There’s not many words in life that can have the ability to completely derail you upon hearing them but as a woman, ‘biological clock‘ tends to be two of them. With each birthday milestone, what should be exciting becomes filled with dread, as each year in your late 20s and early 30s starts to get a little more depressing. Without wanting to start this like an AA meeting, stand up or wave your hand if you’re 20 something, single and worried about your fertility? Don’t be shy… I know I am.
At 29 years old, single, with no current baby daddy potential on the scene and now two best friends soon to be having their first babies, I won’t sugar coat it, the reality of my biological clock has been hitting me hard.
When my second girlfriend announced her pregnancy a month or so ago, I was due to go to the doctor around the same time. Feeling quite overwhelmed by the shock of impending babies in my rather baby-less world, I decided it was time to face my fears and get real about my fertility. Fronting up to the doctor I had a plan, I find out how I can test my fertility and then I can face my fear and figure out the reality of what my options are from there.
What I didn’t expect though is it’s not that simple… Let me run you through it. While there is an official test, known as the AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone)—also known as the ‘egg timer test’—that measures the amount of eggs in your ovaries, my doctor told me there is a few reasons she advises against it. The main reasons being—it’s not entirely accurate (it’s more approximate), the uncontrolled factors and therefore its validity (such as your partner having a low sperm count) and a heightened risk of inducing anxiety. With anxiety, she says it’s a two-fold issue, because if you get told you have high AMH levels, you believe you are fine (which could down the track may give you false hope) and if you get told they are low, you live in sadness presuming you naturally won’t fall pregnant (which could result in a potentially self fulfilling prophecy because you lose hope before you’ve even tried). So, essentially it’s a lose, lose situation. I then asked about egg freezing… and well, the short answer? Unless you have $10,000 and $500 a year available for egg storage fees, you can forget about it. Okay so what other options are there? Well, after talking to my doctor, it basically came down to… there was none. I was given a ‘don’t worry most people in their late 30s conceive now and you’re young you’ve got plenty of time’ line. Mmmm that old chestnut (note: for any single girl wanting to one day start a family, never use this line to cheer her up. Ever).
Where did this leave me? In short… in a flood of tears, completely disheartened and left feeling like I had no hope or control over the future of my fertility. I then talked to another doctor, who admittedly said the only thing to do is to have more sex… but she then added that she didn’t advise a one night stand or ‘root’ with a Tinder date (her words). Short of asking her, just how she expected a single girl to be testing her odds of a baby with no readily available baby daddy, suffice to say, I was back to square one (and just to note here: I hadn’t had my hopes pegged on a one night Tinder date, just in case anyone is wondering)… until the ‘universe’ sent something my way. A chance invitation arrived in my inbox to attend a ‘preconception’ talk with nutritionists Brittany Darling of Wholefood Healing and Jacqueline Alwill of The Brown Paper Bag on what to eat and the things to do to boost your conception odds. Hallelujah, finally something that might help. And it did! Within one hour, I left feeling more capable of boosting my conception and feeling empowered over my body than I had before. For women wanting to feel empowered in the preconception phase, here are some of the key-takeaways as explained by Brittany Darling, nutritionist and herbalist of Wholefood Healing, that we can all begin practising now.
1. Assess your environment
Studies have shown exposure to environmental pollutants and day-to-day chemicals found in everything from cleaning products to beauty products can affect sex hormones and fertility levels.
And while we can’t control all aspects of our environment, we you can reduce exposure to so many everyday toxins, according to Darling. “I would focus on what you are being exposed to the most. For a lot of women, this is fragrances. It’s in your personal care products, dishwashing liquid, laundry products and air freshers. All synthetic fragrances are endocrine disruptors, which alter how our hormones and thyroid functions and can have negative effects on fertility” advises Carter.
“The second biggest endocrine disruptor is plastic, more specifically Bisphenol A (BPA) and phalates. Think plastic takeaway contains (especially ones that have been heated), coffee cup lining and lids, tinned foods, and what you store your food in. We are now lucky enough to have plenty of alternatives for beauty products and food storage, that make reducing your toxic load that bit easier.” Other key chemicals to look out for include:
You don’t have to be already pregnant, to get a check up to see if your bod is ready for a baby. Darling advises getting a basic blood test done prior to falling pregnant. “It’s a good idea to have bloods done prior as a few tests will ensure you are in good health and have the optimum levels of key nutrients required for foetal development before the baby is conceived.”
3. Fuel up on the right foods
“It’s important to focus on having adequate nutritional stores in the preconception period and maintaining repletion through pregnancy and lactation, with both food and supplements. The nutrients are what form the building blocks, cofactors and coenzymes to support a healthy pregnancy and baby,” says Darling.
The key nutrients she tests for and looks for adequate levels of include:
Vitamin A, D, E and K
4. Get to know your cycle
“If you have been on hormonal contraception such as the oral contraceptive pill or IUD it is important to try and give your body time to process the synthetic hormones, replenish nutrients stores (usually zinc, copper, vitamin E and vitamin B6) and resettle into its own rhythm before trying to conceive,” says Darling.
“Our cycle is so much more than simply achieving or avoiding pregnancy. As women, we need the cascade of hormones that cause our cycle to happen for many other aspects of our health. Our hormones tend to be spoken about the most in regard to fertility and periods, but our hormones have so many beneficial and important roles within the body. To be our healthiest selves, we need healthy hormones and for us to make hormones, we need a period. Happy cycle = healthy (and fertile!) you.”
“There are a number of apps now that help you track your cycle so you can understand what is happening and when. Paying closer attention to your cycle may also help you identify if something isn’t quite right and needs closer attention. My favourite apps are: ‘Clue’ and ‘Kindara’.”