Grab the wheel! Be an Active Participant in your Fertility Treatment
Hi everyone. Eric here this week. As some of you know, the thoughts I share here are often prompted by strange thoughts or happenstance, and this week is a great example. Today’s post comes out of a classic Russian acoustic-rock song that popped into my youtube mix yesterday.
Andrei Makarevich’s “Conversation on a Train” recounts a late night metaphorical dispute between two sleepless passengers about the role of the individual. The first declares that life is a train propelling each of us into the future and we are the engineers. The second counters we are hapless passengers who mostly just stand on the platform and wait, with no control over the route or destination. As this song came on, it instantly came to me that this oh-so-Russian argument about fatalism and destiny was a great reflection of some of my own internal struggles when Cathy and I were trying to start a family.
I think one of the most common challenges for anyone going through infertility treatment is the sense of being at the mercy of forces beyond your control. So many times in our journey at least, it felt like there was nothing we could do to influence how things turned out. Whether we ever had a family seemed to depend on all kinds of exotic biology and esoteric metrics; what are our hormone levels? How’s your motility? Motility’s good! But morphology… Ugh.
Sure we had to do the right things at the right times. Injections, doctor visits, even the “baby dance” got put on a strict schedule. Still, it sometimes felt like we weren’t driving the train, we were just passengers along for the ride. But I’m here to tell you, don’t let that feeling overtake you, because it isn’t true. There absolutely are things you can do to increase your chances of conceiving. While you can’t control everything, here are five specific things you can do to make a difference.
- Get fit: I know that with everything we all have going on, taking care of ourselves and exercising often falls to the bottom of the list. We all struggle with staying fit at the best of times, and in the midst of trying to start a family, it can seem like a low priority but it shouldn’t be. First, it makes intuitive sense that for your body to provide the healthy sperm and egg cells needed for successful conception, you need to be as healthy as possible yourselves. Ladies, your bodies are taking on the additional, often grueling burden of carrying and nurturing a growing child for the next nine months, so a healthy body is going to be a key asset in the trials ahead.
This is not just opinion or common sense. Numerous studies (see just for example Van Der Steeg et al, summarized nicely in lay terms here) have shown that a healthy Body Mass Index is important to maximizing your chances at conception, as successful pregnancy drops markedly with increased weight. So, as much as it may seem like a distant priority when you are focused on starting a family, taking care of yourself is one area you can make a major contribution.
- Eat Right: Linked to, but distinct from, regular exercise and a healthy weight, there is solid evidence that a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains (and more specifically the folic acid and vitamins in many of them) can have a positive impact on fertility. These will also contribute to goal #1 above for healthy weight, so grab some fruits and veggies for a one-two punch.
- Don’t Eat Wrong: It’s not just about what you eat, but what you don’t. Chemicals, pollutants and (I know many of you will hate this one) even common stimulants like caffeine appear to have a potential impact on both male and female fertility. (Again, some nice, plain-English summaries are available here just as an example.) As much as access and budget allow, if you’re struggling to conceive, I’d go to organic or all-natural foods as much as possible.
There’s a lot of misinformation, sales pitches and downright quackery out there, so be sure to consult with your physician about the particulars, but request that guidance. Don’t be a passenger waiting for the train, ask your doctor about an optimal diet, then follow what they tell you. We’re looking for every possible advantage here people, and compared to hormones and injections “eat more kale” sounds like a pretty easy win in my book.
- Get Enough Rest: This one may seem obvious too, and may also be “easier said than done” when you’re stressed out about having a family. Nevertheless, you have to make getting sufficient sleep a serious priority. Again, I’m not a doctor, and you should consult with yours, but consider just as an example a recent study of more than 600 women undergoing IVF (again, nicely summarized for the lay audience here); the upshot is this – women who got between seven and eight hours of sleep per night were substantially more likely to get pregnant than those who did not. I know it’s hard to make what feels like “doing nothing” a priority but believe it, sleep must be at the top of your to-do list.
- Check out the B-Method: Shameless plug J For help with all these topics, check out the great stuff Stephanie is posting over at our sister blog, The B-Method. From advice on eating and recipes to more details on exercise and supplements, Stephanie’s got it all, so check it out!
I know that when it comes to infertility treatment, there are lots of factors beyond our direct control, and definitely enlist all the expert help you can find, like the wonderful staff here at Conceive Hospital. But never forget that you’re an active participant, you are not just along for the ride. Take control of the things you can, take care of yourself, and maximize your chances. Nothing is for sure in this process, but giving yourself every advantage will require you to get actively involved and play your part, so grab the wheel, and help drive the train!