Natural Fertility Consultant

Posts By: Brendan

Fear Setting For Fertility

I’ve always found it difficult to get clear in my mind what I wanted in life.  I kinda sorta knew.  I could write an essay about it, I could talk about it at length, but I always end up drifting away from the point and could never seem to distil it down to a clear and elegant statement.  It always seemed to be…well…all over the place, in my mind!

Since I am basically an optimist, I always turned away from the idea of dwelling on my fears and on the stuff that I didn’t want to happen – I guess due to a subconscious fear that I might inadvertently manifest them.

But when I came across Tim Ferris talking about Fear-Setting in a podcast one day it just clicked with me.  He went on to do a Ted Talk about it later.

I’ve since come to understand that acknowledging our inner fears is a very practical and successful way to integrate them properly into our psyche.  It’s not the same thing as facing our fears, it’s different.  It’s a process of defining what it is that we don’t want in life, or how we don’t want our life to turn out – you could say – what we don’t want to be remembered for after we die.

This helps to focus the mind on what we do want, it helps us clarify our vision and once we do this the chase begins in earnest as we set about building the life we really want.

It’s a powerful idea.

I’ve come to recognise that many of the people who become my clients – ie people who are working hard to restore their fertility so they can have a baby – do not in fact have a clear vision of what they really want, and I now believe this is often a significant part of their fertility problem.

It can be a mix of not being clear about their future in general or it might be about the idea of having a baby specifically.  To help with this I take them through a process designed to empower them with a compelling vision of their future selves.

Sometimes the best way to accomplish this is to help them face the darkness, which is inside us all, but which for them is most often related to a future without kids.  Fear setting helps people name what they don’t want, which in turn helps to clarify what they really do want and once they get clarity, they have a much easier time of it on the program.  They have their Why, you could say, and once you have your Why you can bear any How!

I’ve had some very moving moments with clients who go through this process.

Two that stick out in memory are:

A guy who used fear setting to see himself in the future as a person just working in an office and coming home to an empty and tidy house, then his wife would come home, they would eat dinner, go for a walk and then watch tv. 

To one person this sounds like an idyllic life, but to him it felt empty and it scared him.

He used this random image to help him see what he didn’t want. From there he created an idea of what he did want – which was a beautiful image of him, his wife their son and daughter out camping in the Grand Canyon, watching wildlife with binoculars and roasting marshmallows on an open fire having a laugh in a most relaxed and connected way.

The other moment was a woman who imagined herself going to her sisters houses and bringing birthday presents to their kids, but never having kids of her own to get presents for.  Again, not a bad image, even a very desirable image for a lot of people, but not for her.  To her it was frightening, and doing the exercise helped her acknowledge this with honesty.

What was her preferred image??  I loved this one…It was holding her new born baby up above her head playing with her, when all of a sudden baby pukes milk straight into moms’ mouth!!

Whatever does it for you!

Given how much coverage there is on the interweb about the dangers of taking too much Vitamin A in the early stages of pregnancy I always figured this would be one topic many of my clients would raise with me – but It almost never happens.  It’s a funny one.

Here’s what you need to know:

Having too much OR too little vitamin A in your blood when you become pregnant can result in your baby having birth defects.  There are different effects for having too much than there are to having too little.  I won’t go into the details as they are scary enough.

World wide more children are born with Vitamin A deficiency than vitamin A toxicity, but if you parse the online literature, you’d be forgiven for thinking that toxicity is a huge problem for would be moms.

The reality, however, is that the evidence for this is not that strong – but neither can it be dismissed out of hand.

Currently the general advice is to not take in more than 10,000 units a day of vitamin A.

I’m ok with this because I’m of the opinion that this is plenty – that is, in the context of an otherwise very good nutrient intake.

The problem with the modern world is that people generally do not have a very good nutrient intake, and on top of that we live in a world that is nearly terrified by the idea of eating fat in case  -God forbid – it clogs up our arteries (it doesn’t!).  The problem is that Vitamin A comes to us inside the fat…so if we cut the fat we also cut the vitamin A.

Most of my clients are not consuming enough Vitamin A when they initially come to see me, and this does worry me a lot.  I’m not worried for my clients, because I always correct the problem…I’m worried for the many moms-to-be out there that are consuming too little vitamin A.

Let’s be straight and honest here even though it may not be nice to hear – the number of kids with food intolerances is on the increase – this is related to low vitamin A status, the number of kids needing glasses is on the rise – this is related to low vitamin A, the number of kids with asthma and allergies is on the rise – this is related to low vitamin A status, the number of SNA teachers in on the rise because the number of kids with learning difficulties is on the rise – this is related to low vitamin A status.  There are more too.

They are not all caused exclusively by low vitamin A status…but there is good evidence for all of them being related in some way.  It worries me.  I hate seeing kids suffer and having their capabilities reduced by physical or mental impairment.

On the flip side many medical advice sites worry that moms-to-be might be getting too much Vitamin A and cite the easy availability of high dose vitamin A supplements.  This is a possible concern, though not as big an issue as it is made out to be.  

My take on why the Toxicity argument seems to be the dominant one is that it’s far harder to deal with a birth defect than it is to deal with a gradual loss of function or let’s say a minor defect that occurs later on, if a kid needs glasses for example.  I totally get this of course, it’s an emotionally difficult thing to deal with any birth defect, and so it is fear that gets our attention.

How do you know how much vitamin A you are eating on any given day?  It’s tedious to work out but nutrient databases and software programs would be needed to get a decent average.

In the absence of this knowledge, it’s useful to know that Vitamin A is one of 4 vitamins that are called fat-soluble vitamins, the other 3 are D, E and K.  Once you are getting enough of all of these vitamins together in your diet it nearly eliminates the risk of toxicity and of your child suffering from the effects of too much vitamin A in the womb.  They offset each-others toxicity by helping the body use them all more effectively. 

So in all reality the only way one can get Vitamin A toxicity is to take lots of it in a supplement, and not eat the other vitamins from the same family.

If you are worried that this might be happening you I recommend you get Cronometer, the free version, and input your total nutrient intake for a week, supplements included, and see how much Vitamin A you are consuming on average.  Adjust to keep it below 10,000 IU’s per day.

It feels stupid when we are learning a new task. That may be because – insofar as that task is concerned – we actually are stupid, or maybe clumsy is a better word. Either way the feeling of being stupid is real, and it puts off a lot of people from doing new things – like learning to cook!

If we could bring ourselves to accept that this is just the way it is…and it happens to everyone who tries to learn new things…then we can let ourselves off the hook. The hook of perfection.

I can prep and cook maybe 5 or 6 main meals pretty well, but up till a few years ago, despite having a masters degree in nutrition, I wasn’t much good and coming up with meal suggestions, and so I made it my business to get some bit proficient.
Man did I feel like a noob for a while – awkward, clumsy, and clueless, but it passed and now I’m pretty decent.

Baking is a different beast though – My 12 year old son has already surpassed my skills as a home baker.

I think it’s because his fear of failure is nearly Zero, but he also learns from his mistakes and has fun doing it all, not to mention eating the produce and getting the dopamine hits from all the praise!

There’s something to learn in that.

Most of us were brought up by parents who themselves were brought up in tough times.
There is a theme running through much of us Generation X’ers that seems to go as follows:
Our parents (the Baby Boomers) were raised by parents who went through the war and were thus hyper cautious in general.

They passed that caution onto their kids, our parents, who thus became conditioned to be risk-averse, and who in turn raised us (Gen X’ers) in a mixed atmosphere of critical watchfulness and hopeful expectation.

But their conditioning was more focused on helping us keep our heads down, work hard and not make mistakes – rather than on encouraging us to take risks. This kind of early life programming embeds deeply into us.

What we know for sure now is that learning is necessary for problem solving, and problem solving is not only part of life, it’s absolutely critical to having a meaningful life.
To learn anything important we must make mistakes, but this wisdom has yet to permeate through to parenting, and dare I say to schooling.

We know that an over the top emphasis on safety risks suffocating our children in boredom, yet it’s so hard to resist the temptation to hold onto our kids in case they get badly hurt.

If our kids are ever to find meaning they must solve big problems in their lives. If we are to teach our kids this we must have solved big problems in our lives too so we can pass on the wisdom.

If your problem is life right now is that you can’t have kids because of infertility, then you hold in your hands a sacred opportunity.
If you have to courage to feel clumsy and stupid as you flail around making mistakes whilst learning new things about yourself, not only can you solve the problem, but the children you create will inherit the wisdom you acquired along the way, and there is no better gift to give.

Go and learn how to cook something new!

At a café recently I bumped into a stranger who was just finishing up his lunch and heading back to work. “Oh Gawd” he said to me as he sloped out of his chair with a look of dejection “back to work already”.

“Don’t you like it?” I asked, not sure what else to say. “I like it on Fridays” he replied with a wry grin.
“That’s a lot of your life to not like” I said, trying to sound upbeat, “if you had to do it all over again would you choose the same job?”
“I dunno” he said, before asking me “What do you do?”

“I help women to get pregnant” I said, knowing that would get a reaction.

“Lucky bastard” he said – and turned to walk off.

“It’s partly luck” I said “but mostly it’s the path I chose”

“You’re weird” he said, before heading off into the world that made him miserable.

There goes a disease in the making, I thought to myself, if it hasn’t already shown up.

You are faced with a serious problem that you must solve. 

It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be ‘Infertility’, it could be lack of money or it could be a job or even a relationship breakup.

The first principle that will help to get the result you want is to accept 100% responsibility for solving the problem.  It constantly amazes me how difficult this is for people, including myself.

Lots of people can help you as you work to solve the problem, but no-one can take over the responsibility, it’s yours and yours alone, you have to be the person driving it.

The second thing to understand is that ‘beliefs’ will be the ultimate decider of whether you succeed or fail.  Beliefs can be divided into two categories – 1. Beliefs about the problem, & 2. Other beliefs in general.

If you don’t believe the problem can be solved then you wont have the juice to search for solutions, and worst of all you won’t even entertain the notion of trying to solve it in the first place, plus you will actively ignore or dismiss any advice that could have really helped you.

So even if you can’t be sure it is accurate yet, it’s best to at least adopt the belief that the problem can be solved.  This greatly increases your chances of success.

Secondly, once you do decide to set about solving the problem other general beliefs about life or about yourself or your abilities will almost certainly rise up to block your path.

This is because the reason you have the problem in the first place is due to the existence of a neglected aspect of your life, and you neglected it either because you hadn’t the stomach to face it thus far, or because other stuff you focussed on in your life was deemed more important at the time…but the tables are turned now and the problem has become the most important thing in your life.  Either way it is difficult to confront the areas of our lives that we have neglected, thus when we try – our mind intervenes and tries to get us to give up.

There is a real practical yin and yang to this…you can’t be good at everything, and the better you are at one thing, or the more time you put into it the more you are forced to neglect some other aspect of your life.  It’s just a reality of life we have to get along with.  Careers tend to flourish at the expense of relationships, or at the expense of health, and musical talent might triumph at the cost of ones’ sporting achievements.

An examination of our beliefs about the problem we want solved would appear to be a necessary prerequisite to the journey.

Beliefs are such strange things – they have almost complete control over our lives and whether they are right or wrong we cling to them with a ferocious defence – despite the fact that we know many of our beliefs are wrong.   Most of our successes can be traced back to ‘right’ beliefs and most of our problems can be traced back to ‘wrong’ beliefs.

We must be willing to accept that we could easily be holding ‘wrong’ beliefs that are impeding our progress – right?

How do we know they are wrong?  Sometimes we can take the time to do a good fact check, but most of our important beliefs are abstract and form in our minds due to a collection of bits and bobs we picked up along the way, some even before we could speak and thus we don’t necessarily even know what they are.  We can generally ‘feel’ it in our guts when something confronts our beliefs though.

One really good way to know how accurate our beliefs are is to ask ourselves if we are not where we want to be – or not where we think we should be in life.  Have we been unable to achieve something we really desire (this could include pregnancy).  If the answer is yes, then we can deduce that our perception of reality is a bit skewed, and this in turn is probably because we hold a belief about that thing which is wrong. 

In other words, if we believe in something important but it is false, then we are believing in a false reality so inevitably our ship is going to sink, because reality always wins.  The truths we ignore and the problems we don’t acknowledge always come home to roost.

Beliefs create our opinions, these opinions influence our decisions, and our decisions are what got us to wherever we now are.  If we are in the wrong place it is more than likely because we have a wrong belief, or several.  This is one of the most useful truths to embrace, but it can be a difficult one to swallow.

It’s even more difficult if we blame others for our situation, because this will get in the way of us assuming full responsibility for solving it.

It could easily be true that the problem is not your fault.  Indeed, it is highly unlikely that any problem you have is entirely your fault, and therefore someone else is at least partly to blame.

I’m thinking parents here mostly!  Health problems like infertility mostly have their roots in epigenetics, and sometimes even in some parenting style itself!  So, no matter what way you cut it it’s not totally your fault, but it is totally your responsibility to solve it.

What you do to solve the problem, and even the very act of deciding to solve the problem in the first place, ABSOLUTELY depends on what you believe, so it’s really critical to spend some time exploring what your beliefs are around it.

The difficulty in confronting our beliefs is not having to come to terms with new facts, it’s about having to come to terms with the feeling that we have been wrong about something all this time.

An easy way to do this is to tell yourself that your belief was once true and it has served you in some way until now, but your priorities have changed and it no longer serves you so it is time to let it go – or time to upgrade it with a better truth.  This doesn’t seem so bad…and indeed is how we grow as people.  It feels good to do this.

I used to believe I could eat and drink whatever I wanted, and I’d be fine.  It took a lot of work to overhaul that belief.

I used to believe that my first impressions of a person were accurate.  It wasn’t until I became a therapist and really got to know my clients well that I realised I even had this belief and how wrong it was.

We choose what to believe – choose wisely!

Real IVF Success Rates

Research into the medical treatment of infertility is progressing faster than almost any other discipline, and the number of medical infertility clinics has increased more than 10-fold in the past 20 years.  It’s become big business!

The average cost of a round of IVF is €5000, a figure which is rising year on year.  It increases to near €10,000 if you use donor eggs.

To digress for a moment on that point – Donor eggs can be a great option if ones egg quality is seriously compromised, but you need to be aware that the prevailing opinion within these medical settings is that there is nothing you can do about egg quality other than accept the reality that it will continue to decline.  THIS IS WRONG!

Back to my original point – In the US the official figures show that the average number of IVF treatments per couple is four, and thus costs can rise to anywhere from €20,000-€40,000 per couple, most of which is not recoverable from insurance, and this is the AVERAGE.  This by the way is not a complaint, nobody is being ripped off here, it is what it is and I can’t actually see how it could be any different.  Expertise costs money.

Fertility clinics will be happy to tell you their own success rates, and various newspaper articles will claim wildly different industry success and failure rates depending on where the reporter got their statistics.  They are all true, but they are hard to put in context and difficult for the regular person to figure out their best options without doing a deep dive into industry stats. 

To give the devil his due it’s not easy to acquire industry average success rates because there are many variables involved such as different clinic procedures, different technologies, different levels of clinic expertise, differences in combined methodologies at any given clinic, different regulations in different countries and crucially different success rates for different age groups.  

Most people seem to just assume the figures they hear in the news are accurate, but the truth is that overall success rates for IVF are on the low side.  Here are the average industry wide success rates for IVF in the US, and these figures can be inferred to other countries like Ireland since we tend to follow suit in the adoption of new technologies:

  • 30% success for women under 35
  • 24% for women aged 35 to 37
  • 18% for women aged 38 to 39
  • 10% for women aged 40 to 42
  • 3% for women aged 43 to 44
  • 1% for women aged over 44

Obviously though, as Helen Carcio says in her seminal book on the Management Of The Infertile Women – “The true cost of infertility cannot simply be measured in purely financial terms. There is the additional emotional, physical and social toll to pay. The emotional rollercoaster can include dealing with stress, blame and trying to cope with the intense, deeply primitive ‘survival of the species’ drive to have a baby”.

I couldn’t agree more!

The above numbers are true, but they belie a phenomenally important fact – they are almost entirely based on a population of people who did not undertake a deep dive program to get to the bottom of their infertility.  Instead what most people do is follow medical guidelines and procedures – and perhaps pop a multivitamin and a fish oil – and then struggle valiantly through the often-mind-bending experience of IVF stimulation protocols, only to come out the other side believing they “tried everything”.  It’s a false belief though, and I say that with the deepest of compassion.

Doing whatever you can to make your body work better changes the game and makes the above statistics irrelevant to you!  You don’t have to be a statistic, you can choose to be a winner!

I grew up listening to my mother singing and my father playing records full of songs about life.

One of the magical images I remember most as I went off to bed was the Big Rock Candy Mountain, an idyllic place where you could eat sweets straight off the trees, drink soft drinks from a fountain, then for breakfast eat soft boiled eggs laid by the hens.  Even the cigarettes which grew on trees seemed like a cool idea.

One of the lines from the original song (which was deemed unsuitable for kids ears) was “…and they hung the jerk who invented work”.

It’s a place you might love to go for a holiday, but you can see the problem if you lived there right?

There are no challenges, no struggles, no need to stretch yourself, no problems to overcome…until of course real life intrudes, and the problems hit you full force.

On the other end of the spectrum is our modern life with its endless tasks, deadlines, rushing, stretching our capacity, and having hardly any regenerative downtime to ourselves.  The problem with this end of the spectrum is that real life also intrudes, and the issues we were not paying attention to suddenly hit us full force.

For some people this manifests as broken relationships with their kids whom they were too stressed to interact with.  For some people it’s addictions, for some it’s cancer and for some it’s a loss of fertility.

It seems that life has a knack of choosing the most quintessentially perfect problem for us every time.  It seems to choose problems that are so painful for us we are forced to sit up and take notice.

If you could choose the problem that hit you…would you choose infertility?

Life might know you better than you think.

How Do I Know I’m Right?

“But how do you know you’re right Dad” asked my 12 year old son after I gave him my opinion on advice he’d received from a school teacher that butter was ‘bad’.

It’s a great question and a tough one to answer, especially to a child.

To benefit from the truth you have to be prepared to see the world from different perspectives, and if you haven’t the capacity to do this you can never appreciate the deeper nuances of human life and you can never benefit from having the edges knocked off you and becoming more rounded and therefore more useful to the world.  In fact, you could say that a ridged inability (or unwillingness) to see other perspectives is a form of mental disease.

As young energetic college students we are happy to march behind flags and shout mono dimensional slogans sticking it to ‘The Man’ because we are frustrated at being a mere tail that gets wagged by the dog at the dogs’ whim.

But when we grow up (if we ever do) we come to realise that there really are different valid perspectives (and there are invalid ones too of course – just because someone shouts doesn’t mean they have anything worthwhile to say!), and that our universe-centric infantile view of things is…well just that.

But it’s hard to do this because we feel SO STRONGLY that we are right, it becomes part of our identity, and once something is part of our identity it is so much more difficult to separate ourselves from it and see things objectively.

How do I know butter is good for you?

I don’t.

I don’t have the answers my clients need, they do.  My job is to help them find it and recognise it and then act on it.  They find their own truth.

This is one of those philosophical grey areas that gives people a headache – what do you mean ‘their own truth’?  Surely there is only ONE real truth?

I say No.  There are factual truths we all agree on…like the existence of gravity (even though we still don’t really know what it is in essence), but when it comes to individuals there can be many truths and each of us must find our own.  This is so difficult for many people to accept because at heart we long for the peace of mind inherent in an infants’ binary view of the world…Yes/No, Wrong/Right.  It’s simpler, but it’s not accurate.

Butter can be factually proven to contain numerous nutrients that can elevate the health of your body, but your body may not accept it, or might only accept it up to a certain degree. 

But why then do the powers that be teach us that it is generally bad?

I can’t get into this right now…it’s a long story that much more articulate people than me are better at telling.

The process of finding your own truth is hampered by a desire to have simplistic answers.

How I help my clients find their way out of infertility is not what most people imagine it might be – I don’t present them with a to do list that gets them there, instead we engage in a process of mutual discovery and it’s only because I have been down that road so many times that I am any good at interpreting the signposts we find along the way.

The key to it all is to have a clear goal.  This is a deep truth that works well in all aspects of life, not just infertility, and being pregnant is definitely a super clear goal to have.

I almost wrote “wanting to be pregnant is a super clear goal to have” …but that would have been wrong.  If you say your goal is ‘wanting to be pregnant’…then you have already achieved it, what you really mean to say is you want to BE pregnant.

This kind of clarity is what enables us to find the truth of the person’s life because it acts like a magnet that keeps us on track as we head off into a complicated world in search of solutions.

It doesn’t really matter who you are, the only question that matters is – “who are you becoming?”, once you know this you have a much better chance of getting there.

There is no ‘answer’ out there that someone can hand you and say…here…go and get it, if someone pretends there is – they are wrong. 

And if someone tells you butter is bad …they are also wrong!

We can see the weakest point in a bursting balloon using slow motion footage, but it is so much harder to tell exactly where our own weakest point is.  To complicate matters we are adaptive creatures who can strengthen the weak points in our health if we know what to do.

A good way to think about it is that all chronic diseases ultimately come because some system in our body is overstressed, and it eventually gives.  Having a good diagnosis helps us figure out what that system is, if we know how to interpret things. This is no easy task.

Infertility narrows down the systems some bit.  We can consider how the adrenal system is functioning, how our thyroid is cooperating with our adrenals, how our pituitary gland is regulating our circadian rhythms and how our GI tract is powering (or disempowering) our hormonal system.

With these functions analysed and encouraged to operate normally we can consider how the ovaries, or the testicles are working…they take their cue from the dance of the other organs.

Infertility is not a mystery if you know how to read the landscape of your body.

Getting diagnosed with infertility is not a setback, it’s a huge step forward because it shows you your weakest point and allows you to focus on the stuff that matters most and not get side-tracked chasing ghosts.

Tick Tock!

Dental Health & Fertility

It can take a Caucasian woman with gum disease about 2 months longer to get pregnant than a similar woman without gum disease, and for non-Caucasians it can take longer than 12 months!  Source.

“What?…That’s mad” you might say, but actually it isn’t.  Periodontal disease is very common and associated with a lot of chronic degenerative diseases including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease…and now even infertility.

What’s going on?

It’s not an easy idea to square away if you view health in the traditional narrow way using the reductionist mindset.  But if you see the world in a more interconnected way then you also probably see human health in a similarly interconnected way, in which case you see nothing at all mad about this idea.

Bacteria from gum disease does damage gums by inflaming them, which eventually leads to tooth disease.  This is bad.  But the same bacteria can migrate into your nerves, and blood and cause damage elsewhere in the body too.

Could it cause trouble for your ovaries?  Maybe, but I’m going to suggest we are looking at this the wrong way around.

The real issue from my perspective is that something is driving the gum disease, and that same ‘thing’ is also driving the other degenerative conditions, including infertility.

Yes, we can point to the migration of bacteria along nerve and blood and even lymph transport systems, but it’s deeper than this…there’s a vibe or a note playing in the body that is ‘off’…this is the essential issue.

This is the issue with infertility too.

Consider that we know if people keep their mouths scrupulously clean they can prevent damage to their gums and teeth…so it seems like a cut and dry idea…clean your teeth and you’ll be fine.

But this doesn’t square so well with what we know about traditional cultures who had no oral care but rarely got any sort of gum disease.

What the official guardians of our oral cavity fail to tell us is the same thing the medical fertility world fails to tell us – the problems we are experiencing are not isolated to one part of the body, they are systemic and the solution to them is to rise the tide of health in the whole body – not just in one spot in the body.  

Brush your gums…sure…but get your body humming the right note too, that’ll go a long way to sorting out your fertility issues!

Natural Fertility Consultant