There's More to the Story...

Today's post dives into reproductive health! This is something I recently began looking into because of a conversation my guest and I had a couple weeks back. Since then, my interest has been piqued so I decided to do some more research and bring her in for an interview.

So, I'm going to start this post off with a few disclaimers. First, the information provided in this post are based off of the individual's and I's own research, and we have both fact checked the things we have said. Second, me and the guest I brought in are in two different phases in life. She is married and TTC (trying to conceive) and I am still trying to prevent pregnancy. Either way, this post covers both phases of life and I invite you to look into this topic yourself after you've read this. Thirdly, both Sarah and I are NOT medical professionals so don't take this post as law and don't view this as medical advice. This is a conversation between two friends that are discussing something they researched on. Every body is different, so I highly recommend looking into this yourself as well if you want to learn more after reading this post. Lastly, this will be in Q & A format. All that being said, I would like to welcome my friend Sarah Peyton Edwards Coleman!

1. What triggered the research into reproductive health for you?

- Growing up, I was always fascinated by birth. I can remember watching the TLC series A Baby Story with my mother. I loved that show and was devastated when it was taken off the air. I would often research information on sex, fertility, and birth because I was navigating the messy world of puberty, and the sex education I received in biology class left a great deal to be desired. Let’s just say that “The Miracle of Life” is a garbage way to inform young women (and men) on the process of conception, pregnancy, birth, and how to properly abstain if they choose to do so. I also just possessed a general interest for it. I looked into different career fields for it, but never quite found something that spoke to me.

In adulthood, I maintained my interest, but did not pursue it much outside of just predicting when my monthly period would arrive. When I married my husband Taylor in April of 2019, I knew I needed to educate myself more on family planning and birth control options. I set up my yearly gynecology appointment for all the routine tests, but also so we could discuss birth control methods. I invited Taylor to come with me so he could hear firsthand what our options were. While I wasn’t completely closed off to the idea of synthetic birth control methods, I was 99% set on going the natural route for family planning but did not know much about tracking cycles. That appointment was one of the most humiliating moments in my life as a woman. I had been with this particular doctor since high school and trusted him to help me find the right path for us. Unfortunately, when I asked him about natural planning, he basically dismissed me. Told me that I was more likely to get pregnant if I went that direction, and that they didn’t have much information to give me on the matter, but they possibly had some pamphlets in the lobby that I could pick up on my way out. For other options, he told me that if I decided to go with a contraceptive then we could discuss it more then. The problem with that is that I was asking for information on contraceptives so that I could make an informed decision on whether or not I even wanted to go that route. I felt hopeless, and even less knowledgeable and confident than when I walked in. The one person who was supposed to help me with this major life decision abandoned me when I needed it most. I was embarrassed and scared but walked out of there more determined than ever to educate myself on the matter not only so I could make the best decision for me and my family, but also so I would never put myself in that situation again.

I know that I need to find a new doctor, but I am so scarred by that interaction that I am having a hard time trusting a standard healthcare provider with my body again. I will likely find a fertility homeopath to handle my case. Naturopaths, doulas, and midwives are also the route I intend to go to for my feminine care.

2. Besides the brief gloss-over of the reproductive system that we get in sex-ed class in middle school, have you found that women aren’t educated nearly enough on just how important our reproductive system is to our overall health?

- I firmly believe that women, and men, are given a very poor, watered down version of reproductive anatomy and its processes. For my middle school and high school, we didn’t even have a designated sex education class, we had a unit in biology that covered maybe a six-week period in one grade of school. Quite frankly, that is pathetic and inadequate. Much of what I know today in regard to fertility and reproduction I do not credit to my primary school years. It is all information that I spent hundreds of hours researching for myself in my adult life. What women are not taught is that understanding your reproductive system does not just clue you in as to whether or not you are pregnant. It can tell you a great deal about your health because every bit of your monthly cycle is linked back to your hormones. If your reproductive system is not functioning properly then there is likely a hormone imbalance, which means that there are likely issues with your endocrine system, thyroid, adrenals, etc.

Understanding your monthly cycle can also be a form of birth control. Women only ovulate once a month (assuming they ovulate at all) within a very short approximately 12-24 hour period. A woman cannot get pregnant at any given moment like many of us have been led to believe. By charting your cycle and getting to know your body intimately, you can predict your period, pinpoint ovulation, and catch health issues as they arise before they grow into severe problems. By knowing when you ovulate, you know when to abstain from penetrative sexual relations with a male. This gets really deep into the process, but you also have a fertile window. In the days leading up to ovulation it is wise to abstain because sperm can survive for up to three days in the fallopian tubes, which means that you can fall pregnant if you have had intercourse in the days leading up to ovulation. That is the main reason healthcare providers do not recommend this method for birth control. It does take dedication to track your cycle, but I believe it is worth it.

Another great thing about charting is you can recognize the impact of stress on your body. Many people say, “it’s not true that stress causes infertility.” No, it doesn’t, not directly at least. What it does do is send signals to your thyroid and adrenals to prioritize stress reducing hormones over reproductive hormones because you do not need to reproduce to survive, but you do need to be healthy to survive. If you are under a great deal of stress then your body will combat that before it will support you in conceiving. So in months when you are overwhelmingly stressed, you are less likely to ovulate causing late or missed periods.

3. I know I personally changed over to 100% cotton feminine products this last year, are there any product switches you’ve made due to things you’ve learned in your research? Any products you’ve started using?

- I personally use Cora 100% cotton tampons. The applicators are even 100% BPA-free. This company also gives back in a huge way. A percentage of their profits are donated to providing impoverished girls in various countries with sex-education and menstrual supplies. In some countries, girls are not allowed to attend school if they are on their period and do not have the proper supplies to control their bleeding. Cora seeks to combat this issue.

Another good company to look into is Sustain. They are women owned and operated. They seek to be 100% transparent about the ingredients in their products because the sexual wellness industry, especially those providing menstrual supplies, is poorly regulated and not required to disclose the ingredients used in their products. The ingredients put into these products are going into your body and will be absorbed by your body. Pay attention to what you are using!

While Cora mainly focuses on period health, Sustain also provides sexual wellness products such as condoms, lubricants, etc.

4. Which resources have you used to learn more about fertility/reproductive health? Do you use a cycle tracker at all?

- I do use a cycle tracker. I have tried many apps from the Apple store. My personal favorite so far has been Premom because they also have their own line of OPK tests, FSH or pregnancy tests, and BBT thermometers that sync seamlessly with it. Choosing your cycle tracker is personal, as is the rest of your fertility journey. Different women connect better with different apps. Others that I like include Glow, Period Tracker by GP Apps, and My Days. Some women choose to keep a physical journal of their cycle. To be frank, I would have to invent my own tracking app to get every feature as extensively detailed as I want it.

As far as resources go, I watch A LOT of credible YouTube creators because it’s easy for me to listen to while I do other tasks. Some YouTubers I like include IngeFleur, Bridget Teyler, and The Aweslims. I find new sources almost daily, but I have also started to research a wider range of topics outside of cycle tracking including infertility, IVF treatments, pregnancy, delivery, postpartum, and more.

5. For those of us who are not yet at the stage of life where we are trying to conceive, are there any practices you would recommend on keeping our reproductive health in a good spot, but also help prevent pregnancy while we’re sexually active?

- CHART YOUR CYCLE. If you want to go for a natural method but are afraid of ditching your birth control, then dedicate yourself to tracking your cycle. Here’s the deal, cycle tracking is not 100% effective, but neither are contraceptive forms of birth control. It does take more work than popping a pill or having a device inserted into your body, but it is healthier for you in the long run.

It is a lot to get into here, but I would be happy to do a dedicated series of posts on tracking your cycle. I am currently using this method to conceive, but I am also someone who has successfully utilized it to avoid pregnancy.

For supporting your health, research the supplements that will best benefit you. Vitamin C, Vitamin D3, and fish oil are good places to start. Immunity boosters are also important. As with any health decision it is wise to consult your healthcare provider (that you trust) before implementing supplements into your routine. If you like essential oils then I cannot recommend Rowe Casa’s line of fertility and hormonal support drops more (Link to their hormone drops here: . Their line of syrups is also excellent for boosting your immune system.

Another good company to look at is Pink Stork (Link: ). They are faith based and women owned. I personally take their immune support supplement and fertility boost supplement. Their line of teas is delicious and beneficial for your cycle as well.

6. Any advice for women who ARE trying to conceive?

- You have heard it time and again but be patient. More importantly, be kind to yourself. It is not a light decision that you are making, and it is one that often takes time. Do not compare your fertility story to those of your family and friends. Everyone’s journey is different and deserves to be celebrated as such. If people offer you dumb advice, IGNORE THEM and move on. Surround yourself with people who are fine with just listening to you. You need a support system, but support isn’t always synonymous with advice. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to. Always include your partner in how you’re feeling and thinking and allow him to do the same. You are each other’s greatest confidants, and will hopefully, ultimately raise a beautiful baby together. Learn to be there for one another now.

Take time to invest in yourself. Who are you? Where does your identity lie? If you become a mother, that isn’t all that you’ll be. So, take this time to take care of yourself and invest in the person you want to be.

Invest in your health, but also invest in your partner’s health. Male fertility health is just as important is female fertility health. There are things he can do to support his reproductive and hormonal systems. They are worth investing in. Healthy parents with healthy sperm and eggs often equal a healthy pregnancy with a healthy baby.

All of this being said, I know it is a lot of information to take in. But, as women it is so important for us to be aware of what's going on within our body. Our reproductive systems are a big part of our health and to Sarah's point, they help clue us in to our overall health. We'll be doing more collaborations on health in general and holistic approaches soon across a few different platforms and mediums so keep an eye out! If you have any questions PLEASE don't hesitate to reach out. I know this was a longer post so thank you for reading, and I'll see you all next Monday!

*The people speaking in this post are not medical professionals and we are in no way giving medical advice.