In my wildest dreams, I could have never imagined the ups and downs, bumps, roadblocks, seeming dead ends and endless twists and turns on the road to becoming a mom. However, I am so thankful that I was forced down this particular path in efforts to address seemingly unrelated health issues far before I had babies on the brain. My journey to fertility was unlike many moms whom my heart aches for because when we were finally ready to conceive, it happened easily and naturally. However, getting pregnant was preceded by years of pain and feelings of hopelessness, as I was told by the nation’s top fertility specialists this would never happen without the latest fertility treatments.
I write this as a sort of plea, in hopes that someone reading will be able to avoid, cut short, or make smoother their potentially treacherous road. I write this with the goal of keeping someone from one day saying, “Why didn’t someone tell me this!?”
For me, that was my aunt. She empowered me with information that jolted me out of darkness and into a world of hope and freedom. She taught me what true healing means and helped me understand the innate power our bodies have to achieve it. Because – while I believe fertility treatments are a necessity and blessing for so many – for me and for many others, they aren’t the only option. Please know that I never share my story with anything but love in my heart – there’s simply no place for judgment when it comes to our fertility paths. My greatest hope is that others can feel encouraged and equipped by my journey, and that something in it will illumine their path.
Like most young girls, I excitedly anticipated my first period. I was in 6th grade, and while I didn’t understand its significance, it marked a developmental milestone. The thrill soon wore off and I was just fine when Aunt Flo decided to never visit again. But my mom wasn’t. In high school, she took me to a renowned fertility specialist who diagnosed me with the worst case of PCOS he had ever seen. Due to thousands of cysts on my ovaries, I would need birth control indefinitely and wouldn’t be able to get pregnant without the help of advanced fertility treatments (IVF). The “natural way” just wasn’t going to work for my body.
A Wake-Up Call
During my sophomore year of college, pain and nerve damage seemed to be suddenly take over my body from head to toe. I was soon traveling the country with an ever-growing file of blood work, x-rays, and MRIs– with my symptoms stumping top arthritis specialists and neurologists who prescribed antidepressants, muscle relaxers, and painkillers. One doctor diagnosed me with early-stage MS. I remember asking my now-husband, Will, if he’d still marry me should I have to be wheeled down the aisle and possibly leave him childless. (He said yes!)
I reached a point in my journey where I was finally open to hearing my aunt (now business partner) Marilee Nelson, a dietary and environmental consultant who had used Food as Medicine and a major lifestyle “clean-up” to avoid a kidney transplant and later heal her son from a catastrophic chemical exposure. She wanted to know everything I put in, on, and around my body, whether I used pesticides and if I had recently moved, remodeled or been exposed to mold or other stressors (environmental, emotional, etc.). The only questions I had been asked thus far were about my family’s health history and my current symptoms, so Marilee had my full attention.
She explained how the body doesn’t develop symptoms for no reason. If a healthy person suddenly becomes ill, questions should be asked to determine the cause(s) and effective strategies for treatment. Some people can develop symptoms immediately (congestion, eczema, headaches, digestive issues), while others store toxins in their organs and can develop cancer or degenerative disease years later. Some have strong constitutions and are unaffected. We realized my symptoms had started just two days after I moved into a brand new apartment, filled with fresh paint, new carpet, formaldehyde-filled cabinetry, and all the glues, stains, and other toxic materials involved. She explained that I was under immune stress, and a “clean up” of my diet and environment was in order. Only then would my body’s innate healing tendency take over.
I was all in. I ditched birth control, refined sugar, and unhealthy oils and for the first time in my life, focused on ingredients, not calories. I filled up on grass-fed meat and dairy, organic eggs and produce, and tons of good fats. Within a few months, my pain had drastically decreased. My roommate (now other business partner) Kelly and I couldn’t get enough of Marilee’s knowledge and wisdom, and upon graduation asked to spend the summer with her in the Texas Hill Country. Little did we know this decision would change the course of our lives
Our days were filled with fresh juice, walking barefoot in the grass, cooking real-food meals, limiting screen and cell-phone time, soaking in an infrared sauna, and taking in all the wisdom we could from Marilee’s back-to-back phone consults. Whether it was chronic headaches, skin issues, a hyperactive child, or a dire diagnosis, each person was met with a similar protocol of cleaning their diet, home, and personal care products of all toxins. For eight weeks, we watched in amazement at her clients’ improvements, while at the same time, experiencing the “power of pure” in our own bodies. While we had made great strides in cleaning our diet, it wasn’t until we moved into Marilee’s home, free of all toxic pesticides, cleaners, synthetic scents, soaps, shampoos, etc., that our health transformed. I was off all medication and virtually pain-free, while Kelly’s chronic dry eyes and menstrual cramps disappeared. Our minds were opened and forever changed to the power of our bodies to heal, given the right conditions.
The Power of Pure
In 2009, six years after my dismal high school diagnosis, my husband encouraged me to get a follow-up sonogram.
Although I still wasn’t having my period, I had lived a radically different lifestyle for over a year, and we were hopeful my ovaries were on the mend. Sure enough, upon receiving the scan, the doctor rushed in holding my new sonogram next to the original, in utter disbelief. I had reversed PCOS, having only a few small cysts on each ovary.
He wanted to know everything I had done. I explained that I had gotten off birth control, cleaned my home of all toxins, and ate only real food. He had never seen anything like it, and told me to keep going – it was working!
At this point, we knew my period would come back. The reproductive system, whose sole job is to usher in new life, is often the last to repair. And with good reason! The body should be at its peak in order to conceive, grow, give birth and care for a new baby. While I hold absolutely no judgment against those who choose fertility treatments (they have blessed many close friends and are at times the only option), we knew they weren’t part of our story. When it was ready, my body could do this. We also didn’t just want babies, complete with ten fingers and ten toes, but healthy, thriving children. Knowing that choices during the perinatal period directly affect fetal brain development and overall health, we decided to work with a well-known eastern medicine doctor, Dr. Dittman, author of Brighton Baby: A Revolutionary Organic Approach to Having an Extraordinary Child. He specializes in helping couples reverse the trends that our existing diet and lifestyle have lead to: an exponential rise in autism, ADD, birth defects, and infertility.
After taking food-based supplements to correct vitamin and mineral deficiencies, my husband and I were ecstatic when six months later, I had my second natural period, fifteen years after the first. The next one came just five weeks later, and there was no PMS (a syndrome women have come to accept as normal but, in truth, is a sign of imbalanced hormones).
Our Miracle Baby
Over the next few years, we mindfully chose what we put in and on our bodies and brought into our home. We watched in awe as my cycle normalized, and when the time was right, we got pregnant quickly. I proceeded to have a joy-filled, healthy pregnancy that ended in a big, beautiful baby girl born at home on her due date – the most magical moment of our lives thus far. And we have no doubt the decisions we made leading up to her conception played a leading role in her being an alert, strong, even-tempered 15-month-old. We believe more than just genetics are to thank for her soaring through developmental milestones, never battling a diaper rash, and overcoming sickness quickly and naturally.
From Victims to Victory
No matter where you are in your journey, babies far from the brain to having had multiple miscarriages and/or already pregnant, I hope my story has opened your eyes to a path that – while requiring patience and sacrifice – truly allows the body to heal itself. We are not the victims of our genes and should not take a diagnosis as the final word. There is indeed a crucial connection between our lifestyle choices and health. While I am so thankful for the medical community, there is simply a lack of knowledge on prevention and the power of food and clean living when it comes to healing.
To put it simply, I recommend getting back to basics. Our world is more toxic than ever, and we are seeing the results in the form of astronomical rise in not only infertility, but childhood sickness and disease. We must take effort to prudently avoid toxins in our lives.
I am also beyond thankful for the awareness that campaigns like Healthy Lady, Happy Baby are bringing to the forefront. There is no reason to struggle alone, and the more that we can speak out about our trials and our triumphs, the more that women are empowered as a whole. So, take steps as you’re able to “clean up” your home and diet, while at the same time, sharing your struggles and successes, as these things will only serve to propel you to greater heights and smoother roads.
Allison Evans is a co-founder of Branch Basics and lives in Texas. After experiencing a health crisis during her junior year of college and traveling to specialists across the country to seek relief from chronic pain and motor impairments, Allison finally experienced true healing after moving to the Hill Country to live with her aunt, Marilee Nelson. By removing all toxic chemicals from her environment and eating real, whole foods, Allison’s symptoms completely disappeared. Her healing journey inspired her to co-found Branch Basics to help others experience how to truly thrive in their health. Allison enjoys researching all things holistic parenting, finding clean brands to use and recommend, and helping others navigate their health journeys. She also loves taking walks with her husband and teaching her one-year-old daughter Sloane silly dance moves!