In part one we touched on such under-considered aspects as environmental toxins, nutrition, and immune issues that can have a negative effect on healthy fertility. (And commenter Anna helpfully added that there has been an association made in animal testing between GMO foods and infertility.) Two other fruitful areas to explore when faced with the dismaying diagnosis of unexplained infertility — or to optimally foster healthy fertility — are frequently overlooked entirely: electromagnetic fields, and the staggering power of our minds to influence our bodies.
Clear the Fields – Whenever we hold a cellphone to our ear, use a Bluetooth headset, or simply hang out in a space equipped with wireless, we’re participating in an ongoing experiment about the effects of EMFs (electromagnetic fields) on human health and functioning. We as a technoculture have enthusiastically embraced all this gadgetry without really knowing what it might be doing to us.
But there is growing evidence for the human immune, reproductive, and bioregulatory effects of our growing worldwide carpet and canopy of multistrength, multifrequency electromagnetic fields. The late UCLA brain researcher Ross Adey was among the first, and most vocal, to recognize the double-edged aspect of bioelectromagnetics. Carefully deployed, they hold exciting promise for many healing and communications applications, but the proliferation of uncontrolled, multiple daily doses of them in the form of ubiquitous electrical and wireless devices presents very real health concerns.
Adey’s many streams of research were all tied together by the theme of communication in the body — and what happens when that communication is interfered with. He demonstrated that all communication in the body takes place not only at the (conventionally studied) molecular level, but also at the far less-investigated atomic level (some refer to this as “energetic”): infinitesimally weak electrical signals alter cell membrane permeability to allow the transfer of millions of ions back and forth in milliseconds. EMFs can interfere with these signals.
Adey saw evidence of EMFs disrupting the “private language of intrinsic communication by which cells may ‘whisper together’ in activities such as metabolic cooperation and growth regulation.” Such a perturbation of information flow is a corruption of the most basic intelligence in the human body.
Even in the absence of consensus on EMF effects, it makes sense to choose “the path of least regret,” especially when preparing to create a brand new human being (and during pregnancy, when that human is newly unfolding). Try to use (old-fashioned, I know!) corded and wired devices rather than cordless and wireless. To be without a cell phone is akin to living in cultural exile, but take precautions. Consider choosing a phone with a lower level of absorbed radiation, and getting a “Blue Tube” (as opposed to Bluetooth) wired headset, or use the speaker so you keep the phone away from your head. Move your bed so that your head is three to six feet away from any electrical outlets or devices. Before going to sleep, turn off everything electrical or wireless (ideally in your entire house, but at least in your sleeping areas), including WiFi, cell and cordless phones.
Tend Your Perceptions – Research in psychoneuroimmunology (the study of the mind-body connection) has given us astonishing illustrations of the power of our minds to make things happen in our bodies. Our brain and nervous system do not know the difference between something we imagine or something we experience “in reality.” Elite athletes have long known this and use focused visualization to augment their physical conditioning and practice. Whatever you spend time thinking about and envisioning — regardless of whether it’s something you hope for, or something you’re complaining about or hope against — is what you’re igniting with mental energy and thus ordering up from the grand menu of Life: This is what I’ll have, thank you.
As Bruce Lipton details so remarkably in his book The Biology of Belief, this is the power of imagination: our neuro-endocrine system lines itself up in service to our thoughts, perceptions and intentions about ourselves and about the world. With this awesome power in our service, we engage 24/7 in a nonstop dialogue with our fifty trillion brilliant cells, telling them about the world they need to adapt to.
Through this nonstop cellular instruction dialogue, our inner life (mental, emotional, spiritual) becomes reflected in our biology, including the delicate hormonal balance of fertility. For example, chronic stress is associated with diminished fertility. When you experience stress, hormones inform your bodymind that there is a threat “out there.” The experience of chronic stress (so often mediated by perception) reports to the bodymind of an external environment that is neither conducive to optimal, healthy life nor to generating new life.
Our endocrinology (hormonal profile), so critical to healthy fertility, adjusts itself to enact whatever our mental-emotional perceptions dictate. The late bodymind fertility pioneer Niravi Payne suggested that when a doctor (or even just conventional wisdom) tells a woman that she’s too old to conceive, she will have an immediate bodymind response whereby her hormonal profile falls into line with that belief. Research finds that our healthy bodymind balance can be especially keenly affected by “feelings we don’t feel,” repressed emotions often related to unrecognized trauma or loss in childhood. Here are two examples:
Ellyn [names in this section were changed] had been trying for a long time to get pregnant, and though there was nothing medically wrong, it just wasn’t happening. An adoptee, Ellyn had wordlessly learned a fundamental bodymind lesson throughout her growing-up years: women in our family don’t get pregnant. After working with a counselor to consciously reconnect with and claim the fertile part of her past — the birth mother whom she had met some years earlier — Ellyn was finally able to conceive.
Maya suffered repeated miscarriages, and her doctor could find no physical cause. In charting her family history it became painfully clear that she and her sister had been “throwaway” children, left behind in their native India when their parents emigrated seeking a better life in America. Maya gradually came to understand how she was reenacting — in classic bodymind fashion — what her mother had done: Maya allowed herself to get pregnant but then “left the children behind.” In making the connections, detective-like, with the truths of her early life, and experiencing and releasing the repressed sorrow, fear, anger, etc., Maya changed her biochemistry and ultimately had a healthy, full-term baby boy.
Sometimes inner shifts happen more spontaneously and mysteriously. We have all heard stories about “infertile” couples who spend many years and untold dollars on reproductive technologies with no success, then adopt a baby and end up conceiving naturally, by surprise. People who offer infertile couples the infuriating advice “Just relax!” point to these stories as evidence for their theory. Yes, hopping off of the conception-go-round can improve one’s stress biochemistry, but it also has a lot to do with their biology adapting to their new feelings, behaviors and devotions: they were mothering and fathering.
One of my favorite stories is of a woman who, after a year of grueling rounds of IVF (in vitro fertilization) and two miscarriages, was faced at forty-three with the dismal expert diagnosis that she was too old and all of her eggs were bad. She decided to get some cats. Indeed, she got several cats and smothered them with unconditional love. Six months later she was pregnant with her son, who is now a healthy eight-year-old.
With each decade that passes, it seems that we humans have a harder time having babies. The number of people facing fertility challenges appears to be reaching epidemic proportions of anywhere from 15 to 30 percent, depending on where in the complicated grab bag of statistics you look. Fertility has become a major industry; most of the information available on the internet comes not from scientific researchers but from doctors, clinics and institutes for whom fertility treatment is their (big) business.
The medical model tackles infertility as a primary problem to be wrestled (ever more successfully) into compliance through a barrage of drugs and technological procedures, much as it addresses high cholesterol, heart disease, and all manner of chronic aches and pains. Rather than regarding these as symptoms of imbalance in the organism’s system, and seeking to address the (much more invisible) underlying causes, our cultural norm is to simply eradicate the evidence of imbalance — in essence, to shoot the messenger — while leaving the deeper causes untended.
What would happen if we reframe the very idea of fertility with this in mind? What if we consider fertility as an essential vital sign, like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and inflammation? When we’re willing to follow the vital sign of infertility to where it might lead us — when we are willing to trade in a “Fix me, Doc” attitude for the responsibility of being a creatively active participant in cultivating our own reproductive health — we reconceive ourselves. Powerfully.
About Marcy Axness
I'm the author of “Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers," and also the adoption expert on Mothering's expert panel. I write and speak around the world on prenatal, child and parent development, and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. On the wings of my new book I'm delighted to be speaking at many wonderful conferences all over the world in the coming months, and I'm happy to be sharing dispatches and inside glimpses with you here on Mothering.com! As a special gift to Mothering readers I'm offering "A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool."