When you are struggling with fertility, navigating your options may feel overwhelming. In Embrace Your Fertility, Dr. Timea Belej-Rak demystifies the process with a guide that melds heartfelt patient stories and expert knowledge on the latest resources including:
naturopathic perspectives – by Tanya Wylde, ND, R.Ac.
acupuncture and East Asian medicine – by Tim Tanaka, Ph.D., R.Ac., R. TCMP
mind body connection – by Glenda Johnson, RPT, MCHt
counseling – by Reina Zatylny, MSW, RSW
medical treatments – by Timea Belej-Rak, MD
sperm donation – by Haimant Bissessar, BSc
egg donation – by David Sher, CEO, Elite IVF
adoption – by Sofie Stergianis, MSW, RSW
Offering a multifaceted discussion about a complex and emotional subject, Embrace Your Fertility includes chapters by professionals in the field with detailed information about processes and procedures. It includes a look at both mainstream medical interventions and alternative health options from diet to acupuncture and views your fertility struggle from new perspectives.
Praise for Embrace Your Fertility
“Embrace Your Fertility is a splendid book which covers everything you need to know and do to help you conceive a child or otherwise make peace with your fertility. It is written with the authoritative compassion of a physician who has not only been there herself, but has also helped hundreds of other individuals through the fertility journey. This book is a gem that I highly recommend to everyone who is concerned about her (or his) fertility.”
—Christiane Northrup, MD, Ob/Gyn Physician and Author of the New York Times bestsellers: Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Wellbeing, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, and The Wisdom of Menopause
Compiled by a spiritually-attuned, holistically conscious fertility specialist, Embrace Your Fertility is a comprehensive guide to navigating your fertility journey, complete with wisdom and knowledge about everything from conventional medical approaches to adoption to acupuncture to the mind-body perspectives that optimize fertility outcomes. Filled with stories of women who have navigated their own fertility experiences, readers will find comfort and inspiration alongside grounded, practical information.
—Lissa Rankin, MD, New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine
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Read an Excerpt
Embrace Your Fertility
Empowering You with Tools To Help You Succeed
By Timea Belej-Rak
Balboa PressCopyright © 2016 Timea Belej-Rak (Your Fertility Inc.)
All rights reserved.
A COUPLES STRUGGLE — FOR A REASON YOU WON'T BELIEVE
by David and Sandra MacDonald
Like most couples with infertility, my wife and I have a story to share about our struggle to conceive. In our case, it took six years.
My name is David. My wife Sandra and I have been married for nine-and-a-half years and live in Toronto, Canada, where we are both sales professionals. We take a lot of pride in what we eat and we exercise regularly. In October 2009, after living and working abroad in Singapore and New York City for a combined four-and-a-half years, we returned to Toronto to settle down and start a family. Sandra was thirty-two and I was thirty-six, and we were feeling pressure from our families to have our first baby.
We had a lot on our minds when we first started trying because we were overthinking everything — the right position, time of the month, even the type of moon. It became stressful and confusing. In the summer of 2010, we began to learn about health and wellness along with alternative medicines, and we were fascinated by the stories we read about people being healed without pharmaceutical drugs, hospitals, and doctors. That's when we decided to dig deeper into treatments that could assist our bodies with conception. Sandra eventually sourced an acupuncturist in downtown Toronto who we'll refer to as "Jane" for her privacy. Jane began by prescribing a wide range of herbal teas and pills for us to take while we received acupuncture treatment on a weekly basis for the next eleven months. The frequent changes in our plans got tiring. I remember by the end how angry and emotionally drained we felt after all the time, money, and trust we put into someone who didn't have the expertise we needed. I felt a lot of pain for Sandra as she started to blame herself for not being able to provide us with a baby. It was a terrible feeling of emptiness and sadness which almost dragged both of us into depression.
In the spring of 2011, Sandra suggested that we be tested for infertility and learn about the scientific methods available to us. Our first appointment was at a fertility clinic in downtown Toronto that had a glowing reputation for helping couples with infertility. They first tested our blood and my sperm for deficiencies and abnormalities. When the results came in, the fertility doctor informed us that everything was good; however, some of my sperm were considered poor quality, which they said was normal as most men don't have perfect sperm. We were reminded that we only needed one good sperm to make its way to Sandra's eggs. Our counselor advised us of the options we had which included intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF). It was explained that IUI is a form of assisted conception, which meant our doctor would place washed, prepared sperm from me into Sandra's uterus at her time of ovulation. This procedure required Sandra to take fertility drugs to increase her chances of conceiving. The counselor said that the success rate for this procedure at Sandra's age of thirty-four was about 10 percent per attempt. Next to consider was IVF. We were amazed when they explained that the IVF involved removing Sandra's eggs from her ovaries and mixing them with my sperm in a laboratory where conception took place in a sterile dish. The success rate for this procedure was much higher with IVF.
We talked about and debated IUI versus IVF. We could use IUI, which cost a few hundred dollars but had lower success rates, or we could spend upwards of $15,000 for IVF with the greater chance of ending our struggles and fulfilling our dream of having our first baby. Both procedures involved taking fertility drugs, which concerned us; we weren't clear if it was a necessity and we didn't know the possible long-term effects it could have on Sandra's health. After talking things over for a couple of weeks, we decided to try the IUI without the assistance of medications. A few weeks later we learned that Sandra was not pregnant. We strongly resisted the clinic's recommendations for us to have a drug assisted IUI or IVF and didn't want another opinion. We were back to square one and feeling frustrated.
I decided to take Sandra on a vacation to take our minds off things and lift our spirits, given the emotional toll this was taking on us. In September 2012, we conceived for the first time only to lose the baby a few weeks later. One evening Sandra and I cried for hours, resigning ourselves to the fact that we needed help on many levels as our bodies and minds were exhausted from the stress of failing ourselves. Later that month, Sandra decided to find us a reputable infertility expert that specialized in natural healing and wellness practices. Eventually, she discovered a renowned naturopathic doctor recognized for her expertise in women's health, acupuncture, pregnancy, and fertility.
Initially Sandra met with the doctor herself to determine if she liked her and to assess if her approach to fertility was in line with our desire to be helped naturally The doctor was very empathetic to the fact that Sandra had just miscarried after three years of trying and gave Sandra renewed hope that she would get pregnant again. The doctor started by prescribing some supplements to support Sandra's egg quality and ran a bunch of blood tests. Sandra returned to this doctor in early January 2013, five-and-a-half weeks pregnant. Unfortunately she miscarried one week later. A few weeks after that, we found out for the first time that Sandra had an excellent ovarian reserve (lots of eggs). The doctor decided to run more tests to rule out any autoimmune or hormone problems. Sandra's thyroid was healthy, and there was no underlying autoimmune problem, but her didehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and progesterone were low. The doctor was away on maternity leave from April 2013 to January 2014, so we decided to try another fertility clinic and attempted two more IUI's, both with no success. Sandra had another miscarriage in December 2013. We returned to our naturopathic doctor in January 2014 to receive the complementary support that would prepare us for an IVF procedure. After my consultation and testing, we learned that my sperm count was good, although my sperm motility (movement) and morphology (shapes) were compromised. I also had elevated sperm antibodies. The doctor zeroed in on a childhood surgery I had had for varicose veins in my leg and suggested an ultrasound to rule out the possibility of a varicocele.
Sandra and I were relieved to receive this advice because now we could develop a plan to address what was impeding our ability to conceive. Our doctor started giving us acupuncture on a weekly basis to treat Sandra for her spleen qi deficiency and me for my liver blood stasis (a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis). She also had us follow a strict diet that excluded all flours, sugars, and alcohol to help us drop some weight and improve the circulation to our reproductive organs. In addition, we were put on supplement programs to protect our bodies against oxidative stress. Quickly, this became a regimented lifestyle that required a lot of discipline. Our bodies were raging with disapproval when we first cut sugar and flour out of our diet, and it was approximately three weeks before we stopped craving them and were able to normalize our days. The acupuncture techniques our doctor used were unlike anything we experienced before as she focused a lot on reducing our stress in addition to addressing our individual traditional Chinese medicine diagnoses. It made us feel balanced and our bodies functioned in a more optimal way for the things we noticed such as better digestion, improved moods, and deeper sleep. We also had more mental clarity and improved energy levels. These changes were addictive and positive and gave us a deep desire to stay the course at any expense, as we felt we were in the right care and had the right mentor to guide us. Over time, the quality of my sperm started to improve and we knew that we were getting closer.
After consulting with our doctor, we went to the fertility clinic and requested an ultrasound on my testicles to rule out any problems before we proceed with an IVF. A few weeks later, in March 2014, the ultrasound was performed, after which a urologist diagnosed me with a severe varicocele. I learned that the varicocele was impeding the blood flow and oxygen to my testicles, which was believed to have a direct impact on the quality of my sperm. The doctor told me that a surgery could repair the varicocele but the recovery would take as long as twelve months. Sandra and I didn't want to wait twelve months and decided to go for it and do the IVF in June 2014 with medications. We felt we had a good chance to conceive given the improvements we had made in our health. We agreed to have pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) on our three blastocysts on day six, to ensure we used the strongest embryo for the transfer. After waiting a couple of weeks for the results, we were told that two of the blastocysts were deemed not compatible with life. The third was classified as zero result as there wasn't enough genetic material for the lab technician to say if it was healthy or not.
Sandra and I told the fertility clinic that we wanted to proceed with the transfer of the frozen blastocyst with undetermined health, in case it would further develop to a point where it would sustain itself within Sandra's uterus. In October 2014, Sandra had an early miscarriage following the frozen embryo transfer, which the fertility clinic attributed to Sandra's egg quality. We were frustrated, angry and sad, and we disagreed with their theory. Shortly after the news, I arranged to have my varicocele embolization and was fortunate enough to have it scheduled the next week at a Toronto hospital. I was awake for the procedure, which lasted an hour and was told by the doctors that they coiled off eight areas that were pooling blood into the testicle.
Over the next several months, our doctor focused on speeding up the healing of my varicocele given the biological time crunch we were facing. During that time, she referred us to a fertility doctor for consultation prior to us having another IVF. New tests revealed that Sandra's thyroid antibodies were now a problem, even though her thyroid hormones seemed healthy. This was frustrating as the endocrinologist informed us that it might have been a result of the medications from the first IVF. The fertility doctor told us that she would use a different protocol involving less medication to ensure we didn't over-stimulate Sandras eggs, as she felt that this may have affected the quality of the earlier blastocysts. Our naturopath continued to treat us with acupuncture and switched our supplement protocol to include immune system support due to my anti-sperm antibodies and Sandra's thyroid antibodies. She also recommended that we continue taking our antioxidants for our sperm and egg quality.
One evening, while we were preparing for our second IVF, Sandra said, "What the heck, it's been seven months since your surgery, let's try naturally to see if we can nail it on our own." We were feeling really good about our treatments, along with the complementary strategies of our naturopath and our fertility doctor. On July 4, 2016, Sandra and I conceived naturally. Our fertility doctor was a great support from the beginning, monitoring Sandra through the first trimester to ensure she had adequate progesterone and thyroid levels, and performing periodic ultrasounds. We will always be grateful for her heartfelt dedication to go above and beyond to help us get through the first three months when she didn't have to.
As always, our naturopathic doctor was right there for Sandra, providing acupuncture treatments for improving blood flow to the uterus, reducing her stress levels, and advising her on so many things including nutrition and exercise. A few months after I wrote this passage, Sandra and I were blessed with the opportunity to be parents when our beautiful baby girl Alyssa Charlotte MacDonald was born at 10:07 a.m. March 22, 2016.
A special heartfelt thank you to our naturopathic doctor who was so strong for us, never allowing us to give in, keeping us focused, and giving us so much of her own energy throughout our conversations and treatments. Our baby girl will also want to thank you, and our fertility doctor, for all you have done!
HOW NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE CAN HELP YOU GET PREGNANT AND STAY PREGNANT
By Dr. Tanya Wylde, ND, R.Ac
I am excited and honored to have been asked to write this chapter on how naturopathic medicine can help you through your fertility journey and achieve a healthy pregnancy. Many fertility clinics have incorporated integrative strategies of treatment by combining conventional assisted reproductive technologies (ART) with complementary approaches, such as naturopathic medicine and acupuncture, as the research literature continues to validate their efficacy in improving healthy pregnancy outcomes.
This chapter will give you some of the most effective, evidence-informed lifestyle recommendations and natural medicine treatment approaches to improving fertility and ultimately achieving a healthy pregnancy, whether you are attempting to conceive naturally or with ART. In the last ten years, I have helped so many patients get pregnant with customized treatment programs and accurate diagnoses of their underlying obstacles to optimum fertility. Research suggests that eating healthy, supplementing appropriately/ exercising regularly/ and reducing stress levels can improve your chances of achieving a healthy pregnancy. I will also reveal how naturopathic medicine can help with in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Taking a thorough history is crucial for me to ensure that you have been properly diagnosed and that I can optimize your fertility support. My goal is to help both you and your partner get into the best possible state of health by addressing any issues that might be contributing to your subfertility. As a naturopathic doctor (ND) and acupuncturist, I will assist you and your partner in achieving an ideal weight, optimal nutrient status, reduced stress levels, improved circulation to your reproductive system, and healthier sperm and egg quality. By improving these factors, you will have a better chance of attaining a healthy pregnancy outcome. Individualizing nutrition, supplement plans, exercise regimens and acupuncture protocols makes it possible for me to appropriately address all of your health conditions.
It can be difficult to know who to trust or turn to during your fertility journey Incorporating an ND into your team of health care providers may reduce your chances of requiring multiple attempts at ART before achieving your goal of a healthy, successful pregnancy. Furthermore, NDs will support your physical and mental health throughout the process.
One of the most important factors contributing to healthy eggs and sperm is maintaining a healthy weight and fat percentage. I always calculate you and your partner's body mass index (BMI) using standardized charts, and estimate fat percentages using a bio-impedance analysis machine. Carrying a BMI outside of the healthy range of 20 to 25 kg/m2 can adversely affect ovulation, as well as egg quality and sperm quality. A BMI above 25 is considered overweight and above 30, obese. As toxins tend to be fat-soluble, those with higher body fat percentages will have higher toxic loads. Toxins in the form of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), such as Bisphenol-A and pesticides, are especially problematic as they may contribute to ovulation problems due to their undesired hormonal impact. Carrying excess fat promotes the release of hormones, such as leptin and insulin, in addition to inflammatory cytokines. This increases inflammation and oxidative stress, which affects egg and sperm quality much like smoking does. 7 Oxidative stress is the burden placed on you by your body's constant production of free radicals and by environmental stresses such as radiation, toxins, and tobacco smoke. Antioxidants neutralize the harmful activity of oxidants (free radicals). Good sperm and egg quality depends on a balance between oxidative stress and antioxidant defenses. Being overweight can also promote the growth of uterine fibroids and endometrial lesions, and can cause ovulation disruption in women with ovulation disorders. Being too thin or carrying an unhealthy low fat percentage can also prevent or disrupt ovulation, as well as detrimentally affect your egg quality.
In men, excess body fat and toxins may contribute to hormonal disturbances, increased scrotal temperatures, and adversely affect sperm quality and quantity. It doesn't mean that every overweight woman or man will have difficulty getting pregnant, or that weight loss will be your cure, but weight really can impact your fertility.
Excerpted from Embrace Your Fertility by Timea Belej-Rak. Copyright © 2016 Timea Belej-Rak (Your Fertility Inc.). Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Sara R. Cohen, LL.B., Fertility Law Canada, ix,
Foreword by Janet Fraser, President, Fertility Matters Canada, xi,
Chapter 1: Naturopathic Medicine, 1,
Chapter 2: Acupuncture and East Asian Medicine, 25,
Chapter 3: Mind-Body Awareness, 51,
Chapter 4: Counseling, 71,
Chapter 5: Medical Route to Conception, 91,
Chapter 6: Donor Sperm, 117,
Chapter 7: Egg Donation and Surrogacy, 143,
Chapter 8: Adoption, 167,
About the Author, 195,