Looking back at her experiences with infertility, Celine Gabriel Lim shares her IVF journey, learnings, and how she improved her lifestyle.
I’ve talked a lot about my struggles with infertility in the past, and the joy that came when I finally overcame those challenges. But I never really shared the things I did or the lifestyle changes I made in order to prepare my mind and body for my In vitro fertilization (IVF) experience.
Thus, I wanted to write this because I still remember how difficult it was to traverse that path. And as one in ten Filipinos suffers from infertility, I know that someone out there is going through what I went through.
Of Marriage Plans and Taking it Slow
My husband Matthew and I started trying to conceive quite late. We were the couple that took our time—even marriage was something I didn’t want right away. After four years of dating exclusively, Matthew wanted to get married, but I wasn’t ready. Eventually, we finally got married in our seventh year together; I was 33 and he was 39.
Having children was definitely not on our vision board at that point. We were newlyweds more interested in traveling the world, enjoying late nights with our friends, renovating a home, and growing thriving but very demanding businesses—all of which consumed a lot, if not all, of our energy. Besides, people were having children much later on in life, and we were both very comfortable with that idea.
When I think about that time now, however, I just feel exhausted. Back then, my dad would often tell me: “Slow down. You’re not getting any younger”. And because of the folly of my youth, this didn’t feel true at all. At 33, I certainly didn’t feel old; I felt strong and capable—invincible, even. My mom would also warn me and say, “You’re burning the candle on both ends”.
I suppose my body was so used to that level of stress that if I didn’t feel absolutely burnt out by the end of the day, it felt like I wasn’t very productive at all. No matter how tired my lifestyle made me, and no matter what toll it took on my system, I just wanted more.
Then, that “something more” became a family of our own, and everything changed.
The Road to Starting a Family
When we decided it was time to have a baby, we were excited for this next journey in our lives. But it didn’t happen for us as easily as it did for other couples. Never, at any point in my life, did it occur to me that this could happen.
Technically, nothing was wrong. We did all the necessary tests to check on what underlying issues might be preventing us from conceiving. All our results both here in Manila and in San Francisco said that everything was normal. It was so frustrating because how do you “fix” something if all the papers say that nothing needs fixing?
But I’ve always had a positive way of thinking, and instead of wallowing in self-pity, I decided to take action.
A Change in Diet to Combat Infertility
I told myself that while my fertility is something I had no control of, there were some things within my power that I could do to help our situation. And to start, I changed my diet.
I was always skinny growing up, and never really gained weight that I couldn’t easily lose. This made me a rather unhealthy person. I ate too much meat, never blinked about eating processed food, drank too many cocktails, and indulged in junk food. People would always say to me, “You’re so lucky you never gain weight”.
But I learned later on that my weight isn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of good health. And that it impacted my ability to have a baby.
On Making Healthy Choices
My IVF doctor in San Francisco, Dr. Christo Zouves of the Zouves Fertility Center, immediately put me on a low carb, low sugar, gluten-free, dairy-free, and alcohol-free diet. After all, studies showed that for people who are sensitive to gluten and dairy, the body mounts an immune response that increases inflammation in the body. And this can have adverse effects on their ability to conceive. Although I never really felt like I was sensitive to gluten or dairy, Dr. Zouves believes that everyone is—just to different degrees.
We also went with a low-carb diet because studies show that eggs and embryos don’t do well in a high-glucose environment. By lowering carbs and increasing protein, you bathe your eggs in good, healthy, and nutritious supplements. As for sugar and alcohol… well, we already know that too much of those is never a good thing—whether you’re trying to have a baby or not.
Within 3 months of going low-carb, low-sugar, and cutting back on alcohol, gluten and dairy, I started to feel the benefits. I felt lighter, leaner (I lost about 18 pounds in total during that time), and my head felt clearer. In fact, because of how good this made me feel, to this day (a baby and a few years later) I’ve mostly stuck to this way of life. The only exception I made was for alcohol. While I don’t over-indulge anymore, I do allow myself a glass here and there.
After all, mental health is just as important as physical health, isn’t it?
The Wonders of Acupuncture
Another great recommendation came from my OB-GYN in the Philippines, Dr. Anthony Ancheta. Dr. Ancheta is a highly respected IVF specialist who helped me prepare for my procedure in San Francisco, and the only one we trusted to deliver our precious baby later on in Manila. He introduced me to the world of acupuncture—under the healing hands of Sister Regina Liu of the St. Francis Natural Health Clinic in Quezon City.
I had never tried anything of this sort before, so I was a little nervous in the beginning. But as anyone who has ever experienced infertility before would understand, I was willing to try anything. And I’m glad I did, because it was life-changing.
Sister Regina] has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine for more than twenty years, and is also a Missionary sister of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God (SMIC). And according to her, acupuncture offers no guarantees, just like any other fertility treatment (including IVF).
However, more often than not, it seems to be effective for “unexplained infertility” cases such as mine. Not only did acupuncture make me feel good, but I also saw improvements in my lab results after I started consistently going once a week for treatment.
Let’s Get Physical!
Physical exercise is also something I committed to. I was advised to choose a physical activity that didn’t make me feel too stressed or pushed my body too hard. And so, yoga and pilates became part of my regular routine.
So did walking. During our stay in San Francisco, my husband and I explored a lot on foot. It was such a great way to bond, relax and get our daily 10,000 steps in (sometimes more!). I would bring my camera with me and go on “photo journeys”—capturing anything and everything that piqued my interest or made me feel in awe of its beauty.
I remember during that time, people would always tell me that my photos and posts on social media always seemed to radiate a sense of calm, serenity, and peace. Yes, going through the hills and valleys of infertility still gave me anxiety, but there were also definitely positive changes in me—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And other people could sense that as well.
Transitioning to a Healthier Lifestyle
Honestly, I’ve come a long way from the person I was when I was 33. I’ve taken my parents’ advice to slow down. I’ve cut a lot of unhealthy items from my diet and I’ve stopped overworking myself. I always say that I’m so grateful I went through the struggles of infertility because if that didn’t happen, I would have continued down such an unhealthy path.
Because life threw me that curveball, I needed to let go of a lot of things that define my lifestyle—and I’ll admit, that defined who I wanted to be. But when I decided I wanted to be a mom most of all, the decision to live with less became a lot easier.
And that “less” became so much more than I could’ve dreamed of. I became a better wife, daughter, sister, friend, and business partner. I’m feeling so much lighter now—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Best of all, my husband and I are able to enjoy our lives together with our beautiful daughter.
Of Learnings and Realizations About Infertility
Infertility is one of the worst struggles a person can experience. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and expensive, with no guarantees that anything will work. It makes you question your life choices. It challenges the relationship you have with your own body.
But sometimes, those pains we feel lead to the greatest growth. It just takes patience, openness, and a whole lot of faith in what you’re doing to realize that infertility isn’t the end of anything. It’s just a huge, inconvenient hill that you can get over.
And when you get to the top of that hill—when you finally conquer it—you get the clearest view of your path forward. Yes, you may need to shed some of the things that are weighing you down, and your feet might form a few blisters along the way—but with the right people helping you, it all becomes worth it in so many ways.
With Celine’s trusted eye for the chic, unique and stylish, it was only natural for her to dabble in modeling, TV hosting, being a newspaper columnist and PR director. She transformed her very diverse background into several growing enterprises, namely Mullenlowe Marc (formerly known as ARC Public Relations), a healthy snack brand called Honest Junk and anti-mosquito cologne cult classic, Kiele Naturals. But nothing gives her more fulffillment than her greatest accomplishment — being a mom to her daughter, Iris. This mompreneur is excited to share tips, advice and all around good vibes on all things parenting.
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