Friday, August 10, 2012

Fertility Diet Trumps Statistics

I attended a seminar at a wonderful local fertility clinic on the topic of PGD and PGS in IVF. It was fascinating, especially to see how far such testing has come in recent years, and it was very well-presented. However, I found myself getting increasingly uncomfortable with all the charts and tables that showed the age-related, over-the-cliff drop-off of successful pregnancies in women in their late 30’s, early 40’s and mid-40’s. (They don’t even bother with late 40’s.)

Here’s a chart of how the rate of having an abnormal embryo increases tremendously at 40, and just look what happens at 45! And here’s another showing the dismal percentage of live births from IVF for women in their 40’s.

I was not just uncomfortable, but also felt a deepening sense of panic or anguish, or something dark and heavy in my stomach that I just couldn’t name. And then it hit me: I was reliving my own story. It was as if I was in that doctor’s office seven years ago when I had just turned 40, listening to the fertility doctor tell me I had only a 2% chance of conceiving on my own. I was recalling all the medical literature that tells you it becomes practically impossible to get pregnant and deliver a healthy baby in your 40’s. I was feeling that same sense of dread, panic and sudden depression.

It made me want to grab the statistics off the presentation slide and smash them on the wall.

So, I want to chat a little about statistics here, and set a few things straight—for all those coming after me who want a baby so badly, are older, and face these dismal numbers fertility clinics routinely hand out.

First, it’s important to know and accept that the statistics do serve a purpose. Fertility clinics don’t pass them out with the intent of deflating your hope (although that’s what often results). They want to give you a realistic picture of what the medical-scientific community has generally found to be true so that you can make informed decisions on how to proceed with treatment and family planning. They want to appropriately set your expectations.

HOWEVER, statistics are tricky things, because their meaning is all about perception and how you respond to them.

When my husband and I were told we had a 2% chance of conceiving on our own, I was not only devastated, I was angry. The first question I asked myself was: Who are these people that comprise these statistics? Who chooses them? And on what basis? Who are they?

I once listened to a recording of an herbalogist who said the prognosis listed in the bible of medical books for some dismal diseases were pretty grim, but they applied to the average American. His response: “Don’t be the average American!” Which is to say, don’t be someone who consumes a lot of saturated or trans fat, doesn’t exercise, watches too much TV, is overly stressed, and so on. Being a totally different kind of American, one who has consistently healthy habits for mind, body and spirit, you could seriously shake up a prognosis in your favor.

And YOU have the power to do that individually for yourself when it comes to your fertility as well. You can choose to do all that you have power over to tilt the stats in your favor, to make the difference—perhaps to make ALL the difference.

Sitting and watching this presentation, knowing what I know now, I thought: If all the people that comprise those stats were on fertility friendly diets, did acupuncture, meditated and practiced other mind-body work on a regular basis—all of which have been proven to aid fertility—I’ll bet we’d be looking at a whole new set of statistics, ones that are a LOT more promising!

Back when I was given that 2% chance of conceiving, the second question I asked myself was: what can I do to be in that 2% ?  How can I make a difference for myself to stand above the others. It was my attitude in response to that statistic that drove my actions. I wanted to be able to say I did everything I could to get pregnant on my own before considering other paths.

Attitude is important, and so is belief: I believed I could make a difference in my own fertility, and by trying, I had everything to gain, and very little to lose.

As you may know from my blog or book, four months later we naturally conceived our son, Julien.

My story was different five years later when I tried for baby #2 and I was 45. I understood the general truth of the stats and knew it wouldn’t be easy. I had already failed one IVF and although I naturally conceived close to my 44th birthday, I miscarried at 10 weeks. I knew it was possible, that I could eventually get pregnant naturally and knew women in their mid-40’s who had. But I also knew that it was not common, and that it could take a lot of time and effort, and how much more time and energy did I have to give, without a guarantee?

So, for our second child, I chose to use donor eggs. (If curious, you can read about that journey here.) I couldn’t be happier with this choice. Our resulting daughter is a huge joy!

The moral is: don’t accept statistics at face value. Think about their meaning, where they come from, what they mean to you, and how you want to respond to them. Statistics for embryo abnormalities by age say that when you’re 35 and pregnant, you have a 1 in 178 chance of having a child/embryo with a chromosomal abnormality. By 40 that number goes to 1 in 63. Yes, that’s a dramatic drop, and that’s important to note! But it is also important to note that 1 in 63 is equal to a 2% chance, which means at 40 you also have a 98% chance of having a perfectly healthy baby.

TIP: If negative stats are making you hot and angry while you’re trying to stay purely optimistic, consider Julia Indichova’s method: imagine a large metal shield protecting your body when you visit the fertility doctor. Imagine negative statistics just bouncing off the shield as you champion the fight of your life.

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