This week we had the pleasure of speaking with Monica Cox, famed fertility health coach, podcast host and author of the bestselling Baby & Me mindfulness journal. Through her flagship venture, Finding Fertility, Monica is on a mission to help women everywhere discover the root cause of their infertility, improve their health and build their dream family.
With over 20k followers on Instagram and TikTok alone, Monica has successfully amassed a community of women devoted to her mission of looking beyond the infertility diagnosis and taking control of your health to get pregnant naturally.
Dealing with infertility for nine ears, it wasn't always smooth sailing for Monica. A miscarriage survivor, IVF mom & pregnant natural, she had been battling the dreaded "unexplained fertility" for years before she was finally able to discover the real culprit. And it had nothing to do with the 'lady bits'.
Monica, you have such a wonderful success story, adorned with loss, disappointment, struggle and triumph. Please tell us a little bit more about yourself, when did you guys start trying for a baby and when did you figure out that conceiving naturally won’t probably be as easy?
MC: So, I was 27 when we started trying and we both thought that everything was fine & normal. I was seemingly healthy, I had regular periods and was ovulating just fine. My husband was also in great health, so no red flags there either. Yet the months just kept ticking away. Our doctors tried their best to find out why we weren't getting pregnant. So, after 3 whole years of trying and failing, it was finally suggested that we try IVF. IUI was not an option since I was ovulating so I didn't need help in that area. We were not very well informed on the subject of infertility so we just followed through with our doctors' advice and gave IVF a shot. I don't know if we thought it would be our miracle but we hoped it'd at least give us some answers. And in hindsight it did; though it wasn't the nicest of answers! I had just turned 30. Our IVF results came in and turned out we had very low grade, fragmented embryos. I was doing my treatment in the UK as I was living there at that time and they have a very strict policy of only putting in a single embryo, unless there is an age issue or if the embryos are super low quality. And since mine were very low-quality they decided to put in 2. The rationale behind that policy is that complications in multiple pregnancy are very high. We did not however, get pregnant and when we went back in for the review consultation, (more commonly, and aptly, known as the WTF consultation in the ttc community) they said the reason we are not getting pregnant is because of the obviously low-grade embryos. When we asked if they would be changing our drugs/treatment plan now, they said no, we'll just have to try again.
And that just didn't sit right with us. It was not a good enough answer. We decided to leave that clinic and in the meantime I stumbled across a book called "Is your body baby friendly?" which talked about immune issues and different root causes that are not probably taught within the OB/Gyn or the fertility community. It was pretty controversial back then. So, I found a clinic that agreed to do the immune testing, and we decided to go ahead with it. At the same time a friend recommended us to change our diet and both me and my husband thought to ourselves that hey, we are not unhealthy! But we decided to do it anyway, we just didn't want to leave any stone unturned in making this dream come true for us. I was put on a paleo diet, and even though I saw great improvement in my gut health, moods and my overall health in general, but we were still not getting pregnant. We also got talked out of immune testing since I had not had recurrent miscarriages.
You mention in your story that your second IVF demonstrated that your diet and lifestyle changes made a huge difference. Tell us what changes you made in your diet and lifestyle and how did they impact your IVF results this time?
MC: So when we got to the second IVF we didn't have all the information still even though we did have the better diet and lifestyle, thanks to which we also ended up getting better quality embryos. The difference was absolutely insane! We ended up freezing some embryos. We didn't use genetic testing. but the embryologists could tell which ones were the healthiest. Despite all of that, I couldn't even make it to day 28.
At that point I was just so defeated. I actually ended up filling out a surrogate form thinking my body can't do this. But we decided to do the immune testing in the end just to rule that out as well, and that's when I finally got my answer.
I had an extremely high number of natural killer cells and my body was rejecting my embryos. So even though I was now making better embryos, my immune system was still elevated. You see an embryo is a foreign body, until a baby makes its own placenta. And that's how the miracle of birth works, your body knows its a foreign entity yet allows it to grow inside your body. But when you have immune issues, your body is not conducive to this process. If you have elevated NK cells, your body rejects the embryos and that's how people have recurring miscarriages. My issue was so bad that I wasn't even getting pregnant. And it was two-fold because, A. my body was making very low quality embryos because of the inflammation and B. my body was rejecting embryos as well.
What was the course of action following your immune test results and diagnosis?
MC: I kept up with my diet and the clinic recommended immune suppressing drugs, including some steroids. So we did the first FET with the immune suppressing drugs and I finally got pregnant after 6 whole years. That was my first Big Fat Positive! Unfortunately I had a miscarriage soon after. On our 7th week scan we found out that there's no heartbeat. As much as this just sad and soul crushing, it did give me the hope that my body was capable of getting pregnant. So that kind of propelled me into investigating more. At around the same time I came across the autoimmune paleo diet (AIP) which was claimed to be even more targeted than the one I was on, as it focused on more inflammatory foods and foods associated with autoimmune issues. This led me to discover that I was actually highly intolerant to foods like paprika, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, which are all supposedly harmless foods and that I was eating a lot of! So I went pretty hardcore and took them out of my diet completely. We went back for our 2nd FET, still using the immune suppressing drugs. And that gave us our first son - our IVF baby. During that time I was extremely conscious of what I ate. But I felt I lacked guidance, I still didn't have anyone out there talking abt immune issues and fertility and how it's all connected and healing the gut. So I was pretty strict but it was good for my body and to be honest, I keep it up till this day because if I reintroduce them back into my diet, I feel actually sick; my bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, skin issues, anxiety everything comes back, issues deemed normal in society. After that we went back for our last FET. 2 embryos. I got pregnant again, on the AIP using the immune suppressing drugs, but unfortunately that ended in an early miscarriage. And that was it for us. We were done with the whole IVF side of it. I thought I'd never go back in there again, we were really grateful for our son. I was just going to keep up with my diet and lifestyle and I got trained as a 'Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner.' 2 months after that miscarriage however, I got pregnant naturally. for the first time in 9 years! It was the most mind blowing thing ever for us. I believed in what I was doing and I knew it was possible for me to get pregnant naturally. I just didn't know it would happen so quickly after the miscarriage. But in hindsight I had been on the AIP for a solid 2 years. So my body really had the time to heal itself and reverse what was going on. A lot of immune issues are reversible. Its not like you would be able to get rid of them so you have to live a certain lifestyle to manage them through your diet and lifestyle.
It’s inspiring for so many of our readers struggling with infertility that you were able to get pregnant naturally only 2 months after your second miscarriage just because you got tested, got your “unexplained infertility” diagnosed and treated it with dietary changes. But we know that immune testing is not available for all infertile couples, it as initially rejected to you as well. In case someone is not able to get access to immune testing, also because it happens to be so expensive, do you think they should still be making these diet changes in the hopes of finding fertility?
MC: 100%. So testing is available and it might help in pin-pointing issues that we'd never be able to guess otherwise but the extensive intake process I put my clients through I can tell whether they have an autoimmune issues without them even getting tested. And if u listen to your own body, you can tell as well. Infertility is just the big shining light, there's definitely something else at work behind the scenes. We are women. we are designed by nature to get pregnant. And when that's not happening something is disconnected inside. So take a look back and get more in-tune with your body. What are all your normal/common health issues. List them out. A lot of us can probably list 5-10 issues that we have. And start investigating why you have them. For instance, why do I wake up with a snotty nose everyday? or why am i constipated? Or why do I have diarrhea? Why do I get bloated after eating garlic bread? Or why do I feel sluggish after getting 8 hours of sleep? These are issues that society deems normal and I think for our generation, growing up, we were just told to get on with it. Which is why I didn't feel sick, because I was still fully functioning. I was working a full time job, managing a household, socializing and I think a lot of women within the ttc community are actually Type A. We all have set that bar too high for us, adding to our pile of stress. Just know that infertility is not normal. If you've been diagnosed with something, don't get hung up on your diagnosis, I have so many women clients saying that oh I have this or that so I can't get pregnant. Which I think can be utter BS at times. I think were all tricked into believing that IVF gets your pregnant. Tt does not. All it does is put the egg and sperm together. the rest is all up to you and your body. You have to do the work before, and the work after.
When did you think you should start coaching and podcasting to share all this knowledge that you had amassed over the years? And what was the response like?
MC: Probably when I was pregnant with my first one that I was really passionate about giving the information that diet can have a really big impact on your egg quality, after I got pregnant naturally that was like the cherry on top of it. Though I have to be honest that the first 4 months of my natural pregnancy I was mad, upset and pissed off at the world. 8 years, a lot of tears, mental stress, financial strain and countless heartbreaks later, all it took was just fixing my diet and lifestyle.
You have 3 flagship programs namely the Baby & me Journal, Fertility Food and The Finding Fertility Focus. We’d love for you to briefly walk us through each of these to see how our followers can benefit from them.ca
MC: You can find all that information on my website, findingfertility.co, and the links are all easily accessible at the top of the page. The Baby & Me journal was designed during my last FET and I didn't realize how much I'd need that journal during my miscarriage. And I continued it on actually even after my fertility journey was kind of done. It's a 3 year journal, but its designed to be used at any stage, so whether you're adopting, using a surrogate, taking a break, getting pregnant, it really continues on. Because I think the journey is not just 9 months long The 2 pink lines bring on more anxiety than you can ever imagine, especially if you've dealt with infertility for a very long time and have had recurring miscarriages. Fertility Food is designed to give people the right information to get on the right path, health and diet wise. And let me tell you there's no one diet that can guarantee to get you pregnant, I was on the perfect diet for years! So I really want people to know that you got to be your own investigator. Listen to your body, you're the one who knows it best. Some people are fine with dairy, some are fine with gluten, some are NOT fine with paprika! Every body is built differently.
And lastly, Finding Fertility is my 1-to-1 coaching where I do all the hard work for you and point out things that probably no fertility doctor would point out for you; it's not only about diet, health, lifestyle; its about your emotional and mental well being as well, which I feel is of utmost importance throughout this journey.