How I Prepared For Pregnancy
It should come as no surprise that I take my own personal health and well-being very seriously - it is my deepest passion and I feel a sense of responsibility in sharing as much as I possibly can about what I know with those that want to hear it. My number one priority has always been to take care of myself before anyone or anything else -- it's the reason why I have a strict limit to how many clients I take on at once, how many yoga classes I teach every week and why I say "no" to so much more than I say "yes" to when it comes to work, social obligations, events, etc. I simply know that when I feel my best, I am able to serve others a million times better.
I've always wanted to have children and so has my husband. In fact, it was something we talked about very early on (like, probably our second date) and has been a very big part of how we've spent the last few years of our lives and marriage (re: we've traveled A LOT). I very intentionally left my corporate job a couple of years ago knowing that I wanted to design a life for myself that would give me the flexibility and time to have children and be home with them when I needed or wanted to be - something my parents both did and I think was a huge positive in my upbringing.
Anyways, where I'm going with this is that this pregnancy was very much in "the plan". I am a planner, always have been, and I wanted to spend a solid amount of time getting my life ready (although I know you're never truly ready) for this very new season. Being very much the first of most of my friends to get married, let alone have a baby, I went into the this process with zero knowledge of where to start when it came down to emotionally and physically ready-ing myself for this process, but I knew that I wanted to become the best version of myself, for myself, before I brought another being into this world, so I took this very seriously. I want to make it clear that this is what worked for me, so if this doesn't resonate I totally understand.
My 2017 resolution and intention revolved around the idea that we would start "trying" for a baby in 2018 so I would say that everything listed below was done over the course of a solid year. I am going to start with the biggest changes, and then move my way into more of the nitty-gritty, detailed things related to fertility. Here we go!
Mend Relationships + Remove Toxic Ones
This was probably the biggest hurdle for me to work through emotionally, and for good reason - relationships aren't easy! I felt (and still feel) very strongly about bringing a child into a healthy, positive, stable environment and, for us, that meant really focusing on improving certain challenging relationships in our lives. Blair and I have an amazing relationship and marriage - we genuinely love spending time together (we both work from home a lot so this is saying something!), have the same morals and values, and are best friends before anything else, so that has never been much of a concern for me. I do, however, have a historically rollercoaster relationship with my dad that was in a tough place last year - something I am very open about and think is important to share here.
The thought of raising a child when I was still struggling with my own relationship with a parent was a big roadblock for me and I was determined to mend it as best as I could before growing my own family. Without going into all of the detail and history, I put so much energy and thought (and lots of tears and really hard conversations!) into mending my relationship with him over the course of last year in order to bring us to a better place, and once it got to the place where I could breathe a little easier, I knew deep down I was ready to move forward. I also put a lot of energy into getting closer to my in-laws and sister-in-law (her name is also Katie Marshall!) knowing that they will be a huge part of our children's lives and am so happy to now be much closer with them and talk to them regularly.
Aside from improving and mending those very big, important relationships, I also took a closer look at friendships and made the very tough decision to let go of a five-year friendship that I felt was unhealthy for me. That was, by far, one of the most challenging decisions I've had to make as an adult, but it also allowed me to focus in on who I want to give my energy to, what my values really are when it comes to friendship, and what really serves me energetically. I have a small but incredible group of girlfriends (including my sister who I am insanely close with), and love knowing that they are the forever friends I can count on.
Minimize Our Life
Blair and I have always considered ourselves to be realistic minimalists - we live in a very narrow, compact row home that forces us to be mindful of what we consume, purchase, and hold on to. I don't like having "stuff" around me, never have, and find it hard to focus or sleep well in a home that feels cluttered. Energetically, I wanted to make sure that we really honed in on this principal not only in our home but also with our time - I wanted to practice saying no to anything and everything that didn't serve me. Making space for a new member of our family also means letting go of other things -- unnecessary purchases, time with peers we felt obligated to hang out with, wasted time watching tv (we cancelled cable!), to name a few. Everyone says that babies take up a lot of time and energy (as they should!), so I took a long, hard look at the things I knew I would eventually drop anyways and started putting it into practice.
This one is a no-brainer, but hear me out. I don't love exercise - it's always been something that I appreciate when it's over, but don't generally look forward to - and I'm totally fine with that. The one exception to that rule has always been (and will always be) yoga. I've been practicing yoga for over 10 years, teaching for 6, and it has been, without a doubt, one of the most transformative relationships in my life thus far. Yoga, however, is much more of a spiritual practice for me than physical - yes, it keeps me in good shape, gives me a good sweat, and challenges me physically, but my body is used to it! I've learned over the last few years that, along with yoga, my body feels really strong and healthy when I add in weight training and mix things up, so I spent a decent amount of time last year trying out new classes that pushed me out of my comfort zone. While I didn't see any drastic changes or differences, I think I have a better understanding of what my body likes and doesn't like which is all that really matters! As long as I'm moving my body and feeling good, I'm happy.
You may have seen me posting about acupuncture a ton last fall on my instagram stories, and that's because I went every two weeks leading up to "trying". Acupuncture, for me, is all about stress and pain relief - it has also been used for centuries to help with fertility, but having very regular periods and cycles, I really just wanted to do this as a little something "extra" for myself because I love it. I went to Scarlet Oak Acupuncture in Georgetown and my primary concerns were lowering my stress levels, opening up my energetic pathways to allow me to feel more connected to my body (a huge part of chinese medicine), and help decrease pain in my neck and right shoulder that have been on and off for years. Overall, I loved going every couple of weeks (it felt indulgent and important at the same time) and would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone - trying to conceive or not!
This is a much bigger and larger topic that is on my list of upcoming blog posts, but the average newborn baby is born with nearly 300 toxins in it's umbilical cord (source) and I really, really want to be sure I'm doing everything in my power to avoid my children coming into the world with a toxic burden from the start. This means using and purchasing only "clean" beauty and household cleaning products, investing in air purifiers and non-toxic mattresses, getting rid of most candles and perfumes (some of the most toxic products out there), eliminating our use of plastics at home, switching out our cookware to non-toxic versions and keeping my diet as detoxifying and alkalizing as possible (read: eating a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, eating only organic when possible, and adding chlorophyll to my lemon water every morning). A bigger, more comprehensive post on these things is coming soon - promise!
Getting Off Of Birth Control
I should have added this up above, but one of the first steps to getting pregnant is - surprise! - getting off of birth control. I have strong opinions about this and I actually do a lot of coaching around hormones, hormonal birth control, etc. with clients (working on adding more fertility coaching to my offerings soon, too!), but it's important for me to note that I got off of all hormonal birth control 3 years ago (before our wedding). I had been on the pill for years and then, most recently, had an IUD (Mirena) until I decided that I really wanted my body to get into it's own natural rhythm for a good amount of time before having kids.
DIET + NUTRITION
I touched on this a bit in my post about the supplements I take daily, but I started taking prenatal vitamins about 6 months before we started trying, knowing very well that I wanted to build up my "stores" of specific vitamins and minerals, folate in particular. About a year ago, I found out I have a genetic mutation called MTHFR (it's actually pretty common), which can make it challenging to process folate, a nutrient vital to a baby's development, and is also linked to an higher risk for miscarriage which didn't end up being an issue for me. (I know there will be many questions on this genetic mutation, so I promise to touch on it more in a future post!) With that in mind, I knew I wanted to start taking extra doses of folate early on, and with the guidance of my Naturopathic doctor (if you live in the DC area, I can't recommend Dr. Nguyen enough!), started supplementing with this prenatal.
I've known deep down for a really long time that my body doesn't like caffeine - it always makes me feel slightly anxious, messes with my digestion, spikes my heart rate to a point that makes me a little nervous etc. - and I learned in nutrition school about how much caffeine can put stress on your adrenals - the endocrine gland that helps to manage how you process stress. Caffeine, in particular, can be a very common hormone disrupter, especially for women, and is one of those drugs that there is so much conflicting evidence on. Since I wanted my hormones to be super healthy and balanced from the start, I didn't want to take many chances so I started weaning myself off of coffee around the holidays to a cup or two a week and then cut it out completely the day I found out I was pregnant. In fact, I was in the process of making myself a cup when I decided to take the test (ha! the irony). Yes, it was hard for sure, but was it impossible? Absolutely not. I miss the ritual of it, but knowing that it wasn't something I wanted to consume during pregnancy anyways made it much easier. Cutting or reducing caffeine is often one of the first things I ask my clients to do whenever they have hormonal imbalances, are struggling with PCOS or Endometriosis, or are trying to conceive - here is a great article if you're looking for more information about women, caffeine, and hormones!
If you've been following along for a while, you may remember that I did a Whole30 last fall. The real reason (aside from the challenge and wanting to give it a try)? I really wanted to clean my system out before we "tried". Sounds extreme - and maybe to you it is - but I wanted to allow my body to reset itself by clearing out some of the things that can often weight it down - alcohol, sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes to name a few. I felt SO good and it really wasn't that hard (I eat pretty close to paleo most days so the transition wasn't too drastic to begin with), not to mention I was sleeping like a baby and saving quite a bit of money by eating most meals at home. When your body is trying to grow a baby, it takes a lot of energy away from you (hello, nausea and fatigue!), so the more you can rid your body of foods that can be hard on your system, the better your body can function on many levels. I'm so glad I did this!
We don't keep any refined sugars in our house - on the rare occassion that I bake, I use bananas, dates, coconut sugar and honey - but the one thing I love to add to my lattes is stevia. In small doses, and in liquid form, I actually think it's a great option for a touch of sweetness but I came across a few different articles last year that all mentioned how the stevia plant has been used for centuries as a natural form of birth control in many South American countries -- um, what?! There is very little scientific research on the subject, but in my opinion, if a plant has been used for it's medicinal properties by generations of indigenous people, there has to be some sort of truth somewhere. Needless to say, I cut stevia out of my life real quick (this was also a lot easier when I cut coffee since they often went together).
Processed soy, in the form of soy cheese, soy yogurt, tofu, soy sauces, etc. has been directly linked to hormone disruption in women and is a food I try to stay away from as much as possible (plus, I just generally don't love the taste). Soy contains something called phytoestrogens which can cause estrogen-dominance in women and lead to PCOS, Endometriosis and irregular periods/hormonal imbalance. Now, not all soy is bad - if you can find non-GMO, organic, fermented soy products (usually in the form of miso or tempeh), they are a much better option, but knowing that even "good" soy is pretty controversial for women's health, I decided to cut it altogether -- this wasn't too hard for me but I wanted to make sure to note it here since I am aware of how many people love foods like tofu and edamame!
This is the part where I will delve deeply into the very specific things I did prior to conceiving that were incredibly useful in getting a better understanding of my body and cycle. One thing that really threw me off when I started this entire process was just how little I knew about what really goes on during my menstrual cycles each month. As a girl, I was taught how to "take care" of my period and how to avoid getting pregnant, but all of the other stuff was sort of a mystery to me. Granted, I've taken many biology and human anatomy courses throughout my schooling, but many of the things I learned last year were entirely new to me and I feel very strongly about making sure I share that information!
There is a book, listed below, called "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" and it is know to be the bible of sorts when it comes to understanding how your cycles work (or don't work for that matter!). Did you know you're really only fertile for about 3-5 days/month? News to me! I read that book from cover to cover in no less than a few hours and immediately got excited to start understanding when I was ovulating (i.e. when I was fertile/releasing an egg). There are a few different tracking methods, but one of the most reliable is tracking your BBT, or Basal Body Temperature. By getting a BBT thermometer, you can take your temperature every single morning right when you wake up and, over time, you'll start to see certain patterns in your temperature that indicate when you've ovulated and when you're about to get your period. The book can teach you so much more than me, so I highly recommend getting a copy if this interests you or you're interested in using temperature tracking as a form of birth control, but I started tracking my temperatures in October and gave myself three solid months of understanding my own cycle before I really "knew" when to try (spoiler alert: it took us one cycle thanks to this method!).
When I started tracking my temperature the first two months, I noticed I was ovulating pretty late in my cycle, which can be an indication that there is a hormonal imbalance (estrogen dominance). Vitex is an herb used in many cultures and countries to help balance out hormones, estrogen dominance in particular, and has been known to help decrease cramps and other PMS symptoms in addition to regulating menstrual cycles. Because I had a feeling I should have been ovulating a few days earlier than I was, I took Vitex for 1 month and my ovulation day moved from day 21 of my cycle to day 13 (a little better of a place to be in comparatively). Seriously impressive! Fun fact: in Germany, it is standard practice to take Vitex in place of pain killers (i.e. Midol) if you suffer from common PMS symptoms! Here is a great article that talks about some of the other benefits of Vitex!
Ovulation Test Strips
Outside of tracking your physical symptoms, there are certain ways to find more clarity around when you are actually fertile (i.e. specific hormones are rising) and, for me, it was helpful to combine temperature and symptom tracking with these ovulation test strips. Basically, for the 5-10 days in the middle of your cycle where you think you may be ovulating, you can pee on these strips and they will tell you, based on how dark the lines are, if you actually are or not. I didn't start using these until two months ahead of when we conceived, mainly because I really wasn't sure exactly when I was ovulating and wanted a little more clarity, and I found them to be very helpful.
This is the iPhone app I used to track all of my symptoms (like temperature) and monthly cycles.
PODCASTS, BOOKS & OTHER RESOURCES
Movie: The Business of Being Born
I've seen this move three times in the past few years and I learn something new every single time - if you are a woman who plans on every having a child (or think you may), this documentary is a must-see. It outlines the current state of maternal care in America and takes a deep dive into the medicalization of birth in our country. It talks about epidurals, midwifery, and all of the other stuff that I know I was very curious about as a woman not entirely sure how this whole process works.
Taking Charge of Your Fertility
As I mentioned above, this was the book that really taught me how to look out for and start to track my cycles once I really made the decision to "try". I can't recommend it enough, especially if you are not on birth control, have irregular periods, have ever been diagnosed with PCOS or Endometriosis or simply want to know what the heck is happening in your body.
Another book I would argue should be required reading for all women, Woman Code outlines specific foods, exercises, and wellness practices that are both beneficial and harmful for women. It talks about the impact that things like caffeine and dairy have on hormones, discusses the 4 different phases of the menstrual cycle and how to adjust your lifestyle accordingly, and is all around a wonderful read. I ask many of my clients to purchase and read this book when we work together because it's just that great. Alissa Vitti (the author) and I also went to the same Nutrition School which is pretty awesome and I am a huge fan of her blog and newsletter.
Podcasts I Found Helpful
Wellness Mama: Why The Birth Control Pill Screws Up Hormones and What to Use Instead
Wellness Mama: What Your Monthly Cycle Reveals About Your Hormones
Wellness Mama: Fertility Preparation and Optimizing Pregnancy (my personal favorite!)
How to Optimize Your Pregnancy and Birth Experience
Since I'm sure that I will get a few questions about these things, I wanted to share a little timeline of my process and how things worked out for my pregnancy:
Timeline of 2017
consistent work throughout the year :: eat well, drink lots of water, move my body, practice mending and healing relationships that were causing me stress, and begin to detoxify our home and personal care products
6 months before "trying" :: begin taking prenatal vitamins, start going to acupuncture every 2-3 weeks, and continue to move my body daily with exercises that are both enjoyable but also challenging
3 months before "trying" :: complete a Whole30 diet and maintain as best as I could
2 months before "trying" :: read "Woman Code" and "Taking Charge of Your Fertility", begin listening to podcasts, start tracking basal body temperature and physical symptoms, and begin using ovulation test strips
1 month before "trying" :: take vitex daily and cut caffeine, stevia, soy and refined sugar
I have to say I was genuinely shocked when I took my pregnancy test in early January (two days before my missed period, just because I had a 'feeling') and it came back positive - my first thought was "oh my gosh that happened quickly!" - because all I had read and heard from friends was that it's just not always easy (which is very true for many!). Every month that goes by can feel torturous and frustrating and then, once you actually are pregnant, you have to live with the fear and anxiety that something could happen at any moment. I've learned so much in this process, and it felt weird keeping a lot of what I was reading/listening to/practicing such a secret or hidden part of my life, so I want to make sure that I can be a guide and helpful resource to any and all women who may be in the same position I was last year (or who just want to better know their body and cycle).
I am incredibly grateful to have had virtually zero problems conceiving and maintaining my first pregnancy, but I am also aware that not all women have the same experience with fertility and conception. To me, this entire process has opened my eyes up to the true miracle that is womanhood and motherhood - bringing another being into this world is a gift that I do not take for granted and my hope is that I can help spread the message that, no matter what, it never hurts to take good care of and prioritize your own health and well-being. If you have any questions at all that you'd like for me to answer or are curious about working together in any capacity, please don't hesitate to reach out to me here (click on the contact me button!).