Danielle’s story is about her struggle with recurrent miscarriage and how fertility awareness has given her the control and empowerment that is often lost whilst navigating a turbulent fertility journey.
This is a picture of me on my last birthday.
That day, I was standing in the warm summer heat outside our favorite popsicle shop holding my favorite flavor.
I had also just learned I was miscarrying. Again.
It’s amazing how many women open up about their own miscarriages after you’ve had one. All of a sudden, you find out your aunt had one, your best friend had one, your sister-in-law, your neighbor, your co-worker. I knew miscarriage happened, I just never thought it would happen to me.
So when it did, I knew that someday I wanted to talk about my experience. Not to garner fame or pity, but to let my fellow sisters know that they did not have to suffer in silence, thinking no one else they knew had gone through something like this. To let them know that they weren’t alone, and they weren’t the only ones who felt they had to hide secret pain in their heart as family members and friends got pregnant, as they got asked when they were planning on kids, as they mourned the loss of what would have been. I have watched as many women I knew went through miscarriages of their own, and my heart ached for them. I had felt that pain too.
Starting the journey
I started charting in December of 2012, so when we decided the following June that we were ready to start trying to get pregnant, I felt totally prepared. I knew my body, I knew when I ovulated, and I knew when I was fertile. I felt miles ahead of the game.
We were elated to get our first positive pregnancy test in August. After the shock wore off, we immediately started making plans for a baby. We picked a midwife and scheduled our first appointment for October. In the meantime, I downloaded a bajillion pregnancy apps on my phone and started researching pregnancy symptoms obsessively. I was so ready. I had spent my whole life waiting for this moment, and I wanted to soak up every second of it.
I watched as the weeks slipped by and waited anxiously for when we could tell our friends and family. Week 6…week 7…week 8…9…10…11.
I felt too confident to worry, but somehow worry always finds a way to make itself known. One day, I woke up early to some light spotting and cramping. I spent my morning laying next to my husband, googling “miscarriage symptoms” on my phone. When I couldn’t get back to sleep, I went out to the living room and googled some more. Most of what I read told me that it was a possibility, but it could also be normal to have spotting and even a little cramping in the first trimester. I felt reassured.
One site recommended taking your temperature to see if you were running a fever, one possible symptom of miscarriage. I used my trusty BBT thermometer to record my temperature, which I hadn’t used since my positive pregnancy test. I waited for the beep and read the thermometer. 97.8. Oh good, I thought. No fever. Then, my heart sank as I immediately realized what 97.8 meant: my temperatures were not elevated enough. They had risen after my ovulation and stayed elevated after conception, but some time between my last temperature reading before my positive pregnancy test and the temperature reading that morning, my body had stopped sustaining the tiny life it was creating, and my low temperatures in turn reflected that change.
I knew in that moment, sitting on my couch in my darkened living room, that I was miscarrying. I didn’t have to wait several torturous hours or days to find out; I knew what the doctor was going to say later that day at my first (and last) prenatal appointment. There was no doubt in my mind because I knew what my temperatures meant. And just knowing that was the single most helpful thing that helped handle the news during the ultrasound. Yes, I was shocked, but I wasn’t ambushed. My body told me well before my doctor did.
Recovering from my first miscarriage was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. Maybe someday I’ll write more about it, but for now, it’s enough to say that it was incredibly hard. I was lucky to have some wonderful support from my friends and family, and most of all my sweet husband, Tim.
We got pregnant again in late April. I had learned my mistake from last time, so I dutifully recorded my temperature every morning. It was so reassuring to see my temps remain high day after day; my hopes stayed just as high. Our first doctor’s appointment was only a few days away. Each day my temperature stayed elevated gave me new more confidence; I really thought we would make it.
Then, on Sunday, I woke up to a lower temperature than normal. The next day, spotting and an even lower temperature. Again, my body told me I was about to have a miscarriage. I was just shy of 6 weeks pregnant. My first doctor’s appointment was set for the day after my birthday, but instead of listening to the heartbeat, we got our confirmation of another miscarriage.
Getting answers with fertility awareness
I started to research multiple miscarriages, and ran across something about low progesterone, which can cause early miscarriages, luteal phase defects, and several other symptoms. I looked over the past year and a half of data from my charts and realized that some of the symptoms matched up to mine. Specifically, I noticed several signs from my chart that indicated my progesterone was lower than it should have been, and that it could have been a possible cause of both miscarriages. Before my miscarriages, I would never have guessed something was wrong; my cycles were incredibly regular and came every 28 days like clockwork. If I hadn’t been charting, I wouldn’t have noticed these slight atypical symptoms at all.
When I went in to see to my midwife, I talked to her about the symptoms I had and what I could do to move forward. Instead of a blank slate with no idea where to start, I was empowered with information about my own body. She listened to me and respected the information I brought. We decided to test my progesterone in late June, after one normal cycle. I felt much more hopeful and prepared than ever before.
In the meantime, I did more research on my own and made some changes that were supposed to help with low progesterone. The biggest change was my decision to start taking Vitex*. I noticed a positive change in my cycles almost immediately. After taking it for about a month, I had my progesterone tested. My levels were within normal range, but slightly toward the lower end. I strongly believe that if I hadn’t been taking Vitex, the results would have found that it was too low.
I don’t think that taking Vitex is the solution for every woman that miscarries; what I want to convey from this experience is that fertility awareness is so much more than simply telling you when you’re fertile. It tells you more about your own body than you may have thought possible, and it arms you with critical information that you can use when discussing options with your doctor or midwife.
Fertility awareness has done so much more for me than just tell me when my next period is coming. It helped me feel in control of what was happening, and helped me figure out what I should do next with clarity and confidence. And once we get pregnant again, it will continue to provide me with valuable information about my body and help me watch for patterns that might indicate trouble.
I look back at my journey over the past two years and think, “Would this have been different if I didn’t know what I know about fertility awareness? If I wasn’t charting?” The answer is a resounding YES. I doubt I would have been able to get pregnant (both times) in a couple short months of trying; I doubt I would have known if I was suffering from low progesterone until at least my third miscarriage; I doubt the doctors would have been able to confirm it for several months (they can only test at a certain time in each cycle); I doubt I would have felt as empowered and calm as I do now about what lies ahead, and how I will handle whatever comes next. It is not a stretch to say that fertility awareness has saved me months and possibly years of anguished time because I knew what was happening with my own body.
Fertility awareness means so much more than just telling you when to make a baby. What happens or doesn’t happen during your menstrual cycle is probably one of the most crucial indicators of problems you might have with your fertility. We should be teaching this to every woman—young and old—and shouting it from the rooftops. Fertility awareness is the best way to be in charge and in control of your own gynecological health. It allows you to be in the driver’s seat, to understand your own body, and to work in partnership with your doctor, rather than giving them a blank check with your reproductive health.
It means YOU are in charge of your journey. It means YOU can change your journey. It means YOU can make informed, joint decisions with your doctor or midwife. Not every woman has to use fertility awareness, but every woman should know about it.
*I am not a medical practitioner. This story is simply relaying my personal experience. The decision to start taking Vitex is a medical one that should be made after careful research, including consultation with a medical professional, such as a doctor or a registered midwife. Vitex is not a miracle pill that will help any fertility condition, and should be used with expertise as its effects on your body can be quite dramatic. Just because it is an herbal supplement doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful!
You can find out more about Danielle here…..