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Celiac Disease and Fertility

A few years ago, I had started to doubt whether I’d ever have a child. I wanted to, fervently. There were only two problems: I had not yet met the man with whom I wanted to raise a child, and my entire reproductive system seemed to be in an uproar.

Like many undiagnosed celiacs, I’d struggled from puberty with hormonal problems. Through my twenties, I suffered with ovarian cysts. Menstruation was never regular, and I was always left wondering when the next cycle of exhaustion would begin again. Then, in early 2003, I fainted from blood loss, ending up at the emergency room. The doctors there said I had a fibroid tumor the size of a grapefruit, and advised that there was no choice but to have a hysterectomy. That day.

Luckily, I fought the decision. I insisted on seeing several more doctors, ultimately finding one who was practising more modern techniques. She removed the fibroid and left me with the chance – and the hope – of having a baby.

Then after I was diagnosed with celiac disease, everything changed, miraculously. My reproductive system corrected itself. Now I know that my lifetime of suffering was actually caused by the celiac.

Active celiac sprue is the leading cause of unexplained infertility, leaving women around the world disappointed, month after month, when they cannot get pregnant. On the face of it, nothing seems to be wrong. What could be behind this misery? they wonder. Gluten, it turns out, can cause many women (and men) to be infertile. Worse yet, there are legions of women who suffer multiple miscarriages, without any sense that their diet could be leading to these devastating losses.

I feel blessed to have skipped that struggle. Doubly blessed to have met my lovely husband after my celiac diagnosis. By the time we were ready to start trying to have a baby, I had been in good health for more than two years.

Still, I worried. Studies suggest it takes at least nine months of living gluten-free for the body to heal itself fully for pregnancy. Did all those years of undiagnosed celiac damage me in some way I couldn’t see? Would my “advanced maternal age” of 41 prevent us from holding the child we longed to love? Would I lose the chance to have a child because of years of eating hamburger buns?

Five months of trying seemed an eternity. But I’m one of the lucky ones. By eating well and living my life fully, I’d been preparing my body. On the morning I ran to my husband in the bedroom, quaking with joy at the double plus sign on the stick, I was the healthiest I had been in my life. And soon, I will be giving life. All because I let go of gluten.

For Shauna’s “Chickpea Salad with Feta” recipe – see Allergic Living magazine’s Summer 2008 issue.
To order that issue or to subscribe, click

Shauna James Ahern’s first book is Gluten-Free Girlpublished by John Wiley & Sons.

Shauna James Ahern’s and Daniel Ahern’s new cookbook is Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, published by John Wiley & Sons. Their blog is

Related Reading

Celiac expert Shelley Case on:

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