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Thoughts on Infertility, Part 1

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I don’t care much for the infertility industry, and let me say right up front that I know some of you are deeply grateful to it for helping you create your precious child. I love kids too. I simply don’t care for the business that infertility has become.

My first issue with infertility clinics is their utter lack of interest when it comes to approaches less drastic than all the tests, hormones, and surgical procedures. Part of the problem is the gynecologists themselves. Largely because of malpractice fears (their premiums are breathtaking), gynecologists follow the straight and narrow menu of high-tech fertility enhancers. However, it’s worth mentioning too that infertility centers are businesses that wouldn’t make as much money offering nutritional counseling as they do by performing in vitro fertilization.

I’ve never been pleased with the one-size-fits-all mentality at these clinics. Every woman gets the same blood tests (and there are plenty of them), x-rays, ultrasounds, and so forth. There is far less individual treatment than I’d endorse. Plus, with each test stress levels soar. Some tests can be quite uncomfortable, and for many women each appointment spikes anxiety as they await test results. Looking at waiting room photos of couples holding their babies, many women agonize “Why not me?”

Which leads me to the second issue with these clinics: they don’t seem to acknowledge the role of stress in infertility. From the moment you decide to use a fertility specialist, your stress level escalates, and to a far greater degree than when you were simply worried because you weren’t getting pregnant. The costs alone are enough to ramp up mental and emotional strain, especially if you don’t have precisely the right kind of health insurance.

On the home front, the full range of your infertility work-up can come to dominate your life. Dinnertime conversation centers on pregnancy and your desk is covered with temperature charts and medical bills, while your body is swimming in high doses of the same hormones farmers use to increase livestock production. A calendar replaces both love and lust as the cue for having sex, and you might even find yourself saying things to your loved one like “I told you not to wear Jockey shorts. They can lower your sperm count!” and “I don’t care how horny you are. You’ll wait until Thursday when I’m ovulating.”

What most infertility centers neglect to mention is that all mammals, humans included, are programmed to limit the number of offspring they produce during periods of stress. If a herd of deer senses there won’t be enough food in the coming months, hormone levels change and the females simply have fewer babies.

Significantly, stress also reduces the function of your thyroid and adrenal glands, and your ovaries too. Understand that you need all three functioning in relative harmony to coordinate a pregnancy.

If you’re already working with an infertility clinic, try these steps to help reduce the stress of treatment:
• Attend yoga or tai chi classes.
• Use this excellent meditative CD about infertility by the always reassuring Belleruth Naparstek.
• Consider a session or two of Healing Touch, especially after procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

I’ve also never been thrilled with the explanations infertility centers offer when, after months of trying, nothing seems to work. Rather than saying honestly that they don’t know why you can’t get pregnant, they too often take a blame-the-patient approach, using unhelpful phrases like “your uterus just won’t accept the fertilized egg” or “you have premature ovarian failure.”

Before you refinance your condo to pay for IVF, consider these free or extremely affordable ways to boost your odds of getting pregnant:
To increase fertility…
• Replace animal sources of protein with vegetable sources.
• Substitute high-fat dairy products for low-fat products.
• Take these useful supplements: a daily multiple vitamin with iron, a good antioxidant blend, a fish oil product , and zinc.
• Try herbal fertility enhancers, such as chasteberry, raspberry leaf, false unicorn, red clover, and Damiana. A skilled herbalist like Seanna Tully at WholeHealth Chicago can prepare a blend for you.

Avoid these pregnancy inhibitors…
• Coffee, tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.
• Eating too many soy products.
• Excessive exercise or dieting with rapid weight loss.
• Low levels of folate, vitamin B-12, vitamin D (get tested for all three), and iodine (just use iodized salt).
• Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) should be under 2.5, not the “old normal” of under 5.0. Try this self test. Then ask your doctor to test you. If your TSH is over 2.5, start taking thyroid replacement.

Next week, I’ll focus on Chinese medicine and fertility.

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