At the time of writing this, I am sitting on my couch with my 5-week old baby boy on my lap and typing on my computer to my right. Over the last 10 months, I’ve been in a near constant state of amazement and gratitude for the human design and the biological process that is bringing a new human life into this world.
The journey to holding our baby in our arms wasn’t an easy one. My husband and I didn’t experience infertility by definition as the typically accepted diagnosis for infertility is an inability to conceive after trying for at least 12 months. However, the 8 months it did take us to see that positive pregnancy test were hugely emotional and eye opening. I personally know many couples who have dealt with infertility and whose paths to getting pregnant took far longer than ours did, and I know countless others around the world experience the same. In this post, I want to share my husband’s and my journey. It is not intended to give advice for others who are trying to conceive, but instead meant to add another perspective on a very emotional topic for many. Plus, the journey of conceiving didn’t just give us our baby boy, it was the catalyst for the inception of Sveikata Group.
My husband and I decided we were ready to grow our family back in November 2017. I stopped taking my birth control pills because we knew it would take a few months for my body to regulate its hormonal cycles before we should start trying to conceive, which we planned to do in February 2018. During those next few months, it became evident that my menstrual cycles were irregular. I called my doctor in late March and told him what I was experiencing. Even though we’d only really been trying for a month, he had me make an appointment with a nurse practitioner to do an ultrasound of my ovaries and draw blood labs. In early April, the nurse practitioner called me and said that my thyroid test came back high – 7.35 mIU/L, which actually meant my thyroid was underactive. She asked if I’d ever been on thyroid medication and I told her I had not. She proceeded to tell me that she created a prescription for me for Levothyroxine, that I’d have to come back for more blood labs to check if the dosage should be adjusted, and that it was a medication I would probably be on for the rest of my life. I was only 26, the rest of my life was a long time to go! Plus, I don’t generally take things at face value. I’m someone who needs to process information and do my own research and learning before I’ll make most decisions or changes in my life. I did some quick research about thyroid disease and found promising information about diet and lifestyle changes. I called the NP back and asked her if I could wait to start the medication so that I could try some of the suggested approaches I had read about to see if they made any difference. She agreed but insisted I get blood labs drawn again in six weeks to see if there was any positive change.
Over the next several weeks, I learned a lot about the prevalence of thyroid disease in the American population. According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12% of the US population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime and 60% of those with thyroid disease don’t even know they have an issue. The condition of having an underactive thyroid is called hypothyroidism and the most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. Hashimoto’s can be caused by a wide number of factors and most often from a “perfect storm” of several of them.
The problem with this finding? Autoimmune conditions happen when the body is attacking something inside itself. The medications that individuals are prescribed to treat most autoimmune conditions do not heal them, they merely manage the symptoms of the condition, helping the person feel better. Typically, no further work is done to identify the root cause of the condition and begin the healing process, so the individual has to remain on the medication for the long-term, or life. The numbers are eye-opening – Levothyroxine and its fellow hypothyroidism-focused pharmaceuticals happen to be the #2 most popular prescription drug taken by Americans. This means a lot of people are suffering with hypothyroidism and taking these medications. But, if 95% of hypothyroidism cases are caused by an autoimmune condition, and medications cannot fully heal autoimmune conditions, then it’s very possible that more people could get relief by treating their root cause.
Another interesting thing about my journey is that I was one of the 60% who didn’t know they had an issue. I had irregular menstrual cycles and that was the only symptom that caused me to get additional blood labs done and even alerted me to the thyroid issue in the first place! Or so I thought. Once I started reading about the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s, I realized that I had been living with some serious symptoms for a while. Looking back now, I was dealing with quite a bit:
- Fatigue – I found it almost impossible to stay up past 9pm. I was routinely getting eight hours of sleep a night to try to feel better but always felt exhausted. On work trips, I would be exhausted by the time dinner ended and had zero energy to respond to any emails or do anything other than go to sleep. I remember often thinking to myself “how am I going to handle having children one day if I’m already exhausted with NO children?!”
- Depression – I said to my husband earlier that year – “I feel like I’m not as positive of a person as I used to be.” My friends and family members would describe me as positive or optimistic growing up, but I felt like I wasn’t inspiring to myself or others anymore. I attributed it to high stress and overwhelm.
- Brain fog – I was forgetful and easily distracted. I attributed this to the fact that I was busy, juggling many priorities at work and at home and I also assumed that this was something everyone dealt with.
- Hair loss – I had a suspicion that started about six months before my diagnosis that I was losing more hair in the shower than was normal. I was fearful that my ponytail was getting skinnier – and my hair is already fine and light, so this was scary to me. I thought maybe I was imagining it – that I always lost that much hair in the shower and my ponytail was always that skinny.
- Weight gain or inability to lose weight – I’ve always had a fit figure, but for several years, I have struggled maintaining my healthy weight. It seemed like every summer, I would inadvertently gain weight despite remaining careful with what I was eating and exercising regularly. No matter how little I ate and how much I exercised, it was extremely difficult to lose weight or maintain the weight that I wanted. I felt like any “cheat” I had was detrimental and I engaged in some unhealthy dietary practices as a result. Again, I felt like everyone had trouble losing weight or maintaining, and I attributed this to sitting in front of a computer for my job. Even though I was working out regularly, using a standing desk and ensuring I was walking around throughout the day, it still didn’t compare to the amount of daily movement I’d get back when I was in college and walking to/from class, so that’s how I justified it.
- Bloating – in addition to the weight gain or inability to lose weight, I always felt like I had a “layer” around my stomach, even when I was at my desired weight. It seemed like I looked my best right when I woke each morning, but that went away as soon as I ate my first meal for the day.
As you can see, I disregarded most of my symptoms as “normal” and things that everyone deals with. I assumed that my story wasn’t different than anyone else’s. I was fortunate to be able to create a treatment plan with the functional medicine practitioner that I found through my research. He and I embarked on a 6-month journey of dietary changes and blood draws to see how the changes impacted my health.
We started with a strict three-week elimination diet where I ate only vegetables, chicken, seafood (but no shellfish) and nuts. I was not able to eat beef, pork, eggs, tomatoes, corn, white potatoes, soy products, dairy products, any type of grain or gluten, caffeine (no coffee?!), alcohol, added sugar (I could eat a little fruit each day, but had to limit this also), or processed oils other than olive, avocado and coconut oil. I was to be eating every two hours and my main meals needed to have some sort of animal protein and 4x as many vegetables as protein. Of course those three weeks happened to fall right over two weeks of travel for work, which made everything that much more challenging. Imagine walking through the Buffalo airport trying to find something, just SOMETHING that would fit in that diet plan – it’s almost impossible. Even if I ordered a salad, most toppings were off the table (no cheese, croutons, dried fruit, etc.) as well as dressings (most dressings contain gluten and/or soybean oil) – and who likes a naked salad? After those three weeks passed, I was able to slowly incorporate some food items back into my diet, with the exception of soy, dairy and gluten/grains. During that time frame, I also had a series of supplements that I need to take with each meal. Those supplements were a combination of antioxidants, micronutrients, Omega 3s, B vitamins, probiotics and liver detoxifying ingredients to help get my body to a super clean state.
I ended up following a paleo-style diet from there – eliminating dairy, grains and sugar from my diet. And I won’t sugarcoat it (pun intended) – it felt like I was losing out on the fun of eating. While I always ate a healthy diet previously, I enjoyed my cheeses, yogurt and cream in my coffee. I am also an avid baker of sourdough bread and looked forward to a piece of toast with my eggs each morning. The hardest part, though, was eating out at restaurants, because it’s hard to find meals that are void of both dairy and grains (as well as inflammatory oils). But, I made the changes and followed the plan because of my purpose – to heal my body and conceive a child. Those things were my top priority and my will to make those things happen was stronger than my will to eat the foods I normally enjoyed.
There are multiple silver linings, though. Searching for meals that were compliant with my dietary needs forced me to try new recipes and ingredients and I ended up with several favorite dishes that I still make today! At some point, I’ll share those recipes so that you can benefit from them, too. They’re very clean and full of flavor, so it feels like you’re eating an indulgent meal that really isn’t. But the biggest silver lining of all? My symptoms became less and less and I ended up conceiving in late October 2018! Here were just some of the changes I saw as a result of my 6-month dietary plan
- Increased energy – I didn’t need as much sleep and I only drank coffee because I enjoyed it, not because I needed the caffeine
- Less struggle falling and staying asleep – it used to take me 30-45 minutes to fall asleep, and sometimes I would wake up throughout the night thinking I hadn’t fallen asleep yet
- Better digestion – my digestion and metabolism improved greatly – my body was processing food and nutrients better than ever before
- More vibrant complexion – I naturally have a very fair complexion, however, I hadn’t noticed that my face was lacking color and hydration when I was symptomatic
- Less nasal sniffling – the nasal allergies I experienced my whole life greatly improved
- Better mood – I felt like my old self again, full of optimism and appreciation for the people and things in my life
- Significant reduction in hair loss
- Weight loss and minimal bloating – I lost 7 pounds in the first month-and-a-half of my dietary changes, even though I didn’t really need to lose any weight. I no longer felt like I had a layer around my belly and instead could see much more tone and definition in all areas of my body – even after I’d eaten a meal.
- Less puffy face – I had no idea that this was a symptom of an underactive thyroid. I’ve always joked about my “puffy cheeks” and sometimes wondered why my face was “puffier” than normal!
I am no longer following the same diet. Once I became pregnant, I knew that I needed to ensure I was getting enough calcium. I first supplemented calcium rather than eat dairy, because I was nervous about the impact dairy would have on my thyroid levels. I slowly started incorporating dairy, watching for any symptoms that my body might exhibit. I never experienced any. Also, morning sickness set in at about 8 weeks and the only relief I could get was when I’d eat carbs, toast especially. So I started eating grains at that point, too. My healthcare provider was fully aware of my thyroid journey, so we drew blood labs regularly to ensure my thyroid numbers were in line. With each test, they were better than ever, so I continued eating dairy and grains when I felt like it and haven’t looked back.
For those who are wondering what the root cause of my thyroid issues was, I will never truly know. Because I am able to eat dairy and grains now without it affecting my thyroid levels, I don’t believe those were the culprits. My theory is a combination of factors, one of which was an iodine deficiency. When I moved into my husband’s house in 2015, I drank on average a gallon of water a day straight from the kitchen sink tap for three years. Our water is fluoridated and fluoride inhibits iodine absorption. The majority of our meals are home-cooked and we use Himalayan pink sea salt that isn’t iodized. We didn’t think to test my iodine levels until November 2018, after I had already been on supplements for six months and even then, my levels were at the lowest end of the range. In addition, I learned later that our city water had radium levels that were in violation of federally-mandated limits in 2015, meaning I was ingesting that toxin as well. Lastly, I was carrying a fair amount of stress because of my job and I believe a combination of these factors led to my underactive thyroid, but again, it is my theory and not a formal diagnosis.
How did I heal my body? In May 2018, we installed a custom water filter that removes the typical elements and toxins, plus both types of radium that our city was in violation for. Then, I believe it was the process of getting my body to a super clean state, supplementing with micronutrients and reducing as much stress as possible that allowed me to heal and create a physiological environment that was conducive to conceiving.
So why am I sharing all of this with you? I’m sharing my experience with you because I want you to look at your own life and encourage you to do the following:
- Pay attention to yourself and how you feel on a daily basis. We are all running so fast and trying to do so much in a given day that it becomes easy to miss the cues our own bodies are giving us that something is off.
- Trust your gut. When you feel like something is off, don’t brush it off. Meet with your health practitioner. If the first meeting doesn’t help solve the issue, keep pursuing it. It may take time to identify what is wrong and it may also require you seeking opinions from multiple providers.
- Realize that health and wellness is a journey that never ends. If you feel “stuck” with your physical health, like your challenges are out of your control, like you’ll always be just “managing” your symptoms, or like you’ve simply given up trying to feel better, understand that things can be different. While it may be hard to embrace, you truly are the only person who can bring positive change for your life. You have to be your own advocate for a long, happy and healthy life and no matter where you are in your health journey, it’s never too late to start making yourself a priority.
- Do the work. Change isn’t easy – if it was, we’d all be perfect! If you really want to make one are of your life better, you must put in the daily effort. No other way will get you the results you’re seeking. You have to identify your purpose for your change and remind yourself of that constantly, so that when opportunities arise that will set you back, you can recall your purpose and make the better choice.
Besides my beautiful baby boy and my improved health, another blessing of my thyroid and fertility journey was the beginnings of Sveikata Group. My mother and I have always had a passion for health and wellness and a dream of working together. We decided to start down that path last year so that we can help others live the life of their dreams. And if you didn’t already know, “sveikata” means health in Lithuanian and when Lithuanians toast, they say “į sveikatą!” (pronounced “eee” – “svay-kah-tuh”), or “to your health!” So I am holding my proverbial glass up to you to say “į sveikatą!”