How surreal it feels to be penning this piece on my journey on preparing to conceive and conception as I’m 38 weeks pregnant, on the precipice of an entirely new chapter of life. While my conception story isn’t a long fertility journey, it didn’t happen right away either. But it is my story, and enfolded within it are learnings and lessons that you may find helpful.
As a naturopath specialising in women’s health, physical preparation was the easy part of preparing to conceive. The trickier part was taking an honest look at the stories, cultural messages, and subtle influences I had subconsciously absorbed through my lifetime and consciously metabolised them.
If I were to sum up preparing to conceive, I would say it’s a time of embracing vulnerability and strength, facing fears and being with sadness at times, and then great joy. I’ve been humbled by the process and have found it to be a remarkable healing experience. I share many educational and informative pieces here on my blog, and it feels so very fitting to round these out with my lived experience.
Deciding to Bring a Human into the World
Choosing to bring another human into the world is a huge decision, no matter how much it’s culturally expected. For me, it’s something I knew I wanted, so it was more a matter of “when” not “if”. However, there was quite the tangle of stories to unpick. In my family, conceiving, pregnancy and childbirth have not always come easily. I’ve grown up understanding these were all filled with struggle, loss and danger. While these are not my stories to share, they have had a profound impact on me. It’s very likely one of the driving reasons why I became a women’s health naturopath.
Additionally, before studying naturopathic medicine, I was diagnosed with PCOS at 18 and was told that I might have trouble conceiving. Looking back, it was said in a very clinical and cavalier way as the doctor was naming all the clinical features of the diagnosis like a human textbook.
As my awareness of health science, medical advocacy and natural healing grew, I re-examined the diagnosis and uncovered that I had indeed been incorrectly diagnosed. However, that message of “you might have trouble conceiving” has landed deep. It made all my family’s childbearing history feel all too relevant to me. But I’m also grateful, as this confluence of factors led me to the Fertility Awareness Method, working with my cycle intentionally and specialising in the area clinically. The power of understanding your body and fertility is hugely empowering. From my mid-twenties, I had an embodied knowing of when I was fertile, how to soothe, heal and strengthen my body according to what my body was asking me. When the time came to conceive, I felt a deep readiness in my bones.
My biggest takeaway from this pre-parenthood chapter of my life is exploring the psycho-spiritual dimensions of my cycling, creative body is so important. Unpicking the stories and messaging we’ve osmotically absorbed from family, friends, our culture and the patriarchal structure of healthcare at large is a powerful reckoning that can change the course of your reproductive life. More specifically, it can have a HUGE impact on how we approach trying to conceive and what we do when it doesn’t happen right away.
Preparing to conceive, how I approached it…
Through my practice as a naturopath, herbalist and fertility awareness educator: I’ve created and supported many folks through this preparation process, so it was fun to do this for myself and my husband! To give you the quick timeline, we began preparing in January 2020, started trying in May 2020 and conceived in August 2020.
Taking a Health Inventory
The first place to begin is to take a deeper, more intentional look at your body and wellness. I have a health inventory process that looks at all the body’s major systems and highlights any areas that are out of balance or needing extra care and attention. This way, you know where to focus your energy. Combine this with some preconception bloodwork through your medical provider, and you’ve got a great lay of the land. I brought more focus to ovulation and stress support in my self-care and only took herbs and medications that are safe in pregnancy.
If you or your partner have a pre-existing health challenge, this is the time to be addressing them. If you have a PCOS diagnosis, endometriosis or hypothyroidism, this is a wonderful time to explore a holistic approach if you haven’t already. These health challenges are some of the most common barriers to conception when ignored. So put yourself in the driver’s seat, pull your sleeves up and look into the simple ways you can support your body to get everything it needs to hum along nicely.
Preparing the Soil & Clearing Out Health Triggers
Once those specifics are identified, the next layer is good ol’ fashion nourishment and reducing lifestyle factors known to impact fertility negatively. This should be seen as fun! Gathering some new recipes for your repertoire, focusing on eating more whole foods and cutting down on alcohol and caffeine.
If you like to learn more about my approach to preconception nutrition, make sure you check out my article “Gathering the Building Blocks: The Importance of Preconception Nutrition”, and my free “Holistic Pregnancy Prep Checklist” provides an oh so simple plan to follow.
Preparing to Conceive with Fertility Awareness
I cannot underline how important this aspect is!! You don’t need expensive apps, devices, test kits or blood work to learn how to identify when you’re ovulating. My husband and I have been practising the Fertility Awareness Method for years as birth control, so I have a very clear understanding of my fertility. But if this is a new concept for you, take a read of my blog, “Knowing When You Can Conceive, with Fertility Awareness”. This simple body awareness can significantly shorten your time to conception, it involves your partner, and you’ll learn a whole host of fascinating things about your body too.
How Long It Took & How Conception Happened for Us
It took us four months to conceive – which is not that long, but it felt like it at times. Those two-week waits are challenging and can be heartbreaking. Also, in the background, we had a considerable amount going on in our lives: the pandemic, having to reschedule an interstate move after having packed up half our apartment, ill parents, social isolation and us both moving our work to 100% online.
I could see through my fertility charts that stress was impacting my ovulation and cycle. While I was still ovulating, I could see that my body was making an attempt or two before doing so. Our bodies are so very wise and know when it’s not an ideal time to be reproducing!
Based on this knowledge, I knew what I needed to do, and I had context as to why it wasn’t happening, which I found comforting. When you have a clear idea of what’s happening within your cycle and health, you can keep your care simple and targeted. Instead of going into a downward spiral, I knew I needed to tweak my self-care.
Most importantly, my husband I planned a 2-week nature break (a.k.a holiday) spanning my fertile window, bookended with plenty of chill time. It was exactly what we needed, and we conceived at one of my favourite, special spots in nature.
Rethinking Early Pregnancy Tests & Reframing Early Pregnancy Loss
From my lived experienced, alongside my clinical experience, I highly recommend not use early pregnancy tests, as tempting as it may be. Several intelligent biological processes are occurring within the reproductive system through the process of conception. Just because an egg has been fertilised and implanted does not guarantee a pregnancy, and these early tests (in my opinion) can provide just a bit too much information than is necessary or helpful for one’s mental health.
I see too many folks experience heartbreaking loss from a chemical pregnancy when historically we would not have known. Instead, I suggest tracking your ovulation using fertility awareness and waiting until 17 days have passed before taking a test. For me, I knew I was pregnant when I reached that 17-day mark, and when I took a test to confirm, it came up with that little “+” quickly and clearly.
In addition to this practical tip, I would love to share an evolutionary biology view of human pregnancies and how this can provide a powerful reframe for early pregnancy loss…
The evolutionary basis of shedding the lining of our wombs on a cyclical basis is thought to be a biological adaptation that allows our body to “test” the embryo’s viability before committing to the full process of pregnancy.
A family of cells that line the womb (called decidual cells) “have the ability to sense the vitality of the embryo and react with a stress reaction when the embryo is of inferior quality…This idea is supported by the fact that humans have a rate of pregnancy loss of 10% to 25% (higher estimates found in the literature seem to be spurious) and that [spontaneous decidualization [menstruation] is primarily found in animals with a small litter size, that is, one or two [babies] per pregnancy and thus with correspondingly higher investment into each offspring” (Critchley et al., 2020).
In other words, because we humans typically reproduce a little one at a time (multiples being the exception) and the process, in contrast to other mammals, is very resource-intensive, our bodies are very selective about which pregnancies they choose to nurture.
My Final Thoughts on Preparing To Conceive
The reality is, trying to conceive can be exhausting, put pressure on relationships, and, at times, be depressing. This is worse when it feels like it’s beyond your control or your body is failing you somehow. The medical system, in my opinion, is structured in such a way that leaves too many couples falling through the cracks, disempowered and confused.
I’m extremely passionate about couples having an embodied understanding of their fertility and how they can approach preparing to conceive with knowledge, joy and excitement. And my recent experience of conceiving and pregnancy has galvanised this passion further. Remember, simple changes can make significant differences. And when it all feels overwhelming, it can be very soothing to return to the basics:
Give your body what it needs.
Remove the obstacles.
Get your timing right.
Let nature do the rest.
As with all things in nature, it will happen when the time is right, but knowing what IS within your control (your mindset, lifestyle, extra support you can provide your body with and fertility awareness) will give you sovereignty over this process.
If you’d love to get started with this holistic approach to preparing to conceive, make sure you download my free Holistic Pregnancy Prep Checklist for a simple 4-month plan.
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