Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Acupuncture in NYC?

I'm just about a week shy of my IUI.  It looked like my CM was starting to build --not the super fertile but the pre-fertile variety that signals the rise of estrogen. Two days into this I'm all relaxed and happy, and ominously, it starts looking like it is going down, don't see anything for 24 hours. Instantly cue in stress. Honestly, at times like this., I actually see the value in the usually craptastic 'just relax' advice that gets doled out on a regular basis. Work is very demanding right now-- I'm kind of  happy that today has been so frantic,its been 12 hours since I even spared a thought for my lady parts, and not dwelling on this is about the most healthy thing I can do right now.

I'm doing a unmedicated cycle, same as the last  time-- all I do is monitor my surge and have the IUI. During my minor freak out, I decided that if I can do it at this really late hour, throwing in acupuncture may not be a bad idea. But I'm literally 1 week away from IUI. Being absolutely clueless about fertility acupuncture, I had a few questions---Is there any hope of getting a last minute session with anybody good? Is getting about one session worth it? Does anybody local have recommendations? 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

ICLW (quite a bit late)

Well, I’ve been meaning to write a post welcoming whoever came over for ICLW for the past 4 days, but my schedule has been nothing short of insane so nothing got written and worse, ICLW commenting did not get done.  I’ve had a lot of people who just jumped in there with the last disjointed, introduction-less entry and commented, I thank you for it.

Still, better late than never: To sum up my blog, I’m somebody who thought she would have absolutely no issues in the baby making department.  2 pregnancy losses later, I’m one hell of a lot tougher, and I think a whole lot wiser too.  Since I’m a scientist that studies how the body works for a living anyway, I’ve come a good way in understanding reproductive biology, and I’ve tried my best to share that knowledge with everybody.  I discovered I was Vitamin D deficient after my second loss, and intense reading on the subject of deficiency of this hormone in various disease states, including infertility has made me a very vocal advocate on the topic of testing for this, and making sure you have normal range blood levels, with a large portion of my blog being dedicated to this subject.

Sharing of knowledge aside, I’m awed at what a source of emotional support the blogsphere has proven to be. While nobody else in real life wants to spend more than 15 minutes listening to you, here, you have a network of people from all over the world, genuinely invested in everybody’s journey and willing to spend hours cheering others on, or crying with them in the horrible times.  Women going through infertility just a scant 10 years ago did not have this resource, yet, we today, do.  When we think about the unfair hands we are dealt, that is something to remember.

In other news, I'm gearing up for the next try. I finally got my act together and went to an endocrinologist.  I was lucky to find one at NYU with really good reviews, and thankfully, he more than lived up to them. He listened to me,  he was well versed on the topic of anti-thyroid antibodies and their potential role in pregnancy loss, as well as the studies (not terribly convincing, but still plausible) looking at correlations of higher levels of TSH during pregnancy and IQ of the resulting children. He was willing to re-test everything, which included the PCOS hormones (Testosterone, DHEAS, AMH, and LH), the thyroid hormones (TSH T4, T3) and the Anti-TPO/anti-thyro-globulin antibodies. I had a whopping 10 vials drawn, and I'm eager to find out what it will show. 

Detailed post on the PCOS + thyroid condition coming , but I have to say again what I will reiterate there- when you get your thryoid tests done, look at that TSH value.  The old normal range for TSH was about 0.4-4 mIU/ml, now  it seems to have been revised  to 0.3-3 mIU/ml, with studies suggesting being over 2.5 is bad in pregnancy.  If TSH  over 2.5 (but still in the normal range),  demand a test for anti-thyroid antibodies. Anybody who is TTC, with infertility issues, is best off maintaining their TSH at  around 1-1.5. 

Its a simple no-risk treatment that only asks that you take some amount of thyroid hormone (which is perfectly safe as long as you do not take too much) and get frequent monitoring done, and it *may* fix an issue which is kind of an ill-understood and murky threat.  I am of this opinion, my current RE is not, but thankfully, this endocrinologist definitely is.  My thyroid during pregnancy will be in good hands.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


For the last year, I've taken immense comfort in the fact that my luteal phase (LP), which was teetering on the edge of being classified as LPD, in both my cycles of conception, had changed greatly after I became Vitamin D replete.  It used to be a short 11 day one, and after I got my  D3 levels up and above 30 ng/ml, it has been a healthy average of 15 days, over 13 or so cycles.

Since Vitamin D increases both estrogen and progesterone and has been shown to regulate the menstrual cycle, its a logical thing to assume that taking vitamin D was responsible for this change.  Heads up on this link, it also talks about a subject I've long neglected in this blog, the effects of Vitamin D on male infertility. Its really something to take into consideration, for all affected parties.

Then, just as I'm about to start a cycle where I AM planning to TTC, I get my period 2 whole days early, giving me a 13 day LP. Occasionally something happens that seems entirely counter intuitive, and this is one of them. This past cycle seemed glorious looking. Lots of estrogen evidenced by crazy amounts of fertile CM, really high progesterone, evidenced by really high BBTs and crazy breast tenderness. Then why on earth did my endometrium give up the ghost 2 days early?  Ironically, based on the 2 progesterone symptoms (BBT and breast tenderness), I think my progesterone did not drop fully till day 16, but my period began 2 days early anyway.

Ugh, Ugh, Ugh. The next time I wanted to TTC, I wanted it to be in a very pretty-looking natural cycle with no issues, since that is all I have to go on. Now I kind of feel like I'm at the mercy of a celestial prankster, determined to mess with my head.

Anyways, if this cycle does not look like sh.it, I should be having an IUI on March 6th or the 7th, if nothing changes.  God, the thought of something changing and me having to make a decision whether to go with a crappy cycle or not is making me nervous already-- all the Should Is/Should'nt Is are starting up.

Adding to the pressure, I got really good news, but it makes when I conceive important-  My brother is getting engaged (!!!) and his fiancee wants to get married in December. Uhmmmm...also my due month, if I do get knocked up now. I definitely cannot attend a wedding when I'm nearly full term, not in India anyway. My parents are looking to pushing the wedding to late January,  which would be just on the edge of ok if all goes well, and as planned, but if not, its going to be a a bit of a pickle.  I did not forsee having to attend a wedding with a baby in tow---I really wanted to keep human contact to a minimum for the first few months of my child's life- that was going to be the best part of doing this in India, wherein no daycare would be needed. To have to attend a wedding, which in India is a 2 day long, giant communal affair, with 100s of germ-laden individuals running around the place and to try to devise a way that only 10 or so people get to handle/be in the same room as my baby...whee.  The thing with plans, you never see the potholes coming.

But...really, this is small stuff. Should remember not to sweat it All issues can be surmounted, you just roll up your sleeves and do what is necessary.   My brother is getting married---that is the part to celebrate!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Psychologists are no fun

Most REs have a policy that anybody using donor sperm has to go see a psychologist first.  My REs in CA had the same policy, but I skillfully (and forcefully) wiggled out in each case, there was no way I was going to spend 300 bucks out of pocket for an issue I had already researched by myself.

No dice with NYU's practice, I had to go see one. So I went, plonked down 350 dollars, but was given a reimbursement form and was told I'd get my money back.  So no pain there, but cannot say the same for the actual visit.

You definitely get your money's worth, I nearly spent 2 hours with her.  Every time I really have a conversation about using donor sperm, about doing this by such a non-traditional route, I start crying. But then, I also cry everytime I read that page in Love Story when Jennifer tells Oliver she has cancer,  and I cry everytime I see that animal shelter ad when they play that song, "In the arms of the angels" and all the animals look at you with those melting eyes. Just remembering that ad can make me cry. To sum up, any emotion (sorrow, empathy, anger, just any strong feeling) instantly triggers my lacrimal glands.

As a result, what was expected to be an easy conversation with rational and had depth, stayed a  conversation with rationality and depth, except I cried for about 30 % of it, intermittently and sporadically. The emotional response does not piss me off, but the tears do.  It pisses me off that I had to redo my eye makeup. It pisses me off that I had to take painkillers and sinus decongestants just to ensure that I did not have a blinding headache for the rest of the day. Argh.  Among the things I wish I could change about myself, this is in the top 5.  When you are in the midst of making a strong argument, you want to appear cool and collected. If  the topic under discussion pushes my emotional buttons, I'm usually bawling while trying to make a point.  Its SUCH a liability. My brother once accused me of turning on the waterworks as a way to get the upper hand, but that is not true- I have the opposite issue, I cannot figure out a way to turn them off.

Anyway, the psychologist covered a few interesting points about donor sperm and having THE conversation with your kid and all that fun jazz. I'd talk about it now, but it has to wait for later because I'm going to watch a pretty silly movie with two smoking hot men (Tom Hardy and Chris Pine)---the perfect end to a day like this! Update: The movie (This means war) is deeply silly and abandons logic at many points, but I recommend it none the less, the eye candy more than delivers, and its also very funny in multiple bits.Successfully took my mind off my afternoon, yay.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Another post on AMH, AFC, and Vitamin D

Biology is complicated.  X sets off Y which sets off Z. Z  can positively or negatively regulate X or Y, and any or all of them can be regulated by A, B, C, or D.  It is a crazy, multi-layered, mind-boggling system in other words. Yet, when perfectly balanced,  perfect health results.

Trying to understand it is like trying to untangle a Texas-sized jumble of wool, yet we solider on gamely, trying to do exactly that. After I took Vitamin D, a number of things changed: my antral follicle count went down, and my luteal phase got longer.  In this post, I wanted to talk about certain studies which may offer explanations for the first.  

After my second miscarriage, it came to light that I may have certain presentations of PCOS: primarily, a very high antral follicle count (AFC), and high levels of the hormone, DHEAS.  My AFC was consistently very high (30 and 34 when measured by 2 independent operators over 3 months apart).  Between these two counts, we also found out that, paradoxically, my AMH was low. I realized that this might be because I was vitamin D-deficient, and indeed, after increasing my Vitamin D, my AMH also went up 4-fold.

One of the things that concerned me from the getgo was my high AFC. Another TTCer (Tiara), who had one pregnancy loss, also presented with a high AFC. Her doctor, in what may have been a very prudent move, put her on metformin, which is supposed to combat insulin resistance.  She was alarmed that, the next cycle, her follicle count dropped sharply, but that IUI resulted in a healthy, beautiful baby girl.  Interestingly, her anecdotal finding of decrease in AFC after start of metformin correlates with this study, which also showed a drop in both AFC and AMH after starting metformin.  Nobody knows how metformin accomplishes this,  but its main mode of action appears to be combating insulin resistance.

Vitamin D also helps to correct insulin resistance, although a lot of studies seem to think it mainly helps that subset of women who are overweight because of PCOS (I don't belong to this subgroup).  Nonetheless, because Vitamin D and metformin share this property, I was hoping my AFC would go down. The conversation I had where I tried to explain this to my nurse, so I could just have an AFC recount ordered, was kind of funny, although, on the whole, a firmly closed mind does not amuse me in the slightest. 

Anyway, I turned out to be right in predicting the result, though I think I was wrong in the mechanism behind it. My AFC went down from 32 (average of 2 cycles) to around 16 ish (average of 2 cycles).  People have said that AFC can vary with different cycles,  and this is true, but in my case the variation, if nothing has changed, is less than +/- 5.

For the longest time I presumed my drop in AFC was *probably* because vitamin D did something similar to metformin. Recently, somebody left a comment on Dr. Malpani's blogpost on AMH , that gave a really smart, and plausible alternate explanation. Apparently, AMH has this really interesting property- it inhibits recruitment of primordial follicles into the pool of developing (or antral follicles). This property of AMH provides an explanation why women with PCOS, who usually have higher AMH levels, may hit menopause later, because the recruitment of primordial follicles is lower, and hence their ovarian reserve lasts longer.

Coming back to my case, in addition to a *maybe* case of PCOS,  I had an additional confounding factor of Vitamin D deficiency (though this is also shared by around 40 % of women with PCOS). If everything in the previous paragraphs is considered correct, the broad possible explanation is this- when I was vitamin D deficient, my AMH was low because this gene needs to be 'turned on' by Vitamin D.  Once my Vitamin D levels went up, my AMH level went up. Over time, that increased AMH decreased the recruitment  of primordial follicles, so my AFC went down.

My numbers are still respectable, my total AFC is now around 16. God knows what this means but 16 is a reassuring number. However, even if you do have PCOS and your AFC goes to a number you don't like, I would hold off the alarm. One should remember this: quantity does not necessarily equal quality. This is best exemplified by women with PCOS who make a TON of eggs in an IVF cycle, and the majority are not good quality. So, on the whole, for women with PCOS,  the moral of the story is, both metformin and vitamin D have a good chance of helping you. I had the option to take metformin, but I chose not to do it, thinking that just Vitamin D would be enough.  It looks like I may be right, I hope the facts bear it out eventually.

I'll end on this note- while the role of vitamin D in pregnancy is open-shut good, its role in fertility itself is a bit murky. Overall, being deficient is bad for you.  But a few studies show that going too high may also be non-optimal, especially if you have endometriosis....you can read an entire review on the role of Vitamin D in female reproductive states here.   I'd say, while trying to get pregnant, maintaining your blood levels at around 30 ng/ml seems like the best course. After you get pregnant, your vitamin D requirements are going to rise- making sure you are taking enough to maintain around 40 ng/ml  may be best.