Focus on Fertility – eating well, and a breakfast recipe

Not being pregnant for the sixth month in a row has caused me to take a hard look at the things I have been and have not been willing to do in order to get pregnant. I do believe that a person should be able to live a more-or-less healthy lifestyle and continue on as normal, and become pregnant. But I think most people (or maybe I just mean me?) are in a little bit of denial about what a more-or-less healthy lifestyle looks like.

I eat vegetables. I eat probably more of them than many of my friends and extended family. I am not “overweight,” no matter who you ask (unless you ask that asshole who lives in my head and occasionally surfaces when I am jeans shopping or going to the beach with people who have never seen me in a swimsuit). So I was all yeah, I eat basically well. No changes needed. I plowed through the eating chapter in Fully Fertile making one small change – giving up pop – and carried on as I had been.  Also while ignoring the rest of the book, because it told me I had to get more sleep, so I was like, well, here’s where I give up.  

When I wasn’t pregnant last month, I revisited my eating and faced the fact that even though I ate sorta fine, there was definitely room for improvement.  I read the “pregnancy diet” in WTEWYE, and started thinking about nutrients. And, um, I am actually a little short, it seems. I don’t get nearly enough vitamin C or iron, or even calcium. I seem to have become some kind of crazy meat-eater, which is weird because I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade. I probably eat too much salt. And I drink alcohol daily. And (ahem) maybe a bit too much on the weekends.

So for the last few days, I have been diligently trying to get in more fruits and vegetables, and have been drinking milk instead of wine at dinner. I am a LOT more full after dinner now — the milk makes an enormous difference. I am mildly lactose intolerant, so the milk is a bit of a challenge after the fact. The intolerance started when I spent 8 weeks in the UK in college and the cafeteria in my dorm served this horrible super-pasteurized milk that can apparently be left at room temperature. That shit is nasty, and I didn’t drink milk at all for 2 full months, or even put it on my cereal. I came back, and all dairy, even yogurt or cheese, caused issues, and FORGET about putting milk on my cornflakes in the morning. I have gradually worked in all other kinds of dairy and now have no problems with them, so am hoping that my tiny glass of milk each dinner will re-acclimate my digestive system to lactose so that I can eventually grow into the full- sized version of my pre-London years. Even if not, some milk is better for the bones than none, and even though it is animal-derived, at least it is a good non-meat source of protein.

For me, healthier eating was not just a matter of what I added, but also what I subtracted. This meant less processed food, and much less alcohol. Yesterday I was congratulating myself on how little I had been drinking when I realized it had only been four days. Ahem.  But I am carrying on in that regard.

My dinners are almost all home-cooked, thanks to having three growing kids to feed, but I tend to grab both breakfast and lunch out, so this was clearly where I needed to make the effort to eat more home-cooked, nutrient-rich food.  I usually eat some kind of wrap from Dunkin’ Donuts or Subway for breakfast, since they are both in the basement of my office building, and soup, salad, or a sandwich for lunch.  My main challenge with eating breakfast at home was that I never had time to make anything, and I don’t really like cold things or sweet things in the morning. And I don’t really like eggs.  I know, weird. Thus, whatever I was going to eat had to be hot, savory, not too eggy, easy to heat up at work, and had to be made ahead of time.  And so, I present to you, my new breakfast (well, half of it, anyway):



Spinach-Feta Breakfast Wrap

(makes six)

2 Tbsp. Italian dressing
1 lb. frozen chopped spinach
1 tsp. minced garlic
4-5 eggs
5-6 egg whites (I meant to do 4 eggs and 6 whites, but I broke one of my yolks when separating, so I think I was 5 and 5.  Also I kind of lost count.)
splash of skim milk
a handful of sun-dried tomatoes (not the ones in oil!)
1/2 block of pasteurized feta cheese
6 whole wheat tortillas

Heat the Italian dressing over medium heat, and add the garlic.  Thaw the spinach and press out as much excess water as you can.  Add to the garlic when it’s simmering. Cut up the sun-dried tomatoes into strips with kitchen shears and add to the spinach.  Sautee until heated through and the tomatoes soften a bit. Remove from pan and set aside.*

Meanwhile, mix eggs and milk in a bowl until blended but not totally beaten.  Add to the pan the spinach was in, stirring until cooked but a tiny bit runny.**  Spread out 6 tortillas on the counter, each on a paper towel, and divide the spinach and eggs evenly amongst them.  Crumble/chop the feta cheese and divide evenly.  Add some pepper here if you feel like it.  I was lazy and did not.

Wrap each into a burrito, then wrap in the paper towel and then in parchment paper.  Stuff them all into a gallon-sized ziplock and freeze.  This whole process took me about 15 minutes on a Sunday night.  In the morning grab one and stick it in your lunchbox.  I put mine in a sandwich bag in case it thaws, but it’s so freaking cold in New York right now that it never has.  

To heat, pop the whole thing in the microwave for 2-3 minutes.  The water from the spinach will soak the paper towel a bit and it will steam inside the parchment paper.  For your trouble, you get:

1/2 serving of protein
1 serving of calcium
1 serving of iron
1 serving of leafy greens
1 serving of whole grain

I purposely made sure this was pregnant-lady friendly, so that I don’t have to think too hard about how to change it if I am pregnant.  I also plan to try some variations on this, with maybe some soy-breakfast sausage, different cheeses, different veggies, etc.  I think bell peppers, sausage, hot sauce, and pepper-jack cheese would be a nice combo to mix it up a bit.

*  Next time, I plan to try mixing the eggs and spinach together. I am thinking it will be less “one bite spinach, one bite egg” and more blended.  We shall see.

** I left the eggs a tiny bit runny because they cook up when you’re re-heating and can get a little spongy.  If you’re worried about food safety, I am sure you can cook them through without it being a huge deal.

on pins and needles

The last two Saturdays, I’ve had acupuncture. I’ve chirped about doing this ever since I started thinking about trying to get pregnant, for a few reasons. One is that it’s supposed to work. There’s lots of evidence that acupuncture and other “alternative medicine” can help with conception. Please don’t ask me for any of this evidence, though, because I’m not a scientist. I just know that there have been official sounding studies that say it helps. The other reason is that it’s supposed to be really enjoyable. Someone I work with who had acupuncture said it was as relaxing as having three massages in a row. This seemed to be universal among my small circle of acquaintances who have had acupuncture.

So, when I found out I wasn’t pregnant last month, I finally sucked it up and made an appointment. You guys, I hated it. I was so surprised! Really. I thought it would be so relaxing and lovely, but I forgot about the fact that the acupuncturist sticks needles. Into you. Lots of them. And I am actually not super-crazy about needles. And yes, they are teeny tiny needles, but in some places they hurt.

Here’s the other thing. Apparently, I am burning through all my yang energy with my crazy lifestyle, which is giving me all these symptoms. It seems its not actually all that normal to have stress-headaches, as I call them, multiple times a month. The headaches are good, because the acupuncture is covered by my insurance (it covers acupuncture for treatment of pain), but not so great because of how they are headaches.

Because of my yang exhausting lifestyle, my treatments are more “stimulating”. Which means not exactly relaxing. Also, did I mention needles? I found a few of the places she stuck the needles were quite sore and achey during and after the treatment, which made it even harder to relax. For the record, the sensitive points were the top of my left foot and the back of my left hand. Abdomen, head, ear, face, and other places I would have expected to be more sensitive were just fine.

Nonetheless, after the first session, I went back for more. I’m glad that I did, because it was much better. I wasn’t so nervous about the needles, and the sensitive points weren’t quite so achey. It was snowing, and quiet, and I tried to welcome our little one in a casual sort if way. You know, no pressure, baby, but if you wanted to make an appearance this month, that would be cool with us.

Monday, we inseminated for the 5th time. The timing was good, the insemination went fine, and most importantly, I had my blood drawn and the prolactin levels are finally starting to drop. During the insemination, I did something without thinking that I haven’t actually done with any sincerity since about 11th grade — I prayed. I have no idea where it came from; I’m not even sure I believe in god. Most of the time I don’t. But I suddenly realized I was silently begging god for this baby. We will try so hard. We will love him or her so much.

I have a little hope, but I am not as optimistic as last month. Things aren’t different enough to make me think this time will work when last time didn’t. And it’s getting a little old being disappointed all the time. But with each day that goes by, I keep thinking more and more … What if? We will find out a day before New Year’s Eve. Maybe it will be a little late Christmas present for us.

Today, at our middle one’s fifth grade chorus concert, my wife gave my hand a squeeze during dona nobis pacem. I leaned in, and she whispered, “I hope you’re pregnant.” Yeah love. Me too. Let the waiting begin.

fasting prolactin

I got my lab tests back, and there was good news. I am HIV-negative, don’t carry any genetic disorders, and am CMV positive.  The CMV is important for donor-sperm shopping, because if you’re positive, you can choose any donor, but if you’re negative, you have to choose a donor who is also negative, which dramatically reduces your choices.  Based on my age, test results, etc., the nurse estimated I would be pregnant in 6 months or less. Whee!

There was also bad news. Apparently, I had high prolactin levels during my blood test, which means I have to go for a second round of bloodwork, this time while fasting — that means no eating, drinking, exercising, heavy lifting, or hanky-panky after 11pm the night before.  If the levels are normal after the fasting test, then I guess the assumption is that the elevated levels before were a fluke.  If not, I need an MRI.

After I hung up with the nurse, I got to thinking.  The mention of the MRI had me wondering exactly what would cause high levels of prolactin, so I decided to Google “elevated prolactin.”  THIS IS ALWAYS A MISTAKE.  If you have a symptom, do not Google it.  Especially if that symptom is elevated levels of prolactin.  Because then you will discover that this is either caused by breastfeeding, or by a TUMOR on your pituitary gland.  A TUMOR? Yes, a tumor.  Since i am not breastfeeding, I can only assume I have the tumor.  But don’t worry, the tumor is {almost} always benign. 

Oh gee, Internet. Thanks.  A probably-benign brain tumor.  NBD. 

My wife pointed out to me that people with horrible medical problems are always posting things online, whereas it’s much less common to post “Hey, I had this horrible [insert symptom here], but guess what? Turned out it was nothing and went away on its own a day later.”  She has a point, but still.  Brain tumors make me squirm.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll go in and do the fasting test.  Either my levels will be normal, or I will have a probably-benign brain tumor, and then we can go on our merry baby-making way.  After they remove the brain tumor?  Not clear at this juncture, but I am refraining from any more online symptom-checking. 

Note: I tried to search for some snappy images to go with this post, but an image search for “blood” or “brain tumor” leads to disturbing results, so this post will be illustration-free.  You’re welcome.

focus on fertility: week 3.1

This post is part of an ongoing series of posts regarding my experiences working through the book Fully Fertile, by Tami Quinn, Beth Heller, and Jeanie Lee Bussell. For previous posts, click here.

So, the nutrition week. This is actually the first installment of my work through the nutrition week, because I fully intend to spend two weeks on it. And not just to avoid committing to extra sleep, which is the week that comes after it. Last week was the first, and it was the week I gave up pop. Specifically, I gave up my daily Diet Coke.

I thought this would be extremely hard. I thought I would lag mid-afternoon. I thought I would miss it. I actually really love the daily Diet Coke. But… I didn’t. I didn’t really mind at all.

At first, I switched it out for iced tea. I had this idea at a long, boring work lunch, where everyone at the table weirdly ordered iced tea. Seriously, there were seven men plus me, and they all one by one, ordered iced tea. What the hell, I thought, let’s make it eight. So I had this peach iced tea, with some genius iced-tea-cubes in it, so that it didn’t get watered down as it sat there melting on the first real spring day. Then, the next day at work, I filled a glass with ice, and another with hot water and made an extremely strong cup of tea, which I then dumped over the ice cubes once it had cooled a bit. And I really never looked back.


Iced Tea

(from flickr)

Because I’m a little behind on writing this, I am most of the way through the second nutrition week, so I will tell you that some days, the walk to the ice machine seemed too long, so I just drank plain old water. And that was actually fine too.

Coincidentally (or not, maybe), over the last two weeks I have also started getting up in the morning and getting more exercise. Here is the thing. Physically, I feel a lot better than I did three weeks ago. I have more energy, my mood is better, and I just feel vaguely better. I don’t know if it’s because I swapped out a drink composed almost exclusively of chemicals and artificial sweeteners for a drink composed of water and leaves (and no sugar, or equal, or sweet n low, or splenda, or any of that other fake-sugar crap — I drink my iced tea plain, like the Yankee that I am). Or maybe it’s the exercise. I don’t know. I just know that I feel better, and I’m sticking to it.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will add that I have not, and do not intend to, give up my morning cup-and-a-half of coffee with milk. In Fully Fertile, it advises giving up the morning caffeine because it can mask the symptoms of sleep deprivation. Which is EXACTLY WHY I DRINK IT. I have three kids and a super-crazy job. I am kind of sleep deprived. And while I agree that actually getting sleep is probably a healthier way to make it easy to get up in the morning, I like to also use coffee for that purpose. Plus I love the stuff. I like the smell, I like the taste, and I like the act of drinking it. So, the coffee is here to stay. Baby steps.

focus on fertility: week 2

This post is part of an ongoing series of posts regarding my experiences working through the book Fully Fertile, by Tami Quinn, Beth Heller, and Jeanie Lee Bussell. For previous posts, click here.

The second week of the Fully Fertile program focuses on the role Oriental Medicine (OM) plays in a fertility journey. This week’s exercise required a list of Qi-filling and Qi-draining actions in one’s life. In brief, this required a “pros and cons” style list, where I wrote down the activities in my life that add life energy, and those that drain it.

Here’s the thing. I didn’t do the list. I don’t need to make the list to know that there is an extreme Qi-drain in my life. I don’t get enough sleep. I work too much. Etc. I’m tired all. the. time. I am a 2000-billable-hours-a-year attorney with three kids, two houses, and a cat, whose spouse also happens to have an extremely demanding job. I don’t need a list to tell me I am burning through my life energy but quick. So I didn’t make the list. I thought it would just depress me.

But here’s what I DID do. I got a massage. My wife and I had a gift certificate from our birthday last May (we have the same birthday, just a *few* years apart), which we had never used. So I booked the couples massage. Then, I called back and upgraded it. One Saturday, when our kids were otherwise occupied, we walked to the train station and went into the city, where we then got the best massage of our lives. I am not telling you where it was, for fear of you flocking to this place and booking up all the weekend slots. But it was awesome.

After the massage, we walked around the city in the sunshine without our jackets on and ate Indian food. Then we stopped by my office, because I had the appointment with Dr. P coming up, and needed to get some stuff set for Monday. Yes, our relaxing day included an hour-long stop at my office. But it wasn’t too bad, and by the time we got home we were relaxed, and tired in a good way, for the first time in a very long time. We spent the day together, just BEing. It was just the dose of Qi I needed.

focus on fertility: week 1

This post is part of an ongoing series of posts regarding my experiences working through the book Fully Fertile, by Tami Quinn, Beth Heller, and Jeanie Lee Bussell. For previous posts, click here.

During this first week, I learned that a newly-pregnant friend had miscarried. She had told me she was pregnant just a few weeks after finding out herself, back in January, and on Wednesday, when we were catching up, she told me that she had lost the baby the previous weekend. She told me how strange it feels to lose the baby, and have her hormones going crazy, when most of the world didn’t even know she was pregnant to begin with.

After we talked, I thought about how this is not unlike trying to get pregnant as a lesbian. It’s more than a matter of just peeing on a stick a few days a month and hoping that nature takes its course. It’s this way, too, for other women who use assisted reproductive technology for whatever reason. There are mysterious doctor’s appointments and absences from work, hours spent looking through donor profiles, and yes, peeing on a stick. It’s not something I would want to talk about all the time with a host of strangers — or even necessarily close friends — but it is still strange to be making such monumental decisions and changes about your life within the privacy of your marriage. Big things are happening, and the only one who knows is my wife. If I were a single woman doing this, the only one who might know about all of this is me.

In a way, though, this privacy appeals to me. One of the things that is lacking in a house with three children is privacy. Our decision to get married was conveyed to my wife’s ex-husband at the speed of light. A new car, re-painting the dining room, whether or not we are getting a dog. All of these choices and plans are shared with her ex before we know it, sometimes before we are even settled on them ourselves. It is fundamentally important to us that we never ask our kids to keep secrets from a parent, so this is something we have come to accept as a fact of life.

There are other things that travel through the gossip-chain of school age children and trickle upward to the parents. Recess is an extended game of “telephone.” Someone had lice (or bed bugs!), someone’s dad lost his job, someone got suspended for punching another kid. The restaurant down the street has roaches — someone saw one run across the floor — so we should never eat there again. It’s amazing how easy it is to have your finger on the pulse of a small town just by sitting down at the dinner table and asking, “So, did anything interesting happen today?”

But the flip side is an eerie feeling that your walls are made of glass. Because my wife’s kids pre-dated her relationship with me, this privacy was never something we really had. Our neighbor across the street heard that we were together from her 10 year old daughter. Once we told the kids, it was public information. So this private decision to have a baby, while we have mentioned it in a casual, offhand way to the kids, feels like a welcome bit of privacy in an otherwise transparent life.

So, while the first week of Fully Fertile focuses on the flow of life-energy (or prana), my focus has been on the flow of information. How do you feel less isolated without feeling like you’re on display? When is an appropriate time to tell your kids you’re pregnant, when you know it will immediately be conveyed to the person you would least like to share your private joy with? How do you navigate a demanding job during the process of becoming pregnant, let alone the first months of pregnancy when you are vomiting into the toilet every morning and falling asleep at 8 pm?

focus on fertility: introduction

Over the past few weeks, I have been reading the book Fully Fertile, by Tami Quinn, Beth Heller, and Jeanie Lee Bussell. Because our first insemination will take place during the month of July, we are about four months away. This week, I’m going to start going through the exercises in the book, and will update this blog with my progress. Before I get started though, I wanted to write a bit about why a woman who has never even tried to get pregnant thinks that a book about infertility will be so useful.

I work in an extraordinarily high-stress environment. Last summer, when we got married, this high-stress job had an extremely negative impact on my ability to enjoy my own wedding. I started this particular job about 13 months ago, so when I was in the run up to the wedding, I was still relatively new, and had a difficult time (still do, in fact, have a difficult time) creating boundaries between my work and the rest of my life. Add to that the fact that we planned on having our wedding at our home, which required significant work before it would be ready for the event, and my stress reach a level in the weeks before the wedding where all I wanted was for the wedding to be over so that I could rest. With a wedding, a person is able to force her way through this kind of stress, and the wedding day comes and goes whether you are ready for it or not. The first three days of our honeymoon, my wife and I both spent much of the time sleeping. The result of taking on too much and pushing through was that a few weeks after the wedding, I realized that felt like I had missed it.

This process won’t work with respect to getting pregnant and having a baby. You can’t force this kind of thing. Aside from that, I don’t want to. One thing I learned from my wedding is that just because you can do it all, it doesn’t mean you should. Recently, I’ve been very, very stressed. I’ve been snapping at the kids, suffered from insomnia, and had to go for a run at 10pm because of my work stress and dissatisfaction wiht my job. I can’t quit it right now, so I realized that I had to really do something to deal with the stress I am under. That’s where Fully Fertile comes in. Even though I am not struggling with infertility — to my knowledge — I knew I needed a way to get in touch with my body, my mind, my emotions, and just take care of myself during this extremely difficult and stressful time. I’m doing the exercises in the book in the context of planning for a baby, but I am doing them to take care of myself and give myself the support I know I’ll need to make it through the next year-plus at a job I find so stressful and challenging to cope with, while also going through the life-changing process of having a baby.

The Fully Fertile program uses yoga, Oriental Medicine, nutrition, and spiritual practices like meditation to optimize physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and provide support for the conception process. But the posts in this series won’t just focus on what the exercises in the book are — you will need to purchase the book to get that. And I’m not here to sell books. Instead, these posts will be my journey, using the book as a tool, to try to get in touch with my own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health to support myself through a time I know will be challenging. I invite anyone who is going through a similar process to join in.

Because I’m a type-A, driven sort of person, I know that I need to focus my attention somewhere, to avoid becoming a bit obsessive and drive my stress levels even higher if we aren’t able to conceive right away. The exercises will give me a focal point and give me something to work on so that I can prioritize self-care, otherwise managing my health and stress will definitely take a back seat to the ever-growing To Do list.

Lastly, although the Fully Fertile program is designed to be done over the course of 12 weeks, which means I technically would not need to start until mid-April in order to have completed all of the exercises by the time we are ready for our first insemination, I have no illusions that there won’t be hiccups along the way. There may be a super-busy week where I’m not able to do the exercises, or there may be a particular topic that I get stuck on and want to spend more than one week on. To that end, I’ve purposely built in some slippage, to give myself permission to be imperfect in this. It’s very important to me that my stress-reduction plan does not become just another stressor in my already hectic life. So don’t be surprised if you see multiple posts for the same week’s worth of exercises.