Allison's Journey to Fertility
By allison evans |
My fertility journey started thirteen years ago when I was told I likely wouldn’t be able to have children. At best, it would be possible only through IVF and/or other fertility treatments. I was a senior in high school and hadn’t had a period since sixth grade, so I’d sought the help of a world-renowned fertility specialist. My sonogram - later shown in a medical textbook - revealed thousands of cysts on each ovary, and I was diagnosed with one of the worst cases of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) my doctor had ever seen. I was prescribed birth control indefinitely and told to come back for regular monitoring until I was ready to conceive. At that time, he would offer me the most advanced treatments available.
I don’t remember the news hitting me very hard - likely a combination of not accepting it and being an 18 year old with children far from my mind. What I could never have imagined was the road that lied ahead. It was one of suffering that - through God’s grace and revelation to me about the body’s innate ability to heal - would lead to more joy than I ever knew possible, the natural conception and birth of my baby girl, Sloane
A Wake-Up Call
During my sophomore year of college, my health declined rapidly. What began as extreme neck and shoulder “tightness” quickly turned into a chronic pain that ran from my face down to my low back. I sought the help of masseuses, chiropractors, acupuncturists and physical therapists but found little relief. I received steroid injections for the pain and was on daily antidepressants, muscle relaxers, sleeping pills, and painkillers. I’ll never forget reaching for a carton of milk (when I used to drink cow’s milk!) in the fridge and watching it fall to the floor. I was losing motor skills and my fingers and toes began to go numb. Within a few months, I was traveling the country to see the nation’s top arthritis specialists and neurologists. There was no agreed upon diagnosis, but instead I became a sort of medical mystery, toting around an ever-growing file of blood work, x-rays, MRIs, CT Scans and EKGs. While I rarely allowed my mind to go there, I was terrified of what the future would look like. I remember asking Will, my then-boyfriend-now-husband, if he’d still marry me if I had to be wheeled down the aisle. And possibly not be able to have children. He said yes. 🙂
I reached a point in my journey where I was finally open to hear my Aunt Marilee. After using a natural approach to heal herself and then, years later, her ten-year-old son (read Marilee’s amazing story here), she became a dietary and environmental health consultant to thousands of people around the country. Having stumped the country’s top doctors with my symptoms, the word “natural” meant it wouldn’t touch my situation. But I had nothing to lose.
As we talked, I could tell she was somewhat disinterested in my rambling about symptoms, medical reports, and test results. Instead, she asked seemingly unrelated questions:
“Where were you when the pain started? Had you recently moved or remodeled?”
“What is your typical daily diet? Can you send me a 3-day diet diary?”
“What kind of cleaning products do you use? Do you use pesticides in your house?”
“Send me a list of your personal care products.”
Huh? What did this have to do with my pain? The only questions I had been asked thus far were about my family’s health history and my current symptoms. She now had my full attention. Marilee explained how the body doesn’t get sick, develop pain, etc. for no reason. If a person is healthy and then becomes ill, questions should be asked to determine the cause(s) and effective strategies for treatment. For example, when the body is exposed to an overload of toxic chemicals, it can cause various symptoms. Everyone reacts differently; some can develop symptoms immediately (everything from congestion and eczema to migraines and digestive issues), whereas others store toxins in their organs and can develop cancer years later. Some have strong constitutions and are unaffected. This line of reasoning connected the dots for me. My symptoms started just two days after I moved into a brand new apartment! It was filled with fresh paint, new carpet, formaldehyde-filled cabinetry and all the glues, stains and other toxic materials involved. She explained that I was under immune stress from all the chemical off-gassing, and “cleaning up” the things I was putting in, on and around my body would allow it to heal, its innate tendency. Basically, I needed to get out of my own way!
I immediately got off birth control (a synthetic form of natural estrogen), cut out all refined sugar and most processed foods. I ate healthy oils and organic when possible, focusing only on quality, never calories. Within a few months, my pain lessened drastically and I was able to stop painkillers. My curiosity about the natural approach quickly became a passion, and I couldn’t get enough of Marilee’s knowledge and wisdom. My roommate and best friend, Kelly, having followed my journey closely and witnessing my transformation, was on fire as well. Upon graduation from college, we asked to spend the summer with Marilee in the Texas Hill Country, not knowing this decision would change the course of our lives.
Kelly and I spent every day cooking and eating a 100% whole food, organic diet while listening to Marilee work with clients. With each new person, she asked the same questions she had asked me. And, being Christians, we were drawn to how heavily she relied on prayer and God’s provision. She was a certified chef in using food as medicine, believing that God has given us all we need for healing and abundant life. Marilee’s personal stories and those of her clients proved that a diet and environment free of toxins can get to the root of sickness and disease (versus just alleviating symptoms) and reverse the most dire of diagnosis. As the summer went on, our own health transformed. I was off all medication and virtually pain-free, while Kelly saw her chronic dry eyes and menstrual cramps disappear. Our minds were opened and forever changed to the power of our bodies to heal, given the right diet and environment. From there, we decided to start a company with a mission to help others discover the power of clean living. (And that’s a whole other story… )
The Power of Pure
In 2009, having lived a “clean” lifestyle for over a year and now engaged, Will encouraged me to go back to my fertility doctor for a sonogram. Although I still wasn’t having a period, he had seen my health transform and was convinced my ovaries had followed suit. Having had the doctor’s dismal report engrained in my head since high school, I wasn’t as optimistic. Sure enough, upon receiving the scan, the doctor (who had been too booked to see me that day) rushed into the room holding my sonogram next to the one taken six years prior. He had never seen anything like it. I had completely reversed my PCOS, having only a few small cysts on each ovary. He wanted to know what I had done and what medicine I had been taking. When I explained that I had gotten off birth control and ditched toxic home/body products, refined sugars, and bad oils, he was shocked and asked me to speak to PCOS support groups at his clinic.
At this point, I knew my body was headed in the right direction and if I continued on, my period would come back. I find it intriguing that the reproductive system is often the last to repair. God designed it this way, as its job is to usher in new life, and is not vital to our survival. It’s no wonder the body needs to be in good health to conceive, grow and give birth!
I hold absolutely no judgment against anyone who chooses fertility treatments and believes that they have blessed so many families who would have otherwise been unable to conceive (many of whom I know and love!). But Will and I always felt strongly that they were not part of our story. God had clearly led us down this path, and we knew that my body - if I continued making healthy choices - would be able to conceive naturally. At this point, the question was not if, but when.
In the Spring of 2013, Marilee introduced Will and me to Dr. Dittmann, a brilliant man who has spent his career helping couples reverse the trends that our existing diet and lifestyle have lead to: an exponential rise in autism, ADD, birth defects and infertility. He’s developed The Brighton Method (and written Brighton Baby: A Revolutionary Organic Approach to Having an Extraordinary Child), designed to coach couples on how to conceive, birth and raise children naturally. Notice I say “couples”! Dr. Dittmann believes it is just as important for the father to commit to a healthy diet and lifestyle during the perinatal period as it is for the mother. Residing in California, he works with most couples remotely based on a detailed health history and subsequent hair analysis (versus blood work which he believes does not tell as much history as the hair). After sending clippings off to a lab, Dr. Dittman would analyze its results, focusing on fertility-specific trace minerals and ratios and then recommend supplements accordingly. Considering my history (i.e., soy formula as a baby, regular home pesticide treatments, eating a standard American diet, taking Accutane, having multiple vaccinations for a trip to Africa and exposure to toxic building materials), Dr. Dittman said it could be up to a year before my menstrual cycle would return. Needless to say, Will and I were ecstatic when just six months later, I woke up one morning and had my period! (see pic below :) I’ll never forget the sense of overwhelming joy and gratefulness that God had called me to persist down this path. It was the second natural cycle of my life, fifteen years after the first, and the next one came just five weeks later! And best of all, there was never any sign of PMS, (a syndrome women have come to accept as normal but is, in truth, a sign of imbalanced hormones). While we weren’t ready to conceive, we were so glad that we now had the option.
But why stop there? We learned that our choices in the perinatal period would directly affect the fetal brain development and overall health of our future children. In fact, it’s the most powerful time to impact human development. Will and I decided we didn’t just want a baby, complete with ten fingers and toes. We wanted a thriving healthy baby. We continued to work with Dr. Dittman in order to completely normalize my cycle and further strengthen our health, knowing it was all done in the name of our future children. We so admire this man, his work and the role he played in our story. You can read more about Dr. Dittman here.
Back to Basics: Practical Steps You Can Take Now
I encourage other women to take steps to prepare their bodies for childbirth even before they’re ready to start a family. Doing so has saved us years of heartache that would likely have happened had we waited to address fertility issues once we were ready to conceive. Unfortunately, that’s usually not an option. if you’re reading this and you or someone you know struggles with infertility, please don’t focus on the past, what you should have or could have done differently. Don’t feel it is too late or that the damage is done or that your situation is insurmountable. It’s not. No matter where you are on your journey, you can make changes now and it will make a difference. While this is very high level, I can’t help but share some changes that you can start today:
- Dietary: Make sure your drinking and cooking water is filtered. Staying hydrated with good water is the foundation of good health. Cut out refined sugar (white, brown, cane and artificial sugar) and stay away from unhealthy oils (including canola) and margarine. Good sweeteners include fruit (dates!), honey, maple syrup and pure stevia (and healthy oils are olive, sesame, avocado, coconut, grapeseed. Saying no to these things isn’t easy, but they rob your body of crucial vitamins and trace minerals your body needs to heal…and grow new life. Make sure your beef, chicken, and dairy are organic and/or grass-fed as the hormones in conventional meat can have a huge negative impact on your body’s own hormones. Eating organic when possible makes a world of difference, as pesticides are directly linked to fertility issues. Which is the perfect segue to…
- Environmental: Ditch pesticides! I can’t emphasize enough the depth of their destruction on the human body, and there is absolutely no place for them inside the home (even sealed and unused). And what’s sprayed outside ends up inside. Marketed as natural and non-toxic, permethrins are a popular alternative today but are not safe. Instead, choose diatomaceous earth and/or cedar oil-based products. Next, clean out your cabinets! Cleaning and body care products with synthetic fragrances (containing the word “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredient list) act as hormone disruptors. Instead, choose pure soap for cleaning your home and body (and patiently wait for our new cleaning formula to be released soon! :) Last and far from least is electromagnetic fields. We have yet to understand the ramifications that our constant use of Wi-Fi has on the body, but studies are mounting that link our chronic exposure to low-level EMFs (ie, cell phones) to cancers, impaired immunity, Alzheimer’s, dementia and heart disease. Not to mention the unknown effects on fetal brain development. I could go on. :) But a low-hanging fruit is to limit your cell phone use as much as possible, turn your phone on “airplane mode” at night and shut off your home’s Wi-Fi while you sleep.
In short, get back to basics. Our world is more toxic than ever and we are seeing the results in the form of astronomical rise in childhood sickness and disease. When my grandfather asked me one day why I was so into organic food, I said simply, “Dandy, I’m just trying to eat like you did growing up.” And it’s true. We have to make more of an effort these days than ever to reduce our exposure to toxic pesticides and chemicals in our air and diet.
Our Choices Matter
No matter where you are in your journey - babies far from the brain to having had multiple miscarriages and/or already pregnant - I recommend finding a practitioner you trust who understands the crucial connection between our dietary/environmental choices and fertility/pregnancy. While I am so thankful for the medical community, there is simply a lack of knowledge on prevention and the power of food and lifestyle when it comes to healing. I have also found that focusing on symptoms and test results can leave one fearful and stressed, both of which play a negative role in healing. There are many roads to choose from when it comes to addressing health concerns, and I hope that my story has opened your eyes to one that - while requiring patience and sacrifice - truly allows the body to heal itself. I pray you will be able to make simple changes that will reap huge benefits for you and your family. And perhaps your future babies. 🙂
I will be posting my home waterbirth story in the next few days, including conception, pregnancy and postpartum. Throughout my pregnancy, I was so inspired by women’s birth stories and hope that I can now do the same for others! I had an incredible pregnancy and birth experience and have no doubt that the lifestyle choices I made leading up to conception played the biggest role. I know there are many things that can happen surrounding birth that is beyond our control, so I do not take my story for granted. But considering my journey, I do believe we have a greater influence on health-related outcomes than we sometimes realize.
Sharing my story is worth it if even one person can relate to, is encouraged by or will benefit from my experience. You can only take action if you are aware and, as Marilee has said time and again, “I do what I do to prevent people from one day saying, ‘Why didn’t someone tell me this?’”.
is a co-founder of Branch Basics and lives in Texas. After coming down with mysterious chronic pain during college that lead her to see the country's best doctors, she finally experienced true healing after moving to the Hill Country to live with her aunt, Marilee Nelson. There, she lived in an environment free of all toxic chemicals and ate only real, whole foods, and her symptoms completely disappeared. This clean lifestyle also reversed one of the worst cases of PCOS her OB/GYN had ever seen, allowing her to naturally and easily conceive two healthy babies. Allison's healing journey inspired her to co-found Branch Basics, as she is beyond passionate about helping others experience "the power of pure". Allison loves researching all things holistic parenting, cooking healthy meals, finding clean brands to use and recommend, and helping others navigate their health journeys. She and her husband, Will, and their daughter, Sloane, are excited to welcome Baby Girl #2 in the Fall!