by Sarah Clark, who shares her motherhood journey with donor eggs and how discovering the roots of her infertility set her on a health journey.
My early 20s and signs of infertility
In my early 20s, I often joked about having menopausal hot flashes. At that time my period only came 1-2 times a year. I also had recurrent yeast infections and a fungal rash on my chest, and I developed adult acne. I went to my doctor and started taking hormonal birth control, mostly as an easy option for getting rid of the acne.
Fast forward, I got married at 25 and wanted to get pregnant at 28. After discontinuing the birth control pill, my periods were still very irregular and my acne remained. I went to my OB/GYN and found out that my body had been trying to tell me something with the hot flashes. The news that I had premature ovarian failure–loss of function of my ovaries before the age of 40–completely shocked me. My doctor told me that the only way I would have children was to use donor eggs. She handed me the brochure for the IVF clinic and off I went. I did not take any time to grieve. I did not get a second opinion, and most of all, I didn’t link any of my health issues to my infertility.
Selecting an egg donor
I went to the fertility clinic and got on a list for a donor egg. This is almost 18 years ago, so I received the donor profile by mail with a health history for the donor, donor’s parents and maternal and paternal grandparents. We also received the donor’s educational level, physical characteristics and personality qualities (such as loves music, likes dogs, or extraverted). For me, height was a big requirement as I’m 6 feet tall, so I wanted a relatively tall donor. We did not receive a picture of the donor, which I know is different from today.
We selected a donor and were lucky enough on our first fresh transfer to have our daughter, with 2 remaining embryos. I wanted our children close together, so after my daughter turned 1, we went back to the clinic. Unfortunately these transfers were not successful. We went back on another list for a separate donor and had our son on the first fresh transfer.
Commonly asked questions
Many people ask if I was able to bond with my child, since they are not genetically “mine.” For me this was absolutely not an issue. The children grew in my womb for 9 months, they have my DNA, and I never once thought they weren’t my children. It’s funny how many people tell me my daughter looks like me (I personally don’t see it). I think children take on our mannerisms.
Another common question was if we would we tell our children that they were from a donor egg. For me it was very important to be open with my children about their conception. One of my children wanted to see the health history from the fertility clinic, and my other child was not interested. From age 4 or 5, I read them books about human conception and told them, “Mommy had to borrow eggs from another woman, because hers didn’t work anymore.” Now more support exists, but it is a very personal decision and each family has to do what feels right for them.
Discovering the roots of my infertility
After I had my daughter, my health began to suffer. In one year, I had nine colds. Each cold went to a sinus infection, for which I took nine rounds of antibiotics, essentially destroying all the beneficial bacteria in my gut. I also experienced chronic bladder infections to the point of urinating blood), toenail infections, vertigo, headaches, and chronic yeast infections. I became allergic to the majority of the antibiotics that could help my chronic infections.
After many years of struggling, I discovered functional medicine. I found out that I had food sensitivities to dairy, gluten and corn. After I removed these foods from my diet, my health began to improve. A few years after that I discovered I had a gut infections and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (causing me to eliminate cross reactors such as corn, oats and more).
I did not discover functional medicine until I was fully in menopause. I am very fortunate to have both my children, however I didn’t work on my preconception health and my postpartum period was quite rough! Taking a minimum of six months to one year to prepare the body for a baby establishes a solid foundation for a healthy postpartum period and healthy children. If you’re struggling with infertility, but still have a normal cycle with periods, there are steps you can take using the tools of functional medicine. Here’s what I wish I would have known when I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure/Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POF/POI).
Pay attention to food sensitivities
My recommendation is to start with an elimination diet, like the Whole30. It is the gold standard to figure out how food impacts your body. Dig in further with food sensitivity testing. I like the Leap MRT. Take it even further by doing an AIP (autoimmune protocol diet). I found out later that POF/POI could be an autoimmune issue. Do this with your partner, too, especially if you find you are very sensitive to gluten. Making the whole house gluten free is imperative, as it can take weeks or months to recover from an exposure to gluten.
Get further gut testing
For some, eliminating problematic foods is the key to conceiving. If you need more information and intervention, look into further gut testing, especially if you have been on long-term hormonal birth control. One example is the GI MAP test, which looks at the DNA of your stool and checks for parasites, bacterial and fungal infections. When there is an infection, the body wants to survive, not procreate! Gut health is key for improving estrogen, thyroid functional, cortisol levels and mineral absorption. Taking targeted supplements for a specified period of time, instead of guessing can give faster results.
Examine other lifestyle factors
It’s not just about the food! Many of us took 12-18 months to plan for our wedding. Why do we expect to get pregnant after the first month of trying? Once you optimize your diet, it important to dig into lifestyle factors. These include taking time for self care, learning to set boundaries, limiting toxic people, getting honest about our mental/emotional health and asking for support. The journey to conceive can be very lonely and emotionally draining. Taking time to mother ourselves, beforehand can lead to a healthy pregnancy and postpartum period.
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Listen to your body
We’re all different. Your body will whisper to you. When you ignore the signals, it will start shouting at you in the form of disease. Watch out for symptoms such as digestive issues (gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea), joint issues (stiffness, arthritis), mood issues (irritability, anxiety, depression, ADHD), skin issues (acne, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis) and autoimmunity (Hashimoto’s, Celiac, Type I diabetes). These are all clues to dig deeper. Some of these symptoms are common, but shouldn’t be considered “normal.”
When Sarah Clark was 28 years old, she received a diagnosis of premature ovarian failure. She accepted the diagnosis and had both her children through in vitro fertilization. Years later she realized the root cause of her infertility was a food sensitivity and later a gut infection. She is a certified life coach with accreditation from the International Coaches Federation and a health coach with training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
She is the author of Fabulously Fertile – Supercharge your Fertility Naturally. Her fertility coaching program, Fab Fertile, includes functional lab testing and supports couples to make diet and lifestyle changes that dramatically improve the chances of a healthy pregnancy and baby. On her Get Pregnant Naturally Podcast she shares how with functional medicine and natural fertility solutions we can eventually reverse infertility. Check it out on iTunes and Spotify. You can also reach out to Sarah via email.