Last week, Fortune.com published an article, "Apple and Facebook will now pay for women to freeze their eggs." Although I am thrilled to see the dialogue around fertility becoming more public, the Fortune.com article is also very representative of the underlying message surrounding fertility these days: Women should be worried, very worried, about their fertility. As an author, women's health and wellness expert and a practitioner who has worked with thousands of women who are trying to conceive, it is with strong urging that I say: We need to shift the conversation about fertility that we are currently having.
Of course, being conscious of our fertility is a good thing, especially for women who want children one day. But being conscious is quite different than being panicked. The current conversation around fertility is telling women they should fear their declining fertility. Yes, the truth is women are now having children later in life and freezing eggs is an option for women to buy themselves some time. However, for the general population I think the focus should be more on preserving and optimizing our health and our fertility, not on the message, "spend $12,000, take potentially harmful medications, put your body through surgery (albeit a minor surgery) and freeze your eggs because your fertility is in danger." Yes, freezing eggs can be a life-changing move especially for women who have to undergo medical treatments like chemotherapy or radiation but, to make a blanket statement that encourages young women to freeze their eggs (which by the way, frozen eggs are rarely put to use, they are more seen as an insurance policy) is like saying to women: You should be scared, your time is running out, and by the time you are ready to have kids you'll be too old. Furthermore, when two of our nation's largest corporations are now offering coverage for the costly egg-freezing process it sets a precedent, putting pressure on all the women who don't work for these corporations and can't afford to drop $12,000 on freezing their eggs for that "just in case" moment.
Something we should all ponder: Is this current fear-based fertility conversation helping women in the long run? From my clinical experience, I can say for sure this fear surrounding our age-related diminishing fertility is severely hurting our fertility. Most of my clients come to me extremely worried -- actually, petrified -- about their age and their ability to conceive because they have heard that once they turn 35 their fertility is basically doomed (even though the stats show this is not at all the case -- your odds of conceiving within one year of trying from age 35-40 is only about 7-8 percent less than that of a women aged 27-30).
Rather than scaring women into thinking that their age absolutely reflects their fertility and the amount and quality of the eggs they have left in their body, why don't we talk to the about the new and groundbreaking science of epigenetics -- a branch of science that studies how environmental factors like stress, diet, sleep, chemical exposure and happiness affects our health and how well we age? Epigenetics indicates that we should be less focused on chronological age and more focused on overall health and well-being. To say it another way: We are beginning to see scientifically that there is a big difference between chronological and physiological age, and youth does not necessarily equate to better health.
The dialogue surrounding fertility needs to be about the preservation and improvement of overall health -- mentally, emotionally, physically and nutritionally -- and not only about age and egg freezing. We need to start talking about the fact that the way you live your life, the food you eat, how much you sleep, how happy you are, how you manage your stress and your overall state of well-being mentally and emotionally affects not just your ability to conceive but the quality of the eggs in your ovaries. Just because you are freezing eggs from a younger version of yourself doesn't mean they will be your golden ticket to a pregnancy later in life. There is so much more to a healthy pregnancy than eggs, like healthy sperm and a healthy woman for that baby to grow and thrive in. To reiterate: Health and youth don't necessarily go hand in hand.
The mass assertion that every women over the age of 35 will have no more eggs left, or that the ones left are "bad" is just not true. Moreover, this fear that such notions are inducing is traumatizing and that trauma is in fact hurting and diminishing our fertility.
Let's break it down: Stress negatively affects our health -- it has been proven. Being sad, depressed and unhappy negatively affects our health -- it has been proven. Alternatively, there is plenty of science showing how being happy and thinking positive improves our health (in fact, according to a study from Fertility & Sterility, women with a positive attitude were 93 percent more likely to conceive than negative women. Another study out of the same journal found that women with symptoms of depression were half as likely to conceive as women who are not depressed. Moreover, there is now solid research that shows how believing in your body and its ability to function optimally actually improves its ability to do so. Let me say that again: Just believing in your body improves its ability to thrive. Unfortunately the current fertility conversation -- which is basically telling women that soon their body will give up on them and likely not work is not supporting this belief. Rather, it is disempowering that innate belief system.
It is true that as women age they need to be conscious of their fertility if they want to have children. But, this over-the-age-of-35-fertile-cliff that everyone is talking about is just not statistically accurate. Women in their late 30s and early to mid 40s get pregnant all the time (whether naturally or with medical interventions). In fact, science now supports the notion that not only can we deter the aging process; we can actually reverse it by living a life that is balanced nutritionally, emotionally and physically.
The new fertility conversation needs to be less about age and the fear of time running out and more about the power women (and men) have to not only change their health, but improve it. Rather than focusing on all the possible problems, we should be focus more on prevention and preserving health, more on believing in our bodies and more on optimizing overall health and well-being physically and emotionally. If we are encouraging women to freeze their eggs, we should also be educating them on the fact that science now shows that how they live their lives -- in every aspect -- affects not just their health and how they age but the quality of their eggs. If a woman is going to freeze her eggs, let's first coach her on ways to improve her egg quality so that she can at least freeze good quality eggs. Women have a choice here and they need to exercise it -- improve your overall health, eat better, sleep more, manage your stress, be happy now -- and improve your fertility and optimize your health now and into your 40s.
There is prep work that's involved in most things -- and creating good quality eggs and getting pregnant is no different. Your mental, emotional, nutritional and physical state matters in the preparation for pregnancy and in your ability to conceive with ease within 12 months of trying, have a healthy pregnancy, deliver a healthy child and bring that child into a healthy and happy home environment
Let's empower women and educate them on the things they can do now to improve their health. Let's talk about what optimal health is, how to achieve it and how to combat illness and age-related diseases. Let's remove fear from the fertility conversation and look at egg freezing as an insurance policy, not as a way of saying -- this is my only option. My message to all women who are worried about their fertility: Don't lose the faith in your body, choose to preserve your health now and for the future and most importantly, concentrate less on shortage and fear and more on health, happiness and hope. You have the power the change your health and improve your fertility.