A new fertility drug that just splashed onto the market? An underwater chamber technology? Not freezing your eggs, but the entire ovary?
No. No. Not really?
Menstrual health. Period.
Often the best solutions are the ones that are deceptively simple. But if this knowledge – deep, intimate, profound and subtle knowledge – was more readily and widely accessible, there probably wouldn’t be what is projected to be a $50 billion dollar fertility market come 2030.
So, what does gaining deep, intimate, profound and subtle birthright knowledge actually mean?
We have been conditioned to be divorced from our bodies and our cycles, many of us encouraged by doctors to shut down our cycles altogether. Birth control pills put us in a chemical menopause by suppressing ovulation, but by allowing for a monthly bleed, it gives us the sense of having a cycle.
Given this disconnection, it makes sense we tend to see fertility as: can I conceive or not? Do I need drugs and artificial reproductive technology, or not?
Fertility: More Than a Zero Sum Game
Now deep into fertility work, I have realized it is much more than whether or not we conceive every month, but rather the sum of various aspects that impact our fertility, from the physical to the psychological. The focus needs to be on maximizing fertility, not whether or not we are infertile.
It starts with signs of fertility. Often when we think of fertility charting, we think of either avoiding pregnancy or of maximizing your chance of conception by timing intercourse or insemination with ovulation. That only scratches the surface of the value of charting. Fertility charting gives us a precise insight into our hormonal balance. This tool provides a baseline that we can measure fertility improvements via menstrual health.
The Symptothermal Method(one specific type of charting) looks primarily at two factors: fertile mucus and temperature. Fertile mucus and our menses give us our report card on estrogen levels and quality. Our body temperature serves as the gold standard indicator of progesterone.
Why Understanding Your Cycle is a Good Thing
The reality is fertility charting, when done with a practitioner, can give you a detailed, nuanced landscape, where fertility doctors will provide hormonal snapshots at one point in your cycle using blood tests. Do you want the live GPS or a screenshot of the map?
Fertility charting will answer these questions and more:
- Am I ovulating (and when) or having “anovulatory” cycles (you bleed but no egg was released)?
- Can we get the sperm safely to meet the egg?
- Do we have enough of an endometrial lining to support implantation?
- Do we have enough progesterone to prevent miscarriage once we conceive?
- And then more broadly, how is menstrual health? Do we have any undiagnosed conditions or issues that are blocking pregnancy?
A few steps towards being healthy
Once we have this baseline, we can work with our fertility using bodywork, supplements, herbal remedies, exercise, diet and psychotherapeutic work, to safely influence our body into a healthier state. Our continued charting gives us concrete proof of any improvements, and points to the work we need to do, or if ever there may be a reason to have intervention with a medical fertility doctor.
The benefits: while several fertility drugs can be responsible for reducing future fertility (for eg. Clomid, a popular drug to stimulate ovulation, can significantly dry fertile cervical mucus, essential for transporting sperm to the ovum), fertility charting and holistic fertility work will be steps towards optimizing your overall health. And in doing so, you start to see the effects downstream –lower miscarriage rates, smoother pregnancies, shorter labours with less interventions, and healthier babies and parents postpartum.
In the rare cases where in vitro fertilization (IVF) is necessary, you improve your chances of success by working on your fertility. Dr Jennifer Mercier, creator of Mercier Therapy, uses the analogy of the marathon. If in vitro fertilization is the marathon, all the lead up work you do to improve your health is the training. You wouldn’t run a marathon without training.
Numbers that speak for themselves… or not!
When one dives into the research on fertility drugs, you start to notice most of the studies just look at conception. Maybe the numbers look pretty decent, and we think, why waste money and time on massage, herbs, supplements, etc?
But then we look at rates of miscarriage, and then of healthy babies born. Yikes… numbers start dropping, especially in comparison to the rest of the population.
If you have been trying to get pregnant for five years, it is valuable to work with all possible strategies to get to your baby. If you are considering pregnancy in the coming months or years, the worst case scenario is that you improve your health and strengthen your relationship to your menstrual cycle. At the end of the day, improving our menstrual and overall health,
and deepening our relationship to our body can only be a win.
Courtney Kirkby is a Fertility and Birth Doula, Mercier Therapist and a Certified Arvigo Techniques of Mayan Abdominal Massage Practitioner. She is passionate about uterine education and supporting uterus-bodied folks in their reproductive journeys, menstrual health and emotional journeys. She is also a mama and co-founded Tiger Lotus Coop.