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fit pregnancy singapore

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Pregspo, Geriatric Wombs and Feeling "Complete": I'm Going to be a Mom!

"Congratulations!” I was sprawled out on a massage bed at a hotel spa in Istanbul, Turkey, when my bodywork therapist exclaimed this praise as she rolled her hands over my calves.

“For what?” I muttered, fatigued from a few days of touring the city on foot.

“You’re having a baby, pregnant, yes?” she asked.

“Nope,” I said.

“Are you sure?” she replied.

“Yep, I’m sure,” I answered, reflecting on all the yummy cheese I’d enjoyed during my European holiday.

“Well… how do you say? Something like, if God wills it,” she commented, wrapping up my massage. Waves of nausea and annoyance rippled through my chest and into my throat.

Not a week went by in Singapore without someone mentioning the “P” word to me, and now, on my vacation, I was confronted once again by my perceived “defectiveness”, my ambivalence, my fickle confusion.

“Yes, if God wills it, “ I replied weakly, eyeing the exit door.

As a 38 year old woman with endometriosis and a thyroid disorder who had been told that a natural pregnancy was probably not in the cards for me, I’d already lived for years with the idea that conceiving was the domain of other women- women with a healthy reproductive system, a big extended and intact family, or a sole mission to have a child. And, while my husband Ryan and I had talked many times about the prospect of adopting or seeing a fertility specialist, I’d reached a point of my life where I’d come to accept that what was meant to be would be. I had seen firsthand the incredible emotional pain some of my friends had gone through on their fertility journeys, as well as the havoc it created in their bodies and while I'm strong, I did not think I would be strong enough for that. With my existing health issues, Ryan and I decided that the turkey baster or IVF were not going to be a part of our future.

A week after we returned home from Istanbul, when I began experiencing relentless cramping and vomiting, I thought little of that awkward conversation with the masseuse, chalking up my body’s rebellion to more reproductive system troubles, the stomach flu, food poisoning… until anonymous infants began appearing in my dreams. Finally, I caved in and bought a pregnancy test- just in case. The next morning, two bright pink lines surfaced in less than the second it took to set that little plastic stick on the bathroom sink.

Frantic, I woke Ryan from his slumber, shrieking, “you’re going to be a Dad, I can’t believe it!” as I paced through the house. At that moment, we became two of the happiest yet most perplexed people in the world- our decision to become parents had been made for us and ever since then, it’s felt like the most “right” path we’ve ever come across in our nearly forty years on Earth.

Yes, it's finally hit us- we're going to be parents!!! 

Yes, it's finally hit us- we're going to be parents!!! 

At the time, I’d already started training again with my eyes on a figure competition, and had also hired a powerlifting coach. After a year of dealing with the energy-draining effects of hypothyroidism, my health was finally turning a corner and I’d reached a place where I felt confident about living as an athlete again. At around 17% body fat, I was lifting 4 to 5 days a week while employing a high fat Paleo-style diet recommended to me by my functional medical doctor for both endometriosis and thyroid issues. I’d also taken up yoga and cut back on my hours at work, as well as reducing my stress load significantly. I partially attribute these changes in my diet and stress levels as well as treatment adjustments for endometriosis and hypothyroidism to being able to fall pregnant naturally.

One of the first things I learned as a mama-to-be was that 17% body fat is not a healthy scenario for a little growing bean, so I immediately increased my carbohydrate intake while allowing myself to eat whatever I craved, which was surprisingly limited to pickles, beans, brown rice, peanut butter, coffee ice cream, and eggs. Meat made- and still makes- my stomach turn; the very sight of a steak was enough to send me bolting to the toilet.

Simultaneous to this, I was so focused on having a “fit” pregnancy, feeling both the pressure to be the best mom I possibly could well before our baby emerged into the world while being acutely aware that in the wellness field, women are often held to a somewhat ridiculous standard in terms of physical appearance- one that has perhaps fueled a trend of pregnant trainers and coaches with noticeable six packs, still lifting nearly twice their body weight into their third trimester. How do I know about this burgeoning “Pregspo” movement? Simple- I’d searched out every single “pregnant weightlifter” video available on YouTube and Instagram, trying to make sense of the space between the life I lived prior to conception and the new life I was going to have to build as a woman with a geriatric, high risk pregnancy. However, just as the decision to become a parent had been made for me, my “fit pregnancy” journey has been largely dictated by circumstances beyond my control, as the past six weeks have been organized around vomiting, migraines and incredible food aversions which have turned this Paleo-fueled athlete into a near-Vegan with a newfound love for caramel-coated popcorn.

Which brings me to the point of this post: it’s time to throw away these ridiculous expectations we place on women on account of their possession of a womb- that they MUST have children in order to feel happy and fulfilled, that if they do have babies they MUST eat a whole and natural diet throughout pregnancy, that they MUST- or MUST NOT- exercise regularly through each trimester, and that they MUST follow any sort of blueprint to "prove their worth." Let us each discover what is right for us as individuals- there is no such thing as a “one size fits all” diet or exercise plan or lifestyle choice or definition of wellness.

I’m just entering my second trimester and am feeling much stronger than I have in a while. I go to the gym when I feel like it now, and I lift about 40 to 60 percent of what I was lifting prior to that positive pregnancy test, although I hope to gradually increase the load, doctor approved. I can no longer run outdoors, and while a part of me envies those expectant women who continue to pound the pavement, I know that my own body doesn’t welcome it and that therefore, it’s probably no good for my baby and me. Alongside my daily morning egg whites and avocado is a tub of caramel-coated popcorn, which I enjoy as I please throughout the day. I haven’t weighed myself in weeks, and I’m guessing my body fat is around 20% now- the abs are disappearing and the shoulder caps are completely gone. 

And, just because I’m elated to become a mom despite being scared shitless about commencing this journey just shy of age 40, doesn’t mean that I suddenly feel it’s the right road for every woman, or that my new reality "completes me." I was already complete well before this angel showed up in my belly. 

Fit pregnancy, healthy body, fulfilled life- at the end of the day, it means something different to everyone, and that's A-ok. 

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Overcoming Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

One of my biggest regrets in life is being blissfully unaware of the havoc I was wreaking on my hormones because I was on the contraceptive pill from the age of 16 to 33. Sure, I came off of it a few times and when my period didn’t return I wondered if I should be worried, but when I went to my doctor and voiced my concerns over not having a period for over a year, I was told I had polycystic ovaries and I should go back on the pill to manage it.

For years I thought, "I'll deal with this problem later."

What I now know is that long-term pill usage can cause as well as mask a whole host of hormonal disruptions. I came off the pill the final time when I got engaged, as I knew then that I wanted children with my future husband. No surprises, my cycle didn’t return naturally and for the next four years I battled what is known as Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA), quite possibly the most frustrating and infuriating condition for a woman in her mid 30’s desperate to start a family.

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is the absence of your menstrual cycle caused by your Hypothalamus not doing its job. The Hypothalamus is the part of our brain that instructs your pituitary gland, and subsequently your ovaries, to produce the hormones that control reproductive function. When you are on the pill for many years, the hypothalamus doesn’t need to do anything because the pill is delivering the (artificial) hormones, so it goes to sleep.

It’s incredibly common for woman to come off the pill and have the hypothalamus take a few months to wake up and start functioning, but if you don’t get a period for more than 12 months there are most probably some other factors at play. In my case it wasn’t Polycystic Ovaries.

The other major cause of HA is when the super sensitive hypothalamus senses that there is too much danger/stress in your life and it decides reproduction is not a good idea, so it shuts down. The most common factors are physical stress from high intensity exercise, not fuelling properly, lack of body fat and psychological stress.

When I came off the pill, not only was I training to run the New York marathon, I was restricting my food with the plan in mind to look AMAZING in my wedding dress. You can imagine my horror when I was told by an endocrinologist that my super healthy lifestyle was making me infertile, and the course of treatment was to stop all exercise and EAT.

To most people, being told that you should stop exercising and eat more dessert would sound like a dream come true, but for many women who have conditioned themselves to exercise and diet religiously, it can be terrifying. Of course I wasn’t going to purposefully change my body shape six months out from my wedding, so I put it out of my mind and once again thought – "I’ll deal with it later."

After the wedding I made a real effort to cut down on my running and eat more, and I put on weight. I hated it, but my husband and I wanted kids and we wanted them NOW. Our impatience got the better of us and three months after the wedding with my period still MIA we saw a fertility doctor.

For some reason, doing fertility treatments made me think that I no longer needed to get my natural cycle back. The drugs I stuck into my belly every day were doing it for me – too easy! So I stopped focusing on overcoming HA and when round after round of IVF didn’t work I fell back into running as a form of therapy. It was the one thing that got me out of my head when I was devastated at our failures. In hindsight, running was also a subconscious way of proving to myself that my body was strong and able, because when it came to fertility I felt like it was defective. 

As time passed and our attempts at IVF didn’t work, I began to realise that having HA can hold you back reproductively even when you’re under the care of the best fertility doctors delivering the tried and tested treatment. It was time to slay this beast!

After we completed our final IVF embryo transfer, a perfect grade A+ embryo that resulted in our sixth negative pregnancy test, and I began the long overdue job of getting my natural cycle back. I’d been 3.5 years with no cycle after coming off the pill and I’d had enough.

This is what worked for me:

No high intensity exercise. I walked for 30 mins, three times a week and did yoga for 30 mins most days (not hot yoga!).

Increase calories to (at least) 2,500 a day. This was tough because I was trying to still eat healthy most of the time. After a couple of months I let go completely and ate ALL THE JUNK; pizza, pies, cake, ice cream - on a daily basis. It was a complete mind shift for me and I won’t lie, I felt awful. I was bloated, constipated and my face broke out BUT my closely monitored hormone levels were starting to increase, so I kept at it. I’m not advocating an unhealthy diet for everyone that is trying to get pregnant, but if you are at your wits end with HA then it’s worth a shot.

A positive and stress fee outlook. This wasn’t easy either, I was 37 and terrified I was never going to be a Mum. I used hypnotherapy to help ease my anxiety and deep breathing exercises helped calm me when work got stressful. I confided in my friends with total honesty and this helped to reduce the pressure I was feeling. I also joined an incredibly supportive Facebook group of women from all around the world on the same journey. The insight, knowledge and support gained from this group kept me going at the toughest times.

Four months after going ‘all in’ to overcome HA I went for my routine blood tests to check my hormone levels. I was absolutely floored when the nurse called back told me that not only were my levels were off the charts, but I should take a home pregnancy test.

And she was right, I was pregnant.

I had (unknowingly) ovulated naturally for the first time since I was 16, and this ovulation resulted in what I’d spent two years and thousands of dollars trying to create with fertility treatment.

Yes, my body shape is a lot different to what it used to be (and this is only going to continue!) but every kilo is worth its weight in gold to be able to overcome HA, regain fertility and start our family! 

Kristy Kong is an IIN-certified health coach specializing in fertility and our consultant fertility coach at Tangram Wellness, providing invaluable guidance to some of our friends and clients. You can reach out to Kristy directly at kristytkong@gmail.com. Was this information valuable to you, or could someone else use it? If so, share! As always, leave your comments below- we love hearing from you. 

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