Numerous women would be able to achieve pregnancy naturally and relatively quickly if they had more basic knowledge about their bodies, menstrual cycles, hormones and fertility signs. A huge sense of control and peace of mind are gained from knowing that the cycle is hormonally balanced and from knowing how to identify the fertile days of the cycle (spoiler: it’s only a few days out of the month!).
Many women rely on identifying “ovulation day” through ovulation kits (urine tests which measure a hormone, LH, purchased at pharmacies) and/or using various calculations to predict the fertile/most fertile days. Unfortunately, these methods are not necessarily accurate and they can cause increased frustration and stress.
Body language: mapping and charting your fertility signs
Our bodies transmit precise information about our fertility- on a daily basis. Every day, from one menstrual bleed to the next, the four primary hormones responsible for the menstrual cycle prepare the body for two main tasks: ovulation and pregnancy.
By monitoring basal (waking) temperature, natural cervical secretions, and characteristics of the os (the opening of the cervix that can be felt with a finger inserted into the vagina), our bodies know how to clearly and precisely communicate when we are and are not fertile. Fertility Awareness is a body language we call “Body Literacy.”
Since we are fertile for an average of 3-5 days a month, identifying the day of ovulation becomes irrelevant. Rather it is the “window of fertility” that tells us when pregnancy is possible. Knowing your fertile window tells you when to time intercourse or uterine insemination. Doesn’t everyone deserve to have this basic information and experience the power of their cycle’s innate intelligence? Doesn’t everyone deserve the right to know and trust their bodies?
Who has a problem?
According to statistics, one in five or six women and couples have difficulty getting pregnant within a year. Fertility problems are divided almost equally between women and men: approximately 35-40% each. Among women, the problem is often due to hormonal imbalance and ovulation disorders like PCO/S (polycystic ovary or syndrome), autoimmune diseases like endometriosis (which take an average of 7+ years to diagnose), or just having irregular cycles (which makes it hard to pinpoint the fertile days).
A hardly spoken truth is that most fertility problems among men are due to poor sperm quality, particularly motility and morphology (shape and size of sperm). The remaining 20% of problems are shared by both partners and/or what conventional medicine calls “unexplained infertility.” This term is a misnomer because what it really means is that a problem becomes “unexplained” when gynecologists and diagnostic tests fail to find the source of the problem. As a rule, the medical approach is more focused on helping you conceive than it is on identifying and correcting the source of the problem, whether it is a hormonal, nutritional or lifestyle imbalance. Natural or complementary medicine has many treatment approaches which can be helpful in these cases.
Unfortunately, fertility problems are on the rise and today, more and more of them are due to poor lifestyle and environmental hazards. Fertility is not a given, but instead of investing in fertility preservation (not egg freezing!), education, and research to improve health and fertility, a huge multi-billion dollar industry based on advanced technologies has developed instead.
It is certainly miraculous and amazing that these reproductive technologies exist and are available, but they have become the “default” treatment modality rather than a “last resort.” A significant percentage of couples could conceive naturally if given a choice, together with the tools and knowledge that natural medicine can offer.
Overweight and underweight, unbalanced diet, inactivity, background diseases ( many of which are curable), stress, radiation exposure from smartphones, laptops, and other electronic devices, are lifestyle factors (affecting men) that can be improved and controlled.
Environmental factors and exposures are less controllable but taken as a whole, all of these factors are recognized as adversely affecting fertility and many can be mitigated. The problem is our cultural mindset, our belief that medical technology comes first and our unwillingness (either or both partners) to take responsibility for their reproductive health and fertility.
Conventional fertility treatments
The Western medical approach focuses more on “bypassing” a woman’s body and creating an artificial cycle with artificial hormones to help her conceive than it does on actually fixing or correcting the problem in the first place.
According to conventional protocols, a couple should try to conceive for a whole year until they seek medical attention. If unsuccessful, the couple is referred for diagnostic tests. Usually, regardless of the results, the woman will be given hormones with ultrasound follow-up, followed by procedures like insemination, or more invasive treatments like IVF and ICSI.
Even when the cause of infertility is the quality of the partner’s sperm, conventional medicine still sees the woman’s body as the focus of treatment.
Furthermore, if the measure of treatment success is having a healthy pregnancy that leads to a live birth, the statistics regarding IVF are quite low, and success rates decrease even more when a woman’s age increases (above the age of 35). Despite this, the proportion of women over the age of forty who are referred for these treatments only continues to rise.
Fertility treatments in natural medicine
Natural medicine offers women and couples a variety of tools for improving health and fertility, depending on the root of the problem. Popular approaches are found using naturopathy and dietary modifications, Chinese medicine and acupuncture, Ayurvedic medicine, herbs and supplements, homeopathy, physical methods such as external uterine massage, body-mind medicine, and more. It can take time before these approaches lead to actual improvements because it is usually a matter of dietary and lifestyle changes, which are largely behavioral.
Ultimately, in order to make the right choice, a couple should read and research their options, ask questions and gather the information that will allow them to reach the right decision/s. If both partners are active partners in the process, the experience will be much more satisfying and the results more beneficial- for overall health and not just fertility planning.
Conceiving with Fertility Awareness
Fertility Awareness and charting one’s fertility signs (takes two minutes a day) is one simple and empowering choice that enables people to be able to “read their bodies,” understand their fertility status, identify the root of the problem- before deciding what to do and how to treat it. Without any medical intervention or diagnostic testing, many women learn on their own if and when they have a problem. Fertility awareness can facilitate the diagnosis of (repeat) miscarriage, a short lethal phase (insufficient progesterone), anovulation (cycles when ovulation does not occur), delayed ovulation, the absence of fertile secretions, hypothyroidism, abnormal secretions, and above all, incorrect timing of sexual contact.
A person who monitors her fertility signs can confirm every month if and when she is ovulating and if her menstrual cycle is normal, her health is hormonally balanced. If pregnancy does not occur, after three months of charting and timing intercourse on the right days, the couple will be referred for tests. There is no need to wait six months or a year for beginning diagnostic tests.
It is worth remembering that a cycle does not have to be regular with swiss-clock precision in order to be healthy, balanced, and fertile. For the person who wants to get pregnant and does not really know her body and how it works, it will be important to learn some basic concepts and understand the conditions which make pregnancy possible:
- A ripe egg
- Fertile secretions which nourish and support sperm
- Identifying the window of fertility
- Open fallopian tubes
- Quality sperm
- Intercourse or insemination on the right days
An irregular cycle can make it difficult to achieve pregnancy quickly, but if one knows how to interpret their fertility signs, they can know whether the irregularity is related to infertility. It is worth noting that having a regular and balanced cycle is essential for overall health and not just for fertility and reproduction.
Recent studies are shedding light on the importance of a regular menstrual cycle, which affects several systems and organs in the body. Balanced hormones play a vital role in our brain, cognition and mental health; they are vital for heart health, our bones, neurological functioning, and more.
Those who do not experience a regular cycle (24-35 days) and are given hormonal therapies to conceive- need to hear the message that these treatments can help you conceive but they do not in any way solve the underlying problems, similar to taking hormonal birth control. Synthetic hormones just hide and ignore the source of the problem, which can affect long-term health, mortality, and well-being.
Regardless of the chosen therapeutic path, each person and their partners need to think long and hard about their role and responsibility for creating overall health and not just fertility. The choice is yours to make. Your questions and concerns are welcome. If you are looking for guidance and more information about fertility and pregnancy, feel free to contact me.