Going Gluten-FreeJanuary 23, 2013

Can’t Get Pregnant?

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Posted by Living Without editor Alicia Woodward

Did you know that celiac disease can directly affect your ability to have a baby? Marisa Horowitz Jaffe shares her story with Living Without:

On my 30th birthday, my husband and I started trying to have a family, expecting to get pregnant in a short time, as neither of us ever had any indications to the contrary. However, after six months of unsuccessful and well-planned trying, I visited my doctor, which eventually led to a first visit with a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). We were diagnosed with “unexplained infertility” since all of our testing came out perfect on both the male and female sides.

At a loss as to how to tackle this medical problem, we vigorously researched untraditional diagnostic testing and eventually had tests run in four different states, became patients at five fertility clinics across the United States, and underwent a total of five intrauterine inseminations and ten in-vitro fertilization cycles, trying various protocols over the course of five years.

We suffered four unexplained miscarriages, including an extremely traumatic loss at 20 weeks pregnant. Then one day, my sister called up and said she had just seen Elisabeth Hasselbeck on television promoting her new book about gluten free living. Elisabeth had discussed how she had unexplained stomach issues her whole life and also had trouble getting pregnant.

Knowing that I’d had stomach problems but no concrete diagnosis, my sister suggested I have a celiac screening test. I got tested and two days later, the blood work came back positive. A week later, my biopsy came back unequivocally positive.

My doctor said we may never have had a fertility issue--that undiagnosed celiac disease could be to blame for our lack of a natural pregnancy, as well as the unexplained miscarriages!

I was told to immediately begin the gluten-free diet and to wait six months before trying to get pregnant. After everything we had endured, I was too traumatized to be pregnant again so we decided to use a gestational surrogate to carry a pregnancy.

Exactly six months from my celiac diagnosis I underwent my 11th in-vitro fertilization cycle and my body responded to the fertility medications in a whole new way. Eventually, two wonderful babies were born!

If you or anyone you know is experiencing unexplained infertility or unexplained repeat miscarriages, please ask for a celiac test. My dream is that this test will one day become a routine procedure at every reproductive doctor’s office, so no one will ever have to experience what we did.

For more about the link between celiac disease and unexplained infertility, read “Why Can’t We Have a Baby?”, published in Living Without’s February/March 2013 issue.