I’m turning 40 next month.
I remember my parents turning 40. I was ten. I remember it being a “big deal.” They were kinda old. I remember registering that they were both feeling, then, that it was the end of something. Their youthfulness, perhaps. I remember “Over the Hill” cards, as if they had reached some pinnacle of something and there was no going back. “All downhill” from there.
Of course, now I hear that 50 is the new 40. Or 40 is the new 30. Victor Hugo said “Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” I don’t know if that makes me feel good or bad. I’m not sure I want to be the “old age” of anything, even youth.
Is It Possible?
Because I’m a fertility specialist, I’m highly aware of the ways in which our bodies change around the age 40 marker. While I do have “older” patients who desperately want to have a baby, I’ll admit that I feel less confident when a patient is past age 40. Is it possible? Of course. But is it easy? Well, that depends…
By age 40, we’ve accumulated all of our life’s experiences in our bodies and in our wombs and in our eggs. How have we been treating our bodies? I start to look at our averages. What has been our average stress level over the past ten years? What is our average nutritional intake? What is our average sleep schedule? How have we been treating ourselves? Because of something called epigenetics, these questions really matter.
Epigenetics, as a very simplified definition, is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off.
Basically, what this means is that how you live your life can and will determine which genes will be turned on or off. What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you sleep, how you exercise… all of these can cause chemical modification around genes that will turn those genes on or off. These genes being switched away from normal/ healthy can contribute to certain diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, but also decrease longevity, speed aging and, yes, contribute to infertility.
When we are in our 20s, the cumulative impact of a few nights of partying, drinking or even drug use, late nights or stressful work situations, we may be able to handle it. We have youth (and potentially “good” genes) on our side. But by 40, if we have accumulated more than our fair share of stress, alcohol, a poor diet … if we have 20 years worth of poor habits, that really adds up. It’s rare to see a person who hasn’t consciously been focusing on health and on longevity whose body doesn’t show the strain of age, who hasn’t flipped some of those gene switches away from normal/ healthy.
There is Good News
The good news is that we may be able to flip those switches back, slowing or reversing certain disease progression and certainly reversing the aging process, which includes aging of our eggs, wombs, etc.
So what about me? Even though I am not trying to have any more children, I do still gauge my overall health by tracking my reproductive health. So I do wonder, as I approach 40, am I still fertile? While I’ll never know for sure (hubby has had a vasectomy, so knowing for sure would mean big trouble for me!!), I’m going to go with yes. Based on all indications, YES, at age 40, I believe I can still have a baby.
What am I looking at, exactly?
Most women think about fertility with a fair amount of tunnel vision. “Do I get pregnant or do I not?” Many women believe that until they are actually actively trying to get pregnant, there’s no way to know if they are fertile. The reality is that we can (and should) be addressing our fertility from the time we first get our period. We can learn (and balance and heal) so much about our reproductive health with each cycle.
When I wonder if I’m still fertile, the questions I am asking (and the questions you should be asking yourself, whether or not you’re trying to get pregnant), are these:
*Is my cycle “regular,” meaning, do I get my period at around the same time each month?
*Is my cycle a healthy length, approximately 28-32 days between periods?
*How do I feel before my period starts? Do I get bad PMS? Do I get terribly moody? Low back pain?
*Do I have pain with my period? Cramps? Headaches?
*How is my cervical mucus? Do I pay attention to my cervical mucus mid-cycle to check if it looks fertile?
These questions are important, but really just the basic questions we should be asking ourselves if we are interested in understanding and living in harmony with our reproductive systems. Pain, discomfort, PMS, etc. are all indications that our reproductive systems are not as healthy as they could be, and regardless of whether or not we are trying to get pregnant, it’s important for our overall health that we address these imbalances.
Start With Simple Changes
The bottom line is that, at any age, if you’re trying to conceive or think you might someday want to have a baby, it’s imperative to start really looking at your life, at your habits, and at your cycle. It’s important to start making some changes.
During each phase of our menstrual cycle, we have an opportunity to make changes that will significantly impact your reproductive health. These changes can actually reset your fertility.
In my acupuncture fertility practice, I support every patient during each phase of her cycle to help to bring her body into balance. What most women don’t know is that you can do this at home too. When you register for my online Six-Week fertility course, you will receive an entire kit of tools you can use at home to improve your fertility, including herbs, womb massage oil blends, bath soaks, ear seeds, moxa and more. We start with a detoxification phase to prepare your body for pregnancy and hopefully begin the process of flipping some of those genetic switches back to healthy, ie. back to fertile. I give you tools and techniques to support you through each phase of your reproductive cycle.
During the blood phase, we focus on clearing out any stasis or stagnation as well as nourishing blood. During the yin phase, which includes the follicular phase, we nourish your body’s yin to focus on supporting healthy follicles, as well as support the later thickening of the uterine lining. This phase is also important in ensuring that you have enough qi and yin to carry a pregnancy to full term. During the Qi phase, we focus on supporting ovulation, as well as understanding your most fertile days so you know when exactly to have sex. We also discuss an implantation protocol to support your uterus. During the yang or luteal phase, we focus on warming techniques, again encouraging the tri-laminal layering of the womb, which is necessary for pregnancy, as well as supporting healthy progesterone levels.
So is it possible to be fertile at forty? The answer is a resounding YES … if we take the time to really listen to our body and focus on making healthy changes to support our reproductive systems. Even though I won’t be having more babies in this lifetime, I still drink all of my teas, perform self womb massage and try to live in harmony with the phases of my cycle. Fertility isn’t just something we should start to consider when we decide we want a baby. Living a fertile life feels like living in harmony with my natural rhythms as well as the natural rhythms of the earth, and I intend to do that for as long as I possibly can.