How I got pregnant

… besides the obvious.

My husband and I tried for almost 3 years to get pregnant, and I’ve been off of hormonal birth control for 5 years. After trying for a year or so, I saw an infertility specialist who diagnosed me with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This helped to explain some of my strange symptoms:

  • Infrequent and random periods
  • Ovarian pain
  • Small ovarian cysts that showed up on kidney scans over the years
  • High cholesterol despite an almost cholesterol-free vegan diet
  • Imbalanced and constantly fluctuating hormone levels

I started going in for regular blood work which showed that my hormone levels — specifically estrogen and testosterone — were fluctuating randomly from somewhat-abnormal to extremely-abnormal levels. My doctor recommended lots of medications and was very skeptical about natural treatment. He told me that natural conception was very unlikely (<1%) and instead gave me prescriptions for metformin, clomid, etc.

I decided to try other things first, and after lots of dietary experiments and patience I was able to get pregnant without the assistance of drugs. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a lot of help, however. I’ve outlined what I consider to be some of the most beneficial treatments below.

Supplements

I’ve always been a bad vegan. I eat only plant-based foods, but I didn’t pay attention to what I was eating and I never took a vitamin. When I got serious about fertility, I started taking a prenatal, vitex (an herb that helps regulate hormones), cinnamon capsules (to help regulate blood sugar — something PCOS affects) and a B-complex (read a great blog about infertility and B-12 here). I also ate lots of maca powder (helps with ovulation) in my smoothies.

I don’t know if these supplements helped or not. But it was a daily way for me to feel proactive about my infertility. My bloodwork showed positive changes to the supplements, with great B-12 levels and lowered testosterone!

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Juice Fasting/Raw Vegan Diet

In November of 2012 I started my first 30-day juice fast. The next spring I did another. After both of these, I transitioned to a raw vegan diet. While this diet may seem restrictive, I actually found it exciting as it tested my creativity in the kitchen. I also felt AMAZING. The first few days of the juice fast were tough, but after that I actually found myself dreading the end. I liked the simplicity of juicing and I loved the way it made my body feel. I had so much energy and my hair and skin looked great.

Obviously juicing isn’t sustainable forever, so after each fast I transitioned to a raw vegan diet. Doug Graham’s book, “The 80/10/10 Diet” explains the idea quite well and I recommend it to vegan and non-vegans alike. I was eating large amount of fruit and vegetables, with healthy fats and proteins (avocados and nuts). Again, this made me feel energized and healthy — although keeping this much produce around can be a lot of work.

Even now, I still eat “raw” until about 4pm, aiming for mostly raw fruits, veggies, and nuts throughout the day and one healthy cooked meal at night. This has been a very realistic way to continue to reap the benefits of juicing/raw diet while also allowing me to enjoy eating out with my family or having some of the cooked foods my acupuncturist recommended.

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Acupuncture/Naturopath

In the summer of 2013 I began seeing an acupuncturist and naturopath. She was supportive of my raw vegan diet but also recommended, after her evaluations, that I incorporate some cooked foods into my diet. I was hesitant but agreed to try it.

I think her recommendations helped. I started very small and still ate 80-90% raw food. And everything was still vegan of course. I added in baked sweet potatoes (sprinkled with pepitas and nutritional yeast), roasted butternut squash (with cracked black pepper), and steamed kale. Between these additions and her acupuncture treatments something must’ve been working. I found out I was pregnant immediately before my last session with her!

“Quitting” Medication

I wrote about this back in June. I stopped taking my prescription for adderall — despite the fact that my infertility and general practitioner both told me I could stay on adderall during pregnancy and breastfeeding  because I was on such a low dosage. Um… no. While there technically haven’t been any studies to show that stimulants are harmful in humans, animal studies haven’t had good results. That isn’t a risk I’m willing to take and I’m a little disappointed in myself that I listened to my doctor for so long. Not to mention a little disappointed with my doctors for suggesting such a silly thing.

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I’m due on May 6th and I’ve had a pleasant, easy pregnancy. (Early on there was some placenta previa, but that cleared up). I’m continuing to eat raw for most of the day and limiting the amount of grains that I eat around dinner time. We are so excited to welcome our little bundle of joy soon!

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Avocado Pudding

My husband and I are gearing up for a 5-day juice fast before our much-needed Hawaii vacation. I’m excited about having a little detox at the end of four weeks free from medication! Anxious, but excited.

Sadly, I have about 20-25 avocados ripe or almost ripe. Oops. Talk about poor planning. I’ll be gifting lots to friends in the coming days, but I also wanted to enjoy a few on my last day of solid food for almost a week. Today I’m making raw avocado sushi, raw mango-avocado salsa, and of course (my favorite): avocado pudding.

There are so many recipes on the internet for this “dessert” (I had it for breakfast), so rather than giving you a recipe I’m going to give you a very flexible guideline and some tips.

Avocado Pudding

You’ll need one item from each of the following categories:

  • Avocado – No substitutes, here. Better if they are softer, but not over-ripe. Although this is a good way to hide the texture of overly-stringy avocados since everything gets blended together. I used two small avocados to make enough for myself, two medium or large avocados if I’m sharing.
  • Sweetener - This is to taste, anywhere between 1 tsp and 2 tbsp depending on how sweet you like things and what type of sweetener you’re using. Try agave, brown rice syrup, stevia, very ripe banana, or dates. I used dates, but they were extremely soft fresh dates. If they aren’t gooey smooshy dates, soak them in warm water first to soften them. And if you’re using dates, blend them together into a paste first so there aren’t any lumps in your pudding.
  • Chocolate  – The best part. You can use raw cacao powder, carob powder, or plain ‘ole cocoa powder. I used raw cacao powder, about 1 tbsp per medium sized avocado.
  • Optional - Exactly what it sounds like, these things are good on occasion but not necessary. For a smoother texture, add between 1 tsp and 1 tbsp of melted coconut oil. For an extra boost of energy add a tbsp of maca powder (raw cacao already gets me going like a cup of coffee). A mint leaf gives it a nice fresh, clean flavor, and fresh fruit or  nuts are great toppings. If your avocados are particularly hard or you add extra superfood powders (like maca), you may need to add a little liquid to your pudding. In that case, you can use water, nut milk, or coconut water depending on which flavor you prefer and what you have on hand.
  • Way to blend - You can use a food processor, vitamix, handheld blender, or just mash with a fork. If you’re using your vitamix or food processor (like I do) just be aware that you will “lose” quite a bit in the blending because it gets stuck to all of the nooks and crannies of the mixer. Not an issue for me, I just sit down with a spatula and lick it clean. With a vitamix or food processor you’ll also have to scrape down the sides of the container quite often, especially if you’re making a small batch in a large container.

Today I used:

  • 2 medium avocados
  • 3 very gooey dates plus 1 tsp agave
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

Blend well and eat ravenously.

I’ve frozen avocados blended with lemon juice before with great results, so I’m curious if this recipe would freeze well. I like this recipe because it isn’t really a recipe; it’s a template that adaptable depending on what you have available in your kitchen and what flavors you prefer.

Bargain Shopping

I heard from a fellow vegan that the new Earth Balance cheese puffs were being sold at the 99 cent store. When I moved to California from Alabama I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 99 cent store wasn’t like the Dollar Tree we had back home. Rather than carrying the same products consistently, the 99 cent store frequently has new items on a limited-basis.

I don’t shop there often, but I figured if they had something as rare as vegan cheese puffs, I should make a special trip. Alas — no cheese puffs. While I was there I noticed several potentially useful vegan/raw-friendly products, which I’ll review below.

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Coconut Milk:

At first glance, this coconut milk looks like a great deal! Only $1 for a can of coconut milk, one of my favorite bases for curry. But a closer look at the label shows a bunch of icky ingredients. Carboxyl methyl cellulose? Sulphur dioxide? No thanks.

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Organic Canned Beans:

I’m not a huge fan of canned beans, but they sure are convenient. The brand that the 99 cent store carries is organic and simple; the ingredients are just beans, salt, and water. Yes, it’s cheaper to cook dried beans… but having a few cans in the pantry sure is great for those evenings where I’m rushed for dinner.

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Silken Tofu:

I’m not eating tofu while trying to conceive, partially because I’m suspicious I have a slight soy allergy and partially because I’m worried about the effects of the phytoestrogens in soy on my PCOS. But I still use tofu on occasion when cooking for my family or others. Back in Alabama I had a great connection at an Asian food store where I could purchase these little shelf-stable boxes in bulk for around $0.75 per box. Out in California, though, this is the cheapest I’ve seen them. It’s the same brand I’m used to (Mori-Nu) and available in a few different varieties (firm, soft, “lite”)

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Whole Flax Seeds:

Not organic, but if it’s what you can afford this is a GREAT deal. In college flax seeds were one of the “special” items I could only buy occasionally because I could only find them at Whole Foods. Now they are everywhere, even the 99 cent store.

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Corn Flour & Corn Grits

Not only are these gluten free, but they are even labeled GMO-free (a must for me when buying corn products). As a southern girl, there’s nothing better than finding GMO-free grits!

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Non-Dairy Chocolate “Milk” 

At first this looked promising. Cute character on the front. Chocolate. Non-dairy. But a quick look at the ingredients shows a few red flags. High-fructose corn syrup is the second ingredient and a little further down we see that the product isn’t even vegan — it contains a “milk derivative” (why??)

The moral here is simple: always read the labels. Sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised that an item doesn’t contain any animal ingredients. Sometimes you’ll realize the product is vegan, but still pretty unhealthy. Sometimes things aren’t what they appear at all, and the product isn’t even vegan.

You have to decide what’s “OK” for you and your family. Are you eating all vegan? organic? GMO-free? raw? Once you’ve narrowed down what it is your comfortable eating, get into the habit of reading the ingredients on everything. Even things you think you already know. It sounds like a  lot of work, but it quickly becomes habit and second nature. Pretty soon you’ll step back realize that, sadly, most people don’t actually know what it is they are eating.

Coming off Medications

My juice fast ended on day 33. I felt refreshed, energetic, and busy. It was near the end of the school year and I was so overwhelmed with things to do. No matter how hard I worked, I never seemed to catch up. Generally, juicing saves me time in the kitchen since I’m not fussing around with recipes. But despite over a month of juicing, plus feeling energized, I still couldn’t seem to catch up at work or home. During this juice fast I gave up coffee, tea, and all refined sugars. There was one thing I didn’t give up during either juice fast, however: prescription and over-the-counter medications.

I’ve known for a long time what I needed to do, but I’ve resisted. I’ve made excuses and come up with all sorts of justifications for staying on my adderall prescription. “Just get through the school year,” I’d think. “Some people just need to take medication to function. Maybe I’m one of those people.” Or, my favorite, “It’s making me productive so I NEED to say on it”. What a dangerous thought, to need a medication to be productive. For someone like me, who thrives on productivity, thoughts like these are enlightening. Should I really be taking something just because I feel that I need to be productive, outgoing, or accomplished? Is it “OK” to schedule my entire life around when I’m taking my adderall? Not to mention the cascade of other medications that goes along with it: tylenol for the headaches, acne treatments for the bad skin, tums for nausea, etc.

I don’t doubt that I genuinely have combination ADD/ADHD. I just doubt that medication — particularly a stimulant — is the best way for me to be treated. Combined with my polycystic ovarian syndrome, I’m afraid its affecting my fertility. We’ve been trying to conceive for two years, and despite the fact that my doctors isn’t worried about my low-dosage of adderall, I am. In fact, my doctor told me I could continue taking it while pregnant and nursing. Um… no thanks.

So I “quit”. Just after I started eating again post-juice-fast, I stopped taking my adderall prescription. The first week was awful. I slept 10 hours a night, and needed a nap every day after work. I was falling asleep constantly. I was depressed, lethargic, and overwhelmed. My husband was so supportive and took over most of the household chores so that I could rest and detox. One day I even had to take a nap at work. The weekend finally came, and I slept over 12 hours in one night. I was tired and sleeping felt amazing. My attention span was non-existant, and activities that I found enjoyable before — chores, organizing, cleaning — suddenly seemed dreadful. I was desperate for the feeling of excitement and intense focus that adderall had given me. I resisted the temptation to restart my coffee or tea addiction (although I am drinking tea for health purposes now), and simply pushed through.

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Top: Sleep on medications. Bottom: Sleep completely free of medications.

Week two was better. I stopped needing a nap, although I was still needing to sleep 9 hours at night. My energy level increased, and continues now into week 3. The biggest change is mental. I’m having to readjust my own expectations for myself. I can’t do everything — no matter how much time there is in a day, I simply can’t accomplish everything. I have to set small goals for myself instead.

Now that I’ve talked about the withdrawals, lets list some of the positive changes I’ve felt since quitting medications:

  • Sense of humor has returned! Without being hyper-focused, I’m able to laugh a lot more often and a lot easier.
  • Personal relationships improved, due to increased sense of humor and my new ability to “relax” — something my medication always prevented me from doing.
  • Clearer skin.
  • Daily afternoon headache, gone.
  • Increased appetite
  • Improved sleep quality. I use the app Sleep Cycle to track my sleep patterns. On adderall, my sleep quality was averaging 50-60%. Now it’s 90% and higher.

I can’t believe I was juice fasting and not giving up my medicines. It’s a testament to how truly addicted I was. I’m excited to see what the future holds now that I’m truly living chemical free.

Day 10 and why you should rest during fasting

I have to say, day 10 came a lot faster than the last time around. Maybe it was because I knew what to expect, or maybe it was because I have been insanely busy. Either way, I’m happy to that I am feeling better every day!

The past 4-5 days have been very stressful both personally and professionally. At my school we are administering standardized tests, plus I have a professional portfolio due this week. At home, my family is in the process of moving while also trying to purchase a home — not to mention dealing with a stolen car, stolen identity, police reports, insurance claims, etc. The week really has been chaotic. 

One of the best pieces of advice I can give someone about to embark on a juice fast is do it during a time that you can REST!  This is so incredibly important. Earlier this week I pushed myself too far (running around, staying up late) and I really felt it. The next day my mind was foggy, I was exhausted, and just tired. Since then I have made it a priority to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and I’ve felt so much better! 

I’m the type of person who can survive on just 4-5 hours of sleep every night, with minimal impact to my mind/body the next day. While juice fasting, however, that just isn’t possible. Not even for me! Get some rest, take it easy, don’t forget to drink lots of water, and give your body time to heal. That is what this is all about, remember!

On a different note, here are some of my go-to juice recipes. Quantities vary, of course… depending on how juicy your fruit is. 

 

Beet it:

1 beet

1-2 lemons

1 green apple

 

Minty Apple:

1 apple

3-4 sprigs of mint

1 med. cucumber

3-4 handfuls of greens (romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, etc.)

 

Green Energizer:

1 apple

broccoli (about a cup)

1 large bunch of parsley

2-3 sprigs of mint

2-3 stalks of celery

3-4 handfuls of greens (romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, etc.)

 

Spiced Orange:

2-3 oranges

5+ carrots

small sweet potato

1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled

 

All Veg:

2-3 stalks celery

1 med cucumber

1 small clove of garlic, peeled

1/4 of a small red onion

1 med tomato

broccoli (about a cup)

3-4 handfuls of greens (romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, etc.)

 

Spicy Lemonade:

2 lemons

2 pears

2 tsp cayenne pepper

 

Tropical Green:

Pineapple (even the core can be juiced!)

3-4 handfuls of spinach

1/2 mango

Saving glass jars

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Removing wax from old candle jars is surprisingly easy (thanks Pinterest!). Over low heat, warm an inch or so of water in a shallow pan. Place the candle in the middle, weighing it down with a saucepan lid or a cast iron skillet if necessary (depends on the shape of the jar and how much wax there is left). Keep an eye on the water, making sure it doesn’t evaporate before all of the wax melts.

Once all of the wax is melted, quickly (!) pour the wax out. Be careful! I use an oven mitt and a pair of tongs. Wipe out any remaining wax with a paper towel, reheating the jar in the water if necessary. A good scrubbing with soap and a stiff-bristled brush can help to remove any residue.

That’s it! So simple. I also like to reuse pasta sauce jars, pickle jars, etc. Unfortunately these jars tend to trap odors, so for years I’ve assumed they’re useless and sent them to be recycled. No more! Just add a tablespoon or two of baking soda to the clean jar, followed by a splash of vinegar. After the fizzing stops, add enough water to fill the jar to the brim. Shake vigorously and leave overnight. I leave mine sitting by the kitchen sink, so that I can give them a shake occasionally. If the smell isn’t gone overnight, just repeat with more baking soda — or, toss the lid. Often, that’s where the pickle-y odor is lingering.

I’m trying to phase out all plastic storage containers, zip lock bags, and tupperware. Saving glass jars is a great way to slowly (and cheaply!) transition away from plastics.

The First 3 Days

During my last 30-day juice fast, I was constantly asked, “But aren’t you hungry?”

Nope. Well, that isn’t entirely true. I wasn’t hungry for 27 out of the 30 days. For me, the first three days are the toughest.

The last three days have consisted a slight headache, forgetfulness, and an inability to focus on more than one task at a time. Fortunately (for everyone else), I haven’t been grumpy or emotional, but I have felt like I’m walking around in a fog. That being said, I haven’t felt unhappy, just not my normal do-twenty-things-at-once-self.

Before my last 30-day fast, I was eating a vegan diet that included processed foods, coffee, tea, sugar, and soy. Before this fast, however, I was eating mostly raw foods (although I did have some white bread recently — UGH! It made me incredibly sick). The headaches were definitely more intense the first time around.

I’ve had moments of being hungry, but they’ve passed surprisingly quickly. Staying busy is key! That’s why the first three days are the most difficult — when you’re feeling distracted and tired, it’s hard to stay busy. Hang in there! It’s almost like clockwork: I wake up on day four feeling refreshed, focused, and energized.

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Juicing (revisited)

Since completing a 30-day juice fast in the fall, I’ve received so many text messages and emails from friends who have questions or want recipes. I’ve been trying to sit down and type up a play-by-play account of my juicing experience, but it just hasn’t happened. There isn’t the time, and the longer I procrastinate the less I remember of the little details anyway.

Here’s my compromise. I’m going to do another long-term juice fast.

The first time around, I was figuring out how my juicer worked, testing recipes, and experimenting with ways to transport/store my juice. By the end of the fast, I had all of these little nuisances figured out. My thinking is that this second juice fast should be even more successful the the first — this time I’ll actually know what I’m doing!

More importantly, I’m going to post frequently on my blog to help keep an accurate account of how the fast goes. My last juice fast turned out to be as spiritual as it was physical, so I’m excited to have a log to look back on this time (Something about not eating really makes you “find yourself”… Seriously!). Plus, I’ll share recipes and suggestions.

Today was day 1.

I woke up early to make my juice this morning, and started the day by chugging water. I do this because I have a bad habit of eating when I first wake up and then feeling like I’ve “ruined” the whole day. I took four pint juices and a coconut water to work with me, but I only drank two juices and the coconut water. I’ll have the other two for dinner later, plus loads more water.

One of the juices I made today is my favorite beet recipe:

Beet Lemonade:
1 medium beet, peeled
2 medium lemons, peeled
3 large apples, cored

Yum! The lemon hides the taste if the beets. I love roasted beets but raw juiced beets taste like dirt to me. This lemonade, however, is delicious!

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The Twelve Cookies of Christmas.

Rather than buying small gifts for friends and family this year, we decided to give everyone a take-out box of cookies. Each box held twelve different vegan cookies (each recipe is either a new recipe I created or an old recipe I am still working to perfect.) While there’s still a ways to go, I am very excited about how some of these recipes are coming along.

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If you received cookies, please click here to take an anonymous survey. You can complete as little or as much of they survey as you’d like. Your opinions are an important part of narrowing down which recipes deserve the TLC required before we begin mass production.

Each box contained:

1. Snickerdoodle
Light and fluffy cookie covered in spiced sugar.
2. Holiday Oatmeal Cookie
Oatmeal cookie with chewy dried cranberries and toasted walnuts.
3. Holiday Chocolate Chip Cookie
Chocolate chip oatmeal cookie topped with fresh grated nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon zest.
4. Gingerbread Man
Traditional gingerbread cookie with molasses and fresh ginger.
5. Maple Walnut Cookie
Maple syrup cookies with toasted walnut and lemon-maple glaze.
6. Triple Chocolate Cookie
Chocolate cookie with semi-sweet chocolate chips, drizzled with chocolate glaze.
7. Stained Glass Cookie
Almond-flavored sugar cookie with hard candy center.
8. Sugar Cookie
Traditional sugar cookie with confectioner’s glaze.
9. Coconut Pecan Cookie
Coconut, oatmeal, and toasted pecan cookie dipped in chocolate glaze.
10. Banana Ginger Snowball
Toasted cashews and almonds, banana, and crystalized ginger cookies dipped in a coconut sugar glaze and rolled in toasted coconut.
11. Almond Banana Crunch Cookie
Banana, peanut, almond cookie rolled in toasted peanuts with an almond on top.
12. Pina Colada Cookie
Rum, pineapple, and mango cookie, rolled in sugar and crushed toasted coconut.

Sustainable Living Goals (In & Out of the Kitchen)

Goals for 2012:

  • All dry food (beans, rice, etc) purchased in bulk to eliminate unnecessary packaging. 
  • At least 90% of laundry washed and dried at home with homemade detergent.
  • Use remaining plastic zip top bags and transition to reusable baggies and/or food storage containers. 
  • Transition remaining toiletry products (hair gel, make up, mouth wash) to natural, vegan, and cruelty free alternatives. 
  • Completely eliminate plastic shopping bags — no exceptions!
  • Start simple recycling system at home (plastic, glass, paper, aluminum)
  • Call companies and unsubscribe from all junk mail. 
Goals for 2013:
  • Establish “apartment style” composting system.
  • Contact HOA about solar alternatives for electricity. 
  • New car must be electric or electric hybrid. 
  • Either participate in a community garden or find a way to grow herbs/small veggies in window boxes. 
  • Switch to toilet paper made of recycled paper and phase out paper towels completely.
  • Purchase soymilk and tofu maker to make these items at home.