Posts By: Brendan
It’s the dads who choose what sex the child will be! Did you know that?
They can’t consciously choose it though, it just ‘happens’. Chromosomes determine it!
But chromosomes can go wrong too. Chromosomal abnormalities can prevent conception, cause miscarriages, or if pregnancy goes to term it can cause developmental issues in the child – which can range from imperceptible to significant.
But what are chromosomal abnormalities? Too complicated to describe here, that’s for sure!
Genes are COMPLICATED – even describing them in the most general of terms is complicated.
Here’s a short primer!
We are supposed to have 46 chromosomes in each of our cells. The sperm (which is a single cell) gives 23 of dad’s chromosomes, and the egg (which is also a cell) gives 23 of moms. Bingo, the first cell is created at conception and has 46 chromosomes, which are joined together as 23 pairs!
As the embryo develops into a child every new cell that is created will have the same 46 chromosomes – numbered in pairs, uninspiringly from 1 to 23.
Number 23 is the odd one out, this is the one that determines our sex, and it is the sperm that decides it. All moms’ eggs have X chromosomes, but only half the sperm have an X chromosome, the other half have a Y.
Actually, it’s not true to say “half the sperm” have the X and the other half have a Y – the ratio is determined by hormone balance in the man on an ongoing basis.
If the sperm that fertilises the egg has an X chromosome the offspring will have an X from mom and an X from dad, so they will be XX – which if female! If the winning sperm has a Y chromosome, then the offspring will have an X from mom and a Y from dad so it will be an ‘XY’ – therefore a male!
(I guess the ‘multiple genders’ argument is a social one rather than a physical one!)
But what about abnormalities?
Chromosomal abnormalities are detected by looking at the 23 pairs to see if any are missing or if there are any extra.
Why would there be any missing, or an extra one?
Two reasons: Something went wrong in the egg or sperm before they met – OR – something went wrong after conception.
If something goes wrong in the egg or sperm before conception then either no conception happens, of if it does then every new cell will carry the same error, usually, but not always, resulting in a miscarriage.
If the mutation occurs AFTER conception then only the affected cells, and their ‘daughter cells’ which arise from them, will be affected and it is most likely that the rest will not be affected. This is called Mosaicism.
If a child survives gestation and is born with any one of these chromosomal ‘abnormalities’, they will have some kind of compromised function throughout their life. The severity of it can range from insignificant to very serious.
For example, if genetic testing reveals that the child has an error or mutation on chromosome number 21 such that they have 3 instead of 2 chromosomes at that location on the gene, the child will be diagnosed with Downs Syndrome.
Remember that girls have XX chromosomes at number 23, and boys have XY. Well if a boy, who is XY, has an extra X at that chromosome (XXY), or indeed an extra 2 (XXXY) or even 3 X’s (XXXXY) (which can happen but is rare) then they will be diagnosed with Klinefelter’s syndrome! A good friend of mine has this!
Another less known syndrome is Turners Syndrome, where girls have a missing or partially missing X chromosome at number 23. Remember if you have XX at number 23 you are female. In Turners Syndrome you are missing (or have a partially missing) X, and yet you are still female. (I did say genes were complicated!)
What causes these ‘errors’ in chromosomes?
I’m not going to say I know all the answers here, but I can give you a very useful albeit general answer that you can do something about. Be as healthy as you can before you conceive a child!
They are not ‘hereditary’. They arise randomly.
The body has mechanisms for repairing damaged genes – and to completely oversimplify things – one nutrient – Folate – is intimately involved in repairing damaged DNA. So a deficiency of folate can put not only yourself at risk of cellular damage, but it can also affect your offspring. Future dads and moms need to have enough nutrients in their system at all times to repair damaged DNA.
A whole soup of nutrients is needed to repair damaged DNA, and a whole raft of reasons explain why it gets damaged in the first place. Oxidative stress is the principle one, but imbalanced hormones, over or under active immune systems, psychological stress, traumas – all kinds of things conspire together to break the system and take fertility offline. Any wonder it takes a lot of work to fix it once it’s broken!
You shouldn’t have to spend your life savings to solve your infertility, but would you be prepared to do so if it raised your chances of success?
If not, then nobody can judge you for it, but you’ve got to ask yourself why you wouldn’t be prepared to do it.
If the problem you face is the biggest issue in your life, why would you value money more than it? That’s not a judgemental or rhetorical question, it’s a genuine one to ask yourself.
It’s not – “oh for heaven’s sake what’s wrong with you, why would you not spend the money?”
It’s more – “Ok, that’s very interesting, I wonder if there is some hidden reason behind it, and if we can uncover that hidden reason then you will be in a better position – so let’s ask the question – Why?”.
The response to this is not to just wake up and say to yourself –“oh yes, of course, I wasn’t thinking clearly – obviously I’d be willing to spend everything I’ve got to solve the problem”. Being unwilling to spend the money is not the problem, the problem is what drives that unwillingness. Asking yourself the question is a way of cutting through the noise and really getting down to brass tac’s with yourself to see where your real priorities lie – because they are mostly not obvious, and when you find out what your real priorities are it can be hugely liberating.
Those of you who are willing to spend your savings if it increases the odds of having a child won’t get much benefit from the question. Instead you get to move further on the line and ask yourself the next hard question on your journey. The purpose is not to find blame or to shame or judge yourself, the purpose is to uncover that thing in you (the splinter in your eye, the broken compass, the untruths you believe) that made you infertile in the first place, in other words you need to find a different angle into your mindset.
If you find it strange to ponder the notion that you created, or are creating, your own state of infertility – then consider that to be a crack of light shining through the doors of your mind, you are on to something!
You can hide from the causes of your infertility if you want. It’s your call, and yours alone.
We all hide from something that we are not ready to deal with, only a hypocrite could judge you for that. (Alas there are many hypocrites around, and from time to time we all become one!)
Of course, we might hide and hide and hide for so long only to wake up one day realising we have made a monumental mistake which we regret with all our heart – that’s when the pain really hits. But AT THE TIME we were making the mistake (hiding from our problems) we did so because the pain of the problem was not urgent or painful enough for us to push past the imagined pain of actually doing something about it. We kicked the can down the road because picking it up and dealing with it seemed like too big an ask at that time, and kicking it felt easier.
This is life, it’s complicated and we all muddle through it in our own way.
The beauty of really big problems is that they force us to sit up and take notice.
We can’t hide from them anymore because the pain of the problem is far greater than the pain of changing. It might be screamingly obvious to a third person that we have a big problem, but if it’s not obvious to us then – we don’t really have a big problem.
It’s amazing to me what motivates different people. I will never forget a client several years ago (when I used to work with more than just fertility clients) who came to me with out of control diabetes, in danger of losing his foot to amputation, and also ripe for a fatal heart attack.
Yet none of these were motivation enough to him to overcome the habit of drinking soft drinks and eating buns and bread every day. He had no fear of hard work, indeed he worked hard even as a retired man. He knew he was high risk, and after learning what the real causes were he knew the answer – but he couldn’t bring himself to make the changes. Like millions of people, he was willing to die or become a cripple rather that change his ways.
Those were the days when I still believed that information alone should be enough to get people to take action. How naive I was!
When his overweight 12 year old grandson presented him with a story pictograph he had made as part of a school project aimed at appreciating senior citizens – his perspective was shifted in an instant. A line in the story read “When I grow up I want to be like my grandad”.
In that moment the pain of imagining his grandson with amputated limbs was too much to bear, and it dissolved the inner resistance behind which he was hiding. He never drank another soft drink after that.
There’s no point denying that we all hide. There is no point letting our ego’s dictate to us what reality is. None of us is perfect or has all the answers. All of us get hit with big problems from time to time, but many people live to regret their inaction, their hiding from the issues that need to be faced before it is too late. There is no easy answer here, we either face what needs to be faced or we get steamrolled over by them. Problems don’t have to care about us, we have to care about them.
Why is it considered controversial to say that we cause our own problems, when it is so obvious that we do?
For sure the concept of ‘blame’ can be a psychological negative that we don’t need to carry around.
We don’t need to grow up being blamed for all kinds of stuff that goes wrong.
We don’t need to be made feel that everything is our fault.
But we do need to realise that everything that happens in our lives is our responsibility. Along the way to realising this we may need to pass through the valley of blame. If we must blame others for our plight, or at least part of our plight, and the blame is justified, then so be it – blame away.
If we can face the truth and realise that we are also partly or fully to blame – then eat the damn crow. But let’s not dwell here. Blame may be a good line to draw in the sands of history, it may help us get a decent perspective, but it’s only productive if it leads us to the inescapable conclusion that no matter why we are the way we are, no matter who else shaped us against our will, ultimate responsibility to deal with it, to change, to move on and up always rests with us.
It can’t rest anywhere else really, can it!
There is a horribly beautiful opportunity that goes with hitting rock bottom.
Once you hit it you finally come face to face with your own truth and there is nowhere left to hide.
You swallow the red pill – meaning you get to see the raw bitter truth – which is that you have been dodging the issue for so long because you were afraid, and now the time has come to face it.
Your own truth may have a very different context to mine but no matter what the specific circumstances are – hitting rock bottom means the time for avoiding the issue is over and your only choice is either to roll over and give up – or fight with everything you’ve got.
As you approach rock bottom it feels like your tank is empty and you can’t go on, but when you finally hit it – all illusions evaporate, and you realise you have been fuelling yourself from the wrong tank all along.
It’s essentially a temporary state of ‘egolessness’ where all notions of who you are supposed to be dissolve and you finally get to see who you really are. In this moment you realise that what you perceived as failings were not really failings at all but rather signposts you had been misinterpreting because you were focussing on the wrong thing.
Life can be very hard for some. It steamrolls unfairly over lots of people, but for all the examples we have it is clear that when we seat ourselves in our true being, it becomes obvious that our capacity to endure, to adapt and overcome may well be limitless.
There’s a tragic beauty to possessing this kind of power: Most of us can endure hardship for a very long time, tucking it away somewhere inside us so we don’t have to deal with it, and thus the act of ‘fighting with everything we’ve got’ is something most of us will never have to experience. Instead we limp on, coping, not achieving what we are capable of.
Even the spectre of death does not signal rock bottom for many people. People too often accept their plight, their prognosis. People die of diseases they could – EASILY – solve if only they weren’t afraid to change. This is the tragedy!
Sometimes it takes rock bottom to bring us to our senses – for you that might be bankruptcy, or divorce, or a terminal illness. Sometimes it takes infertility!
Whatever it takes – don’t resist it! Life’s too short to stay the same all the way to the end!
Infertility is a private subject for most people. There’s something about it that is wired into societies subconscious that makes those suffering it not want to talk about it and prevents friends and colleagues from knowing how to.
But meet any couple going through the ordeal and you’ll mostly come away with a sense that they are trying really hard, coping, working through it in solidarity.
This is often true, but it’s a false perspective far more often than you might think. Many couples on this journey are either not ‘working through it’ or lack a sense of ‘togetherness’, a sense of unity and common purpose.
Zoom out from the picture to get a wider perspective for a moment and you will see that this idea is not so unusual. Very few couples are lucky enough to have good communication in their relationship, most struggle with this in some way or another, it’s the norm!
Entering a long term committed relationship is meant to be a ritual that ties together to ropes of two individuals lives so that they become stronger together, and thus are better positioned to raise children. The fact that we bring ‘personal baggage’ into our relationships is not the problem, indeed relationships should be secure loving places where self-discovery is allowed so that each individual can grow through the baggage. But alas this is not the reality for so many people, with separation and divorce rates a testament to this.
Zoom out further and even this is not surprising – most of us do not have good communication with ourselves, let alone with others. We don’t really know ourselves! Society doesn’t encourage this kind of self-discovery, indeed religions often impede it (whether this is deliberate or accidental is up for debate) and so we sort of blunder on in our lives struggling with a very deep lack of clarity about who we are, what we truly want and how to go about getting it without hurting others. Into relationships we bring all this baggage, where it becomes amplified.
Relationships amplify personal problems, and infertility amplifies relationship problems, but buried within the problem is the key to the solution itself. Problems are signposts that point the way – but only if you are wiling to see them for what they are – gifts that guide you through the dark interior of yourself.
Infertility is a tough challenge to bear and to beat. It requires clear thinking and total commitment from each individual. If you play the victim card, if you turn away from the deeper truth, if you can’t bring yourself to acknowledge your own baggage and do something about it, if you fail to see it as a great opportunity to get your life back on track, if you can’t get yourselves on the same page with the same dreams and same goals – infertility will unravel the ropes of your lives and steamroll over you leaving only bitterness and regret. Infertility is a direct reflection of life, it’s an invitation to get your act together – we only get one chance to do it, then it’s gone forever!
What is it about humans that allows us so often to give out advice we won’t take ourselves?
Why do we tell children not to curse, yet fail to follow the same standard personally?
Why do mediation counselors end up in divorce court, unable to settle their differences?
Why do investment advisers not follow their own advice to diversify assets for greater security?
Why do soccer players of all ages berate their teammates for mistakes they themselves often make?
Why do nutritionists sometimes eat junk food despite advising their clients to avoid it?
Why is it OK to think the rules don’t apply to us?
Why are we comfortable with contradictions in our own lives that we would regard as hypocrisy in others?
I believe the answers are simple:
It’s not because we don’t value the truth. (Though it might be too bitter a pill to swallow at times!)
It’s not because we lack situational awareness. (Though some of us do!)
It’s not because we are too lazy. (Indeed, many of us work too much!)
It boils down to one thing – We are not ready to change that aspect of ourselves just yet.
The need for change is not so urgent for us that it supersedes the inertial familiarity we possess about ‘the way things are’.
The pain of not having what we want is not yet as powerful as the fear that makes us hold on to habits we identify with, even though they no longer serve us.
The pressure to change is just not strong enough to force us to deal with it.
The tragedy of life for so many humans is that we don’t wake up to this plight soon enough to take meaningful action that would propel us on a journey of adventure and self-discovery that is really worth living.
The tragedy is that we die with regrets!
You have a big decision in front of you.
It concerns how you will go about solving a huge problem in your life.
If you can’t solve the problem, you will have to adapt to a new reality and your life will be changed in ways you do not desire.
It all feels new and bewildering but resist the urge to panic and rush. Take your time weighing up the options, looking for strategies, acquiring new information and finding out how stuff works. All of this will stand to you.
Whilst there’s never been a time in history where so many people have this problem, there has also never been a better time in history to have this problem.
Solutions exist in abundance – but decisions need to be made, hard decisions.
In the final analysis you must prepare yourself to jump even though you won’t have all the information, and act even though you are not ready. Time marches on regardless of your plight and though the answer lies within you, it must be coaxed to the surface.
If you can keep your head while all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you, then you can find the courage to do the one thing so many people cannot bring themselves to do – take a leap of faith in yourself.
It’s so tempting to just keep your head down and plough on hoping your body will come good and you will be able to become a parent.
We’ll try again next month, we could be lucky, you never know!
If you have been trying for over a year and there is still no bun in the oven, then somethings wrong.
Ignoring the fact will definitely help you get through the day, so it has its upside, but as strategy it’s useless. Alas this is what most people with infertility are doing!
On the other side of the road – you might have taken one step further and acknowledged your plight, and if so well done, it’s not an easy thing to admit to yourself, but if ‘facing up to it’ means going to the doc for help, taking drugs, or quitting smoking – OK – it’s better than nothing, but if that’s all you are willing to do then you are still keeping your head down and ploughing on hoping your body will come good. You’d need to be VERY lucky for this to work.
It may be true that you are infertile but facing up to the truth means more than just acknowledging it, it means really looking hard at your past to see what it is you have been doing all this time that has derailed your fertility. It also means taking a hard look at your future life to see what it is you really want. If you don’t really want kids, then I hope we can all agree that you should have shared this with your spouse long before they became your spouse.
If you do really want kids, then this is when the consequences of facing up to the truth get real for you. You want something your body won’t allow you to have.
You can solve this problem – philosophically speaking you need to alter the inner terrain of your body so that it gives you permission to have kids.
You can restore your fertility, but you can’t restore it by staying the way you are, that’s the truth.
You probably have food intolerances – most people have some.
That fact is disputed by mainstream medicine though, but whenever groups of people are tested out on a food elimination diet, most report a general sense of improvement in wellbeing.
Some report dramatic life changing experiences and others report minor improvements in things like sleep, skin, hair, energy, digestion, bloating or such like.
The general consensus is that things are the way they have always been. Traditionally very few people were officially diagnosed with food intolerances, and so this state is regarded as the norm for the population.
But the reality is that things are not the way they always were. The entire food system has changed, wheat itself has changed, soy is not the same as it used to be, meat is composed of different profiles of fat now. Everything has changed, except the viewpoint of mainstream medicine.
Allergies are different to intolerances – but both can generate elevations in a particular type of antibody in the blood (knows as IgG), whilst some food intolerances don’t generate these antibodies at all but instead just cause some sort of symptom – like gas or bloating.
For reasons rooted in the philosophy of medicine, most doctors don’t take intolerances seriously and would strongly challenge the view that something as ‘innocuous’ as simple bloating could have any effect on your fertility. The idea is laughable to many!
This ‘philosophy’ I mention is based on what we call Newtonian Physics, which set the trend in science ever since the apple fell from the tree! It has resulted in our current paradigm of reductionist science which has brought us so much progress it’s amazing, but it fails to recognise the essential interconnectedness of everything.
Bloating can mediate infertility – here’s how:
Immune cells at the wall of your intestine react to some or other food molecule – let’s say it is wheat.
The reaction causes a release of chemicals which affect the surrounding population of microbes– which in turn generate the symptoms you experience – let’s say a sense of bloating, by producing lots of gas. Ok you might say, just pass the gas and all is good – no? No!
With repeated exposure to wheat your immune system will switch its dominant mode to one of ‘activated’, meaning it will become increasingly alert to ‘foreign invaders’. Your genes will turn on to produce more and more of the immune molecules (cytokines) that your body thinks it needs to defend against the foreign invading food molecule to which it is intolerant. Take this far enough and your body will become hyper alert to invaders and begin suspecting more and more food molecules. (A little bit like airport security suspecting more and more people of being terrorists!)
With your immune system generally on hyper alert it will begin suspecting that actual invaders like sperm or even a developing embryo are real threats – and it will take them out!
Everything is connected. The Amazon forest creates clouds that rain on mountainsides eroding rocks and liberating diatoms that reach the oceans via the rivers. The diatoms feed life, which blooms and produces oxygen for the earth. The diatoms die and form rock, which becomes desert, whose dust gets swept up in the winds which deposit the dead diatoms back into the Amazon forest to nourish the trees that were not even planted when the cycle started. Everything is amazingly connected!
The food we eat is connected to our immune system’s ability to sense the world around us.
Our immune system is connected to our ability to create life.
There is no drug that can undo the negative effects of it – only change can accomplish that, and you have the power to change if you can summon the self-belief to do it – because even your self-belief is connected to your fertility!