Plan Your Pre-Season
Just as it takes three months for the body to complete an egg’s development before ovulation, it takes the same amount of time for the eggs that will be retrieved for IVF to be cultivated, and to respond to the medications that will be used to increase the number of eggs retrieved. Similarly, it takes three months to prepare sperm in the male reproductive system. During this three month preconception season, both eggs and sperm are sensitive to the quality of your diet and the level of stress you’re both under. Just as athletes prepare their bodies for their ultimate potential performance, pre-season work is just as important for optimal fertility success. The foundations of fertility are your health, so in this time, it makes sense to focus extra attention on nourishing, relaxing and moving your body.
Unblock Your Beliefs
This is a tough one, and an important one. Researcher Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief, showed us that our bodies respond to signals created by our core beliefs. The trickiest part about working on the level of beliefs is that most of the time, we aren’t consciously aware of what they are – and very often, our beliefs are inadvertently limiting our success. A few examples: say we have a belief such as, “We’re infertile”, “We’ll never have a baby”, “I won’t be able to handle childbirth”, “I’m not good enough to be a mom”, “Not every dream comes true”, etc., what choice are we giving our minds and bodies to prove any differently? Now I don’t want you to beat yourself up for feeling the difficult emotions that are natural responses to difficult experiences, nor for “being negative”. Freedom from our limiting beliefs isn’t about just thinking “positively”. In our work with couples with infertility, we’ve found that helping them identify the limiting beliefs they’ve been holding has created clarity on some of their best next steps forward to transforming their results.
Empower Your Emotions
The lens through which we start to “see” our limiting beliefs is through our emotions. As I share with clients, our emotions are intel. They’re information that can guide us to insights. They don’t arise from “nothing”, nor are they a diagnosis to be treated. Emotions are how we internally experience the very real, physiological responses to our circumstances. In the 1990s, scientist Candice Pert wrote Molecules of Emotion, explaining the field of psychoneuroendocrinology – the interactions between our thoughts and feelings, how our brain works, and how our hormones influence it all. Because a woman’s brain is at least 20% more wired to the emotional centres of our brain, we do experience everything through a more emotional lens than men do, on average. We also have naturally fluctuating hormonal cycles that influence our emotional experience through different stages of the month. Add in hormone based medications for IVF, grief after miscarriage or loss, stress from infertility, work, finances, etc. and we’re under the influence of a whole bunch of molecules of emotion: all the feels, all the time. It’s no wonder fertility challenges can feel really, really hard. The first piece I ask my patients to consider is making space for their emotions. As author Michael A. Singer writes in The Untethered Soul, by the simple act of observing an emotion as we feel it, we gain immediate empowerment around the experience. This healthy distinction comes from the inherent nature of not being the “thing” that we are observing. As the observer of “anxiety”, I am immediately not the anxiety.
Intense and complex emotions are often part and parcel of a woman or couple’s fertility journey. Here’s a 5-minute exercise that can help when you’re in the thick of difficult feelings. One by one, name the emotion(s) you’re experiencing – jot each one down. Next, give each one a rating of the intensity with which you feel it, 0 being not intense at all, and 10 being maximum intensity. Now that you can see them as an objective list on paper, you’ve created some healthy separation from the feelings. Your emotions are not you. You are their observer. Now you’re in a more empowered position to choose what you’d like to do with them, rather than keeping them stored up inside where they can create suffering or even symptoms. Instead, you’re free to choose how to process, talk about, or seek additional support for releasing them.
Not the “Only Way”…But “One Way”
There’s a misconception that IVF is a guaranteed path to pregnancy. We’ve believed in the methodology of “how to be successful” that’s worked for us when we’ve had other goals: getting A’s, earning our degree, qualifying for that promotion, even solving relationship issues, buying a house, starting a business. It’s no surprise that we’d expect the ways we’ve efforted our way to success in many important areas of our lives, would be effective when it comes to the goal of having a baby, too. The problem is that we can’t “try harder” to make a baby. It’s countercultural, for sure, but the truth is that conceiving is not about achieving, it’s about receiving. And being a “receiver” of a healthy pregnancy can honestly be one of the hardest things a woman can ever learn how to practice. Most of the couples we’ve worked with who’ve already tried IVF have been told that IVF is their only way to have a baby. In many of those cases, our work together has allowed them to transform their results with IVF and go on to have a healthy pregnancy and baby on their next IVF cycle, OR, has eliminated the need for IVF altogether because they’ve conceived naturally. Although it makes good sense to consult with a fertility clinic especially if you’ve been trying to conceive for a year or more, the best medical technology we have available – IVF or in vitro fertilization – on average gives a couple about a 30% chance of having a baby after four IVF cycles. It’s intense, it’s expensive, and it can be really stressful. Going into IVF believing this is the “only way I can get pregnant” can be code for a limiting belief that your body, or your fertility as a couple, isn’t enough to bring a healthy baby through. There’s also a subconscious tendency to “rely” on IVF as an expensive, yet foul-proof last resort, as in, as long as we’re willing to work at it hard enough and/or are willing to pay enough money, “There’s always IVF”. But no matter how hard you’re willing to go at it, and how much money you’re willing to pay for cycles, IVF can’t guarantee you a baby. I think we know this on the level of our rational minds, but we don’t always know this on the level of our subconscious beliefs, and whenever we’ve got conflict between our rational reality and our belief reality, it shows up with discord in our physiology and our lived experience.
So here’s my suggestion. If you’re planning to have IVF, check in with your feelings: See if you can address your cycle as a way you are choosing to, rather than having to, obtain support on your path to pregnancy. (Do you feel the difference in energy between those two verbs?) Rather than feeling like you’re surrendering to a stressful, expensive, invasive, uncomfortable procedure – something that’s being “done to” you – now you’re receiving the support and assistance of an advanced medical technology that can be one tool in your tool basket, among all the other shifts you’re making to create a nest around your fertility success. The difference here will be between the physiology of “victimhood”, including high cortisol and resulting hormonal dysfunction, and the physiology of “empowerment”, which includes healthier hormonal function and even a whole lot more happiness, joy, and connection, with less stress and greater receptivity to the healthy pregnancy you desire (and, deserve).
Dr. Elizabeth Cherevaty ND, RAc is the founder of Two Rivers Health, an integrative fertility and family care clinic in the heart of Guelph, Ontario. She works with women and couples across Ontario through the Well Conceived Fertility Method™ an evidence-based program to help them build fertile foundations, break through obstacles to healthy pregnancy, and bring their healthy babies home. Her first book, The IVF Meal Plan, will be released in 2019.
Dr. Cherevaty welcomes new patients who want to take an empowered approach to their fertility. To find out whether working together is a good fit, book a Conception Confidence Call here.
In-person and telemedicine consultations are available across Ontario.