By Meredith Nathan Director of Massage, LMT
The psoas muscle, the largest muscle in the group of muscles that make up the hip flexor, is arguably the most important muscle in your body. Without this vital muscle you’d never be able to get up off the floor! Reaching from the 12th thoracic vertebrae to the 5th lumbar vertebrae, traveling down the pelvis to the femur, it is the primary connector between your torso and your legs The only muscle in your body that connected your legs to your spine, It affects your posture and stabilizes your vertebrae.
A weak or tight psoas is known as a hidden cause of low back pain. But low back pain isn’t the only mysterious symptom associated with an imbalanced psoas. Another frequent symptom is stress, which both causes the psoas to contract and can also be caused by a contracted psoas. Anatomically linked to your breath, it connects to the diaphragm through connective tissue and diaphragmatic ligaments. Stress not only signals the psoas to contract which creates tension in the diaphragm, it also signals shallow, pant-like breathing which doesn’t engage the diaphragm. Both of these factors signal an ancient fight or flight response in the body, activating stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Your psoas muscles also create a muscular shelf that your kidneys and adrenals rest on. As you breathe deeply your diaphragm moves and your psoas muscles gently massage these organs, stimulating blood circulation. But when deep breathing doesn’t occur or the psoas muscles become imbalanced, the adrenals and kidneys don’t receive the stimulation they need, and the feeling of exhaustion can become a way of life. In fact, according to Liz Koch, author of The Psoas Book, “The psoas is so intimately involved in such basic physical and emotional reactions, that a chronically tightened psoas continually signals your body that you’re in danger, eventually exhausting the adrenal glands and depleting the immune system.”
The kidneys and adrenals aren’t the only organ affected: as the psoas travels through the pelvis it supports your organs and works like a hydraulic pump pushing lymph and blood into and out of your cells. When psoas becomes tight or imbalanced, overall abdominal stagnation can occur. And if all that weren’t enough, a tight psoas can directly impact a woman’s reproductive system. The nerves of the reproductive organs embed throughout iliopsoas, and a tight psoas may pin down the uterus, creating painful menstrual cramps. The ovaries, which can double in size during ovulation, also sit close to the psoas, especially if the uterus is retrograde. A tight psoas can cause pain in the ovaries, restrict blood flow, and impinge reproductive nerves.
So how can you tell if you have a tight, weak, or overstrained psoas?
Here are some symptoms of an imbalanced psoas:
- pain in the low back/hips
- leg length discrepancy
- postural problems (especially a low back that has a more extreme ‘C’ curve, or one that has almost no curve
- severe menstrual cramps
- chronic chest breathing
- chronic fatigue
If you’ve identified that your psoas might be tight or over-strained, there are things you can do to help support it.
- try a runner’s stretch or warrior pose; hold all stretches for at least 30 seconds so the body will ‘remember’ the new length
- put a small cushion or support behind your low back while seated (for instance, while you’re driving your car or sitting at your desk
- try Open the Breath™, the second blood builder session in The Fertility Enhancing Massage Protocol™; this massage works specifically with releasing the iliopsoas and balancing the viscera through breath work and massage
So give your psoas a little love. You’ll have a happy hip flexor, and your whole body will thank you!
by Cathy McCauley, LMT
You aspire to feel well and whole, yet sometimes, the path to wellness and wholeness can seem like a lot to add to the “To Do” list. Another thing to stress about doing. Wouldn’t it be convenient to find one simple, daily activity that could improve whole-body health?
One activity exists. You already practice it. It’s breathing!
Trouble is, many people don’t breathe to support whole-body health. In fact, many people breathe in a shallow, restricted manner that actually impedes health.
Consider for a moment the functioning of your thoracic diaphragm muscle. It attaches along the inner rim of your lower rib cage and is the primary muscle responsible for your respiration. It is dome-shaped or looks like an open umbrella. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and pushes down against the abdominal organs, which allows the lungs to expand to receive fresh air. When exhaling, the diaphragm relaxes upward against the lungs, helping to expel air from them. The more efficiently your diaphragm contracts, the more air will be drawn into your lungs. However, if your diaphragm does not contract efficiently, you end up with shallow breathing.
Now knowing how the diaphragm works, consider what happens when you are constantly stressed out. The body responds to stress (both good and bad types) automatically by tightening the abdominal muscles, among other responses. When stress becomes the norm, continual abdominal tightness restricts the diaphragm and in turn, shallow breathing occurs.
All the systems of your body can be affected by shallow breathing. Reduced oxygen intake can raise your blood pressure, create low-level anxiety, decrease immunity, cause mental and physical fatigue, reinforce serotonin and cortisol hormonal imbalance, and disrupt digestion.
Thankfully, it’s not too late to learn and practice how to relax your breath and breathe fully from the abdomen. Perhaps it’s time to sign up for a yoga class or schedule an “Open the Breath” massage with us. Or try the “Breath of Happiness” YouTube tutorial. Do what you can to get started.
As reported in our “Open the Breath” massage client information, the health of your body, and specifically your reproductive organs, is greatly affected by the movement of your breath. In fact, the human body is designed to discharge approximately 70% of its toxins through respiration. As deep, full breathing engages the diaphragm, the organs are kneaded and churned, fluids are renewed, and stagnant, toxic build-up is flushed out. The pelvis is bathed in oxygen-rich fluids, helping to balance the chemistry of the blood. Deep belly breathing also creates tone and alignment in the pelvic floor, while promoting movement in its connective tissues. Developing a deep, free breath is fundamental in preserving abdominal pliability and mobility.
Another benefit of belly breathing is the relaxation response. Deep abdominal breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and enhances your cellular, hormonal, and psychological processes. Your bodies conserve and restore energy, build immunity, and regenerate injured tissues. The relaxation response can even lower blood pressure levels. In addition, a deep breath can encourage a feeling of groundedness.
You aspire to feel well and whole. Breathe—for your health!
See Cathy in Highland Park on Mondays and Thursdays for massage therapy and starting July 17th she will be available on Tuesdays in Buffalo Grove as well!
By Meredith Nathan, Massage Director LMT
Castor oil, derived from the Palma Christi plant, has been heralded for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations such as early Chinese, Persians, & Egyptians used this oil in balms and ointments. During the Middle Ages, it was used throughout Europe for treating skin ailments. And there’s a good chance you may remember your grandparents recommending it be taken orally to relieve constipation.
Castor oil can also been a wonderful tool to increase fertility. It can help to detoxify your reproductive organs and tonify your blood cells. Castor oil affects three systems within the body:
- The Lymphatic System: think of lymph as the garbage collectors of our bodies. It finds the ‘garbage’ (i.e. toxins, excessive hormones, and waste) and brings it to our lymph nodes, where it is processed and purified. However, our lymphatic system doesn’t have it’s own pump like the circulatory system does. It gets it’s movement from exercise, heat, and stretching. Castor oil packs can also benefit and stimulate the lymph, promoting detoxification and cleansing when applied to the pelvic region.
- The Liver: The liver, your body’s lymphatic powerhouse, stores & processes toxins and hormones in the body. Stagnation in the liver can lead to hormonal imbalance. Castor oil packs can also be applied to the liver to help it decongest, which may promote hormone balance.
- The Circulatory System: Blood is the body’s natural healing agent. Castor oil packs stimulate circulation in the body, helping to bring fresh, oxygenated, untried rich blood to the reproductive organs. This enables healing of scar tissue, the breakdown of adhesions, and provides nutrition to the ovaries and uterus.
Castor oil packs should not be used during after ovulation or if you could be pregnant, but they are a fantastic way to nurture your fertility during the follicular phase of your cycle. Castor oil packs are used during specific Fertility Enhancing Massage sessions, and can also be used for self care at home.
To create your own castor oil pack you’ll need:
- One flannel cloth (without colors as the castor oil will make it run)
- One bottle of castor oil
- Plastic wrap cut one to two inches larger than the flannel
- One towel
- Hot water bottle
- Container with lid
- Old clothes and sheets as castor oil stains clothing and bedding
Soak the flannel in castor oil until it’s saturated. Place it over your lower abdomen, cover it with the plastic sheet and apply the hot water bottle. Cover with a towel, lay back and relax for 30-45 minutes. Remove the pack and clean your tummy. Store the pack in a container in the fridge and reuse the same flannel up to 30 times.
Or if that seems to complicated, you can apply castor oil like your Fertility Enhancing Massage Practitioner: rub castor oil directly on the lower belly, cover it with a piece of plastic wrap or an oid sheet, and apply a non-electrical heat source on top.
An added benefit of using castor oil is it gives you time to relax and meditate, pray, and generally think good thoughts!
Learn more about Fertility Enhancing Massage here!
by Meredith Nathan, LMT
In the United States alone, more than 5 million people of childbearing age have struggled or are struggling with infertility. That’s larger than the population of Los Angeles. In fact, it’s larger than the population of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Cincinnati combined. It also means that one in every ten couples of childbearing age is struggling or has struggled to conceive. That’s a LOT of people.
Of course we all have that friend that got pregnant on her honeymoon, or became pregnant with her second by the time her first was 6 months old, or has three kids under the age of five. Sure, there are those that can’t even flirt with their spouse without getting pregnant. But the group of people who have dealt with the frustration and sorrow of infertility is larger than you’d think.
As I first entered this field, I remember reading that the grief levels of couples struggling to conceive rivals the grief levels of cancer patients. So why does no one seem to talk about it? Because to most people it’s a private matter, only to be shared with their partner or perhaps their mother or a best friend. But this very privateness seems to compound the grief – because in addition to all the doubts, fears, marital stress, financial stress, questions of self worth and feelings of insecurity that often comes with the territory, it’s easy to feel so very, very alone.
In honor of infertility awareness month , I want everyone to know that you are most definitely NOT alone. That many people have shared in your struggles. And that their’s more information, resources, and solutions available now than ever before. That there is a community available now that decades ago wouldn’t have been. This is why centers like Pulling Down the Moon exist – to support our clients, to give them community if they are looking for it, and to encourage a successful outcome to their journey.
Please know that you are not alone. And that you don’t have to give in to doubt. There are literally millions that have come before you, many of whom had been through the ringer and were at the end of their hope, but ultimately found their happy ending. Some have even expressed how much they learned through the process, how they felt they grew and changed through the process, and how the prize was most definitely worth the wait. Nothing compares to the love a parent has for their child. And nothing can even touch the passion of a parent who has fought for that child.
Come by for a warm cup of tea, free yoga class , or one of our other complimentary special events for National Infertility Awareness . Whatever you may need, you are part of our community and we are here to help. We are also members of Resolve: The National Infertility Association where you can get help at any time of day at: 866.NOT.ALONE.
In honor of Valentine’s day, let’s talk about the language of love: touch. Everyone understands that physical touch is one of the cornerstones of romance. Who hasn’t swooned with a simple caress at the base of their neck? Or with a hand placed on the small of their back? Or even a few fingers brushing across their hand on a first date?
Unfortunately, romance (and libido) tend to dip during times of stress. Ironically, romance is an ancient healing art for just that very thing! So for the month of February let’s turn up the heat with some targeted touch: a foot massage with five specific points to enhance romance! ***these points should not be stimulated if you might be pregnant.
Starting with your partner face down, apply pressure to the soles of the feet with your thumbs, ‘walking’ your thumbs up and down the arch of the foot. Stop just below the halfway point on the foot (slightly closer to the toe than to the heel), directly in line with the big toe. This is the adrenal reflex point. Apply pressure for at least 30 seconds, or until you feel the muscles start to relax. Melting the adrenal reflex points is an excellent way to decrease stress and stimulate relaxation, which sets the stage for our next point!
Continue walking your thumbs up the midline of the feet (directly in line with the middle toe). Stop just below the ball of the foot between the pads, and apply pressure for at least 30 seconds. This is Bubbling Spring, or Kidney 1, an acupressure point thought to awaken the body’s sexual energy.
Have your partner turn onto their back. Focus the massage on the right foot, either kneading the foot with massage oil or continuing to massage dry with thumb pressure (for extra credit, add lavender to the massage oil for relaxation, or jasmine for romance). Imagine a diagonal line connecting the inside ankle bone to the tip of the heel, and apply pressure to the middle of this line. Stimulate the same point on the outside ankle, and hold for at least 30 seconds. These points correspond to the ovaries and uterus on a woman, and the testicles and prostate on a man. Repeat on the left foot.
Massage up the foot to the toes. Gently apply pressure and pull each digit. When you get to the big toe, press the center point (you will need to use another finger or hand behind the big toe to maintain adequate pressure), and hold for at least 30 seconds. This is the pituitary reflex point, which encourages balance to the endocrine system (an important part of a healthy libido).
Continue massaging the feet and then travel up the lower leg to the knee. Stroke or ‘walk’ your thumbs up and down the inside of the tibia, just above the calf muscles. Find the point four fingers above the inside ankle bone, and press for at least 30 seconds. This is Spleen 6, and is also known to awaken sexual energy and stimulate the uterus in a woman.
Next steps? Get creative. Nothing is more intimate that communicating with your partner about what feels good – so explore and become an expert in what makes your partner feel that touch of romance!
Learn more about how massage can help your journey here !
Cathy McCauley, LMT
As 2017 comes to a close, you may be writing and sharing resolutions for 2018 or imagining what’s in store for the new year. This passing of time may give you pause to reflect and look forward to letting go of some things and creating space for others.
The coming of the new year also brings the opportunity to renew your commitment to your health, and we would want nothing more than for you to turn to Pulling Down the Moon for support.
It’s no secret that keeping resolutions can be difficult. Instead, a cleansing ritual can be the perfect way to commit to your health without the pressure and stress of maintaining a resolution. Some cleansing rituals may involve quiet reflection or meditation, conscious breathing, gratitude, writing, burning sage or reciting health-focused mantras or affirmations. Another ritual could be receiving a massage like the Cleanse the Body or Detox session at Pulling Down the Moon.
This amazing massage triggers your body’s detoxification response through the use of therapeutic-grade essential oils and light-touch lymphatic massage. It is safe for anyone who is currently not in an ART medicated cycle and provides an array of benefits. The session can help to bring the body back into hormonal balance, reduce stress and anxiety, aid the body in detoxing, improve immune function and increase feelings of emotional well-being. Clients who receive this massage often comment on how relaxed and lifted they feel after it is over.
Turn this massage into a cleansing ritual by taking some easy steps. In the days before the massage session, carve out some time to focus on your health. Perhaps spend some time in meditation, yoga or actively breathing. Next, write down anything that came up for you as you were quietly focused. Maybe it’s a goal of letting go, starting new or inviting in. Maybe a vision came to mind or a prayer, mantra or intention. Then say thank you. Gratitude will shift your perspective from what is lacking to the abundance that exists.
When you come to Pulling Down the Moon to receive your Cleanse the Body session, do so with an open heart. Be willing to let go of what is not serving your optimum health. Visualize the joy of starting something new. Imagine your body releasing toxicity, rebalancing hormonally and refreshing emotionally.
After your massage session, be gentle with yourself. Nourish your body by drinking plenty of clean, fresh water and eating food that supports your system. Rest and relax. Offer yourself gratitude. And revel in the beauty of starting a healthful new year!
Cathy McCauley, LMT, practices the Fertility Enhancing Massage protocol as well as prenatal, postpartum and therapeutic massage at Pulling Down the Moon. She started her work as a fertility massage therapist in 2011 and soon found her passion for rubbing bellies! Having dealt with a PCOS diagnosis and receiving holistic treatments to manage it, she supports and encourages clients struggling with reproductive health issues while providing them with specialized massages for wherever they were on their journey.
After taking some time away in 2014, Cathy recently returned to the Moon with a renewed spirit and connection to fertility massage. Her love for the work is rooted in her trust in the feminine spirit that ties us all together. She deeply believes in Pulling Down the Moon’s mission of providing holistic care for fertility, pregnancy and family health, and she has immense gratitude for the company, its owners, directors, practitioners and staff.
The most wonderful time of the year…so nostalgic…so many memories…so much celebration…and so much stress!
Financial stress, shopping stress, calorie stress, and in some cases, emotional stress. Though this is a time that much loved family comes together, it can also be a time to get repeatedly grilled by nosey relatives (’So…don’t you think it’s time you and your sweetie started having some kids?’) And getting together with extended family can also become a reminder of currently unfulfilled desires to create your own. When you’re trying to keep your fertility journey close to the chest, it’s common to feel alone even in the midst of dozens of people.
If you’ve got the holiday blues, here are a few helpful hints to keep your spirits high during the next 30 days:
Give yourself permission: Acknowledge how you’re feeling. Find someone you can share your heart with, whether a partner, a close friend, or even a journal. Though you don’t want to wallow in them, once you’ve voiced those negative thoughts, they tend not to have as much power over you.
Focus on the future: Where do you see yourself in 12 months? Will your relationship be thriving? Will you be professionally happy? Will you have a growing family of your own? Having a vision for the upcoming year can help you get past the stumbling blocks of today.
Focus on others: Are there other people or communities you could support during this time? Oftentimes, helping others solve their problems is an effective way to get a little relief from our own.
Be realistic: Nobody’s holiday is picture perfect, though the seasonal movies we watch might convince us that they should be. Enjoy the moments that are precious, and have a sense of humor about the ones that aren’t.
Maintain healthy habits (but give yourself a few allowances): You’ve worked hard to achieve the health and wellness you now possess, and should enjoy the way your body feels when you treat it well! That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a cookie or slice of pie – just be intentional about what you say ‘yes’ to, and really enjoy those bites!
Find a few ways to pamper yourself: In addition to those few delicious treats, find ways to really nurture your mind, spirit, and body. Schedule a date night, take a yoga class, or book a massage. Give yourself some things on the calendar to look forward to that can help fill up your emotional tank! Finding small ways to thank and honor yourself can give you the reserves to really enjoy (and not just survive) the most wonderful time of the year!
Whether you are going through IVF, an expecting mother, a current mom, or any typical person, you worry. Let’s face it, we all have things to worry about in our lives and worry feels like a natural way to go with our minds. Chronic and continued worry, also known as stress, not only does absolutely NO good in helping the issues we face, but it has many negative side effects on our bodies.
When you worry or are stressed about something your body releases cortisol. Cortisol is important and essential. It helps when you are in your “fight or flight” response, like when you are running from a lion, or when you need to lift a car to help someone who is crushed. On the flip side, when cortisol is being released into your bloodstream continually, like what happens when you are in a high stress mode, it becomes toxic to your system. It can cause you to be exhausted. It can reek havoc on your digestive system and also effect the quantity and quality of your sleep. It can increase blood glucose levels and even cause weight gain. None of these ugly side effects can change the outcome of your stress bomb, right? That may actually make the situation worse if you get sick or run down.
So, how can you quiet that part yourself that twists you up, both in your body and in your mind? Am I pregnant? How many eggs will I get? Is my baby going to be healthy? I just lost my job. My father passed away…these are a few things you may have on your mind’s plate. I am not suggesting that it is easy to quiet your inner worry voice, but it is a good idea to try. At Pulling Down the Moon we offer a very unique massage that addresses this exact issue. Our “Unwind the Mind” massage is specifically for the two week wait and the first trimester of pregnancy that many of you are in the middle of today. Sometimes clients come to the center to have this massage simply to “veg-out,” as they say, completely unrelated to family planning. This treatment is nurturing, quiet, and developed in order to help you relax and release and refresh. Other ways to quiet down chronic worry is through meditation and yoga. Even making a conscious choice and asking your mind to take a break from the worry can have a positive impact on your body. “OK stressors, I know you are out there but I need a break for an hour, a day, a week…” You can use your breath to help as well. Every time you exhale you are detoxing so use that detox to help filter some of your scary thoughts. Again, be conscious in your effort. Take a minute and use five nice, deep breaths. On each exhale think in your mind what you are letting go of. Say it out loud if you can. If the worry starts to creep up later, try telling the voice that it is not helping you.
Everyone has stress. It is not going anywhere soon. But, if you can control it even just a bit and avoid the negative side effects that come along with it, your mind and your body will thank you. We hope to offer you a quiet and safe retreat at Pulling Down the Moon. Let us help you either through our services or simply by talking with us. In any case we are here to help you unwind…let’s help each other unwind.
Man in the Moon?
by Meredith Nathan, LMT
A man and a woman walk into a fertility center (I know, this sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but please bear with me). Both get tested. Both check out normal. The man is told that he is ‘fine’. The woman is told she has ‘unexplained infertility’.
Does it seem a little sexist? Perhaps, especially when you consider that roughly half of fertility issues are male factor. And yet the burden of treatment, especially when dealing with ART, tends to fall on the woman. Furthermore, there is a misconception running rampant that men with fertility issues only have one course of action: IVF. And there again 95% of the work of IVF will fall on his partner’s shoulders, even if she had no fertility issues at all. It does seem a little lopsided…
But it takes two to tango – creating a healthy baby requires two ingredients: a healthy egg AND a healthy sperm. So whether optimal health and a proactive pre-conception strategy is the focus, or whether his swimmers need a fertility fix, healthy lifestyle choices and holistic treatments can go a long way towards increasing your odds of conception. And remember, the lifespan of a sperm is 60-70 days, so any positive changes made can increase your chances for conception for the following two or more months! Here are some top tips to keep those sperm in tip top shape:
- Make healthy lifestyle choices; habits like smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and sleep deprivation can all negatively impact sperm quality.
- Turn down the heat! Saunas, hot tubs, and steam baths can warm the scrotum and negatively impact fertility. In addition, laptops on laps and cell phones in pockets are not only warming but also may emit unwanted radiation.
- Get a nutritional boost; vitamin deficiencies can negatively impact sperm production, and sporadic, inconsistent meal times can create blood sugar spikes and crashes, throwing the hormones off balance.
- Keep stress in check! Stress also creates hormonal imbalance and interferes with sperm production. So bring on all relaxation activities, whether going on walks, prayer, meditation, fishing, golf, or getting massaged.
- Moderate exercise is healthy and good, but overly intense workouts can draw blood away from the core and deprive the reproductive organs. On the flip side, blood building acupuncture & massage techniques can help to rebuild reproductive circulation and provide a fertility boost!
I’m often asked if I see a lot of men at our center. I know the power of having both partners come to table as healthy as can be. On a personal note, my husband and I struggled to conceive for 18 months until I decided to include him in my wellness plans. And so whenever people ask me how many men I see at Pulling Down the Moon, my response is always the same, “I wish I saw more.”
Grief and Infertility
by Meredith Nathan, LMT
A colleague of mine heard this stat at a recent fertility conference: ‘One in ten people experiencing infertility is actively suicidal.’ Did she hear that right? One in ten? Not depressed…not has suicidal ideation. But is ACTIVELY suicidal?
I remember reading early on in my career at Pulling Down the Moon that fertility patients have grief levels rivaling those of cancer patients. Should this surprise us? The drive to reproduce is wired into our biology. Many of us have fantasized about the joy of having children since we were children ourselves, and to be told we may not be able to fulfill this can threaten everything we thought we knew about our future. Add to this the pain of loss, for those who have had miscarriages or stillbirths, or those who are ‘circumstantially infertile’, due to divorce or not finding a partner to embark on this journey with…all of these people have had paradigms threatened and dreams shattered.
But unlike cancer patients, people struggling with infertility tend to be very private with their grief. They typically don’t broadcast their struggle to the world, and as such bear the burden of it largely alone. And since men and women tend to experience grief very differently, even a loving partner doesn’t always provide the support you need.
Grief can manifest in different ways, whether in the form of anger, guilt, insomnia, depression, loss of appetite, apathy, or over-achievement. Grief goes through many stages as it’s processed. And grief, when left unchecked, can create stress and disruption in the body as emotions are stored in the tissue, leading to imbalance, disease, and (ironically) even infertility.
Having tools to address grief is vitally important. We live in a society that doesn’t often place a high premium on self-nurturing, but we need to. Taking time to show ourselves kindness, whether in the form of a walk through nature, a massage, or a bubblebath should be an absolute priority for someone dealing with infertility. Finding a place to communicate and share your struggles, losses, and dreams also makes a huge impact on your well-being. That’s why community is at the heart of Pulling Down the Moon. Whether through yoga classes, workshops, or working one on one with a practitioner, it is our mission to let our patients know that they aren’t alone. Our heart is to give them not to address their physical wellbeing, but to give them mental and emotional support throughout their journey.
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