Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Sweet Potato and Cumin Lentil Soup

I woke up with an upset belly this morning.  I thought might have been pregnant picked up a bug when my digestive system was acting a bit strange a week or so ago, but then my period started so I blamed it on the prostaglandins... until this morning when the pain and discomfort came back with a vengeance.

I couldn't eat breakfast or lunch, but by dinner I was pretty hungry.   What to make for dinner with only two tomatoes, and a lime left in the fridge before we go away tomorrow...?  Oh and half a sweet potato hiding in the back.

This soup tastes completely different to the last lentil soup recipe I posted.

And I know that they say you can simply use split red lentils without soaking and cooking them first, and sometimes I do, but I was in no mood to make my symptoms any worse so prepared the lentils the way I would any other dried pulse.  I don't know if its the brand or if its just that they were old (oops, best before last February) but I'm really glad I did.  LOADs of foul smelling scum came off the top of the pot when I cooked them.  Better not to give that to my poor digestive system to deal with.

Fertility Focus
Sweet Potato is full of antioxidants, vitamin C and Vitamin A as well as being a source of potassium, calcium and iron.
Tomatoes are full of the antioxidant lycopene which boosts sperm health and also contain folate, B6, vitamin A and vitamin E.
Lentils are a good source of folic acid, full of iron and provide a non-meat form of protein.


  • Cumin seeds
  • Onion
  • Sweet Potato
  • Tomato
  • Chicken stock
  • Pre-cooked split red lentils
  • Lime
  • Fresh basil to garnish

Boil some water and plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water.  Skin and chop tomatoes.
Heat soup pot over a medium flame and toast the cumin seeds.  Add finely chopped onion, sweet potato and tomatoes.  Allow to sweat for a few minutes.

Add chicken stock and red lentils and simmer until sweet potato is soft.  Blend with a stick blender.  Ladle into bowls.  Squeeze over lime juice and sprinkle with basil.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Prawn Stir Fry

In a couple of days we're going to the island of Jersey, in the English Channel for a bit of a holiday.

Ever since we started working on having a family, I've also been working on my family tree.  I think the connection is fairly obvious.

My Grandmother's grandmother emigrated to New Zealand from Jersey in 1874 as part of the government assisted immigration scheme.  She was 22 and as far as I've been able to tell from the passenger list, travelling alone.

Within three years she was married to another Jersey immigrant and had borne her first child.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Taking it day by day...

After I lost Poppy, I think I also lost my self a little bit.  I took only two days off work, during which I mainly slept, then threw myself back into activity.  I said I was worried about getting bored, but maybe I was just doing anything I could to avoid acknowledging the enormity of what had happened and the feelings which threatened to overwhelm me.  I drank too much red wine which helped me avoid my feelings but made me hate myself because I wanted to be healthy for a future pregnancy.

When I wasn't working, I did a lot of reading, to distract myself and to try to understand.  I read many amazing blogs about infertility and loss and those gave me some perspective.  I didn't know why I lost my baby, or if there was anything I could have done to prevent it, or if I did something to actually cause it.  I had lots of questions.  What is the meaning of life anyway?

This questioning led me to some interesting books among the self-help shelves of my local library that have opened up the way I think about it all.  I'll write about some of those sometime.

I'm definitely doing it differently this time.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Ethiopian Fasting Food Feast for Fertility

It tastes so much better than it looks
I had a sweet potato and thought a red-lentil curry was in order for dinner, but I make variations on that dish all the time and kind of wanted something different.  As I was surfing around looking for a twist, I came across a blog post for an Ethiopian sweet potato and red lentil curry which reminded me how much I loved Ethiopian food.

I first tried Ethiopian food when I was still new to San Francisco.  I don't remember what we ordered, but it didn't make any impression on me.  The second time I tried Ethiopian food was about eight years later.  When my good friend from New York wanted me to meet his new girlfriend in London, she selected an Ethiopian restaurant around the corner from where I was living in South London. Given she'd been to Ethiopia, Oliver and I let her order for all of us.  She ordered a vegetarian platter served on injera and it was DELICIOUS.

Several years later when Mr Duncan and I were in Ethiopia with the Landy and I was still vegetarian, all I ordered at restaurants was the fasting food.  In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, there are two days of the week where it is forbidden to consume animal products, so for those two days and certain religious holidays eg Lent, everyone eats the vegan fasting food.  Fortunately for me most places served the fasting food dishes every day of the week.  I certainly wasn't going to eat kitfo, although Mr Duncan seemed to like it.

Post miscarriage acupuncture and the kindness of strangers

My scan after I lost Pipkin showed that there was retained tissue.  The doctor advised I give it a few days to see if it would pass by itself and scheduled a scan for the following week.  She said if there was still tissue then I'd need to have surgery to remove it.

I've only had a general anaesthetic once in my life, when my wisdom teeth were removed (they were growing the wrong way up into my cheekbones) and have no desire to experience that again.  I was also aware that a D&C can sometimes result in scarring which can affect the lining of the womb and implantation.

I was desperate to 'complete' the miscarriage on my own so emailed my acupuncturist with the news that I'd lost my baby and a request for advice.  I made an appointment to try to stimulate my body to expel the retained tissue naturally.

By the time of my first appointment, five days after my loss, the bleeding had subsided and I was just spotting. The bleeding restarted quite vigorously within an hour of my first acupuncture session but after two days no clots had passed so I made a second appointment.

It was a nice day so I decided to walk the 25 minutes distance to my appointment.  I had the treatment and did notice on my way down the stairs that my legs were a bit trembly, but didn't think much of it as I set out to walk home.  Within about 200 metres, my legs started feeling weird and I felt nauseous and faint.  I clung on to a garden wall as I felt my legs fold underneath me.  I felt a strong cramp and a gush of sudden bleeding. I was frightened and started crying.  I had no idea what was going on with my body and felt alone and vulnerable in the middle of a main road in west London.

I made my way to the bus stop a few more metres up the road and took a seat, lowering my head between my legs to help with the fainting.  I couldn't think straight. I didn't know what was happening and didn't know what to do.  Was this the hemorrhaging they warned me about at the hospital?  How was my blood pressure? Should I go back to the hospital?  I phoned Mr Duncan to tell me what to do.  He made me check my pulse.  A bit fast, but strong.  He offered to come and get me, but that would have taken over an hour by the time he took public transport home to get the car so we agreed I'd take a cab.

I know I was crying like a crazy person, but it surprised me how many people looked at me as if I was dangerous while giving me a wide berth.  Only the dope-scented old Rasta man at the bus stop asked if I was okay and listened to my incoherent response.  He sat with me and offered me his bus fare, bless him, but the buses weren't going in my direction.  He voluntarily missed bus after bus as he helped me hail a cab and saw me safely into it.  I feel a lot of gratitude to that kindly old man.

After about an hour of severe cramping, I passed a large clot and was given the all clear at my scan the next day.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Visa granted

The much awaited visa grant
A long, long time ago, Mr Duncan and I agreed we would move to Australia.   We just needed to wait until his start-up company started doing well (we thought three years was reasonable), and he felt that it could continue to prosper without his daily supervision.

Three years later I was climbing the walls in frustration and he still hadn't applied for the skilled migrant visa he'd promised to apply for - even though it promised no guarantee of a visa within any particular time-frame.

Then we found out we were pregnant with Pipkin.  Immediate change of priorities.  I found another visa we could apply for - family member of NZ citizen and we submitted it as soon as we could.  I was keen to have my baby in Australia* and wanted to get there before airlines start denying you boarding...

The estimated waiting time for visa processing was 2-3 months which in the worst case scenario gave us a window of a few weeks between visa grant/denial and third trimester travel ban.

We lost Pipkin three days after we posted the visa application but that didn't change the time-frame (thank God).  Mr Duncan's medical did.  He had ridiculously high blood pressure which was way outside the permissible guidelines for medical approval.

When he told me I cried - and put him on a strict blood pressure and weight loss 'diet'.  I say diet but it mostly involved him not buying sandwiches from Eat or Pret for lunch and taking food from home or looking at offerings from Crussh.  Oh, and eat no bread or dairy in front of me given he is a bread and chocolate milk addict..

A flurry of letters between his GP and the embassy doctors ensued where the embassy doctors requested his high blood pressure history and his GP said there was no history and that he had 'white coat syndrome'. Which he does, but he has also put on 5 stone in the past three years since we returned to London and the rat race.  I expected the best case scenario would be that they would ask him to re-test.  The embassy sent the results to Australia for 'consideration'.  Who knows how long that would take?
Mr Duncan got the email yesterday.  Visa has been granted with nil restrictions.


When he told me I cried.  With joy.  Relief?

There is a lot to organise what with households and cars and bank accounts but I hope we're there and settled by the end of the year.

Oh, I'm still having stupid symptoms but caved in and got a BFN.  Sigh.  Before I ever got pregnant, I always thought I could trust my body.

*and this is no reflection on the UK medical system** which has been nothing but good to me in its own way. Mostly I didn't want to have a newborn in London when the weather was crap and I had no support system.  To be fair, my support system in our chosen city of Melbourne is not high - I know a couple of people, but the weather and public transport are better and worst case scenario I can fly a friend from NZ over in less than four hours.

** We had the same conversations about Poppy, but had agreed we'd give his new company three years, so Poppy was always going to be a UK baby.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Sardine and Feta Potato Pizza

I'm irritable and my breasts look funny.  It must be PMS.  Or maybe I'm irritable because I'm so damned warm? I must be pregnant.  I am peeing all the time... but maybe that's because I'm drinking so much water.  I'm drinking so much water because I'm so uncomfortably warm.  Gah!  Let the thought carousel stop!  I'm driving myself nuts.

The first two cycles after I lost Pipkin, we were careful to make sure we didn't conceive.  I had lost a lot of blood and felt like crap.  I wanted to give my body some time to recover.  We also didn't want to increase the chances of another loss if we conceived quickly and my body wasn't up to it.

This cycle we were not trying, but we took no measures to prevent either.  We are just trying to take one day at a time, enjoy each other and not worry about ttc for a bit.  It turns out I hate it.  I mean, I'm fine with the theory but the practice?  At least when I take my bbt I know what day I ovulated and what day to expect my period.  I can see what my temperatures are doing and the likelihood of being or not being pregnant.  This not knowing is messing with my mind.  As annoying as it is to wake up at the same time every day to take your temperature, I'm definitely starting again next cycle!

I am craving sardines though.  They're useful little critters, full of goodness and conveniently packed in an inexpensive can.  I like to have some on hand for the occasional sardine-and-tomato-on-toast weekend lunch.  I was given some excellent quality sardines in olive oil with chilli peppers by a friend when she came back from a trip to France so want to do justice by them.

When I was at university and my food budget was limited I liked to make sardine pizza.  The pizza dough itself was just a basic scone/biscuit recipe*.  Topped with passata, onion, sardines and cheese and thrown in the oven for 25 minutes, it was easy and tasty comfort food.  (Comfort food? It could be either pregnancy or PMS!)

I don't want to make pizza though as Mr Duncan is still off bread for blood pressure reasons - and it looks like its making a difference as his jeans were falling off him yesterday.  As usual I have a glut of potatoes and googling around for ideas brought me to a uktv recipe.   Now I couldn't follow the recipe as the instructions were not clear enough (do you layer the potato cooked or raw?) and I didn't have fresh sardines for a start.

Fertility Focus
Sardines -  full of essential fatty acids, vitamin D and a food source of coenzyme Q10 which aids mitochondrial function - not to mention all the olive oil they're packed in.

  • Par-boiled potatoes, sliced thinishly
  • Onion, sliced thinly
  • Courgette, sliced
  • Tinned sardines
  • Olive oil (I used the olive oil from the sardines)
  • Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • Feta cheese to sprinkle

Set the oven to 180 degrees C.  Oil the bottom of a heavy oven-proof pan and layer the potatoes, overlapping in a spiral starting from the middle.  Drizzle with some of the olive oil from the tin of sardines.  Cook in the oven for about 10 minutes, until they start to crisp up.

Remove from oven.  Layer the onions then the courgettes on top.  Flake the sardines and scatter over with the sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese. Drizzle some more olive oil from the sardines over the top.

Return pan to the oven for another 15-20 minutes until veggies are cooked and topping is starting to colour.

We served this with a salad made of grated carrot and beetroot tossed with mint and sunflower seeds, and dressed it with apple cider vinegar and olive oil.

This recipe would be equally good with sardines in tomato sauce, or tinned mackerel or herring.  Actually, I quite like the idea of using the potato galette instead of pizza base for any topping.  Maybe I've finally found a way to get through all those potatoes that come in our veg box!

*I don't know what to call them in the UK, but they're definitely scones in New Zealand and biscuits in the US.


We received kiwifruit in our veg box this week, which reminded me of this article from Thats Life magazine about a woman who ate kiwifruit to combat antibodies that can cause miscarriage instead of taking the asprin she is allergic to.  It gives me hope because not only did she conceive four times in her 40s, but her successful pregnancy was at the age of 43.

As a kid, growing up in New Zealand, chinese gooseberries (as we knew them in the 70s) were really common.  I remember visiting friends working as fruit pickers at the orchards in Te Puke showing me the sorting shed which was quite an introduction into mass processing and where any fruit too small or funny shaped were available to the workers to take home with them for free.  Cue kiwifruit in every meal on that trip. Yum.

Zespri, the New Zealand kiwifruit export marketing board, has information on the nutritional benefits of kiwifruit which turn out to be quite the powerhouse - and some interesting recipes which I might try.  I'm not too sure about those golden kiwifruit though, I'm sure those didn't exist when I was growing up...


Sunday, 18 August 2013

Chicken and Butternut Tagine

We were watching some recorded episodes of 'Celebrity' Masterchef last night and contestant Shappi Khorsandi cooked an Iranian chicken leg recipe for the guest judges. She didn't get great reviews for it, but my phantom early pregnancy symptoms continue and I immediately wanted to eat chicken leg. Given the existence of something like couvade syndrome, I know it is entirely possible that the symptoms are solely in my head. Nevertheless, I am starving! So off we went to the butcher this morning.

By the way, after noting her cradling her bump at the beginning of the first episode, I was especially tickled by Shappi's freudian slip about cooking placenta.  I hear its good for you!

In this tagine recipe, I made sure not to make Shappi's mistake (commented on by the judges) of serving the chicken with rubbery skin...

Fertility Focus
Butternut Squash is rich in Vitamin A, zinc and selenium.
Chickpeas are a good plant source of protein and dietary fibre.

  • Chicken legs
  • Onion
  • Finely chopped garlic
  • Finely chopped hunk of fresh ginger
  • Cumin seeds
  • Ground coriander
  • Cinnamon
  • Tumeric
  • Carrot
  • Butternut squash
  • Cooked chickpeas
  • Dried apricots
Set the oven to 180 degrees C.  Place the chicken, skin side down, in an ovenproof casserole dish.  Turn on the heat and brown both sides (in batches if necessary, I did 2 batches of 3 chicken legs), allowing the fat to render, like when you cook duck breast.

Chop the vegetables into large-ish chunks.  When all the chicken is browned remove to a plate, drain the chicken fat then add the onion, garlic, ginger and spices to the casserole.  Cook until the onion is soft then add the root vegetables and mix well.  Pour over enough chicken stock to almost cover the root veg, then arrange the browned chicken, skin side up on top of the veggies.  Put the lid on and cook in the oven for about 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and carefully stir the chickpeas and apricot in to the liquid under the chicken without mushing up the root veg.  Return to oven with the lid off, turn up the heat to 200 and continue cooking another 10-15 minutes, until the chicken skin is brown and crispy.

Although moroccan tagine is typically served with flatbread, I served this with fluffy quinoa (having discovered we were out of millet) and garnished with toasted almonds.

Acceptably crispy skin

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Spicy Mackerel Ceviche

I asked Mr Duncan to send me the picture of the salad I made last night and he sent me three pics... the one I requested and two meals I had forgotten I even made!

A few weeks back I went in to Mr Duncan's office to review a presentation being given by one of his colleagues in application for a design award.  She was keen to get feedback from someone who worked in the same industry, but not the same company, to make sure the presentation wasn't too full of jargon or missing the brief.

I turned up a few minutes early so wandered around the bookshop next door.  A book entitled Ceviche caught my eye.  I LOVE marinated raw fish.  The fish flesh 'cooks' in the acids in the marinade.  My mother used to make the South Pacific version with freshly caught fish swimming in rich coconut cream.  I've since expanded my horizons into the coastal South American version known as ceviche but have only ever made it with white fish or prawns.

We bought some fresh mackerel with our box from Abel and Cole this week as it was on special and oily fish is on my list of nutrient-dense foods to focus on.  Could you even make ceviche with oily fish?  I had a quick flip to the back of the book and found mackerel in the index.  Woohoo!  Dinner planned.

Flicking through the book quickly, I also learned the name for the marinade is 'tiger milk' and it is so highly prized that people drink it on its own without the fish.  I think tigers are native to Asia, so might just take that information with a pinch of salt.  Marinade-wise I went with a lemon and orange juice mix because I didn't have enough lemon and there was fresh oj in the fridge, but there are loads of different flavour combinations you can try so do some research and experiment.

Fertility Focus
Mackerel - Oily cold water fish are a dietary source of essential fatty acids which enhance egg and sperm health, increase the quality of your ewcm and regulate your hormones.   Mackerel is also rich in vitamin D.

  • Fresh mackerel
For the marinade
  • Finely chopped onion
  • Lemon juice
  • Orange juice
  • Finely chopped fresh chilli to taste
Bone and fillet the mackerel.  Peel off the skin, but its okay to leave the silver colour.  Mix together the marinade ingredients in enough quantity to cover the mackerel.  Pour over the mackerel and leave to marinate for a few hours.  The fish is 'cooked' when it is no longer translucent.  Drain off the bulk of the marinade and serve.

London still enjoying somewhat of a heatwave, I served the ceviche atop a tomato and cucumber salad, then we had the rest on toast for breakfast the following morning.

Roast Butternut, Feta and Basil Salad

Herby carby goodness
I hate the two week wait. I am only 12 DPO and I simultaneously want to pee on a stick RIGHT NOW and wait until 18 DPO so as not to be disappointed if there is any chance of a 'chemical' pregnancy.

Why do I want to test?

I am craving dairy. I don't even like dairy very much except when I am pregnant when I could live on custard, raita and breadsticks if I let myself.

My aureole are enlarged, darker and covered in Montgomery's Tubercles. This would have been a sign in March 2012 as I never had any changes in my breasts post O before I became pregnant with Poppy however now my body tricks me every other cycle with these signs.

I feel dizzy when I stand up, but have low blood pressure anyway. I might feel a little nauseous and gassy, but could that be the extra legumes I ate yesterday?

Gah!  I'm driving myself mental.

In a cursory nod to dairy, I went ahead and tried to re-create that butternut squash and feta salad I mentioned that time I got the hokkaido squash in my veggie box, throwing in some bonus sweet potato for good measure.

I still want custard though.

Fertility Focus:
Butternut Squash is rich in Vitamin A and also contains zinc and selenium which is important for ovarian and sperm health.
Sweet Potato is full of antioxidants, vitamin C and Vitamin A as well as being a source of potassium, calcium and iron.
Chickpeas are a good plant source of protein.


  • Olive oil
  • Butternut Squash
  • Sweet Potato
  • Cumin Seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Fresh basil
  • Feta cheese

Set your oven to 180 degrees C.  Peel and chop the butternut squash and sweet potato into bite sized pieces.  Toss veg in a spoonful of olive oil and spread on an oven tray.  Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes (depending on the size of your bites).  Remove and allow to cool.

Mix cooled roast veg with fresh basil leaves, chopped feta, cooked chickpeas and a sprinkle of cumin seeds.

I don't dress this further, as the olive oil from the roast veg works to lubricate it all but you could add a squeeze of lemon.

I also sometimes make this with boiled butternut squash as a lighter option.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Chorizo and Chili Enchiladas

The tastiest leftovers in the world.

In the past couple of days I've been really craving hot food, as in spicy hot, in a way that reminds me of the pregnancy cravings I was having not long before I lost Poppy.  I've also been super-tired and had some strong pains in my right nipple yesterday.  These things all make me think optimistically I might be pregnant again.  But realistically I'm only 7 DPO so the chances of such symptoms at such an early stage is pretty low.  Even if fertilised, the egg has probably not even implanted. 

I've become better at cooking for two, chopping maybe only half a vegetable instead of the whole thing.  But given I put half a dozen different veggies in one meal, I still often end up with more than I anticipated, like with the Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili the other day.  Given my agreement with Mr Duncan is that we can have meat-based meals twice a week, I had planned on doing something with the chorizo he brought home from the local farmers market last weekend.

Spicy cravings + chorizo + tortilla bread in the freezer = mexican enchiladas.

I found a great recipe for enchilada sauce on  Naturally I had to alter it a bit due to ingredient constraints.  I added a little finely chopped fresh chilli to make up for the fact I dont have garlic salt and the normal salt was omitted in deference to Mr Duncan's blood pressure requirements.  It turned out SO much better than I could have imagined.  I think the key was the home made chicken stock.  I will definitely be making it again.

For the enchiladas I simply browned the chorizo and mixed in the leftover chilli to reheat.  I rolled the chorizo and chili mix in halved tortillas with a bit of enchilada sauce and grated cheese, packed into an ovenproof dish and topped the enchiladas with the remaining enchilada sauce and grated cheese.  20 minutes in a 180 degree oven.  Served with a fresh tomato, onion and fennel salsa.

Spicy bliss which more than satisfied my cravings.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili Sin Carne

Hot and healthy!
I've written of my regard for healthy mexican food in the past.  

When its cool, I often make a Chili Sin Carne - usually with a three bean mix, tomatoes and whatever veg is in the fridge.  Unfortunately, although we're only in the second week of August, it is noticably cooler than the past month or so.  Definitely too cool for a summer salad so today I thought I'd try making a super-fertility chili with sweet potato.  I'd never put white potato in a chili - it is too starchy, but sweet potato seems to cook without leaching anything so I thought it would work out okay.  And it did.

I normally buy dried beans and prepare a big pot, which I freeze in portions for later use throughout the year.  Because we are hoping for an Australian Visa any day now, I'm clearing out the freezer and cupboards and buying canned beans as we need them rather than stocking up.

Because canned beans usually include salt and whatever it is that causes wind if you dont prepare beans properly, I drain and rinse my canned beans and boil in a pot for a few minutes (until they release the scum) and drain and rinse again before I use them. 

Fertility Focus
Black beans are a good source of non-animal protein, rich in antioxidants and also provide folate, B6, iron, and zinc.
Sweet Potato is full of antioxidants, vitamin C and Vitamin A as well as being a source of potassium, calcium and iron.
Quinoa is a plant based form of protein, and contains all nine of the essential amino acids needed for cell renewal.
Kale is full of antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin K and is a good plant source of calcium.
Tomatoes are full of the antioxidant lycopene which boosts sperm health and also contain folate, B6, vitamin A and vitamin E. 
Avocado is high in Vitamin E which helps increase sperm mobility and keeps sperm from clumping together.

  • Canned black beans
  • Coconut oil
  • Cumin seeds
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Ground coriander
  • Smoked paprika
  • Fresh chilli to taste
  • Sweet potato, chopped into 1cm cubes
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Quinoa
  • Corn kernels
  • Courgette, chopped
  • Kale, finely chopped
  • Fresh tomato and avocado, cubed and mixed into a salsa to garnish.
NOTE: For four servings, I used about a cup of each vegetable, except the corn and courgette, which made up a cup together and the quinoa, which was about 1/4 cup.


Heat the oil and cumin seeds in a large pot (I use my wok) until the cumin seeds are aromatic.  Add roughly chopped onion and garlic.  Saute until soft then add dried spices, finely chopped chilli and sweet potato cubes. Saute for about 5 minutes.  Add tomato and enough water to ensure the sweet potato is just covered.  Cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in the black beans and quinoa.  Recover and cook for another 10 minutes.

Stir in corn kernels, courgette and kale and allow to cook, uncovered for about 5 more minutes, until the kale is bright green and the corn and courgette lightly cooked.

Top with a generous helping of tomato and avocado salsa and a touch of grated cheese.  I would have included lots of fresh coriander in the salsa had we had any.


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Naming and honouring angels...

A lone flower among the lilypads
One of the few friends I can (and do) speak quite openly to about Poppy and Pipkin commented recently that she thinks it is so cute that I call my lost babies by those names.

Poppy is so named because the day I downloaded all the pregnancy Apps for my iPhone, at all of 4 weeks pregnant, the What To Expect App told me 'The baby is as big as a... Poppyseed".   And it stuck.  It is useful to have a nickname to speak about the new life growing inside you.

Pipkin was named after the smallest rabbit in the book Watership Down, which Mr Duncan was reading aloud to me at bedtime around the time that Pipkin was conceived.

I have read a fair amount of information on loss and grieving since my first miscarriage and many suggest you name your lost babies to formally include them in your family and have a rite of passage, such as a funeral or memorial ceremony to acknowledge their loss.    

While I had certainly been looking at baby names prior to my losses, we had nothing like a short list.  In fact it is unmanageably long.  Maybe if they were older when we lost them, we would have had more of an idea, but part of me feels it is too early to decide before the baby is born and I actually get to meet him or her in person.

When I was in my 20s a close friend had his first baby and excitedly sent out the birth announcement to his friends that his firstborn was named Alexander.  Several days later we received another email, from his wife, saying that after a few days of living with him, it was clear that their son was not an Alexander after all, in fact he was a William.

So they remain Poppy and Pipkin, but I am so glad they both already had their names before I lost them.

Mr Duncan and I want to have some sort of ceremony for them before we leave to live in Australia (still crossing my fingers for the visa) - because they will of course be staying here.  It would be nice to plant a tree or rosebush or something in our garden, but we're in rented accommodation so thats not really a possibility.  I'll have to think about what would work for us...


Turkish Menemen brunch

A different sort of egg fry up.
Mr Duncan made this one pan egg dish known ans Menemen or Shakshuka for our brunch yesterday morning. 

Given Mr Duncan's ban on eating bread and dairy, his usual brunch specialties of poached eggs on toast or cheese omelette are no longer on the menu.  Poached eggs on their own do not seem appetising, and while we will often have omelette with mushrooms or tomatoes, we dont have any of either this week.

I spent some time living in Istanbul teaching English in the six months between winning the green card lottery and actually moving to the United States.  I knew the holiday entitlement in the US was only about 2 weeks a year and I figured I may never have the opportunity to live and work somewhere so exotic again.  I like my adventures.  In any case, I fell in love with Turkish food while I was there.  The dishes are generally super simple to make - and super tasty.  Menemen - made either with this method where you poach the eggs in the tomato mixture or with the scrambled eggs method - makes a great eggy brunch with no bread or dairy required.  This is not to say you couldnt eat it with fresh crusty bread to soak up the juices, or topped with thick natural yoghurt.

The recipe Mr Duncan followed is one from a feature on the Modern Pantry restaurant I ripped out of the Times Magazine and tucked in my recipe notebook some years ago.  I've given the instructions per the original recipe below.  We didnt have any red onion, peppers, fennel seeds or mustard seeds so substituted finely chopped white onion and fresh fennel instead and used a bit of fresh green chilli from Mr Duncan's plants.

Fertility Focus
Eggs are considered to strongly boost fertility in Chinese medicine.
Cumin is good for uterine health according to Ayurvedic medicine.

  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 3/4 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 knob ginger, minced
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large red pepper, diced
  • 6 large vine ripened tomatoes, diced, or 375g tin tomatoes
  • 4 large eggs
  • extra virgin olive oil, to serve
  • fresh parsley, chopped, to garnish
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet.  (Mr Duncan used our new Le Crueset grill pan, which I dont recommend as the ridges make it tricky to dish the food when it is ready).
Add the fennel, cumin and mustard seeds and the chilli flakes.  Saute for a couple of minutes until the spices are aromatic, then add the ginger, onion and garlic.  Continue to saute until softened then add the red pepper and tomato.  Cover with a lid and gently cook for 10 minutes.  The sauce should be aromatic and beginning to thicken.

Check for seasoning, then crack the eggs on top and leave the sauce to simmer away gently until the eggs are cooked to your liking. (I suggest you make little 'holes' in the thick sauce to crack the eggs into and cover with a lid otherwise the bottom of the egg gets overcooked while the top is runny).

Remove from heat, sprinkle with olive oil and plenty of freshly chopped parsely and serve in the pan with tahini yoghurt alongside.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Talking about miscarriage and loss

Something that surprised me when I had my miscarriage was the information that one pregnancy in three ends in miscarriage. That means statistically, for every three women I know that has a child, one of them will have had a miscarriage.

I realise that many losses are very early, often before a woman knows she was pregnant, and I wonder if the slightly late period I had the month before we conceived Pipkin was one of these early losses or 'chemical' pregnancy.  This is why I dont test early.  But why dont people talk about it?  Given how open people are about every other aspect of their lives on facebook and twitter, it seems strange that miscarriage is such a hidden subject.  I recently read an article from Stylist which discusses why miscarriage may be the last taboo.

The material I had read on miscarriage said it would be like a heavy period.  So I was in no way prepared for the actual experience and I had no one to talk to about it!  I read through lots of online forums, but there were very few accounts of what to expect.  I guess its true that every woman and every pregnancy is different.  I finally found the brilliant site which offers 'information, healing and hope'.  It gave me practical information while I was miscarrying and assured me that I was not as alone as I felt.  And I felt SO alone.  In many ways I still do.

Very few people knew I was pregnant when I lost Poppy at 10 weeks, but at 15 weeks, we had just started telling people about Pipkin.  People's reactions to my sad news was fairly consistent.  They said sorry and then changed the subject.  But both my pregnancies and both my losses are part of my life - I dont want my babies to be guilty secrets or hidden!  I want to be able to talk about the pregnancy or miscarriage when it comes up and have people listen, not awkwardly turn away.

After my first loss I spent a lot of time reading about other people's losses - I found it oddly comforting and it helped put my loss in perspective.  Many women have gone through the experience of miscarriage or loss and many of their stories are so much more difficult than mine.  One very powerful site I spent a lot of time on was

I also started reading a number of infertility blogs from the amazing Stirrup Queen's Completely Anal List of Blogs That Proves That She Really Missed Her Calling as a Personal Organizer which reminded me that while I have experienced loss, I still have hope, and my journey so far has been comparatively straightforward.   My favourite is Maybe If You Just Relax - it makes me laugh and I am impressed that the author has been able to write about her difficult journey with such honesty and humour!

I have written about the losses of both Poppy and Pipkin with the hope that these stories may in some way help other women going through this difficult experience.  And because I believe it is important that we as women talk about miscarriage and loss.  We need to acknowledge and honour the short lives of our lost babies for the information and understanding of others, and for our own healing.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Sweet Potato, Kale and Quinoa Fertility Superfood Salad

Fertility super-food salad
"Every woman I know who has eaten sweet potatoes every day on my recommendation has either had a baby or is pregnant at the time of writing, having conceived within four months of being on the sweet potato-rich diet!"

So says Sarah Dobbyn on page 121 of The Fertility Diet.  She also says that sweet potatoes contain sixty minerals compared to the three in white potatoes and are much lower on the glycemic index.

I thought it was yams, but there are rumours on the TTC forums that sweet potatoes are so good for fertility it increases the chance of conceiving multiples.

Mr Duncan and I dont tend to eat that much in the way of white potatoes and substitute the weekly allocation in the veg box for something else every other week or more.  Low GI is good for Mr Duncan's blood pressure diet and although I'm not sure I'm up to eating sweet potato every day, or up to having multiples, it seems like a good food to add to my arsenal, so I ordered some for this weeks veg box.

The weather is still nice and warm, so tonight I wanted something a bit lighter than your average roast sweet potato dinner.  Given I had a fresh delivery of kale and quinoa in the cupboard I thought I'd make a super-fertility salad for dinner.

Fertility Focus
Avocado is high in Vitamin E which helps increase sperm mobility and keeps sperm from clumping together.
Kale is full of antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin K and is a good plant source of calcium.
Quinoa is a plant based form of protein, and contains all nine of the essential amino acids needed for cell renewal.
Sweet Potato is full of antioxidants, vitamin C and Vitamin A which is good for both cervical fluid and the development of your folicles
  • Kale
  • Quinoa
  • Sweet Potato
  • Avocado
  • Cashew nuts
Soak the cashew nuts in water.
Put the oven on to 180 degrees C.  Wash and chope the sweet potato into bite sized cubes.  Drizzle with a little olive oil, and toss so that most of the sweet potato is coated.  Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, raising temperature to 200 degrees for the last five minutes if you want a bit of brown/crunch.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Boil the quinoa for 10 minutes/according to package instructions.  Rinse and allow to cool.
Wash and shred the kale then use your hands to 'massage' it, so it softens.
Peel and chop the avocado into cubes.  Rinse and drain the cashew nuts.
Toss all ingredients in a large bowl with a little balsamic vinegar.

It was delicious!


Pipkin angel

Its been less than six months, but I don't remember finding out I was pregnant with Pipkin.  My Fertility Friend App shows I had a positive pregnancy test at only 12 DPO, which is quite early for testing.  I prefer to wait until my period is *late* late, in order to avoid the excitement/disappointment that goes with a so-called 'chemical pregnancy'.

I vaguely remember having a baby dream.  I dont normally remember my dreams so that may have prompted me to test. In any case - when we found out we were pregnant again, there was none of the excitement or anticipation of the future we had when we found out about Poppy.  More like... trepidation?

As with Poppy, my nausea was mild, but I had strong cravings for ginger and dairy.  I could have been perfectly happy with custard for all meals - which is part what prompted my Custards blog (loss of Pipkin and Mr Duncan's blood pressure is what has suspended it, but I hope to get back to it in the future).

So we were really on tenderhooks until our first scan.  Especially since we never had a scan with Poppy.  At my booking in appointment, the midwife offered to call EPAU - and managed to sort out a scan immediately.  It showed a strong heartbeat and okay size for dates.  What a relief!

Our next scan at nearly 13 weeks showed a high nucal fold reading which is a marker of chromosomal defects.  I declined testing to confirm if/what defects existed as, for me, it would be inappropriate to have a termination for medical reasons.  I knew the risks of 'elderly' conception and we were okay with the idea of having a Down Syndrome baby and a baby with more serious chromosomal issues is much less likely to survive full term. I thought it best to just let nature take its course.  So I guess we knew it was possible, but when  my nausea and breast tenderness started to subside at 14 weeks, we attributed it to the move between the first and second trimesters where the hormones settle down a little and many women start to enjoy pregnancy.  And glow.

In retrospect, Pipkin probably died around that time.

On the Wednesday evening, I attended a prenatal information evening at my hospital where we were taught about how to move our bodies order to promote a healthy pregnancy and birth.  This included practicing kegals (uterine contractions)? so when I noticed a tiny bit of brown blood the next morning.  I attributed it to the activity the prior evening.

I was still spotting the following day, and called NHS Direct for advice.  I was told it was normal, but maybe it would be good to get a bit more rest, take it easy.  So I worked from bed on the Friday.

After an extremely rest oriented Saturday, Mr Duncan and I had been watching a primetime movie on TV and were just getting up to head to bed when I felt a huge gush of liquid between my legs.  I was pretty sure it wasn't my bladder, went to the loo to clean up and noticed the browny coloured water stain on my underwear.  Less than 10 minutes later was another gush down my legs, so I called NHS Direct again who, after asking an endless list of questions finally said they'd get a doctor to call me back.  About 20 minutes later the doctor called and said it was probably fine, but I should go straight to the emergency room to be safe.

So Mr Duncan and I bundled into the car and I thought we were extremely lucky that a) our hospital doesn't deal with the usual Saturday night drunken and car crash emergencies and b) there were only three other people waiting.

Four uncomfortable hours of sitting in the freezing waiting room (and about six trips to the loo) later I  started to bleed red blood and told the receptionist, who managed to get someone to try to get the gynacologist down to see me about 30 minutes later.

The doctor examined me with a speculum, and said although there was a lot of blood, my cervix was still closed and she could admit me for the night, but I "seemed quite sensible" so if I preferred I could go home and come back for a scan which they scheduled for Monday morning.

Sound familiar?

To be honest, at that point, although the doctor was trying to be reassuring, with the volume of blood I was losing, I thought it was likely I'd also lose Pipkin, and I'd rather do it in my own home than some random hospital bed amongst strangers.  The doctor warned we should come back immediately if my blood pressure became too low or if I started losing blood really rapidly - ie more than one maxi-pad an hour.

I dont want to be too graphic, but when I got home I alternated between bending over in convulsions of extreme abdominal and pelvic pain and sitting on the toilet allowing the blood to gush out of me.  Who had time to put on a fresh pad and measure how much was coming out in an hour?  I was worried about haemorrage and checked with Dr Google, but despite the faint spells, my pulse was strong and not too fast so we decided I was okay without going back to the hospital.

Mr Duncan was a hero looking after me, comforting me and dealing with the general gory mess, but I could tell he felt helpless.  As did I. 

The intensity of the pain and blood finally lessened at about 7am and we went upstairs for a sleep.

When I woke up I needed to pee and when I wiped, there was a tiny baby body on my toilet tissue.  I vaguely remembered reading something about ziplock bags and refrigeration from after I lost Poppy, so in my dazed state I put the toilet tissue and all in a ziplock bag in a tupperware container in the fridge and went back to bed.

Before my scan, I delivered Pipkin's tiny body to the Centre for Fetal Care, who sent the tiny body away for testing.

About a month later we went in again and received the news that Pipkin was a little girl and that she had Trisomy13 which is considered 'incompatible with life'.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Hope from the Daily Mail. Again!

Yesterday's cashew and herb pesto on toast
Normally I avoid the Daily Mail with its fixation on scandal, celebrity "baby bumps" (Is she?/Isnt she?) and doom and gloom for 40+ fertility.  It just bums me out.  I'm sure there didnt used to be such a focus on pregnancies and babies in the media when I was growing up.  Or maybe in the absense of the internet, I just didnt have access to such stories in the media that made it into my home.

In any case, only a couple of weeks after its last story of hope, this one hit my attention with a classic Daily Mail headline: 'Is everything we thought we knew about older women and fertility WRONG?'.  It tells the stories of a number of women who had children naturally later in life and highlights a not-so-new book by researcher Jean Twenge, 'The Impatient Woman’s Guide To Getting Pregnant'. It cites the fact that Twenge discovered the oft quoted research regarding the decline of women's fertility as they age was based on church birth records in rural France in the 18th century.  I'm sure my lifestyle is very different from that of the women studied.

I certainly did not get pregnant within 6 months of trying in my late 30's, but I did get pregnant twice in my early 40s and hope that I can do again.

It kind of makes me want to buy the book... which is probably the whole point of the article in the first place.

I'll post a review if I do.


Friday, 2 August 2013

Courgette 'noodles' with cashew and herb pesto

Oodles of noodles
Along with the courgettes in the veg box this week came a recipe for Courgette Tagliatelle with Almond Pesto and Rocket.

Obviously I didnt have the ingredients to follow the recipe.  So I made this instead.

SUPER-tasty!  Mr Duncan loved it.

If you've never made pesto before it is really easy to learn.  At its most simple it is just equal volume of nuts and herbs ground together with a bit of olive oil, but you can make any number of tasty variations.

I like to soak my nuts not only because it offers health benefits - but also because it makes them moist and therefore easier to mash up and requiring less oil in the pesto.

You dont need a food processor.  I dont have one as I actually enjoy the effort involved in chopping and slicing and mixing.  If I'm only making a small amount of pesto, I just use my mortar and pestle, but my hand blender works for a larger amount after I have bashed about the nuts with a knife or rolling pin first.

For the pesto
  • Cashew nuts (I used about half a cup)
  • Fresh herbs (I used about half a cup of basil and parsley mixed together)
  • Clove garlic
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil 
For the salad

  • Brown rice noodles (I thought they were soba noodles until I read the packet after I'd cooked them)
  • Large straight courgette
  • Lemon zest
  • Lettuce
  • Sun-dried tomatoes

Cover the cashew nuts with water and allow to soak.

Boil the noodles according to packet instructions.  Rinse with cold water and drain.  Toss in a bit of olive oil to stop them from sticking together.

Slice the courgette thinly down its length, then cut each slice into thin ribbons, to approximate the shape of your noodles.  Toss the courgette and noodles together and set aside.

Rinse and drain the cashew nuts and blend together all the pesto ingredients to a creamy consistency.  Taste and add more lemon/olive oil/water until you reach the desired taste and consistency.

Toss the noodles and courgette in a few generous sized spoon-fulls of pesto until well covered.  Sprinkle with lemon zest.

I served this on a bed of torn lettuce and garnished with chopped sun-dried tomatoes.

I also had about a quarter of a cup of pesto left over, so I mixed some finely grated parmesan cheese and black pepper into it and plan to eat it on crusty bread with fresh tomatoes for brunch on Saturday.

Poppy angel

When we found out we were pregnant, I was working from home, which minimised stress and enabled me to take catnaps at lunchtime (I was mega tired)  The trade-off was a two night trip to attend meetings in Paris every few weeks.  Having never been pregnant before I was a bit nervous about it all.

My nausea was mild which worried me, but trawls of the message boards showed huge variation in morning sickness among women.  I read somewhere that you don'
t get much in the way of cravings or nausea if your body is getting the right balance of nutrition, so I just hoped I was having an easy time due to good nutrition.

I was aware I had a higher chance of complications due to my age and when I went to the doctor for my first appointment I told the doctor about my working arrangement and asked what did I need to know in case something happened while I was in Paris.  She just said to see a doctor if I started bleeding red blood and to make sure I carried my notes with me when I was away.

The week before I lost Poppy I was asked to attend a lastminute all day meeting in Paris in the week between my usual scheduled trips.  No it couldnt wait.  No there wasnt budget to stay the night.

It was a long day with a 5am start, two 45 minutes long tube trips, two 30 minute long metro trips and two 2.30 hour eurostar trips.  I got home after midnight exhausted and fell into bed.

The following week I went to Paris as usual, but was feeling off.  I put that down to the pregnancy.  At lunchtime on the second day I noticed a small bit of brown blood when I wiped.  I was concerned, but not too worried.  Apparently spotting is common in pregnancy and a little bit of brown blood is nothing to worry about.

During my eurostar trip home, I felt damp between my legs so went to the train toilet to investigate.  Ugh.  Disgusting.  The blood was still brown, but there was more of it.  I cleaned myself up the best I could with the non-absorbent tissue.  I wanted to phone the doctor for advice, but we were just entering the chunnel.

By the time we got through the tunnel to the UK, the bleeding had increased in volume, but it was still brown.  I called my doctors surgery only to be put through to the after hours service which rang and rang.  Sometimes I got cut off due to gaps in the mobile service along the rail track.

I finally got to speak to the after hours doctor as we pulled into St Pancras.  By this time I was panicking and crying hysterically crouched on the platform as the other passengers disembarked.  The doctor said brown blood is not a problem but I should take myself to my maternity hospital for a checkup.  Tube? No, cab.  I found my way to the exit, but couldnt find the cab rank due to the construction at Kings Cross.  Cue more tears and confusion.

Some blessed American tourist asked if I was alright (which I so wasnt) and I sobbed that I needed a cab to the hospital but couldnt find the rank.  He stepped right into the road and stopped a black cab for me to get into.  I told the cab driver that I needed to go to the hospital but I only had 20 pounds and some euros.  He got me to the hospital emergency room in less than 25 minutes during rush hour traffic on a Friday, told me not to worry about the money and that he would pray for me and my baby.

I waited in the emergency room for about an hour.  Mr Duncan came and joined me as soon as he could.  The emergency room doctor examined me, said my cervix was closed and that given it was brown blood we probably didnt need to worry.  The Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit had closed for the day, and he didnt want to get an ultrasound operator in if it wasnt necessary, so could I come back at 9am tomorrow for the scan, just to check everything was okay.  He assured me it would be.  He told me not to worry, I would hold my baby in my arms next January when it was due.

We went home to bed and I started bleeding red blood in the night and experiencing painful cramps.  Somehow Mr Duncan managed to sleep beside me despite my constant squirming/getting up to change pads.  We arrived back at the hospital in time for our appointment at 9am, and waited until 10.45 to be seen.  The ultrasound operator asked I change in the toilet and gave me a robe to wrap around me.  As I started to lower my underwear I felt a strange rush and looked down to find something the size of my fist balanced on the top of my underwear.

 I screamed for Mr Duncan and explained I was losing the baby.  The ultrasound operator came in with a recycled cardboard kidney bowl to collect it.  She then went ahead with the ultrasound, but my womb was completely empty.

Or as the ultrasound operator put it, there were no products of conception retained.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

My first BFP!

We'd been working on getting pregnant for about 18 months... the first year mostly casually, the final six months with increasing concern.  The usual run of tests showed no issues with either myself or Mr Duncan and it was implied it must be a problem due to my age.

I was 40 by the time we went to see the doctor and had genuinely expected I'd be circumstantially infertile until getting together with Mr Duncan at the age of 38.  My sister had both her children in her early 40s so I hoped I would take after her and that we still had some time. I put the hard word on him about children after only 6 months of dating, but we'd known each other for several years before that and while his attitude was that we had loads of time, mine was that time was running out and he agreed to give up the condoms. 

In the months before my 41st birthday I redoubled my efforts to determine if pregnancy was a possibility for me or if we should just give up trying.  I started taking my bbt to ensure I was ovulating and purchased an AMH test from Zita West to see if I even had an ovarian reserve.

I phoned the doctors surgery to make an appointment to have a nurse take a blood sample explaining what it was for.  When I got to the doctors surgery however, the Nurse wouldn't take blood as it was for a private test, not an NHS one.  I didn't understand.  I had explained what it was I needed and was told that I'd have to pay when I made the appointment on the phone so I was pretty frustrated that after the wait, the Nurse was refusing to take the blood sample.

She didn't think that my doctors surgery offered that service but the person in charge wasn't there to check with until the next day.  So she sent me on my way.  I was in floods of tears and had an irrational emotional meltdown when I got home.  I figured the emotions were due to PMS - if somewhat worse than usual, the timing was about right.  In my irrational upset I decided to take a pregnancy test.


Lentil and Kale Salad with Pan Fried Duck Breast

Duck and lentils - a match made in heaven
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