With more and more women postponing motherhood by choice, compounded by a society that puts very little value on reproductive health education, I see so many women who find themselves in deep distress and panic about their fertility and/or family planning. It’s super common for issues surrounding fertility to cause anxiety, depression, anger, resentment, relationship issues, panic attacks, even secondary stress and anxiety symptoms, such as hives, insomnia, digestive upset, headaches, or chronic pain.
Especially if you are in your late 30s or early 40s, or if you’ve been diagnosed with some form of infertility, then fertility panic may have set in suddenly. Even for those who previously were convinced they didn’t want kids, a crisis may seemingly come out of no where and can be a confusing and painful experience.
If you are currently feeling yourself in the depths of a freak out, please know this: you are not alone and you are not broken. This is incredibly common, just age or a diagnosis alone does not mean you can't get pregnant, and even if it does, your worthiness is not dependent on your reproductive capability alone. If your panic is centered around the not knowing if you want kids or not, know that with time and introspection - and hopefully some therapy - the answer will come to you. Your path will light up before you in time, you don't have to figure everything out right at this moment.
Having supported several women through such crises, I can tell you there's no magic trick to make it all disappear, and there's no one-size-fits-all answer as to what to do. Every journey to build a family, or the decision not to, is unique to those who experience it. But I can tell you there are several things that may support you during and help you through this difficult time.
Go see an OBGYN and/or Reproductive Endocrinologist
If you haven't already, get the information about your reproductive health that you need to make informed decisions. Go see your OBGYN for a check up if you haven't been recently, let them know:
- You want a fertility workup
- What your plan is (if you have one)
- If you've already been trying to conceive and for how long
- If you have any history of pregnancy, cysts, fibroids, abortions, miscarriage, irregular cycles, severe menstrual cramping, family history of infertility
- If you have any symptoms of hormonal imbalance, such as hot flashes/night sweats, hormonal headaches or acne, irregular periods, or spotting/bleeding between periods
Especially if you're still taking birth control or have an IUD, talk to your gynecologist about your timeline and options. It's often recommended you stop taking birth control or get your IUD removed about 1 year before you plan on starting to try to conceive, but depending on certain factors, this recommendation may vary.
If you've already been trying for a long time, you've been diagnosed with infertility, you plan on pursuing IVF and/or egg freezing, or if pre-implantation genetic screening is important to you, then go see a Reproductive Endocrinologist (aka a "fertility doctor") for a consultation. They should be able to do all necessary testing and let you know what procedures and medications to expect.
Some form of therapy is super important during times of crisis, both to help you cope and to help you process your feelings as they come up. Also, the simple act of talking about something rather than keeping it bottled up inside is a powerful medicine in itself.
I highly recommend one-on-one talking therapy, but if that’s not an option then a support group is helpful, especially if it’s fertility specific.
It can be helpful to talk with friends and family, if that’s comfortable for you, but the benefit of having a therapist and/or support group to talk to is they may not be as biased and may have some more knowledge and experience on the subject and therefore may be less likely to speak in an ignorant or hurtful way.
If you don't already have a therapist or support group, here are some resources you may find helpful:
- If you are in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) 24 hours a day. Or you can text MHA to 741741, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.
- Resolve: The National Infertility Association
- Mental Health America
Diet, Supplements, and Herbs
Yes, there are lots of different pills you can take and things you can do to improve your fertility. If you spend a while on google doing some research you can come up with a long list of advice and products to purchase, some obvious and some bizarre, but it's important to not jump too far ahead of yourself.
If you're just dipping your toe into the fertility waters, general recommendations of taking a prenatal vitamin, avoiding alcohol, processed foods, and sugar, getting plenty of sleep and moderate exercise, as well as reducing stress, they all apply to pretty much everyone. Beyond that, however, it's really best to work with a healthcare provider to figure out what supplements and dietary changes work best for you.
While a gynecologist or even a reproductive endocrinologist can advise you on vitamins and some supplements, they may not be able to tell you much about a fertility-friendly diet, but an acupuncturist, herbalist, or naturopath should be able to, especially if they specialized in fertility. They can give you much more information about the ins and outs of diet and herbs that will best support your specific patern.
Even if you are pursuing the use of fertility medications or IVF, you can still use alternative medicine such as herbalism to support you through the process. A well-trained and licensed herbalist should be able to advise you as to which herbs to take, and when, as not to interfere with your medications.
Even vitamins or herbs, which may seem gentle and harmless to some, may actually have a negative impact on your fertility if they aren't appropriate for your unique condition. So it's important to not DIY that part of your healthcare - always work with a trained healthcare provider before making major changes to your health routine.
I start seeing many women in the midst of their fertility freak outs, some go on to become mothers, some use IVF, some use donor eggs or embryos, and some come to the decision to adopt or not pursue becoming a parent at all.
I’m non-judgmental no matter what path your heart leads you down. I am passionate about offering acupuncture and Chinese medicine to support women’s reproductive health because it’s able to boost fertility, improve overall health, and calm anxiety all at once. It can help manage the stress symptoms that dealing with infertility may cause, while also directly addressing underlying factors that effect fertility - a holistic approach that few other modalities offer.