“I wish I focused on my fertility at 39 instead of at 43. Those four years make a difference,” said my best friend who was in the grips of IVF.
Her advice led me, at 39, to get a fertility workup. I was yet to get pregnant again after miscarrying at 37. I had never known if I wanted kids and when I felt kind of ready, I had gotten pregnant easily before miscarrying. I was upset by the miscarriage, but also stunned and grateful that I was able to get pregnant at all. As a first generation childhood cancer survivor, there isn’t a lot of data on fertility for those of us who’d been through chemotherapy. Getting pregnant made me feel “normal” in ways that I didn’t even know I was missing.
But I had not dodged the chemotherapy fertility bullet according to my fertility workup, which concluded that I was in early menopause, probably from the chemo. I now felt out of control, without choices and devastated when I was told my only option was a donor egg and IVF at a price tag of $30,000.
I knew the IVF route wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the IVF success rate, the process, the price, or the largely unknown long-term health impacts on my body, which is already maxed out from the long term impacts of chemotherapy.
My tears, sadness and anger came from a place of grief, loss and unfairness. I had done so much to reclaim my well-being – mind, body and soul – after the trauma of cancer. And yet it felt not enough. I heard and understood the grief and loss and knew it was time to take my own advice. And I found myself going through the same process my clients go through when they come to me for a Truce with Food. Now I was ready for my Truce with Fertility.
Taking my Own Medicine to Come To Grips With the News
I have counseled countless clients to come to grips with their own deep seated issues via my Truce with Food process, rooted in adult development psychology. I realized that I needed to do with my fertility what I had counseled counseled countless clients to do with food—stop viewing “expert” and conventional advice as authority. I had to start listening and exploring all of the nuance and shades of gray and come to grips with not having an easy outside answer. Just as I teach my clients to be CEO of their diet and destiny, it was time for me to become the CEO of my fertility.
Chapter 1: Viewing my Infertility Crossroads as Optimal Conflict
Adult development theory prizes Optimal Conflict, because it involves something that we care enough about (in my case, infertility), to do the work of transformation, change and generally leaving your comfort zone. For my clients (and me in the past) wanting to cease the constant battle with food was worthwhile enough to explore the root causes and discomfort. Now it was time for me to once again visit my current point of optimal conflict (fertility or lack thereof) and put my truce with food tools back to work.
Chapter 2: Identify My Story, Patterns and Behaviors
Now that I was committed to pushing past my comfort zone, it was time to confront the inherently uncomfortable uncertainty that this infertility crossroads stirred up.
I knew I had to identify the story this kicked up: uncertainty made me feel that what I wanted was out of reach. While previously I hadn’t been certain if I wanted a child, I was now 100% sure that I did. And my default “all or nothing” thinking was that to have a child I had to do it through a natural pregnancy.
This story instigated the “avoid” pattern in me: Who wants to sit in the potential disappointment of discovering what you truly want only to not be able to get it? I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of Western medicine and all the work that would be a part of learning about fertility, all with the potential of failure and disappointment being a probable outcome.
On queue my inner protector entered the picture to stir up protective resistance to keep me avoiding and staying safe (i.e. in avoiding doing the work and confronting potential failure and disappointment). I wondered:
- Is it environmentally safe or responsible to bring a child into a place where conditions for human life are rapidly deteriorating?
- Would natural medicine even help?
- Maybe this news is saving my life because I’ve always been afraid of dying in childbirth?
- Why did I wait until 39 to deal with this?
I knew that being CEO of my fertility meant moving past my inner protector to accept responsibility for my fertility and to take on the complexity of conventional medicine not having all of the answers. I did know that natural medicine and Women’s Health are tragically under-researched and misunderstood.
Chapter 3: Challenging My Story and Patterns
After I identified my story, avoid pattern and the behavior it was generating, I was ready to take responsibility and challenge my story and pattern by creating a plan. For me this entailed researching fertility on my own and finding information and practitioners that would guide a natural approach.
The first tiny step (and just as I tell my clients, it’s that first tiny step that creates the momentum to propel you forward) was a scant google search which revealed: you can get pregnant in menopause (I didn’t know this!). And, you while you can’t change your egg quantity (at least as we know today), you can change your egg quality.
A call to the Physician’s Assistant from the fertility workup confirmed that you can in fact get pregnant in menopause. She was careful to emphasize this was rare particularly based on my test results and health history. She threw in the “we never say never” line medical professionals offer to not give false hope and to account for the great mystery known as life.
After beginning to explore and taking ownership of my natural fertility chances, I felt further empowered to explore my choices and see that this was not a black and white matter. I felt the truth of what I preach to my clients and the research behind the Truce with Food Process: knowing our choices puts us back in a place of choice and control and there are many more than 2 outcomes. I realized a few choices were:
- Natural Fertility: My default choice. I could go down the path of research and doing the work of trying natural methods, lifestyle modifications and practitioners and generally challenging what the traditional fertility workup had told me. While I found many people who got pregnant after 40, in menopause and were also given grim advice from Western Medicine, I had to also accept that I might not get this lottery outcome even if I did the work.
- Adoption/ Acting as a Foster Parent: This would come with its own uncertainty and “doing the work.” Foster children can be ripped away for a variety of reasons as soon as attachments are formed and potential adoptions can also not materialize upon a change of heart or life transformation of birth parents—just as pregnancies can be lost and biological and legally adopted children are not immune from life-threatening accidents or illnesses (as I knew all too well).
- Find Alternative Paths for my Parental Instincts: Our lives are fantastic and the people I know who do have children seemed less happy than those I know who don’t have children. If we wanted to be influential in the life of or support a child there were other fulfilling ways that we could be a part of nurturing the next generation. We could explore mentorship and other opportunities to make an impact in the lives of a child or children.
Carlos, my husband, told me it was always my choice (relationship tip: partner with a feminist!).
Studying Adult Development and Nutrition and developing and going through my own Truce with Food process made me a “go for it” type of person. “Going for it” doesn’t mean I always succeed, but it does mean I know how to not blame myself for “failing” and how to turn setbacks into effective research. Knowing there were alternative options to explore if I couldn’t get pregnant naturally also took me out of the black and white thinking that not getting pregnant was guaranteed, lasting disappointment.
For me, the most important thing was to know I tried my best. Over the years throughout the ups and downs of my health, my career and life, giving my best shot is a foundational value and where my peace of mind and fulfillment results from.
So this was me taking my own Truce with Food medicine. This was not about blindly believing natural medicine was my answer (and fully accepting and realizing that this may not work and it would not be my fault) but learning what choices I have. It was about strategically discerning and learning how to get clear and work through my own protective mental traps and blindspots.
Chapter 4: The Epilogue
After six months of challenging my story, breaking my avoid pattern and addressing the root causes of my infertility, I got pregnant in January 2019.
I’m currently six months pregnant and so far, knock on wood, having a relatively wonderful pregnancy. I’ll be 41 when I deliver our bambino (yes, it’s a boy!) in mid-October.
My biggest learning is that women’s health is tragically under-researched, poorly understood, and the body is more resilient than even I thought possible.
This is taking me into my next phase of how I’ve been approaching pregnancy, childbirth and of course, parenting. Truce with Food is the gift that keeps on giving because for as long as we are alive, we are going to have to keep learning and choosing what works best for us and what’s truly possible in all aspects of our life.
We have all the reason to challenge the story we’ve been given about our bodies and choices, fertility being one aspect of our lives. Because choice is potent medicine.
When you are the CEO of your health, you know to get the data and context to understand and maximize your choices. A new collective story will emerge when enough of us decide to rebel against the status quo.
And here’s Part 2: How I Beat the Odds: Optimizing Your Body for Pregnancy. Optimizing these 6 Health Foundations will help you with whatever fertility path you choose.
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