Tomatoes!

Have I mentioned that I like growing my own food?

I tried raising a bunch of vegies from seed this summer, but the possums took too many of the tender young seedlings (even the new rhubarb shoots!). At least the tomatoes reached maturity quickly enough to escape grazing. Right now the plants are laden with green tomatoes. I grabbed these two beauties (the first ripe ones) before the possums could find them.

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I’m looking forward to plenty more, we could never have a glut of tomatoes because there is always tomato salsa to make and share with friends.

Grown with rainwater, home-made compost, a little seaweed fertilizer and plenty of sunshine, pretty resource efficient!

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Sewing for sustainability

I’m a big fan of the three R’s. Not that old-fashioned saying about basic education (Reading, writing and arithmetic), because that was always a slightly confused alliteration. Rather, the environmental ethos of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Consume less and create less waste! Putting this into practice, I try not to throw out old clothes before at least considering repairs/alterations.

These are the jeans I’m wearing right now:

In fact, I wore them constantly last year, which helps explain how threadbare they are getting. I’d wear them on my walks up the local (small) mountain, in the garden and just about anywhere else. They currently sport three patches and need a few more for modesty reasons. The knees also have huge, gaping holes in them, but it’s summer here so that’s quite comfortable. And that’s why I continue to wear them, more than any other reason because they are super comfortable! Also, I love the sustainability aspect, and the hand sewing of the patches is quite relaxing for me. It’s not very time-efficient though, so I’ve borrowed a sewing machine from a friend.

It’s been years and years since I used a sewing machine, so I chose an easy alteration first. The pink-red shirt I play soccer in was something I purchased because I needed a red shirt and it was on sale. It was always a little small though, and with my broad shoulders it got stinky under the arms pretty quickly.

To fix this all it took was cutting the sleeves off, pinning a little seam allowance and keeping a straight line with the machine. Voila! a tank top, that actually looks like it was always a tank top. I was tempted to stop at the intermediate stage, after cutting, because I don’t think this new fabric really frays. But I hadn’t been neat with the cutting job, and it was great practice. Hopefully this spurs me on to try something more advanced, so that I can produce some clothes that are acceptable for the workplace etc.

 

Who buys glass cleaner anymore?

I realise that some ‘greener’ practices are more labour-intensive, or involve some other sort of sacrifice. For instance, I still have long hot showers occasionally, even though it would be more eco-friendly to conserve the water and the gas that has heated it. Everyone has their indulgences. An indulgence that no longer makes sense to me though, is buying a new spray bottle of window/glass cleaner. All you need is a little dish detergent and a splash of vinegar (this cuts down on streaking). Apart from being a rather sad indulgence, do you really want to spend your money on new glass cleaner?

We have a glass coffee table so this needs regular cleaning to look its best. A microfibre cloth (machine washable) and the homemade ‘windex’ makes this super easy.

Maybe one of these days I’ll even get around to cleaning the outside of our glass patio doors…

glass cleaner

By the way, I’m all for effective cleaning products that make life easier, that’s how I got the spray bottle after all (it used to contain shower cleaner, one of the ones with the solvents that cut right through soap scrum/lime buildup).

A lot of these cleaners come with refill bottles (so you’re not buying a new spray gun each time), but did you also know that you can recycle the spray guns? This step does require a little effort, in that you have to find somewhere to store some trash till you can send it away for recycling (or take it to a collection point), but I’d say it’s worth it!

See the TerraCycle website for more info: http://www.terracycle.com.au/en-AU/brigades/cleaner-packaging-brigade

 

When a patient is their own advocate

Patient advocacy is generally thought of as when an individual or organisation advocates, argues for and supports a patient or a group of patients. But what about when the patient is willing and able to be their own advocate? This seems to be a more difficult situation primarily because we are emotional beings. Unresolvable health conditions can quickly lead to feelings of desperation, and desperate people often make poor choices.

This blog aims to help me understand what might be occurring deep inside my body. It helps me resolve not only what I want to feel about it all, but also what I want to do about it, if anything. I was dissatisfied with the information that was readily available (about ovarian insufficiency) from my doctor(s) and via quick google sessions (or even hours of searching, to be honest). So, I’m pleased to share any information I can distil from the somewhat more impenetrable scientific literature in case it helps another woman with ovarian insufficiency. So you can say that I am an advocate for women with ovarian insufficiency. But I’m not very loud about it. The main reason I am anonymous on this blog, and don’t share it as widely as I could, is that I’m wary of being seen as arrogant and ‘out of place’.

Delving into any area of science is a huge task. Combine that with the basic human foibles of endless hope or fearful hypochondria and things can go a little awry. When you’re feeling hopeful you don’t want to read some science that will dash those hopes, and when you’ve given in to fear you can get carried away with doom and gloom and focus too much on the possibilities of ‘what can go wrong’. Taking things slowly, yet with dogged persistence does seem to pay off though. And of course, it pays to moderate any enthusiasm, arrogance or worry.

I think I’m doing ok with it. I don’t spend much time learning about ovaries these days but considering that the condition doesn’t affect me much, and there is not much science being done in the area, then that strategy sounds wise. Of course I wish there were more science being carried out and I’ll be sure to grasp onto any new and exciting developments, if they happen. And I will try not to worry too much about being seen as arrogant.

Something that encouraged me was reading this amazing story. It’s about a patient with a very rare disease (much more rare than ovarian insufficiency), who dedicated herself to learning all that she could about her disease. Doctors dismissed her speculations on her own condition more than once, but in the end she was on the right track and her dedication has paid off not only by informing her own health but also that of others.

It’s so refreshing to find a story like this. It’s so uplifting to know that searching out reliable information can help, and that a patient can even do this on their own, till they find a researcher who can actually deliver the evidence that will move things forward.

P.S. A good advocate group for infertility of all types is:
http://www.resolve.org/

(US based)

shore

Women’s health eco tips

There was an interesting article in the latest New Scientist magazine about women being able to incubate their own IVF embryos. The procedure is called Intravaginal Culture and uses a special device to carry out fertilisation (bringing the sperm and oocytes together) that is then inserted into the woman’s vagina for maturation of embryos. The new scientist article was reporting on this trial which showed that this technique works just as well as traditional IVF. There are a few advantages of using the patient’s own body to grow these embryos but one that struck me instantly, and not mentioned explicitly by the authors, is that this method is more eco-friendly! Labs are expensive to run, and use a lot of electricity in addition to other materials (often quite a lot of disposable plastics). Incubators are used to create the right growing conditions for cells, and it’s often a tricky process to carefully maintain these conditions. Thankfully someone had the bright idea that those conditions were under our noses the whole time (literally).

My other eco tip is more widely relevant and personally relevant to me this week! In December I noted that my menstruation seemed to be coming more regularly and the good news is that that trend has continued : ) Yesterday I got my period again and after only 34 days!! I was really excited about that, and I’m happy to take it as a sign that my ovaries are up to something (hopefully trying to incubate their own follicles). So to celebrate, today I got myself a ‘treat’, I purchased my very first menstrual cup. I’d heard about these a while ago, as an alternative to disposable feminine hygiene products, but they are somewhat pricey, and I didn’t have much need for one last year.

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This is just a pic of the packaging, I was too excited and tried it out straight away

I can’t give a full review of the cup yet, as it’s my first day using it but I’m expecting it to be easier than tampons (you remove it less often), more hygienic (menstrual blood is flushed down the toilet instead of going into the rubbish/trash) and best of all creating less waste (not disposable and easily washed, hooray!).

I know some people are still going to be ‘grossed out’ over the whole thing and that is unfortunate, although not something that I’m concerned with really. I might have mentioned this before but it struck me as odd that where I was living in the states (just a few years ago), it was almost impossible to buy tampons without applicators. I know I tried using an applicator when I was a teenager but found that rather than making the process easier it just got in the way. So the applicator just ends up being an irrelevant piece of trash. Anyway, if you’re like me and not shy about touching your genitals (even if they have a little shed endometrium on them) and if you like the idea of creating less waste then these cups are a good idea. There are quite a few brands available and this Australian site has some tips on choosing one.

I’ll let you know how mine goes. So far I can report that they insert easier than you think! Mostly though, I’m happy to think that I’ll get a lot of use out of mine this year (fingers crossed for regular menstruation*) or not… (will regular menstruation lead to ovulation, which could lead to … pregnancy? yikes!).

*The last doctor I got advice from cautioned me against using the word ‘menstruation’ as he preferred to think of my vaginal bleeds as something a little more mysterious. I’m not assuming that I’m ovulating, but I’ll happily call this menstruation if they continue to appear every month. After all, language is fluid and biology is confusing.

Cooked lettuce, and New Year goals

I like New Years, and using this time to think about goals for the year to come. It’s mid-January so i’m a little late, I guess! But that’s because my goals haven’t changed all that much from last year. Although one word that can sum up my different attitude this year is: ‘more’.

Last year I was unemployed and I took that as an opportunity to take things slow, and carefully. It was what I needed. I was so stressed back then that it was hard for me to get excited about anything. The difference between last January and the current one is huge. I’m now looking forward to more learning, more opportunities, more enjoyment in all facets of my life. And a whole lot less worry.

One thing I’m not going to be worried about is the state of my ovaries. I want to keep up this blog, although I wouldn’t be surprised if this year there are more posts on eco-tips rather than ovarian insufficiency. There’s just not that much to write about when it (ovarian insufficiency) is a disorder of unknown aetiology, doesn’t really affect my life apart from the childless thing, and there is no hint of a treatment.

Whereas running a household in the most resource efficient way? That’s something that I actually find really interesting 🙂 And fun too, I realise I have unknowingly game-ified the whole thing. Plenty of people might find little actions to ‘save the environment’ dull because they are a chore but these days when I think of something that facilitates recycling or less consumption or better use of an item then it feels like a tiny personal win. Maybe I should apply the same attitude to physical fitness, haha.

In the spirit of things (reducing waste), I had a delicious lunch today and used up some lettuce that was looking dangerously limp. We had a cos/romaine* lettuce in the fridge from a few days ago, bought to use a few leaves in veggie burgers. But what to do with the rest? Sure, we’ve had a few salads (last night: lettuce, fennel, and loads of parmesan with balsamic), but we can never seem to use the whole lettuce. Luckily, today I remembered that I had a packet of instant noodles (decent ones, from the asian grocer). Noodles and cos lettuce work really really well. I dunno what it is, but the tougher leaves of the cos lettuce thrown in at the last minute, cook through to be translucent and soak up the flavour really well. You could cook your own noodles and broth from scratch of course, but I love the transformation of unhealthy snack (instant noodles) to somewhat more redeeming mini-meal. Proper credit: I did not think of this innovation by myself, it was a favourite mini-meal of my ex-housemate, and I was amazed at the genius of it at the time (about ten years ago). I had never thought of cooking lettuce before (of course these days people are grilling it).

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I used up some coriander/cilantro* too, although it wasn’t needed at all. An egg would be good for protein.

This super quick lunch gave me more time for something else that i’m endlessly tackling: downsizing the pantry to only stuff we’re actually using. I don’t know what I bought treacle for, but it was a long time ago and it’s certainly not something we need on a regular basis. So rather than waste it, I was forced to bake these cookies.

Happy new Year everyone, I hope you’re looking forward to something good in 2016, even if it’s the same good stuff that came your way in 2015.

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there are macadamias inside 🙂

*It took me a while to realise that when American’s refer to ‘romaine’ lettuce, it’s the ‘cos’  lettuce us Aussies know and love. Aussies also refer to both the seeds and leaves (and roots) as coriander, whereas the leaves in American = cilantro.

Mythical OSCs

One reason that I try to keep up to date with scientific publications re: insufficient ovaries etc. is to keep an eye out for anything from a particular research group. Last month something was published from this group, from the lab of Jonathan Tilly. Not a research paper, but an application for a patent (1). This isn’t too surprising; applications of commercial research discoveries need to be patented before being published elsewhere. And like it or not, new technologies that help infertile couples are commercial in nature (even if a research group does not intend to make money off their discovery it’s a good idea to secure a patent rather than someone else doing so).

Why am I curious about the activities of J. Tilly’s lab? Because they are the main research group (in the world) investigating whether it is possible to create new human eggs. That is probably overstating and over-simplifying the matter but it’s true enough to say that this group have been ‘hunting for OSCs’ for quite a few years now. What is an OSC? It stands for Oogonial Stem Cell (Tilly’s term). An oogonium is the type of cell that develops to form an egg (more correctly: oocyte or ovum, depending on developmental stage), so an OSC would be a stem cell that produces eggs, theoretically. But whereas our bodies contain stem cells to renew various cells in our bodies (most notably our blood) certain types of cells are thought to be not renewed in adult humans. For instance, brain cell renewal, while a nice idea, remains to be unproven.

Similarly, women are told that they are ‘born with all the eggs she will ever produce’. This is because current dogma states that the formation of eggs (actually oocytes) form in a growing female embryo during the mother’s pregnancy. The number of oocytes in any ovary actually peaks before the female baby is even born. This means we lose ‘eggs’ from our ovaries before we even join the world. That’s OK, as the number left remaining when the female child is born is enough to supply at least 3 decades of fertility. At least, this estimate of cell numbers is what the dogma (born with all your eggs) is based upon (I’d like to write a separate post on this calculation some time if I get around to it!). This is just one of the reasons why the idea of egg stem cells/OSCs seems so radical, there just doesn’t seem to be a need for them in adult women.

Of course I’d like to believe that they exist, so that rather than a depleted egg basket, I can think of my ovaries as a production line that needs a good service and then can be switched back on. This is not the process that Tilly et al. are claiming in their patent application, however. Instead, the patent is protecting the idea of using the mitochondria from the OSCs to boost other egg cells. This is wise seeing as a patent to produce human eggs skirts right along the controversial edge of what is ethically and legally patentable (I am no expert in patent law, but in Australian patent law at least, you cannot patent ‘human beings, and the biological processes for their generation’).

So the whole thing is very controversial, do these cells, with the desired ability to produce viable eggs really exist? Hopefully a peer-reviewed scientific article will follow the publication of this patent application, and then we will get to hear some of the appraisals (negative or otherwise) from those in the field that really know about this sort of thing! In the meantime, human OSCs remain mythical.

(1) US20150353887 A1 Compositions and Methods for Autologous Germline Mitochondrial Energy Transfer

Small, fuel-efficient cars are more handy than you realise

Sometimes hubby and I dream of having a larger car, even though we don’t use our current vehicle all that much. We use it for the occasional long highway drive but don’t use it for commuting and keep most errands local. It’s not that we want room to stretch out, or to sit above other traffic, but a larger car (or van, or truck, or a good ol’ ute!) would just be that much more useful. Especially since becoming homeowners, it would be handy for moving large tools/machinery, loads of mulch or new rocks for the rockery, lumber etc. It would also be great for camping holidays.

Besides the fact that we can’t afford one (especially after Christmas!),  we don’t actually need one (like most of the things we lust after). Even better, it turns out that with a little ingenuity, our small hatchback is capable of more jobs than we realised. It’s a Peugeot 207 (the last 207 they made, even Peugeot has upgraded to a slightly bigger model these days) and the handiest thing is that the back seats are easily removed and laid flat to instantly more than double the boot/trunk size.

Last autumn we cut back just about all of the bushes in the garden and therefore had a mountain of ‘green waste’ prunings. For months I kept thinking we had to hire a trailer or truck to shift it all (our local council does not pick this stuff up for free) but it turned out that we could use our little car all along. We found a cheap ‘tarpaulin bag’ that fit snugly in the back and we could fill this to the brim with branches. There’s a great local place that accepts your green waste, composts it for about a year and then sells it back to you as mulch. My lovely husband has now done a few trips, to drop off the waste and shovel nice rich mulch straight back into our little city car. Last time he even fit in a bunch of recycled lumber, picked up from the local tip shop (the recycling store at the dump).

I love this kind of thing, getting maximum utility out of stuff you own. So much nicer than clearing out cupboards and wondering why you’ve kept a bunch of odd things that no longer bring you any pleasure.

hatchback
I should have taken a before photo of the car full of sticks and branches! Or even the time we (just) fit in the 7ft ladder!

Cycle tracking (Menstrual)

2015 has ended. Among other things this means that my little pocket calendar is now full. I picked it up shortly after we began trying to conceive. My cycles had always been a bit irregular (when not on the contraceptive pill), and at the time my husband had lots of short work trips to another city. For a while, we assumed that it was difficult to conceive due to a timing issue. Hence the use of the calendar. Writing about this reminds me that back then (the second half of 2014) I was also using home ovulation tests and a mini-microscope to see if i was producing oestrogen (the ‘fern’ test).

pocket_calendar

A common piece of advice given to couples trying to conceive (and usually just to the woman) is ‘just relax and it will happen’. I’ve been the recipient of this old chestnut myself, and been told that tracking my periods and trying to figure out if/when ovulation is occurring is counter-productive. I didn’t pay this much heed. Besides the fact that it is a fairly useless (however well-meaning) piece of advice, it just doesn’t suit me to lack information on a problem i’m trying to solve. So, I now have data for the past 16 ‘cycles’.

I say ‘cycles’ in inverted commas because what this data properly displays is intervals between vaginal bleeds. Sounds less pleasant, eh? I was actually mildly offended when a doctor recently corrected me when I was referring to my ‘periods’. He said that the term period refers only to that which happens after ovulation, but seeing as I am probably not ovulating then those times that I have had to use feminine hygiene products should be referred to as ‘vaginal bleeds’. This was the doctor who gave me a second opinion recently, and this was a big clue that he believed ovarian insufficiency was the same thing as early menopause. I still believe that my situation is a lot more complicated than that. For one thing, I have seen positive home ovulation tests, yet not constantly elevated luteinising hormone. Similarly my oestrogen levels constantly change, not as regularly and predictably as a fertile woman, but it’s not a desert down there either.

cycletracking

Back to the topic at hand, cycle tracking, and I’m really glad that I have kept track. It’s true that I’ve had some large gaps with no bleeding, and these are worrisome. After the largest gap of nearly 4 months (cycle 14) I was glad to see that the next gap was less than 2 months. Then, in early December it occurred to me that it would be great to bleed again before Christmas. I got my wish! This small amount of excitement led me to a bad scientific conclusion, in that my cycles seem to be trending towards more normal (bad scientist because 3 data points barely support a trend). However, this was enough to spur me on to make a chart, and it points out a very odd coincidence:

There are 3 extra long (> 2 month) cycles (no. 7, 11 and 14). Before each of these were the times when I had my hormones tested. That is, I had blood drawn for tests 4 weeks into cycle 7, 8 weeks into cycle 11 and 12 days into cycle 14. Basically, although i’d had some long cycles previously (or ‘skipped’ some), the really long intervals in between bleeds only occurred when i’d lost some blood due to hormone testing. Was my body lacking in something or so low in something that even a small blood draw of 30-40 mLs could throw it even further off kilter??

I won’t really know for sure, but I can at least keep tracking my cycles to see if avoiding needles and syringes coincides with some intervals approaching 28 days. Eventually it may be nice to get some proper cycle day 2/3 (baseline) tests done, which would be much more informative than the AMH/FSH readings I have currently which were taken during the intervals of inactivity. But i’ll only request those tests if/when my periods become more regular.

The chart also shows that I DID have some intervals of normal length, which was a nice reminder after focusing on those long ones. And my previous doctor was happy to call these ‘periods’, seeing as the amount, duration and and symptoms such as cramping, all appeared to be normal. I’m not going to spend 2016 pining for a pregnancy (there’s too much else to do, and plenty that is much more entertaining besides) but it’s nice to know that my ovaries are not completely defunct and may even be getting better (maybe? perhaps? we’ll see…).