Trying to conceive? This could make all the difference.
By: Amy Sedgwick
On a recent visit to Toronto I had the pleasure of visiting one of my superstar fertility clients and her newborn baby girl. I say superstar because this client was really clear about her intentions and wasn’t afraid to work hard in pursuit of achieving them.
She told me that the most useful advice I had given her during our work together was to think of her fertility journey as “boot camp” for becoming a mom.
At the time she was experiencing incredible stress at work and she was catching colds and flus every few weeks. She was struggling with the opinions of friends and family members who thought she should be going to a fertility clinic and couldn’t understand why she was wasting her time working with a fertility expert who wasn’t even a real doctor (me). I was recommending all sorts of changes to her diet and lifestyle (as was her Naturopathic Doctor) to support her in getting her immune system back on track. The changes required a lot of disciple (it's hard to turn down treats at family gatherings, especially when they're tied to tradition) and the whole process was feeling a little onerous and overwhelming.
It was then that I told her my philosophy on how fertility was like boot camp for motherhood.
I didn’t quite have the words to fully hash out my analogy at the time. But I’ve since had the opportunity for further reflection and now I can see why this phrase was so powerful for her. The changes that I see as necessary for my clients to achieve their goal of becoming parents (however that might transpire for them) require four core skills. These skills resemble those that are honed in a boot camp or other physical training program: strength, endurance, commitment and respecting your limits.
I don’t mean muscle strength (although you’re going to need that too!) but the invisible strength of the immune and endocrine systems. One of the key things I try to explain to my clients is that your body will always give priority to inflammation and other immediate threats (both real and perceived) over getting pregnant. If you stop to think about it, it becomes clear why. When your life is threatened (which is how your body perceives it when you are being invaded by a bacterial infection or you are worried you might lose your job) then your body sees pregnancy as a liability to your own survival. From a biological perspective we are designed to optimize our chances of reproduction, so if that means eliminating reproduction in order to focus on survival until a “safer” time comes along, then it will. Unfortunately, if we are dealing with chronic inflammation (as many of us are) or chronic stress (as most of us are), then our body will never see it as a good time to conceive. So task number one is to strengthen the immune system and reduce stress.
Once you are a parent, you will be “on” for attending to your child's needs from birth until they leave home. This takes endurance and stamina. When parenting gets hard, we don’t just get to quit. When our child wakes up vomiting in the middle of the night and we’re so exhausted we don’t know how we are going to get out of bed, we can’t just say, “I’m taking a day off.” Parenting is like a marathon, but the end line is 18 years in the future. So if you feel like “trying to conceive” is taking too long and requiring too much of you, try thinking of it as endurance training for becoming a parent. You will have to pick yourself up over and over when you think you just can’t do it anymore. So next time you think “I can’t do one more day of this fertility diet/exercise plan/hormone testing”, remember you’re building up your endurance muscles!
Respecting Your Limits
A good boot camp or training program will encourage you to push the boundaries of what you think you are capable of, while also honouring your own limits and respecting safe practices. We all know that if we push ourselves too hard we can pull a muscle, break a bone, or worse. When that happens you experience major setbacks. As parents, if you don’t know how to recognize your limits and prioritize self-care, you will burn out, injure yourself, or worse. And then you won’t be able to care for your child at all. Like the advice to put on your own mask before helping another on an airplane, it is essential that we take care of ourselves, otherwise we can’t possibly expect to care for another. Our fertility journeys are an invitation to listen and attend to our bodies’ needs. This is an essential skill for being a healthy parent. After all, we don’t just want to get pregnant. We want to sustain a healthy pregnancy, give birth to a healthy child, and then be healthy enough ourselves to enjoy the gift of being a parent.
When viewed as a kind of “report card”, our fertility journey can be a form of constructive feedback – showing us where we need to devote some attention, growth and discipline in order to cultivate the skills of parenthood. We are living in challenging times, and they call for enlightened children with strong, healthy parents to nurture them into the agents of change we know they can be.
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.