and had to go to the ER to get checked.
They diagnosed me with “threatened miscarriage,” and I scheduled a follow up with my OB for after the holidays. The first week of January, we went in for an ultrasound appointment only to be told that our baby’s heart was no longer beating.
(I shared that whole story in episode #92 of the podcast if you’re curious).
There are just no words to describe that pain. And I couldn’t believe that the traditional medical system tells women not to undergo testing until they’ve had multiple losses because miscarriage is so “common.”
Hear me on this: no woman should have to go through multiple miscarriages before looking into what might be wrong.
I mean, come on, we get annual tests all the time to check for other issues, so why on earth is it that when it comes to the loss of our babies, we are told to not to seek any kind of answers right away? I wish we were more proactive about preventative care in this country.
Anyway, after our first miscarriage, I was determined to be proactive and pursue some testing right away. We started working with a functional medicine doctor to get some baseline tests, such as hormones, thyroid, and overall gut health.
A few months later, we had started to make some lifestyle changes and were still in the process of getting test results back when we learned we were expecting again.
We really thought this time was going to be our redemption story. As much as I tried to be proactive, I also tried not to panic and keep my heart and hands open to getting pregnant again as soon as possible because, like I was told, it likely wouldn’t happen again.
In June, after seeing 3 ultrasounds and just as we were about to announce our news publicly, we found out we had lost that baby too. I was at 13 weeks, and I was supposed to be in the “safe zone.”
I’ve since decided the idea of a “safe zone,” is silly. There really is no safe zone.
It was devastating and we were in absolute shock.
Everything had been going so well, we saw a fully formed little body wiggling around with a strong heartbeat at 11 weeks. And at the time, I felt like I did everything in my power to prevent it.
I haven’t shared the details of this loss publicly because there was just so much more to it, it was ten times harder to walk through, and there was a lot more trauma associated with it.
So there is not an episode to point you to for the story of this loss but perhaps one day, as I feel able to talk about it, I may share. I may not. We’ll see.
Anyway, since then, we’ve been on a long road of healing and further testing. I fiercely want to pursue answers, but I’m also realizing that finding answers takes time.
Testing I’ve Pursued on the Road to Motherhood
Since my first miscarriage, I’ve been working with a functional medicine doctor to get a full picture of what may be going on and what may be causing these traumatic losses.
If you want to know more about functional medicine, you can listen to my podcast episode with Adrienne Nolan-Smith. Basically, a functional doctor’s approach is different from the traditional healthcare system because they spend their time digging to find the root cause of an issue, rather than just treating the symptoms.
Now listen, I’m not a doctor. I want to share with you my own journey and the tests we’ve done as we’ve searched for answers but what I’ve done might not be what you need to do. If you’re going through your own miscarriage journey, I encourage you to see a professional and pursue your own answers.
Having said that, let me share with you what I’ve learned.
Tests That Came Back Normal
Quite a few things we had tested came back normal with no signs of anything we needed to address:
- Structural Abnormalities
- Some women are born with a uterus that is shaped abnormally. Depending on the shape, it can lead to problems with a pregnancy. My ultrasounds showed no sign of anything abnormal in this department.
- PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects 10% of women. It usually involves higher levels of male hormones and causes the ovaries to develop small collections of fluid called follicles. Blood tests checking for hormone levels showed this wasn’t an issue for me.
- Hormone Imbalance
- I had a blood test done to check if my hormone levels were normal. We were especially looking to see if my progesterone levels were low. Everything came back looking normal here, although I’ll talk more about my thyroid in a little bit.
- Genetic Testing
- We specifically looked into something called translocation. Translocation is when sections of two chromosomes have switched places. When this happens in the parent, it can increase the risk of chromosomal abnormalities occurring in the development of a fetus that prevent them from growing properly. Again, no issues for here.
- When we looked into chromosomal abnormalities, the test came back inconclusive because of maternal cell contamination to the DNA. This was really upsetting because I was never told that could happen beforehand. I was under the impression that if we tested chromosomes, I’d get an answer from it. So, all this testing and it still could have just boiled down to really crappy luck and I’ll never know that for sure.
What We Found
While a lot came back normal (or frustratingly inconclusive), we did have a few tests that came back abnormal:
- Repeat Thyroid Panels
- In testing my TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) levels, we found that my TSH levels were really elevated in both pregnancies, causing what looks like subclinical hypothyroidism, which has been linked to miscarriage. However, my thyroid function is perfectly normal outside of pregnancy, so my OB and my functional medicine doctor are serial testing it every 4 to 6 weeks to monitor it and come up with a plan we can implement in future pregnancies.
- Clotting Issues
- Sometimes your body can develop antibodies against your blood vessels, which can cause clots to form between the uterine wall and placenta during pregnancy. If this happens, it cuts off nutrients to the baby. I worked with a hematologist, who did four blood draws to test for any antibodies that could indicate a number of different clotting disorders. When he tested, all of them came back normal (Cardiolipin antibody, Beta 2 Glycoprotein antibody, and Lupus anticoagulant – PTT LA and DRVVT). My OB also tested me for Factor V Leiden. That came back normal too.
- What we did find was slightly elevated levels of anti-prothrombin antibodies. This could suggest I have APS, a disorder that can cause blood clots, although it’s not typically as clinically significant as the other clotting issues I was tested for. To be safe, I’m likely going to be put on baby aspirin to keep blood thin during future pregnancies, and possibly a low dose of heparin or lovenox, depending on what my hematologist and OB decide is best together.
- MTHFR is a gene that gives your body the instructions to make a protein that processes folic acid. Folic acid is really important in pregnancy to help prevent birth defects of the baby’s brain or spinal cord. If your body has a mutation to the MTHFR gene, it means that your body can’t efficiently break down folic acid in food and prenatal vitamins into the form (methylated folate) that your baby needs to develop properly. A mutation in MTHFR can also lead to elevated homocysteine levels, which many doctors believe causes tiny blood clots to form as well. There are two different spots on the gene where you can have a mutation. I tested positive for the C677T heterozygous mutation. For this, I have to take a special grade prenatal that has the methylated form of folic acid, called folate. My homocysteine levels came back normal when tested outside of pregnancy but this finding could also provide further reason to at a minimum, take a baby aspirin, and possibly a low dose blood thinner, during future pregnancies.
- Food and Environmental Allergies
- Testing showed that I have an allergy to grapes and chickpeas (I know, random). I was also having a reaction to gluten. I actually did eat a lot of grapes and hummus each week, so I cut those out of my diet, along with gluten, sugar, and dairy. I’m also severely allergic to dust mites and my immune system is basically crazy town and overactive. Your immune system ideally needs to be more dormant during pregnancy so that it does not attack the fetus as a foreign invader. If it’s overactive, it can pose risks. To help with that, we got our ducts cleaned and put air purifiers throughout the house. We are also looking into the possibility of moving into a newer home.
- Gut Health
- Gut health is super important and it can affect every area of your health. Testing showed I had too much candida, a type of yeast, and possibly Leaky Gut. Leaky gut can occur along with several chronic diseases and gluten can increase leaky gut if you have a gluten sensitivity. I’ve been really focusing on changing my diet to help with this and have noticed significant improvement not only in how I feel but also in my skin.
- Micronutrient Check
- Testing showed I had low iron and Vitamin D levels. This is another thing I’m working on through quality nutrition.
Our Plan Moving Forward
After all that testing, my focus now is just to be intentional in helping my body heal and giving myself grace and space to get there.
Intense grief, insane hormones, and two pregnancies back to back does a number on a body and I’m allowing myself the time to get through that emotionally and physically.
I also don’t want my goal of getting healthier to only be about getting pregnant again. I’ve had to take a step back to realize that this can’t just be about getting the outcome I want. It has to be about the process and about building a healthier body, mind, and lifestyle for the long-term.
So moving forward, here are the things we’re focusing on:
- Giving my body 6-12 months to heal before conceiving again. Since I got pregnant so quickly after the first loss, my body needs time to heal and time to implement lifestyle changes that are important for that healing. I used to wish I was older so that people would respect my work more. Now, I’m finding that I’m thankful I got married young and started trying when I was only 25. I’m 26 now, and although my desire to have a baby in my arms makes me feel rushed, thankfully my age doesn’t.
- Cutting out inflammatory foods. Since I seem to have *something (although minor) going on with my immune system, I’m taking time to really focus on nourishing my body. I’ve cut out dairy, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and grains to help heal my gut and balance my hormones.
- Focusing on eating whole, clean, nourishing foods three times a day. I’ve been reading the book Woman Code (girl, grab yourself a copy) and working with a dietician to focus on making sure every meal and every plate has protein, fibers (your fruits and veggies), and healthy fats. This is about nourishing my body and balancing my hormones to help my body heal itself and function at its best.
- Implementing consistent morning and evening routines, rhythms, and sleep patterns (8 hours minimum!). Sleep is so key to overall health and it’s something I haven’t always been consistent about in years prior. When you’re young, you think you’re invincible and can run on 3 hours of sleep and double shots of espresso. That lifestyle is long gone for this mama on a mission. Creating routines and rhythms also helps give my body the space and time to rest and be restored.
- Cycle syncing my business schedule as much as possible. If you don’t know what cycle syncing is, stop what you’re doing right now and listen to my podcast episode with Berrion Berry (it’ll blow your mind 🤯). Not only am I working on eating foods based on where I’m at in my cycle, but I’m also working to schedule my days and tasks according to what phase my cycle is in, and where my energy levels are. The goal is to work with my body’s natural rhythm, not against it.
- Making the shift towards non-toxic products and checking water and air quality. It’s been a process, but we’ve been slowly swapping out products containing toxic chemicals with more natural ones. FYI: A lot of products that claim to be “natural” or “green” or “plant-based” still have toxic chemicals in them, so make sure you do your research and check your products on an app like Think Dirty or EWG. I’ve been switching over to brands like Seventh Generation and Primally Pure that offer really great natural products without all the chemicals that would disrupt my hormones and health.
- Limit screen time and exposure to EMF’s as much as possible. Because we don’t know yet how much our electronics and EMF’s affect our cellular and reproductive health, I’m being really mindful of limiting my exposure. Some ways I’m doing this are to put my phone downstairs and on airplane mode at night, reheat food on the stove or in the oven instead of the microwave when possible, avoid as much body contact with my phone and computer as possible, and talk on speakerphone so the phone isn’t on my face.
MY MESSAGE TO YOU About Motherhood
Look, if there’s anything I’ve learned through this journey, it’s that sometimes you can do everything *right* and things can still go wrong. Because that’s life,
But I need you to hear me say this:
It’s not your fault.
It’s just not.
There are some pretty crappy things that come our way and sometimes our best efforts won’t prevent it.
We may be the main character, and we can do our best with what we do have control of, but God is ultimately writing the story.
It’s true in family building, business building, life building, and everything else.
Sometimes I don’t like that. I want to be in control. I don’t get why He lets things happen, or not happen. The math just doesn’t compute and I’ve had a heckuva time with accepting that this year.
But my point is: if you find yourself in a similar situation, busting your booty trying to do everything you can for an outcome you’re aiming for, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT if you don’t get the outcome you’re working toward when you want it.
It may be a crappy chapter… or a crappy ten chapters… with no happy ending in sight. But dang it, I dare you to believe this with me: the sun will come out, and we will find a way to flourish right here in the messy middle.
Because there is so, so much more to our story. And there’s so much still here in front of us to love and build a life on.