These 5 Women’s Health Facts Will Make Your Jaw Drop. But Actually.

Let’s be real: There are far too many incomprehensible, jargon-packed, fear-inducing health facts out there. They are 0 fun. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

But the five facts that await you in this post—these ones are money. Check ‘em out. And if your jaw hasn’t hit the floor by the end…well, we’ll consider a refund :)

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Fact 1: Women’s Feet Can Grow With Each Pregnancy
Yep. Some of it is due to simple swelling. And that’s temporary. But women also tend to develop flat feet during pregnancy (some believe that all the extra weight has a foot-flattening effect). Additionally there’s a pregnancy hormone called relaxin which is needed to loosen the ligaments of the birth canal and pelvis, in preparation for child birth—and can also allow for ligaments in the feet to stretch. These two variables combined can lead to a more permanent lengthening and widening of a pregnant woman’s feet. One little study done on 49 women found that the majority of the women (60-70%!) had bigger feet after giving birth than they did during their first trimester. The length of their feet increased anywhere between .1 to .4 inches! That’s practically a shoe size. After that, shoe-shopping spree = essential.

Fact 2: The Clitoris Grows, Too
Shut the front door. This is definitely a thing—and not just during pregnancy. The clitoris grows throughout a woman’s life. In fact, by the time a woman is through menopause her clitoris can become several times larger than it was when the same woman was a teenager. This could be related to the fact that some women report having stronger orgasms as they get older. Here’s one to get your local know-it-all really riled up: The longest clitoris on record was 12 inches long! Yes, that’s a foot. Yes that’s hard to fathom; we learned it here. But full disclosure: research is inconclusive as to whether or not clitoris size leads to better orgasms. One study did prove that the distance between your clitoris and your vagina can make a difference, though. The shorter the distance between the two, the more likely you are to orgasm during sex.

Fact 3: Women Cry More Than You Probably Think
According to recent research, adult women cry 5.3 times a month; adult men, about 1.4 times. While it is easy to assume that this is because of the way that people of different genders are socialized, the research suggests that is not the entire explanation. Under a microscope, cells of female tear glands look different than men’s. Also, the male tear duct is larger than the female’s, so if a man and a woman both tear up, the woman’s tears will spill onto her cheeks quicker. Additionally the hormone prolactin, which is essential to lactation, also regulates the development of the tear glands and aids in the production of tears. By the time a woman reaches age 18, she could have 50-60% more prolactin in her bloodstream than a male of a similar age. And it shows. According to a recent Glow survey answered by 7800 women, 43.2% of women cry at least weekly. Only 2% said that they never cry.  

Fact 4: A Crying Baby Can Yield Leaky Breasts
As strange as it sounds, this phenomenon is well-known to many a breastfeeding mom. The leaking can be traced to the let-down reflex, which signals for the brain to release milk from the breasts. Usually this reflex only takes hold when a baby has been sucking on a mother’s breast for a few minutes. But for women with sensitive reflexes, hearing the sound of a crying baby can trigger a let-down and sudden milk-flow—even when the baby is not nursing. All the more reason to cry over spilled milk. 

Fact 5: “Blue Balls” Can Happen To Women, Too
Men can get “blue balls” when they have been sexually aroused for a length of time without achieving release. Women can experience a similar sensation—also due to vasoconstriction.  A woman’s labia, vagina, and clitoris swell and lubricate when she is sexually aroused; blood rushes to the area. If a woman orgasms successfully, then blood quickly drains from the genitals, which relieves pressure from arteries and veins and returns them to their normal size. However, when there is no orgasm, it takes longer for the physical signs of arousal to subside. Women will often experience an aching feeling in the vagina as a result of sustained vasocongestion. Or a “blue” vulva, if you will.

The Tale of the Tampon

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Every month or so, most of us deem it perfectly fitting and proper to stuff a wad of cotton up our vaginas to absorb menstrual blood.  We don’t think twice about it.  But if we did pause, just for a minute, to consider our behavior—well, we might wonder where this ritual came from.  When did tampons become a thing?

As it turns out, the ancients were all over tampons.  The oldest printed medical document, Papyrus Ebers, mentions Egyptian women using soft papyrus tampons in the 15th century B.C.  Women in ancient Rome used wool tampons. Women in ancient Japan fashioned tampons out of paper and changed them out 10 to 12 times a day.  Traditional Hawaiian women used the furry part of a hapu'u fern to absorb menstrual flow—the au natural approach.

In the United States, women were doing it DIY with tampons long before they were commercially available.  Some women cut out strips of surgical cotton and rolled them up tightly; others bought natural sea sponges at cosmetics or art supply stores and trimmed them into reusable tampons (gotta love those menstrual crafts!). But not every woman could pull this off.  Most who dared were actresses, athletes, or prostitutes—dubious professions, according to women of the more ‘respectable’ variety.  More conventional women wore sanitary pads held in place by a belt. Not. Comfy.

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, commercial tampons were starting to become available. But it was the advent of the applicator that transformed the tampon into the device we know today.  Dr. Earle Haas was the man with the clever applicator idea, which he patented in 1933 then trademarked under the brand name Tampax.  Unfortunately, Haas could not get people interested in his invention, so he sold the concept to an ambitious German immigrant named Gertrude Tenderich.  Tenderich made the very first Tampax tampons in her home with a sewing machine.

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Once Tampax was on the market, church groups and gynecologists expressed reservations about the product’s safety. But over time, tampons became more and more accepted.  Their popularity skyrocketed during World War II when women started taking on men’s jobs in factories, then again in 1972 when tampons started to be advertised on television.  

Today, approximately 70% of women of menstruating age use tampons, and ~56% of women who responded to a Glow Community poll said they couldn’t cope without them. A woman who is an active tampon user can be expected to use as many as 11,400 tampons in her lifetime! Lots. Of. Tampons.  And lots of lifetimes—from the ancient Egyptians through us 21st century souls—that have been convenienced and improved by this most handy dandy of devices.

IUDs are IN

Does it feel like all of your friends are getting IUDs?  Well, maybe they are.

An IUD is a small, T-shaped contraceptive device implanted in the uterus. Though IUDs lie far behind more popular methods of birth control like the pill and condoms, the share of women using an IUD nearly doubled from 2006 to 2010. Uh-huh, uh-huh.

The Center for Disease Control estimates that over 11%  of American women age 25 and 34 now use IUDs, and the number continues to grow.  

So, why the recent spike?

The bad press is finally dying down

IUDs had promising beginnings as a long-lasting form of birth control when they emerged in the 60s. Then, in 1973, a brand of IUDs called the Dalkon Shield injured as many as 200,000 women. There was a flaw in the Dalkon Shield design, which caused infections, septic miscarriages, and even death for some. Not. Good. At all. These IUDs were taken off the market as soon as the flaw was realized, but the damage was done. And the stigma around IUDs was born.

IUD stigma persisted among patients and health professionals thereafter. But recently, a slew of peer-reviewed studies have vouched for the safety of the IUD (which has been totally reengineered since that disaster in ‘73, by the way). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and other respected organizations have also come to rally behind it, slowly reversing popular opinion. Other countries are leading the way. IUDs account for 27% of female contraception use in Norway, and they are pretty widely used throughout Europe.  

It’s incredibly reliable

As many as half the pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and 95 percent of those unintended pregnancies result from not using or misusing birth control: a condom breaks, a birth control pill is forgotten, etc. Meanwhile, IUDs are more than 99% effective, with little to no hassle once inserted.

It lasts forever

Okay not forever, but once implanted, IUDs do last for 3, 5 and even 10 years, depending on type and brand. That makes birth control just one less thing for busy women to worry about.

Reduced cost

In the past, the insertion of an IUD could have cost upwards of $1000. However, the Affordable Care Act has made it a requirement that health insurance cover all types of birth control at no cost. Thanks, Obama. Even though some uncertainties surrounding the adoption of the Act remain, for many an IUD is now a completely cost-free option.

No hormones!

There are several different brands of IUDs on the market, including one that does not release hormones into a woman’s body. Women of the yoga-doing, clean-living, organic-eating variety (and other women, too!) appreciate the ability to use a reliable form of birth control that does not involve hormones.

What about you? How do you feel about IUDs?

Despite all the recent good press, negative attitudes about IUDs persist. In a recent Glow poll, we asked 20,000 women for their perception of IUDs. 46% responded, “They scare me.” Only 14% of respondents answered, “They are great!”

For those scared of IUDs, it could make sense to discuss your fears with your doctor–and your doctor might even be eager for the conversation. In 2011, ACOG adopted new guidelines encouraging physicians to discuss IUDs with patients. The American Academy of Pediatrics followed last year by endorsing IUDs as a first-line contraceptive option for teenage girls.  

It’s true that inserting an IUD is a procedure like a pap smear, with possible discomfort initially and irregular spotting in the first few months. However, that could be a reasonable price to pay considering the long-lasting nature of this device, as well as the fact that you will not need to fear an unplanned pregnancy for a good long while. Wouldn’t that be an IUDream :)

Glow + Google = No More Period Surprises

We’ve all been that woman. Quickly sneaking away to the bathroom on a busy afternoon, locking the stall door, unbuttoning the blue jeans—only to meet the inevitable stain.  A four letter word finds its way to the tip of the tongue. It has arrived.

Starting today, Android users will have yet another way to remember that the crimson wave is on its way. Glow and Google have partnered to provide helpful card reminders in your Google app, so that you’re alerted to your upcoming period days before it happens.  Now cards will also pop up in anticipation of your ovulation window, keeping you fully aware of when it starts and ends. The Glow app does this, but now Google will do it, too.  Glow is Google’s first period tracker partner—and we think the new cards are way cool.

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No more awkwardly asking your friend for an extra tampon. No more emergency runs to the pharmacy. No more artfully folding toilet paper into a makeshift pad that you *hope* will last through the hour. Glow: 2. Period: 0.

Male Infertility: A Doctor’s View

By Dr. Mike Eisenberg

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You may wonder why a male infertility specialist is talking about Glow. Glow is a woman’s health app. My job is to support men who are trying to conceive. On the surface, my involvement doesn’t make much sense.

I’ll give you two reasons. First, I know that fertility is a team sport—and that Glow recognizes this. Second, I believe in the power of data.

Let’s start with the first point. There is a myth that infertility is uncommon, and that it is only a female problem. In fact, neither is the case. Approximately one of every seven couples encounters infertility issues as they look to conceive. And the reality is that up to 50% of infertility cases are due to a male factor. In spite of this, a quarter of couples do not seek a male evaluation when they begin to seek infertility care. The partner connected function on the Glow app acknowledges that fertility is a team sport; in addressing both sides of the infertility equation, Glow increases the odds of each couple’s eventual fertility.

I also believe that data is powerful—especially when applied to understudied disciplines like reproductive health. There is currently limited data around male causes of infertility, and building a comprehensive data set is the clear next step in advancing male infertility causes and identifying better treatments.

Having more data around men’s reproductive health would allow for so much exploration and discovery. For a long time my peers in my field have speculated that medical problems or the medications used to treat them may play a role in male fertility. Data can help us identify which medications might be affecting reproduction. I occasionally see overweight patients who have a rather sedentary lifestyle. And though many believe there is a relationship between physical activity and infertility, this relationship is far from understood. Data would help clarify. Equally important, I suspect that certain everyday behaviors contribute to a man’s infertility; something as simple as the pocket where a man tucks his cell phone could have an effect. We’re just not sure; but more data could help guide recommendations. Crowdsourcing data, both from couples who struggle with infertility and from those who don’t, will better enable us to unlock the many variables affecting women and men who hope to conceive.

Glow has helped many women get pregnant already.  We expect that with the app’s support of men, even more couples will have success.  And as these couples make strides in their personal journeys to conception, their data is helping to advance scientific and medical research.  This is certainly something that I am proud to get on board with.

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Dr. Mike Eisenberg is Director of Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Stanford University Medical Center. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Urology and Obstetrics & Gynecology at Stanford.

Fertility Takes Two

From the beginning Glow’s mission has been to apply the power of data to fertility.  And we’ve delivered. Fact. Since our launch in August 2013, well over 50,000 women have gotten pregnant using the Glow app.

But listen up–this is only half the equation. Male factor infertility accounts for 40% of all infertility cases. Real talk. And men have very few options for tracking their fertility.  

Starting today, Glow is jazzed to be the first and only fertility app to tackle this imbalance head on. Enter: Male Fertility Tracker.

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Ladies–use the “Me” tab in the Glow app to invite a partner to join you in making babies.  Once connected, male partners can complete a daily log with questions tailored to their fertility and reproductive health. Male partners will receive health insights related to their specific log inputs.  And they will be invited into the Glow Community, where they can chat and banter with other couples. Fertility’s a two way street.  Now, two can tango even better on Glow.

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But the dance doesn’t stop there. Glow is also pleased to announce new partnerships with Boston IVF and Shady Grove Fertility, two of the nation’s premier infertility clinics. The goal is to create an app experience that helps you keep track of your various appointments and procedures, in an effort to make fertility treatments more organized and accessible–and less stressful.  Less stress on the days you need it most. That’s Glow.

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To fertility and beyond,

The Glow Team

Are periods contagious?

So you get your period. And then your roommate gets hers the next day. Your other roommate says hers is supposed to come around this time of the month, too… Could periods be contagious?

The question was investigated first by psychologists in the 1970s.  Professor Martha McClintock decided to learn more about what she termed the “menstrual synchrony” of 135 female college students living in female-only dorms. She offered pheromones as one explanation—pheromones are chemicals that humans secrete in fluids like sweat that can be detected by other humans.  However, McClintock’s methods were criticized as being full of errors, and follow-up studies have failed to confirm that cycles change after women spend time in close proximity to one another.  

Not convinced by McClintock’s work on menstrual synchrony, psychologist Jeffrey Schank investigated the question.  He theorized that because women have consistent cycles of different lengths, their periods can never truly synchronize.  Rather, the different cycle lengths of different bodies mean that women drift between being in and out of sync—and noticing when their periods line up.

Academics at New York University argued that trends in feminism enhanced and exacerbated the rumor of menstrual synchrony since the 70s. Increased talk of female sexuality, attachments, and friendships may have perpetuated and popularized the menstrual synchrony myth. The researchers found that more people learned about menstrual synchrony from hearing about each other’s experiences than from journals or textbooks.

Periods aren’t contagious. But you’re not crazy–nor are you alone in thinking that periods line up. When we asked 500+ women in the Glow community if they believe that their cycles sync up with those of their roommates, 50% said “Yes!” 

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Menstrual cycles do overlap from time to time, allowing us to commiserate in good company. So when you and your roommate cuddle in bed watching Frozen and eating dark chocolate to distract yourselves from the cramping, science isn’t behind it so much as coincidence. But we all know, it feels good to pretend otherwise.

Stressed now? It gets better!

After examining data from the millions of logs completed by women on Glow, it appears that our age affects how stressed we feel.

Teenage users of Glow are more likely to report “extreme” or “high” stress levels compared to women in their twenties and thirties. Adult women on Glow are less likely to rate their stress at “extreme” levels, more commonly citing their stress levels as “medium” or “low.”  

This is somewhat surprising, considering the increasing demands on women as they age—increased financial, professional, and relationship obligations.  Not to mention, children.

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Could there be a simple explanation for this?

Perhaps women become better at handling and managing stress as they age. It is possible that teenagers feel less control over the stressors in their lives, leading to more visceral reactions to that stress.

A literature review of mental health among U.S. adolescents published by the non-profit Child Trends found that one in four high school students have shown mild symptoms of depression.  According to the report, 29% of high school students in grades 9-12 had reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or longer during the past year.

The exacerbated stress felt among teenage women could also relate to estrogen levels. Hormones drastically fluctuate during the teenage years, and a body pulsing with estrogen can make women perceive situations as especially dire or overwhelming.  Several animal studies have confirmed that estrogen plays a part in the way mammals respond to stress.

Whatever the case, this data suggests the importance of both tracking and receiving feedback on one’s stress levels. After all, the more we know about ourselves and our moods, the better equipped we will be to deal with life’s curveballs.

Will you take your husband’s last name?

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“What’s in a name?”

Whether or not to take her husband’s last name is a highly polarizing topic among women and has been central to discussions in the Glow community this week. 

Some women are quick to Instagram an adorable photo of their engagement with the caption “I’m going to be his Mrs.!” because it seems like such a no-brainer to take his name.

But the decision is not intuitive for everyone. One Glow user put it well:  

“When we got married we didn’t magically transform into new people. Why should his or my name, much less anything else, change?”

Though the topic of name-changing upon marriage can get emotionally-charged, the numbers show that up to 90% of married women in the U.S. ultimately decide to take their husband’s names as their own.

The convention of name-changing upon marriage has its roots in the days when only men held legal rights under U.S. Common Law, a practice called coverture. In these days, women had few rights to their names. Surprisingly, some elements of coverture remained active until the 1960s and 70s! It was only in 1972 that a succession of legal cases confirmed that women could use their maiden names in whatever ways they pleased. 

In the forty years since, more and more women have come to see the appeal of keeping their own names. In a recent survey of over 2000 women on Glow, more than 18% suggested that they would not (or have not) take/n their husband’s last names.

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This trend could be a result of the fact that more and more women are prioritizing careers, marrying later in life, and in general becoming more independent.  As another Glow user said: 

“I did not take my husband’s last name as I am an engineer and my signature carries professional weight.”

According to a New York Times article on the subject, a climbing divorce rate has also been a factor in convincing many women to keep their maiden names. If they can avoid it, some women would rather not need to change their identities throughout their lives.

Even so, it’s not that easy. There are still many social pressures for women to take their husband’s name in marriage, including from men themselves. Meanwhile, it’s quite rare for a man to take his wife’s name. 96% of Men’s Health readers said they would never take their spouse’s maiden name, while 63% would be upset if their wife didn’t choose to take theirs. And a fair number of women are happy to comply with this expectation. As one Glow user wrote:

“I love being called by my husband’s last name. I belong to him and that makes me feel amazing.”

So what’s in a name? A debate, for sure. Also, a chance to ponder the permutation of love, tradition, romance, individuality, career, and commitment. But most importantly, an identity choice that every woman deserves to make for herself when she says “I do.”

The long and short of IVF

First – a couple of caveats – this is written by me, Günce, about me, Günce, and my own IVF cycles. I am not a doctor. (Just a very, very determined and lucky infertility patient.) My fifth and sixth cycles worked and I have a daughter and a son. 

If you are looking for this article to answer the question: Should I do IVF? I’m afraid that I cannot much help you. But hopefully, I can answer a few other questions.

IVF is terrible. It most definitely falls into that category “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It hurts more than you think it will. And it lasts far longer than it should. When it does not work, it feels a punch in the gut combined with the unexpected death of your childhood pet.

But, but, but….when it does work, it is nothing short of a miracle.

IVF is usually your last stop at the end of a long journey. You have probably spent years trying to get pregnant every which way. Nothing has worked. And that’s what finds you at a fertility clinic staring at a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE), trying not to cry.

(Tip: Find a fertility center with kind, thoughtful and competent nurses. Remember that you will likely see these nurses daily, and they, more than anyone, will deliver your news, good or bad.)

After your initial consultation, you will probably be given a battery of tests. If you think you start IVF right away, you are mistaken. Usually it is a two- to six-month process from the word, GO! Even if you feel like you have already done every test conceivable, your doctor might want to repeat some and ask for new ones. 

It’s rarely a smooth start. AFTER all the results come back, AND you and your doctor agree that IVF is the way to go, AND decide on a protocol, THEN you actually do the most perverse thing of all: you start on birth control. (This is done to control your cycle and to decrease the chances of creating cysts.) With your cycle firmly in hand, you get down to the business of generating as many eggs as possible.

(Tip: Medicine for IVF is not usually covered. And it can cost thousands of dollars. My medicine cost a little less than $5000 per cycle. So shop around. Don’t assume that your local drugstore is giving you the best rates. Also talk to your doctor about “Mini-IVF” – which is essentially an un-medicated cycle. Some people are great candidates for Mini-IVFs. Some are not.)

In a normal ovulation cycle, one egg usually matures per month. In an IVF cycle, the goal is to have as many mature eggs as possible, as this will increase your odds of success with treatment. In the stimulation phase of the IVF cycle, injectable medications are used for approximately 8-14 days to stimulate the ovaries and produce eggs.

Let’s talk a bit about the injectable medication for this phase. Honesty, these are not that bad. Other than the fact that they can make you crazy, they are quite manageable.

(Tip: IVF is an intense experience that makes you feel very vulnerable. Surround yourself with people who love you and more importantly, who can tell the difference between when it is the medication talking, and when it is you talking.)

During this time, you will be closely monitored. That means bloodwork and ultrasound either every day or every other day. It’s a huge time commitment. The only slight positive is that it is kinda cool watching your follicles grow slowly day by day. (You are aiming for them to get over 18mm.)

(Tip: Use Glow. We have an amazing IVF path where you can take notes, check off all your procedures, set appointments and keep all your information in one place.  No one is more vested in this process than you, and your listening skills depreciate noticeably when you are in stir-ups with a wand in your vagina. It’s important to end every session with the question “What’s next?” and type it down. The same with the follow-up calls that nurses make every afternoon. Write it all down.)

When your eggs have sufficiently matured, you get a trigger shot. This means that your eggs will be harvested within the next 36 hours.

When the big day arrives, you go to the center, and are put to gentle twilight sleep, while your doctor makes tiny incisions through your ovaries and individually takes out the eggs. When you stop and think about it – it is pretty damn cool. You wake up cramping and slightly unhappy. Your recently liberated eggs are whisked off to meet your partner’s or donor’s sperm. Three to five days later, they are put back into you, all fertilized and ready to implant.

But wait – you are not done yet. If you are one of the lucky ones – like me – you now start your progesterone shots. Let me tell you: these hurt. They really hurt. I recently fell and broke my ankle in 2 places and if you ask me if I would rather do that again or take 6 cycles worth of Progesterone shots, I’d hand you a hammer and prop up my ankle.

Anyway….

From this point on, it’s all a numbers game. 

How many eggs did they harvest? How many were mature? How many fertilized? How many lived past the first day? How many have divided enough to plant back in you after 3 to 7 days? How many managed to implant after 14 days?

For me – on a typical cycle, the numbers were as follows:
+ 17 eggs harvested (Large # of eggs due to PCOS)
+ 9 mature eggs
+ 4 eggs fertilized
+ 2 fertilized eggs kept dividing till day 3
+ They put back 2 fertilized eggs
+ Neither managed to hold on for those requisite 14 days. 8-(

You can just imagine how nerve-racking each step of this process is. How each step lends itself to failure. They could harvest 10 eggs, and none will be mature. You could have 5 mature eggs and none will fertilize. You could have 3 perfectly fertilized eggs and none may implant. Or worst of all, you could – as I did on my fourth cycle – go through all this, and get pregnant, only to miscarry a few short weeks later.

When they ask me what the worst part of IVF is – the cost? The time commitment? The pain? – I always say “No, no, no.”

The worst part of IVF is the uncertainty. It is the fact that you could go through all this trouble, sacrifice everything….and still not get a baby out of it.

I thank the universe every single day for the two blessings that are softly snoring in their beds as I type this article. Every. Single. Day. Because I know how easily my story might have had a different ending altogether.

Pursuing IVF treatment is a personal decision and there is no right or wrong – there is only what you feel, what you can endure, what you can sacrifice.

My only other tip for you to trust your instincts. Trust your gut. After my fourth failed cycle and miscarriage, everyone who saw me suffer wanted me to give up. “Enough already,” they said. But it wasn’t enough for me. I knew, I somehow knew, that the next one would work. And it did. Maybe because of the healthy choices I made after my miscarriage, maybe because of my positive thinking, maybe because my doctors finally figured out the correct regimen – whatever it was, it worked.

And like I said, when it works – there is no greater miracle.

Gunce A. 

Head of Research at Glow