Interview: Sherilyn Palmer, Whole Promise – fertility, family + food
Isn’t it exciting – and liberating – to know there are natural and delicious ways to optimize your fertility?
Sherilyn Palmer is a mum, fertility nurse/midwife, and certified health counselor who specializes in preconception and PCOS [polycystic ovarian syndrome] health and wellbeing. Sherilyn also writes a food blog, Wholepromise, where she showcases her love of natural, real food with truly nourishing and yummy recipes, and a sprinkling of family tales. The organic cherry on the sundae is her stunning photography.
With one in six couples experiencing infertility and IVF rates increasing, it’s time we took a deeper look at the connection between our overall wellness and our fertility – and Sherilyn is just the wise woman to guide us.
Sherilyn and I chatted recently, and below she spills the beans on:
- Preconception tips for mamas and papas [yes, you should both optimize your health before trying to get pregnant!]
- How she managed PCOS to become pregnant
- Grain-free cooking + fertility
- Why her two young boys love whole, natural foods
- Often overlooked elements if you’re having trouble conceiving
- Plus… two nourishing WholePromise recipes [a fertility booster + a healthy treat for kids]
Parents can spend more time picking nursery colors than preparing to conceive. Being a registered fertility nurse and midwife, how did you prepare for your pregnancies?
[Sherilyn] As someone with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) I knew my starting point was to work out my bodys’s internal workings and the how the syndrome exactly affected me. To do this I really honed my fertility awareness skills by charting my menstrual cycle months before trying to conceive, cut the junk and started cooking my own food that I could trust.
Because PCOS can cause an irregular cycle I found charting quite rewarding and it really put me in touch with understanding how my own body works. In combination with that I upped my intake of folate, had a pap smear, a dental check up and quit alcohol totally, encouraging my husband to do so as well.
Was there anything you did differently in preparing for (or during) your second pregnancy that you wish you’d known the first time?
[Sherilyn] Once you have a little one to look after it is very easy to lose focus on your own health and wellbeing. Suddenly your needs seem to plummet to the bottom of the pile so to get my health back up to par I did a lot of juicing, worked with a naturopath and went back to basics with my diet which I had become a little lax with.
Consequently my energy levels were low and I had to correct some nutrient deficiencies so yes I did do things a little differently the second time around and I think from a wellness perspective I was possibly more body ready to be pregnant again.
Equally I knew what I was in for the second time around and knew I had to be at the top of my game. Incidentally my second son is far more robust in all senses than my first son and I can’t help but wonder if my level of health had something to do with that?
How did you get your husband in on the priming action? Guys play a crucial role (even if women do the hard work for 40 weeks!).
[Sherilyn] He had a semen analysis to check that everything was ok as he works in an industrial environment and is at risk of exposure to toxins and chemicals. I also encouraged an increased intake in zinc rich food as it is one of the most important nutrients for a male’s reproductive health.
Thankfully my husband is a pretty fit and healthy type of guy who will eat whatever I put in front of him without complaint. Getting good food into him is easy and taking a multivitamin is something he does generally which is a good thing as it has been shown to aid male fertility. Cutting out alcohol months beforehand was also part of the plan.
You have two young boys. How has being a mum influenced your work as a fertility nurse/midwife and certified health counselor?
[Sherilyn] In many ways I have become a different person since having children. Becoming a mum has fostered an overwhelming appreciation for how amazing the female body is and it has allowed me to communicate more easily and forge deeper relationships, understanding and connection with my patient’s. It has also motivated me to inspire woman in all stages of life to nurture their reproductive health through eating wholesome food and the prioritisation of their personal wellbeing.
One in six couples experience infertility. What are often overlooked elements you address in your work with couples who are having trouble conceiving, and why?
[Sherilyn] When I first meet with couples to discuss their fertility concerns I like to get back to basics on everything. I like to discuss the important union between the female and male reproductive systems then discuss how to fall pregnant (you would be surprised how many people don’t know this) before taking on diet, lifestyle and environmental considerations.
What we put into our bodies is by far the most overlooked element of conception and most couples are quite shocked to learn the extent to which this can impact on their fertility and the long-term health of their offspring.
When couples become aware that nutrients from the food they consume are what their body uses to produce hormones, repair cells, produce healthy eggs and sperm it can be surprising for them, as they have never thought about it in this sense before. Encouraging dietary change can be difficult so I say, take things gradually by starting with breakfast and going from there.
Below is one of my own personal favourite starts to the day. It is grain, gluten and dairy free and its high seed content offers plenty of healthy and beneficial fats that the body needs in the right amounts to make hormones, fight inflammation and make ovulation happen along with a host of other things.
If the morning rush is an issue then make it the night before and think about adding some little extras such as goji berries, shredded coconut and toasted flaked almonds for more fertility boosting power. Oh, and did I mention it makes enough for two. His sperm will be very thankful.
3 Seed Banana Pudding
1 cup almond milk (or milk of your choice – coconut is nice here as well)
1 good size banana
1 Tbs chia seeds
1 Tbs golden flax seeds
2 tsp hemp seeds
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp maple syrup (adjust to your liking)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
Put all the ingredients in a blender and whiz until mixed together
Allow to sit for 10 mins to thicken and eat
Baking bread from grains you grind yourself is something you love to do, but you did a grain-free stint for your own personal development, experimenting with recipes like buckwheat griddle bread.
How could a grain-free diet benefit people experiencing infertility?
[Sherilyn] For some people going grain and gluten free can assist with weight loss, stabilisation of blood sugar levels, mood and the balancing of hormones, which all have the potential to influence or hinder fertility.
For others it can form part of treatment for a medical condition such as coeliac disease, which is caused by an intolerance to gluten and is also linked to infertility as well. Grain free and gluten free advocates will promote an array of benefits for their chosen food philosophy however I am firm believer that no one way of eating is suited to everyone.
I wanted to try this as part of exploring how to best manage my own PCOS and I tend to still follow this way of eating largely today which I find relatively easy to do with a little bit of planning and know how.
It goes without saying that helping people birth their child into this world must be utterly amazing. Tell us about one of the more challenging aspects of your role as a midwife, and how you work with your patients to overcome it.
[Sherilyn] You are absolutely right – birthing babies is utterly amazing but nowadays I don’t do any birthing. Being a midwife in this capacity requires a very high level of skill which I haven’t adequately maintained since I had my own two children. It’s a diverse role and my focus as a midwife/fertility nurse today is on the other end of the spectrum with helping create new life and ensuring women are adequately prepared and nourished prior to conception.
For me one of my greatest challenges is giving negative news and no matter how often I do it, it never gets any easier. It’s a role where you can develop quite strong relationships with your clients but the rollercoaster of emotions that go with this job can be exhausting and something you can easily take home with you. Being able to turn off at the end of the day is something I constantly struggle with.
Ok, how do you do it all (and sleep)?
You’re a mum, wife, fertility nurse/midwife and certified health counselor, write a food blog that includes your own recipes and beautifully styled photography, and provide your family with wholesome homecooked meals. Fill us in, please!
[Sherilyn] Firstly providing my family with great food is my number one priority over anything else and that just happens to tie in with lots of other things I do. I can’t deny that at times I burn the candle at both ends and I usually pay for it in some way.
My everyday sometimes feels chaotic and I never sit down for long but a great husband and mother, exercise, chipping away, letting my creative soul out, learning not to expect everything yesterday (my biggest negative) and finally finding what I am passionate about has lead me to a place where I feel like I am at home with things. It’s only taken me 36 years so I am definitely not a fast worker, maybe just a persistent one.
Typical kid fare isn’t usually carrot/quinoa/chia patties and buckwheat muesli, yet these are dishes you create for your boys. Is good-for-you food just part of every day to them?
[Sherilyn] Good for you food is just an every day part of their life. They know that mummy spends a lot of time in the kitchen and I try as much as possible to make them a part of that experience.
We are lucky to be able to do the bulk of our shopping at our local farmers markets every weekend and I try to make our visit educational by giving them pocket money to buy their own produce and making it fun with games whereby they have to find something that begins with “B” for example.
Feeding the boys isn’t a huge struggle and they don’t eat a lot of processed food because we don’t have it in the household. That’s not to say they never have it as its influence and presence is everywhere especially at school.
What I find though is that their palates aren’t used to it so they usually try it and don’t finish it and no, they aren’t into everything I put on their plates but I do ask that they try it and continue to put small amounts on their plates again and again – persistence without making a scene is my motto and eventually they will have a go.
You’ve whipped up some amazing looking snacks for your boys on your blog. What are a few of their favorite treats?
[Sherilyn] Olives, Cherry Tomatoes and Cucumber, Dehydrated Persimmon, Apples and Peanut Butter, Rooibos Tea, Boiled Eggs and Homemade Mayonnaise, Sweet Potato Chips and Guacamole, Blackbean Brownies, Baked or Soaked Oats, and any Smoothie all make their favourite list.
These Brazil Nuts Balls have been a long standing favourite and I make them regularly for the boys:
Brazil Nut Balls
Makes approx. 6 – 8 balls
½ cup brazil nuts
¼ cup sunflower seeds (soaked for an hour or two)
4 Medjool dates
¼ cup shredded coconut
¼ cup sultanas
3 Tbs carob powder
1 Tbs cacao nibs
Zest of one orange
Juice of 1/2 small orange
Place all the ingredients except the orange juice into a food processor or vitamix
Process until the mixture resembles big breadcrumbs
Whilst processing gradually add the orange juice until the mixture comes together and firms up (it should be firm and sticky)
Using a tablespoon take a heaped portion of the mixture and roll into a ball
Repeat with the remaining mixture
Place in the fridge to firm up (if you can wait that long)
You’re so busy and much of your energy is directed towards helping others. How do you squeeze in “you” time?
[Sherilyn] Cooking and playing with my camera is “my” time. Sometimes I cook late at night when all is quiet and more recently I have been doing a photography course which has been quite intense but really helpful and inspirational. Other than that exercising regularly is an important part of my life and is my way of freeing myself emotionally when things get a little too much.
Sneak peek – tell us:
What you ate for breakfast yesterday: Coconut Banana Pudding
What you were doing at 2 pm: Meeting with patients
And what you were wearing at 8 pm: My PJ’s and I are best friends by this time
What do you love most about your life today?
[Sherilyn] That I am blessed to have two healthy and happy boys who are dreaming, growing and sleeping soundly. Ahhhhh!
Tell us 3 exciting things you’ll be doing in the next 5 years.
- Running a successful business around the needs of my family.
- Going back to Europe for a family holiday.
- Still being me and a mum to my beautiful boys.
Yes to mamas and papas optimizing their wellness before conceiving, to nourishing + yum food as a fertility and wellness booster, and to brazil nut balls!
Images courtesty of Sherilyn Palmer