Infertility

The infertility guilt-it’s a thing!

I think I might have already said that, this journey has made me see all colours.

It has been, in a way, comparable to losing a loved one, for I have experienced it all: denial, disappointment, sadness, fury, depression and back again.

After all, it really is like losing something: a part of your femininity. And all of a sudden, what may not have appeared like such a big deal to you before, gets pantagruelic proportions and only one thing matters: getting pregnant.

Add to this frustration the fact that getting pregnant is supposed to be the easiest thing on Earth, cause what did your mothers tell you back when you were young and going out on your first date with your very first boyfriend?

“Behave and beware and don’t you do anything stupid or else you’ll end up PREGNANTTTTTT”

Bahahahaha I wish someone told me these exact words today, and they were right too!

Ok. So I’m not getting pregnant anymore. I used to, and I have two amazing kids for it, and if you want to read my whole story you can browse back through my articles and see why exactly I am so adamant about having a third.

But the thing is, back when I did get pregnant, not only wasn’t I doing anything special about it, I was actually preventing it most of the time.

So now I am reading all these best-selling amazing inspirational books teaching you how to improve your fertility by no longer using deodorants, or nail polish or hair colour or plastic in your kitchen or whatever and sure enough, it’s ME! That’s why I am not getting pregnant because I am using deodorant (and perfume, daily, blame the French) and I am not leaving the house without my nail polish and I wouldn’t be caught dead without my makeup. It’s ME! Or is it not?

The thing is, in the Facebook groups I am administering together with other lovely and very knowledgeable ladies, those are the issues that come up the most.

Could I have a beer before transfer/Do you guys still paint your nails while TTC/ I drink two cups of coffee a day and can’t quit, could this be why I am not getting my BFP/ Has anyone decided to throw away all plastic kitchenware in order to improve fertility.

And I get frustrated, and angry. Not so much for me, because I am oddly over it, but for them. Infertility is hard enough to deal with, no one needs added guilt for having sipped a beer or used a plastic salad bowl.

Yes, while trying to conceive and actually in any moment of our existence, it is ideal to keep fit, in our best form, eat well, sleep well, exercise and avoid excesses. AVOID EXCESSES. Now I don’t know about other people, but for me, refusing myself a sip of beer or a pampering manicure for fear of not getting pregnant because of it…is an excess.

And then, to these questions, my invariable answer is “heroine addicts get pregnant, alcoholics get pregnant-how can a beer prevent you from getting pregnant?”

If only it were so simple, and cutting off on coffee and nail polish and whatever, would guarantee us a pregnancy whenever we felt like.

Ohhhhhh and the stress thing. Let’s not forget the stress thing! You gotta love people who tell you to stop stressing, because as soon as you do you’re gonna get pregnant, mark my words! Grrrrrrrrr…

Has anyone managed to find the stress button? Turn it on and off? I haven’t.

It’s just that I wonder, if stress is such a big role player in this infertility shit, how did women get pregnant during wars, with bombs falling around them. In concentration camps. Being raped. Starving. Separated from their kids. How is this not stress, and our spending too much time in traffic is stress?

Anyway, I don’t mean to tell anyone DO this or DO that, what we put on our nails and if we colour our hair or use deodorant or have a cocktail once in a blue moon is a personal decision, TTC or not.

But I will damned if I will allow myself to feel guilty about every single thing that brings me pleasure, on a journey that demands my time, my wellbeing, my sanity, my family tranquillity. And money, girls, and money too. But that…is another topic.

Baby dust and…cheers if you feel like it 😉

 

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Infertility, Ivf

Are we done yet?

When I embarked on this journey, I never would have thought that I….

Wrong!

First of all, I never would have thought I would embark on this journey… Could have never seen this happen to myself, or myself being able to cope with it.

This infertility struggle is hard, unfair and hurts you precisely when you expect it the least. I still to this day wonder how come women who do not have any wish for children find themselves pregnant as soon as they are sneezed upon, while others have to fight for years to an end to achieve a dream that should be their birthright. I certainly asked myself the same question not that many years ago, from a different position-the position of the one getting pregnant on the pill. Little did I know life would soon place me on the other side of the barricade. Not that back then I felt less frustrated, mind you :))

Anyway, the point is that these days I am bitterly celebrating three years in Assisted Reproduction hell. Is it enough? Is it too much? Should I go on? When should we say enough is enough and frankly, ARE WE DONE YET? Cause I would love to make my life again about other things than OPKs, 2WW, BFNs and you name it.

At this point in my life I would have completed (please sit down) 7 IVF cycles, 6 IUI cycles with full IVF protocol, 2 Clomid cycles, 5 Femara cycles, and numerous natural TTC cycles. All those in a 3 years bracket, with all the hope, deception, rage and frustration they brought upon me. My last IVF cycle is barely over, and I am still into my 2WW-so you will say I am jumping the gun and speaking as if I knew this cycle too was doomed. The truth is, at one point it’s getting harder and harder to keep your spirits up, positivity starts to appear silly and at the end of the day it’s probably an instinct, as if to save you from the heartache that invariably follows the broken dream of yet another month passed with nothing to show for it.

For the last couple of cycles I have been telling myself: this one is my last. And yet I would find rays of hope and the courage (or craziness) to try again, for (yet another) last time.

But when do we say “no more”?

Some stop when they run out of funds to finance their journey. This is a very important aspect because infertility is not only heartbreaking and a burden on one’s mind and body, but it also destroys your budget and eats up your savings. For them in this category, the decision is easier made, for once you’re out of cash, there’s no point in asking when to stop, you know you have to do it, and here is your bank account making your decision for you. Frustrating but undebatable.Some stop when they can’t take no for a pregnancy test anymore. Repetitive failures to conceive may dig deep into your self esteem, damaging the zen of your couple and your relationships with other people around you (especially the luckier ones, and especially those who were not even remotely interested in having yet another baby, and keep whining about “these things happening to them”)

Some stop when they realise this hunt for the golden egg takes too hard a toll on their marriage. Because this is another taboo people usually do not wish to discuss: a process supposed to bring a couple together gets people apart. Intimacy is lost, desire diminishes, pressure builds up, and what was supposed to be an act of love in the pursuit of the fruit of love itself, becomes-let’s face it-a fixed schedule of lovemaking, timed by hormone levels and subcutaneous shots. And this is hard. What may start as being funny (we have to have sex NOW, I have a positive OPK) becomes a self imposed task a couple of cycles later. You eventually begin to forget yourself as a couple, and your sex life starts to be measured in ovulation tests, sperm morphology counts and number of follicles retrieved. And that’s harsh!

We are not trained for that, we grow up being told getting pregnant is easy peasy, why… everyone gets pregnant, especially when they don’t want to, so when it doesn’t happen for us, and we have to fight for it and pay for it too, it appears unfair and frustrating.

I know for me this is my last time doing IVF. Luckily it is not a matter of money, French basic insurance covers fertility treatments, or I would have never been able to have so many cycles so far. For me, having previously been confronted with loss and mourning, this infertility journey had me passing through all the stages of grieving, once more.

First, I was shocked. By shocked I mean I cried for two days in a row and lost a few pounds in the process. Don’t laugh at me, but this actually happened when I found out my AMH was 0.2….Now I know better but back then I was a sucker :))

Then, I was very excited for my first cycle, and perfectly sure it would work. How many times have you been told “never mind if you don’t get pregnant, you can have IVF”? Exactly! People outside this journey believe IVF is THE golden solution and it is infallible. Meh…Anger hit me hard when my first cycle failed. I was angry at my body, angry at my age, angry at the timing, angry at all pregnant women, angry at God. As if the whole Universe was against me.

A few failed cycles later anger left place to depression. I wouldn’t say I was depressed in the medical sense of the word, for I never needed medical assistance for it. But I guess I was this close…

And then a sort of shell built around me, and I became numb. I lost my positivity, for frankly how many times in a row can you fool yourself that this time is gonna be the good one? And I became convinced that it will never happen to me. And I didn’t care anymore. I mean I would do everything that needed to be done, like a robot, like a little infertility soldier heading towards another defeat.

Emotionally, I am sorry to report, I am still there. Numb, indifferent, unable to care anymore. But this time the little soldier lost its dedication. This time I surrender and I am neither ashamed nor do I feel guilty. I did my part, we both did our best. We have been together in this journey and we have supported each other but it is time for us to find ourselves again. If the Universe cares to surprise us with a (natural) miracle, we won’t say no to it 🙂 And if it’s not meant to happen for us, we surely will find other ways to grow together and love each other and enjoy what we have including those two wonderful children of mine that he adopted and loves as his own flesh and blood.

He deserved more, and I will forever be bitter about not being able to offer it to him. But I believe there are stronger forces than us up there, and they may know better than we do. And that what is meant to happen, will eventually happen.

For once I give up control, and boy do I feel free 🙂

Love and peace and baby dust to you all ❤

Infertility

A FRIEND LIKE CLOMID MIGHT NOT BE THE FRIEND YOU NEED (Especially if you’re over 35)

I have been lazy lately…lazy to write, lazy to start the new IVF cycle that would be my last (or so I promise myself) but there’s this Clomid topic coming up so often lately, in all three Facebook groups I am administering, and I just have to say something about it.

Me and my big mouth, y’all…

So what is Clomid? It is a medicine that works as an “anti-estrogen” i.e it tricks your brain into believing your estrogen levels are low. The brain (the pituitary gland, to be precise) then releases more of your natural FSH in order to make your follicles grow.

Clomid was synthetized in 1956 and approved for use in the USA in 1967. Due to it being cheap and easy to use it has been a first line treatment for decades now. It has been considered to be a revolution in the treatment of female infertility and the cornerstone of the assisted medical reproduction treatments.

Sure enough, medicine advanced since the 60s, many other stimulation medicines have been invented and proven efficient, yet somehow Clomid still has this aura of “inoffensive worth a try, fit for a first step” solution.

Lately, less and less reproductive endocrinologists use it, especially if you are over 35, but it is still the med of choice for many OBGYNs.

My own OBGYN prescribed it to me, at the beginning of my secondary infertility journey. And I was happy: Clomid was gonna make me a baby, yaaay!

Two cycles and a 2.9 mm thick lining later, it was obvious Clomid was not the Prince Charming I thought it was.

Now let’s get one thing straight: I adore my OBGYN – she is the most caring and sweet doctor I have ever met and she has amazing bedside manners. And she knows a lot of things and is very competent. But infertility is not her job. That’s why REs exist.

And when I went to see my first RE I understood a few things about Clomid:

  1. It dramatically thins lining in some individuals, and for some of the less lucky, this damage may be permanent.
  2. It may trigger a rapid response in stimulation and by the time your follicle is “grown” your lining is left behind incapable of catching up.
  3. It dries up your cervical mucus making it harder for sperm to swim up your uterus and into your tubes
  4. It causes cysts that stubbornly refuse to ovulate in spite of trigger administration and this may impact your future cycles.
  5. It has some nasty side effects that I will not linger on too much, but will just mention: hot flashes, headaches, visual problems, mood swings.

Lately, more and more data shows that Clomid is a bad idea for older women. Dr Sher has a very concise and documented article that I suggest you read, if you are over 35 and about to take Clomid. Not only does he recommend the use of Clomid exclusively for younger women with a normal ovarian reserve, capable to override the anti-estrogenic effects of this drug, but he also points out that used for more than 3 cycles, Clomid starts to act like a … contraceptive, no doubt by thinning the lining and drying out the cervical mucus. The link is below

http://haveababy.com/fertility-information/ivf-authority/clomiphene-for-women-over-35-bad-idea

 

There are tons and tons of women out there who swear by Clomid, and will tell you it is the best choice. Surely, had it worked for me on my two months of trying, I would have sworn on it too!

But it has not. And with a 22 mm follicle on cd 8, and a lining of 2.9 at trigger, it could have never worked. Moreover, even when I stopped Clomid, my lining stayed thin. For 6 whole months it never grew thicker than 6 mm, despite the Vitamin E, the vaginal estrogen, the acupuncture, the warm baths, the femoral massage, the red raspberry tea, the castor oil packs. I was sure I was doomed and I would be one of those who never recover after Clomid.

Actually, as Dr Sher very well explains in another article, Clomid can be very useful and of assistance, if administered to the right persons. Unfortunately for older women with diminished ovarian reserve and/or a tendency of producing cysts, Clomid might work against them.

 

https://haveababy.com/fertility-information/ivf-authority/clomiphene-citrate-clomid-how-it-works-who-should-use-it

 

So what is there to be done if we cannot afford injectables, but still need a boost to ovulate?

For me, injectables were better. In terms of response, obviously, but also better for my lining.

But in between my many IVF cycles, I had to have some breaks. Having become a sort of infertility junkie (as in what hormones should we do this month to improve our chances) I considered one monthly egg was not going to be enough so I might as well try something. And I tried Letrozole, commonly known as Femara. Two nice eggs, plump lining, cervical mucus not so much, but Hey! that’s me, hello Preseed! And a great estrogen level value at trigger. Basically, Femara got me the same result as some of my high-dose stims, on less money, a bit of headache for a side effect and zero bruises around my navel. Now could a girl ask for more than that?

You will even find below a comparative study between the two, mostly in terms of side effects. Interesting read.

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/gyn.2012.0033

I am no doctor and my aim is not to dissuade you from using Clomid and asking your doctors for Femara. Or for anything else, for that matter.

But it has struck me as crazy that there are doctors out there who prescribe Clomid in huge doses, and for much more than 5 days. Doctors that allow their patients to do several back to back cycles with Clomid (one lady was at her 7th!!!). Ever since I started this journey, and now that I am continuing it here on the blog, in front of you, my mantra has been “Know your body, educate yourself, do not follow blindly”.

And even if at the end of the day you decide together with your doctor that Clomid is the solution for you, at least you would have made this decision knowing your cards, aware of risks, and watching out for bad side effects that might negatively impact your outcome.

After all, we all want one and the same thing: to arrive at the end of this infertility road if not with success, at least with the conviction of having tried everything and having fought to improve our chances.

Although I have to agree success is sweeter. And I wish it for you as I wish it for myself 😉

 

Sources:

http://www.haveababy.com

http://www.liebertpub.com

 

Ivf

Low dose vs High dose stims-what is the best approach for DOR and does it really make a difference?

In the Facebook groups I am an administrator of (the Low AMH, the TTC over 35 and the TTC over 40) not one week passes without someone complaining a high dose stimulation cycle failed her and she was directed towards donor eggs.

Obviously, it comes a time in the fertile life of every woman, when her eggs will no longer be good. And when the body really can’t deliver anymore, the science can’t do much about it. But until this happens, the vast majority of women I come into contact with (virtually) prefer to exhaust every possibility of using their own eggs.

As I have mentioned it before, and many of you already know first hand, IVF works by narrowing down the chances to finding the better egg. This being said, the more eggs you produce, the better chances you have for success. This is why some clinics turn off clients with low AMH and diminished ovarian reserve, for fear this clients won’t be able to respond well enough to treatments, to produce enough eggs to ensure a positive outcome-this resulting in negatively affecting their success rates. Those clinics will probably serve you the donor egg speech even without considering treating you.

There are of course other clinics, the majority of them actually, who really believe they can do well, and take you in. They treat you just like they treat their “fertile”patients (let us not forget for a moment that IVF was initially conceived to overcome male fertility issues and tubal problems) and therefore they try to make you produce as many eggs as possible, cause the more eggs the merrier with IVF, right?

Even more than that, they will have the tendency to give you higher doses then they use for their “fertile” patients, because they know your DOR makes your ovaries pretty lazy, and they believe higher doses of stims compensate for your ovaries’ lack of reactivity. This was indeed the approach several years ago. Since then, lots of studies have been performed and facts have proven otherwise.

What I am going to tell you next, is my own personal experience…

I started my IVF adventure in March 2014, on my 40’th anniversary. My RE was one of the most appreciated REs at the American Hospital in Paris, and I just loved his calm and poise, and the patience with which he answered all our questions. All my tests were perfect, except for my AMH who came back at 0.5 only to throw me into a black despair. Little did I know about AMH  back then, or that I shouldn’t pay too much attention to it. I had gotten pregnant precisely 10 months ago, naturally, like I always did, on the first month trying. Unfortunately and very unfairly if I may say so, I lost our little boy at 16 weeks because of an incompetent cervix (that I later corrected through surgery in USA).

My RE told me the same story most of your REs tell you: your AMH is low, we have to be pretty agressive in order to make the most of these ovaries of yours….He started me on an agonist, a French kind of Lupron, and high doses of Gonal-450 if I recall well. My AFC was (and still is to this day, 3 years later) between 9 and 11 on CD3. As the days went by and my retrieval approached, I could see my follicles disappearing: 11 became 8, then 6, then 4…eventually that cycle we got 3 eggs…To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement. We converted to IUI and when I asked him what the heckity heck happened, he shrugged and told me morosely: “Your AMH is 0.5, what did you expect?” Yeah, I wanted to kick him…

But I didn’t, and when I got a BFN, I went to see him again, and I asked him how did he prefer to proceed for the next cycle? Should we try an antagonist protocol? (You see, in the meantime I had discovered fertility groups, I started to read studies, articles, and educate myself-my journalistic self forbad me to act like sheep and pushed me into finding out the “truth”, my truth.) He replied contemptuously “Oh, but the antagonist protocol is such a bullshit, I don’t believe in it, I only do this protocol and it works so well for my patients”. I knew then it was time for us to part…I don’t believe in making the same mistake twice, on purpose. And I left…

For another famous French clinic, a public one this time. Horrible conditions (you, my American readers won’t understand this but believe me-horrible conditions, lol) fantastic doctor. I was pretty impressed by his CV until he told me “You are in the best hands, I am the best in France, you will NE-VER find another RE better than me in this country”…..ughhhhhhhhhhhhhh…ok………But I stayed…4 IVF (high dose and local anaesthesia only for retrieval) and 1 IUI later, still BFN, not even a chemical. I would like to give him this though: he tried! He changed protocols every cycle. We did Gonal, Pergoveris, Menopur, Puregon. We did testosterone priming (the worst for me, 2 AFC instead of my usual over 9) estrogen priming (he was the first RE  to ever use this protocol, he invented it)….We did everything!!! The only thing we didn’t do was low dose. Whatever he did, I was on 450 FSH and some 150 LH and the best results I ever got with him were 3 lousy eggs, with a 100% fertilisation rate, giving me 3 lousy embryos. One day, I went to see him and I told him I am willing to leave him and go to London to a clinic I have heard did low dose IF he didn’t accept to do the low dose protocol another RE in NY gave me over the phone, after having sent her all my medical records. He said sure, sure, we will do whatever you want, just know that this protocol is “counterproductive” and you will never get more eggs than that. He therefore prescribed me the usual 450 Puregon and the 150 Menopur the freaking same protocol we had done the previous month. I just couldn’t try to reason him anymore, so I left.

I went back to my obgyn and we did the low dose protocol – IUI, bam, 5 follicles.  It was a huge surprise for both of us. She considered that I respond too well and in case I wanted to do another cycle (that IUI cycle was still BFN) I would be better off doing IVF. She spoke to my first RE and she asked him would he accept performing IVF with my protocol  next time? He said yes! We did it in April and we got….8 eggs. 6 fertilised, 4 embryos, 3 were pretty poor quality and were transferred on day 3, and one was kept growing but it arrested later that day.

BFN yet again. But my actual (and ex first RE, lol) changed the tune. He was so super amazed by the wonders this low dose protocol did for me, that he wrote it down. Where he once told me my AMH was so low I had nothing to hope for, now he is very optimistic we can make this work and it is worth trying despite me being 43 now. He put me on Inositol (I am also taking Ubiquinol, Vitamin D, Folic Acid, Zinc and L Arginine) and he wants me to try again in September, to see if over 3 months of supplements intake managed to positively impact the quality of my embryos. Which is exactly what we will do.

This journey, as well as the experiences of so many of you out there who did much better on low dose (or even natural IVF cycles) made me think of a comparison between cars. Take a Lamborghini and a Fiat 500. Both brand new. The Lamborghini can go up to 200 miles per hour, The Fiat only to 120 per hour. If you push the pedal of the Lamborghini you can definitely make it ride up to 200 miles per hour, and she will. But there is no point pushing the pedal of the Fiat to try and make it ride at 200 miles per hour too. She won’t be able to. Because all she can do is 120. And forcing her to go to 200 won’t actually make her go to 200. But what can happen is she can break. It’s the same for us. Pushing huge doses of stims into ovaries able to produce a certain quantity of eggs  won’t necessarily make them produce more eggs. Hence the “bad response” we hear about all the time. More often than not, DOR patients see their ovaries block and don’t function ok on high stims. While a gentler approach, a milder stimulation, gives them better results.

This has not been discovered only by us, patients, but it has become a trend lately in the medical world. Studies have been performed that have proven mild stimulation and in some cases even natural IVF (that is no stims at all, just one egg retrieved) work better for DOR patients, aka “bad responders”. Some REs will tell you live pregnancy rates are low for natural and low dose IVF – and they are, when you compare them to the high rates of normal responders. But when you compare them to the results bad responders have after failing cycles on high doses, you will find that something is still better than  nothing. There are more and more clinics offering this low dose approach. One of them is CreateHealth in London who exclusively treats patients with diminished ovarian reserve. There are others too, and if you have come across one, I would ask you to comment with the name and location, in order to help other ladies.

Whatever protocol you and your RE choose, just keep in mind that IVF is really trial and error. It is pretty rare for an IVF patient to be successful on the first cycle, and this is even truer in the case of  poor responders. Therefore, if your first IVF cycle fails, do not despair. Chances are you will have learned a lesson and you will know what and how to do better next time. And know that unless you try, you cannot really know how you will respond, either to low doses or high doses. The most important thing is to have the luck to come across a doctor who knows DOR, who is familiar with both approaches not only the aggressive one, and who is willing to work with and for you, to get you the best outcome. And that would be a baby 🙂

Meanwhile, you might want to take a look at these recent studies, giving hope to us, poor responders who might want to use the milder approach versus the aggressive one.

Comparison of IVF Outcomes between Minimal Stimulation and High-Dose Stimulation for Patients with Poor Ovarian Reserve

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijrmed/2014/581451/

 

Natural IVF cycles may be desirable for women with repeated failures by stimulated IVF cycles

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2582079/

SOURCES: http://www.hindawi.com. http://www.ncbi.nlmh.nih.gov

 

Infertility

Supplements-are you taking the good ones?

We know we are born with our ovarian reserve, and the number of our “eggs” can only decrease, from the moment we are born until we completely run out of them, by the time we get to menopause. We also know the quality of our oocytes starts to decrease by the time we reach our thirties, and the chances of ovulating abnormal eggs unable to create normal embryos are higher the older we get. But is there really nothing we can do to improve this egg quality?

The truth is, this a very controversial subject. The efficiency of a treatment, be it a subscription med or a dietary supplement, can only be proven by studies. While medicines benefit from multiple studies, dietary supplements receive far less attention from the part of the medical community. Therefore less studies are performed and easier to say “we don’t know if this supplement really improves oocyte quality, because there are not enough studies out there to confirm it”. Lots of REs though, consider that even if there is not enough proof some supplements help to improve your fertility, they don’t hurt either, so you might as well take them, if only for your peace of mind. And that’s already a great starting point, in my opinion, for having the impression of doing something, instead of just playing the wait and see game, means a lot for an infertility patient. There are some supplements out there who are more spoken about, and who also benefit from some studying. Those are the ones we will discuss today.

COENZYME Q10 – is one of the most important coenzymes. It is a substance made naturally in the body and it plays a critical role in the creation of cellular energy. CoQ10 is found inside the tissue of  organs such as the brain, heart, liver and kidneys (which demand more energy) but  it exists in virtually all our cells and tissues. There are two main forms of this coenzyme, and this creates confusion.

Ubiquinone is the conventional form of CoQ 10. That is what we used to take before 2007, when a better form of CoQ10 was discovered, the Ubiquinol. The problem with Ubiquinone (the basic form of CoQ10) is that your body needs to convert it into Ubiquinol before it can improve the cellular energy your organs need to function at best levels. As we age, the body struggles harder to convert the Ubiquinone in Ubiquinol, hence the recommendation to use directly the Ubiquinol form, for better results.

Ubiquinol is known to be a very strong antioxidant and its main role is to neutralise the free radicals that can harm your cells.

MYO INOSITOL- initially used in PCOS patients and for fighting insulin resistance, this nutrient has become the golden weapon in the infertility battle. It has been proven that, at a dosage of 4 g daily (most studies use this amount as reference) it has improved the ovarian function and number of oocytes retrieved in patients undergoing IVF cycles, and who have previously been considered poor responders.

The following is a link to a 2011 study aiming to evaluate the pregnancy outcome after the administration of myo-inositol combined with melatonin (will talk about it later in this article) in women who failed to conceive in previous IVF cycles, because of low egg quality. The results were crystal clear, everything was better post treatment : number of mature oocytes retrieved, fertilization rate, number of total embryos and number of top quality embryos.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21463230

Here is a more recent study (2015) showing Myo-Inositol supplementation might be beneficial for previous poor responders during IVF cycles.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4464995/

MELATONIN is a hormone produced by the pineal gland, and it regulates sleep and wakefulness. Many of its biological effects in humans and animals are produced through activation of melatonin receptors, while others are due to its role as an antioxidant. As a medicine it is used to treat insomnia, and is usually sold over the counter in many countries. The negative effect of the oxidative stress on fertility is no longer a secret. Clinical studies have tried to prove the effect of melatonin as an antioxidant on egg quality. The results of those studies suggest that melatonin supplementation (in conjunction with Myo-Inositol or not) may lead to better pregnancy rates in IVF cycles. Amazingly, not only egg quality was improved in  patients who were administered melatonin during the follicular period, but progesterone levels were also significantly higher in patients who received melatonin during the luteal phase.

Here is a review of several studies with very interesting findings https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4209073

The majority of the studies have used 3mg of Melatonin every evening as standard dosage. You will also want to be very careful when taking melatonin during a natural cycle, not to go over the standard dose. It has been proven that taken at high doses (6mg and more) melatonin actually prevents ovulation.

DHEA– naturally existing hormone, the most abundant circulating steroids in humans, that the female body converts into androgens, mainly testosterone. That means DHEA already exists in our bodies, we are producing it, but its levels decrease with age. It is sometimes used as an androgen in hormone replacement therapy for menopause. Lately it has been more and more used particularly during IVF cycles to treat women with DOR (diminished ovarian reserve).

Clinical studies have proven that at a dosage of 75 mg daily for a period of at least 3 months, DHEA increased IVF pregnancy rates, increased antral follicle counts, increased quality and quantity of eggs and embryos, decreased risk of miscarriage and chromosomal abnormalities. DHEA supplementation works by restoring the abnormally low androgen levels in patients with DOR due to advanced maternal age or premature ovarian failure.

Here is one link to two of these studies

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3112409/

https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/25/10/2496/2385689/Addition-of-dehydroepiandrosterone-DHEA-for-poor

ARGININE- is an amino acid that plays an important role in cell division, the healing of wounds, removing ammonia from the body, immune function, and the release of hormones. It can be found in almost all dietary protein : eggs, meat, fish, nuts and supplementation has been proven efficient in improving fertility in both women and men. How does it work ? Arginine is believed to improve blood circulation to the uterus, promote healthy sperm production, improve the production of cervical mucus and increase the libido. There are not many studies focusing on arginine, more research needs to be done, but many fertility specialist recommend this « miracle mollecule » which is already included in most prenatal vitamins anyway.

ROYAL JELLY-Royal Jelly is a strong nutrient produced by young worker bees in the hive. For 2-3 days, these bees are fed only on royal Jelly until they reach maturation and produce enough Royal Jelly to feed the female larva, which develops into Queen Bee. Queen bees are fed their entire life only Royal Jelly while worker bees are feed Royal Jelly for only the first three days of their life. This diet is responsible for making the queen bee 40 to 60 percent larger than a worker bee. There are not many studies on humans, but there some on animals amnd their conclusions suggest Royal jelly might improve fertility. Beware of adverse reactions thouugh : those with allergies to bee products are to avoid this supplement.

FOLIC ACID (Folate, Vitamin B9) is a form of Vitamin B. It is no longer a secret for anyone trying to conceive, that the first supplement you will be recommended by your doctor is going to be the Folic acid. It has been proven for years and years to prevent neural tubes defects and congenital heart defects in newborns, and actually low levels in early pregnancy are believed to be the cause for more than half of babies born with neural tube defects. There are no common side effects, even if taken for long periods of time. Humans can not produce it so it is important to get it from diet (and supplements). Food supplement manufacturers often use the term folate for something different from “pure” folic acid: in chemistry, folate refers to the deprotonated ion, and folic acid to the neutral molecule—which both coexist in water.

There have been lots of studies proving the importance of Folic Acid intake before and during early pregnancy.

Here is one you might want ot read

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3218540/

and also the reccommendation of the World Health Organization on this subject

http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/maternal_perinatal_health/neural_tube_defects.pdf

There are of course, other supplements more or less proven to increase fertility: Vitamin D (previously discussed in the article about the AMH), Vitamin E (used usually during the follicular phase in order to thicken the lining), DHA (not to be confounded with DHEA), Maca, Vitex…and many more.

I tried to focus on the ones who have been more or less medically proven to actually help on improving pregnancy outcomes after administration, during natural or medicated cycles.

Obviously,   not everything is for everyone, and in order to avoid doing more harm it is best to discuss supplements intake with your doctor. In case your doctor is not very pro-supplements, you can always pull out “the study” and show him you did your research. That is what I did, and frankly…it worked 🙂

Sources: NCBI, WHO, OXFORD ACADEMIC

 

Infertility

The CD 3 tests-how important and what do they predict?

If you are familiar with fertility treatments or  if you just had an assessment of your ovarian reserve because you are trying to conceive, the term “3 day tests” rings a bell to you.

Day 3 testing (can also be done and day 2 or 4) consists of bloodwork used to measure hormone levels (FSH, Estrogen, Progesterone, LH) and a scan, meant to measure the number and size of your Antral Follicles. Your AMH level can be measured anytime and if you need to have it measured more than once, it is preferred to do so using the same laboratory, because measurement scales vary for every lab.

E2 (Estrogen) is the main female reproductive hormone, it is being secreted by the ovary and helps to stimulate follicle growth and prepare the lining for implantation, in case conception occurs. The majority of the fertility clinics would want you to have an E2 level under 50 (some under 80) on your day 3. Too high an estrogen level on this day might suggest you have a cyst producing estrogen, in which case stimulation might not be advised. Feeding it stimulation meds, the cyst might not only “eat up” the meds destined for your other normal sized antrals, but also grow and grow until it bursts. A too low estrogen level is not ideal either, suggesting diminished ovarian reserve and possibly  peri/premenopause. Also, very important, when your Estrogen levels are high, the value of the FSH is artificially lowered.

FSH (Follicle-stimulating hormone) as the name tells us, is the hormone that stimulates the ovary to make the eggs grow. Released by the brain, the FSH tends to get higher and higher as we age, and our ovaries struggle more and more to produce an egg. The ideal FSH level is under 10, the lower the better. Some clinics would accept you for fertility treatments with an FSH under 15, but there are tons of studies out there showing success rates diminish seriously as 3 day FSH levels increase. That might explain why older women with high FSH have better chances getting pregnant naturally than with IVF treatments. This being said, if you need help to procreate, there are lots of clinics who offer natural IVF for women with high FSH-meaning no meds, egg retrieval for possibly just one egg, and fertilisation as needed (normal or ICSI, IMSI etc)

LH (Luteinising hormone) helps mature the follicle and eventually, when an LH surge occurs in the end of the follicular phase, helps the release of the mature follicle. The ideal level is under 7 mIU/ml with a ratio LH:FSH of 1:1. An LH much higher than the FSH might be an indication of PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome).

P4 (Progesterone) should remain low during the follicular phase (under 1ng/ml) and rise after ovulation, as proof the ovary released the egg. The low limit used as indicator for ovulation at 7dpo is 5, but the higher the better. Some women with low progesterone might need progesterone supplementation in order to maintain pregnancy.

AMH (Anti Mullerian Hormone) is a free circulating hormone released by the small antral follicles present in your ovaries, and it is used to assess your ovarian reserve, as in “how many eggs do you still have”. Taken alone, it doesn’t amount for much, and it is far more reliable when discussed in conjunction with the other day 3 levels, and most important, with the day 3 scan. Also, it is important to know that the AMH level has been proven to be artificially lowered by low Vitamin D levels.

Ovarian ultrasound/scan: it is meant to count and measure the antral follicles. The antral follicles are small follicles (between 2-10 mm) found in your ovaries at the beginning of the follicular phase. They are an extremely important and very useful assessment of the way your body might respond to fertility treatments. Each antral contains an immature egg that might develop and ovulate. During natural cycles, the body recruits what is thought to be the best follicle, and makes it grow and eventually ovulate once the Estrogen level is high enough (200-600 E2 level/mature follicle) and the LH surge occurs. In stimulated cycles, all antrals have potential to grow, and even sometimes, some more follicles pop up during stims.

Those are the main tests performed during the day 3 assessment. The list is not exhaustive, though. Depending on your clinic and your health issues, you might have your prolactin and thyroid levels checked, or any other test your doctor might consider appropriate.

Unfortunately, there are some clinics who perform this testing once a year, and consider it available in subsequent cycles. Whether for logistic or financial reasons, this is bad. Hormones fluctuate every God given month, and once you have your period, they are reset and you start the new month with a clean slate. It is possible to have an FSH of 6 in January, and an FSH of 14 the next month, and you surely won’t have the same response to meds during those two months if you are to cycle. Hence the importance of demanding those 3 day tests at the beginning of each and every cycle using stimulation meds, to spare you the heartbreak, the false expectations and yes, the waste of money.

In a future article I will bring to your attention a list of supplements with great effects on your fertility, and the links to the medical studies that attest it.

 

 

About

I wish I didn’t have to…

I wish I didn’t have to write this blog.

I actually never imagined I would, neither could I have imagined to be staring at Infertility’s ugly face one day.

Yet here I am, and here’s my story…

I am 43, living in Paris, France. I am the fortunate and very happy mother of two amazing teenagers, born from a previous marriage. Left widowed when my kids were young, I met the love of my life, an amazing man who loves my children as if they were his own, and to make this love official, he adopted them. My husband having no biological kids, the natural next step was to try for a baby, a fruit of our love, a most desired addition to our very happy family.

We started trying to conceive in April 2013, and having never had any fertility issues whatsoever, I was absolutely convinced we would soon be blessed with a positive pregnancy test. And we were! In May of the same year, i.e after the first month of trying, we found out we were expecting.

Having had some surgery on my cervix several years before, I expected a cerclage would have to be put in, and it was, at 12 weeks. That’s when we run all types of tests to make sure our baby was healthy for I was 39 and the risks would have been higher than for someone younger. Tests came back perfect, the stitch was in, and the hell was about to get loose, but little did I know…

After 3 weeks of complete bedrest due to contractions post TVC, my cervix getting shorter and shorter, after 3 visits to the ER bleeding because the stitch tore through my cervix, my water broke one night, and we lost our baby boy at 15 weeks. I will spare you the details of our heartbreak, though even if some of you cannot relate, you definitely can imagine what it felt like.

As devastated as I was, I knew the time was not on my side, and if I wanted to have a living baby, I had to move fast. I also knew a TVC would never be in the cards again, so I would have to find another solution. This solution presented itself under the name of Transabdominal Cerclage, currently known as TAC, and it was placed by the famous Dr George Davis, in the USA in the spring of 2014.

Free to try again, relieved by the pressure of cervical incompetence, we started TTC as soon as we wear cleared, in July.

One month, two months, three months…..nothing. I bought my first ovulation tests, used them and again…one month, two months….nothing… Fear would creep up my spine and I started googling, and reading….and I found out about AMH. Got it tested…0.2…my world fell apart. I lost 4 pounds from crying over that week-end. I wish someone told me the real truth about AMH back then, and how it was far from being the be all end all….but there was no one back then. So I suffered more or less in silence and went to see my obgyn who put me on Clomid and trigger. Fail.

Between March 2015 and this moment- May 2017, I have seen two REs, consulted  another one over the phone and email, had 6 IUIs with full IVF protocol, 6 IVF with 12 embryos transferred in total, 4 cycles Femara and trigger only, numerous timed intercourse monitorized cycles. All fail.

I am a moderator for two amazing groups on FB, one for low amh and DOR, the other one for high FSH and TTC over 35, and during these two years of hope, disappointment, pain, heartache, frustration, hope again I had the chance and privilege of virtually meeting amazing women, brave and fierce, who would not give up on their right of being informed and their right of having a word to say in the way fertility professionals choose to deal (or not) with them.

My blog springs from my desire of helping women get educated on issues like DOR, POF, Low AMH, High FSH, and all the fertility problems that they bring with them.

I am no doctor, I do not give medical advice. I am just pointing into directions that have been useful to me, that helped me understand exactly where I stand and where I should be headed.

If anything, this blog is meant to empower you, Ladies, to understand what doctors do not explain to you, and to make you understand you have the right to choose what is best and more appropriate for you. The way I wished someone did explain to me. And the way someone eventually did, later on, when I found my wonderful FB groups.

You are more than welcome and I hope you will feel at home and loved here <3.