Last time I asked you a provocative question: "Are you thinking yourself infertile? And is this even possible?"
If you missed the answer, here it is!
Today let’s have a look around and see how our culture influences our beliefs and, subsequently, our biology.
Our bodies are influenced and actually structured by our thoughts and beliefs.
Every thought is accompanied by an emotion or feeling, and every emotion creates a specific biochemical reality in our bodies. Thoughts that are reinforced over and over again become beliefs. Beliefs drive behaviors.
Have you noticed how our culture collectively conforms to certain beliefs and turns them into “truths” that most of us adhere to? There are the beliefs that are more general, like, “Women have to be a certain dress size to be beautiful”; “You’ll never be successful if you don’t finish college”; or, “I can’t get ahead because of the economy.”
On a more personal level, it’s, “Nature intended that women have children early”; “I just don’t have the energy anymore that I used to have ten years ago”; or, “Getting older is not for the faint of heart.”
Or, as almost all of us repeat at one point: "My biological clock is ticking." And we believe it to be true, because, hey, that's what everybody else says!
One woman, Pippa (chapter 11 in my book The Joy of Later Motherhood), beautifully illustrates the point that we are all influenced by our culture.
Pippa had tried for seven years—from age 35 to 42—to conceive with her husband, David. By then she felt her age hang like the sword of Damocles over her head.
It was not until she started working with Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and fertility expert Andrew Loosely that she overcame one of the biggest mental imprints most of us have to overcome: the idea that we are physically too old to have a child in our 40s.
“In Chinese medicine, which is a five-thousand-year-old science, a woman can have children until menopause,” Pippa told me after she naturally conceived her son only seven months (!) after working with Andrew.
In general, there is no stigma around later motherhood in China. There is no tight timeline or pressure to be done by 35—or 45.
Unfortunately, we women in the Western world are not so lucky, and we literally, not just figuratively, embody our cultural beliefs.
Even the words we use can have a direct impact on our bodies.
Through Dr. Northrup’s book Goddesses Never Age (I highly recommend this resource), I was introduced to the fascinating work of Dr. Mario Martinez, founder of the Biocognitive Institute, which bridges the field of psychoneuroimmunology, cultural anthropology, and cultural neuroscience.
Dr. Martinez is a clinical neuropsychologist who lectures worldwide on the impact of cultural beliefs on health and longevity. He is also the author of the book The Mind Body Code.
Dr. Martinez wondered what would happen with our immune system when a word with cultural weight—which, arguably, the word “infertility” carries—enters our bio-informational field.
He found that, in overt and subtle ways, our cultural beliefs impact our immune system. Several studies indicate that shame, for example, causes inflammation.
Here’s a captivating example of his findings: In Peru and other South American countries, bochorno is the word used for the hot flashes of menopause. In Spanish, bochorno means “shame.”
In Japan, on the other hand, hot flashes are called konenki, which means “change or turn of life,” and in Chinese medicine, menopause is considered a “second spring” (as Pippa surely also knows).
I was fascinated to read that South American women who experience their hot flashes as shame have significantly more inflammatory problems and painful symptoms.
They are more likely to need hormone replacement therapy and experience a diminished sense of beauty than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts, who welcome menopause as a natural transition to the second spring of their lives.
Dr. Martinez argues that, in general, our biology adjusts to our cultural beliefs and that, in particular, our immune system confirms how we choose to view the world.
In other words: the hope of a second spring is a very powerful immune enhancer, but the helplessness women experience with a shameful hot flash is a very powerful immune detractor.
Think about this. Especially when it comes to conceiving babies.
I suggest you erase the word “infertility” completely from your vocabulary, regardless of whether you already experience challenges or just expect you will.
It’s not a good word as it smacks of failure and shame and, as you now know, can cause serious negative impact on your well-being. Stop using this word; stop searching for articles with this keyword; stop looking to your mother, sister, or best friend for reasons to believe your own body could be broken.
Even if—or especially if—a person of authority, like a doctor, told you that you are infertile (as it would have been the case for me and my husband, had we gone to see a fertiltiy specialist), do not think of yourself like that.
Do not take on this label and use it for self-punishment and loathing self-talk.
We all have a tendency to be our own worst enemy and to speak to ourselves in a way we would never speak about a friend or someone we loved.
Words are tremendously powerful and carry a charge that can uplift you or bring you down.
Shaming words cause inflammation and possibly painful symptoms, which are the last things you want when you’re trying to conceive a healthy baby.
Start paying attention to the self-talk that is constantly going on in your beautiful head.
How do you speak to yourself when nobody else is listening?
What are you telling yourself that’s not conducive to your wish to conceive and nurture a child? Switch out the self-punishing talk with more loving perspectives:
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