Is Hope Ever a Negative?

I get a lot of email from readers of this blog, thanking me for the hope they’ve found in my story of getting pregnant naturally with my first child and giving birth to a healthy baby girl at 46. And I’m moved by and grateful for these messages.

But here’s a question that I can’t stop asking myself when I read messages like this: Is it possible that the hope my story provides could be a negative?

I remember hope feeling like a double-edged sword when I was trying, and failing, month after month to get pregnant. (Until, of course, I beat the odds and did.) I know getting pregnant naturally at 45 and giving birth to a healthy first child at 46 is not the norm, and sometimes I worry I’m giving people the false impression that it happens easily, or can happen for everyone.

In the end, I always come back to the thought that it’s important for people to be reminded that, although it’s relatively rare, it does sometimes happen, and with all the negatives out there that women in their 40s hear all the time, it’s important also to hear some positive stories, too, as long as they are honest.

So that’s I’m trying to do with the posts on this blog about my pregnancy.

Am I right? I go back and forth. Why is hope important to you? In what way is it helpful? Is it hurtful in any ways? I’d love to hear what you think.

And if you’ve decided that the mix of hope and infertility is no longer a positive one for you, here are some resources that might feel supportive, from the great organization Resolve.

New Online Group for Mothers 45 and Up

I’ve gotten so many emails and comments on this blog asking me about starting an online group for new mothers at or around 45, or for women who want to feel some of the hope these women’s stories can provide, so here it is!

The group can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/651842948606644/ or by searching under “New Mothers 45 and Up”

Here’s the description:

A group for new mothers, moms-to-be, and the many brave women who are trying to become parents near or after 45 and who want to connect with others who have overcome the odds or are trying to do so. Hopefully, it’s a group that will balance honesty and a nod to the tough statistics facing women trying to conceive at 45; with hope and an acknowledgment that sometimes women do get pregnant after 44 and give birth to the babies they’ve been waiting so long to meet. This group has been inspired by the hundreds of emails I’ve gotten from women who’ve learned that I got pregnant naturally and gave birth to my first and only child, a healthy, fantastic, now-almost-5-year-old, when I was 46. Many of these women have asked me, either in email or on my blog, to start a group like this. I hope it offers support, hope, and community in a world that I know can feel hopeless when trying to conceive a bit later in life.

Please feel free to join us!

How Did You Know It Was Time To Stop?

I’ve been lucky to get close to a thousand personal emails from women who’ve visited this blog, women who’ve generously shared their stories and their hopes–and frequently their sadness–with me. Many have also asked me the same question: When did I know, or how did I decide, it was time to stop fertility treatments?

In my book, I wrote about how I dealt with this question, and how my answer ultimately–and with a huge dose of great luck–led to my natural pregnancy at 45 and the birth of my first child, a healthy baby girl who was born 4 months after I turned 46.

I also wrote about how it felt to mourn the child I believed at one point that I’d never meet, a strange mourning of missing what I never had, after spending almost everything I had inside me trying to achieve it.

For those of you struggling with this question now, I’m happy to offer here the part of the book where I write about all of this, in the hopes that, like so much of what’s already on this blog, it helps you feel less alone:

———-

For God’s sake, you’re not going to get pregnant, Tracy,” my mother—never one to mince words—tried to level with me a few months later over Skype. She worried we were wasting precious time. Toru and I had stopped the IVF treatments, but I insisted we still try every month with ultrasounds and hormone support from the clinic, plus new twice-a-day injections of a blood thinner for a “clotting disorder” the clinic had diagnosed, which they claimed could cause early-state miscarriage. My stomach bloomed with red and purple welts, but I was undeterred.

My eldest sister said she cried for me, she was so sad that I wouldn’t have a child with Toru, but she also couldn’t understand why we didn’t “just adopt.” “I mean,” she said, “If you’re still not willing to do egg donation.” Both she and my mother pointed out that with adoption too, we might need to hurry, since many agencies had age cutoffs.

****

“A therapist once told me,” one woman wrote on my Over-40 online TTC forum, “that if what I wanted most in the world was to be a mother, then I would be one; I would find a way, no matter what.” The writer found deep comfort in this truth, and when I read her post, I admired her, but I knew that wasn’t true for me.

What I wanted most in the world was to be with Toru, and then to have his biological child.

When Toru had told me years before that he wasn’t open to either egg donation or adoption, I felt an unexpected sense of relief. Since adoption in Japan is so rare, I wasn’t surprised by his stance. But as we’d begun the process of trying to have a baby years before, I’d realized that my growing longing to parent our biological child didn’t necessarily translate into a yearning to be a parent in general.

By now, the experience of going through years of treatments had confirmed another surprising truth to me: just because we think we are open to certain possibilities in the abstract—like adoption—we never know where our true limits lie until we are faced with actual, lasting choices. Rational or not, I felt safest in my gut with the idea of a baby who was half Toru. I believed it would be harder for me not to bond with, not to love a child whose every cell contained half of him. And if Toru and I couldn’t make a baby together, I’d still rather be together and childless than a mother apart from him.

In any case, with my forty-fifth birthday now looming just past summer, the whole issue would become obsolete soon. We’d agreed we’d stop all medical treatment when I passed that milestone. Most fertility studies don’t even consider women giving birth at forty-five or beyond, when the average chance of a someone having a baby with her own eggs drop below one percent. The most recent U.S. National Health Statistics report’s definition of a woman of child-bearing age: one between fifteen and forty-four. I’d entered the territory of a statistical non-entity.

****

A few months later, I lay curled in bed past midnight, sobs shaking through my body. Toru lay beside me, wiping strands of wet hair from my cheeks. “You know,” he said, his steady eyes locking into place my teary ones, “If we can have baby, that would be like miracle,” he said. “But it will still only be like dessert, because you will always be main course.”

I couldn’t believe we weren’t ever going to meet our baby. It seemed both so obvious and so inconceivable. Another paradox I felt deeply carved into my body but still couldn’t quite wrap my head around: how I could mourn something I’d never even had, how to grieve the loss of something that had never actually existed. The tension between my fear of parenthood and my longing to have Toru’s baby began to transmute now into a kind of weird emotional torsion, a swirl of missing and nothingness, numbness and nostalgia.

But as my birthday came and went, I reminded myself of my enduring good luck in other ways, and I knew it was crucial to remember such a fact. The previous January, Toru and I had celebrated our fifth year of marriage, and we’d laughed when we remembered my original “three-year nuptial plan,” long forgotten once I’d gotten over my initial nerves. The night of our anniversary, sitting at our favorite Italian wine bar, bubbles rising in clear flutes, we’d toasted each other, and then Toru had turned momentarily serious. “Thank you for marrying with me these five years,” he’d said, and once again I couldn’t believe my luck that somehow we had found each other across cultures, continents, and half the world’s wide curve. I’d already gotten my most important wish: to be a family, with Toru.

I thought back to him telling me we were “together in always.” I had no idea where I was in my life, how I would start rebuilding after fixing my existence on a dream that now seemed dead, how I would emerge from the limbo of the past four years. But I realized finally that those years wouldn’t be wasted—and I wouldn’t even choose to do them differently, now that I knew their outcome—because they would stay a testament of our love for our baby, even if we never got to meet that baby. It was a testament that felt precious to me, despite the failures that accompanied it. Really, there was no better place to be, I knew, despite the sadness in my chest, than together where we’d been, and now where I was still, with Toru in always.

————–

Excerpted from the book The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World (Putnam, 2015), by Tracy Slater.

More about Tracy is here.

Navigating a Safe Pregnancy in Your 40s

I’m so touched by all the emails I get from women trying to conceive in their 40s and from people interested in pregnancy at a later age. One person I loved hearing from through this blog is reporter Kristine Crane, who writes about women and health for US News & World Report‘s Wellness section. Her latest piece is “Navigating a Safe Pregnancy in Your 40s,” and it starts with our story, then goes on to look at those of other women, couples, and doctors involved in later-life pregnancies and the quest to conceive in your 40s:

At age 45, Tracy Slater, an American expat writer living in Osaka, Japan, resigned herself to the fact that she might never be a mother. After a few years of failed fertility treatments and two miscarriages, she and her husband continued trying to have a baby – but shifted their focus to Slater’s husband’s dying father.

So when Slater developed what they assumed was a stomach bug, they figured she had picked it up at the hospital while visiting him. But it turned out she was seven weeks pregnant. “They already saw a heartbeat,” Slater says. “And I’d been drinking one or two glasses of wine a night, and a cup of coffee everyday.” In addition to drinking alcohol and caffeine – not advised for women trying to conceive – Slater was also overwhelmingly stressed over the prospect of losing her beloved father-in-law.

In other words, she was not in ideal fertile conditions – and yet, she had become pregnant with her daughter. “I still have dreams they made a mistake. I still can’t believe I carried to term this healthy child,” says Slater, author of “The Good Shufu.”

While Slater’s outcome is certainly not the norm, and one she attributes to good luck, it’s increasingly common to see women in their 40s have successful pregnancies – through IVF, egg freezing, donor eggs or more rarely, as in Slater’s case, natural conception.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnancies among women in their 40s has increased by about 2 percent per year since 2000. In 2014, there were 10.6 pregnancies per 1,000 women in this age group.

Read the full article here at US News & World Report

 

The fastest way to get in touch with Tracy is here.

(Note: For more about trying to get pregnant, you can also see An Honest Take on How I Got Pregnant Naturally at 45,  Getting Through to Getting Pregnant at 45, and On Delivering my First Child at 46, other blog posts I wrote in the hopes of supporting people slogging through infertility. I’ve also gotten quite a few questions about my pregnancy and birth experience, and I’ve written a bit more about those in the Washington Post online and in Brain, Child Magazine online — although please note that the picture in this latter article is not my daughter! It’s a stock photo the magazine used. In any case, I will continue to keep you all in my thoughts. Finally, if you’re *still* interested in my story [bless you for your patience if so!], the story of how I met and fell in love with my husband and then went through years of IVF and finally got pregnant naturally, is in my book The Good Shufu.)

An Honest Take on Getting Pregnant Naturally at 45

If you’ve landed on this page after a random web-search, you aren’t alone.  The topics of “natural pregnancy at 45” and “getting pregnant at 45” draw more visitors than any other to this blog, I only have  few other posts on this whole blog solely devoted to trying to conceive in my 40s (a topic I also write about it my book), and together they’ve gotten almost a half-million views and have encouraged almost 1,000 women to reach out directly over email to share their stories, fears, and/or frustrations. So if you’ve landed here because you are struggling with infertility, I hope this post gives you some comfort and especially helps banish any guilt you may be feeling about what you are or are not doing to have a baby. Please know that although I (probably) don’t know you personally, I’m keeping you–and the many others out there struggling with trying to have a baby, especially at a later age in life–in my thoughts.

The Basic Story

I got pregnant naturally at 45 and a half, and I delivered a healthy baby girl four months after I turned 46. She is my first and only child. I conceived her after more than four years of IVF and other fertility treatments in Japan, where we live and where my husband is from. During this 4 years, I’d had 2 miscarriages and a whole slew of diagnoses for my infertility.

“How did you get pregnant naturally at 45?” people often want to know. Here’s how, I’m assuming: We got really lucky.

My husband and I both longed for a child, but we didn’t consider using donor eggs or surrogates, because they are not approved in Japan, and because we desperately wanted a child that came from both of us biologically (a feeling I wrestled with and felt very conflicted over, but that was true, and that I wrote about for the New York Times). I’d been diagnosed with high FSH, a luteal phase defect, a blood-clotting disorder, low progesterone, and inconsistent ovulation. As well, of course, as being old. I tried acupuncture, herbs, fertility yoga, and multiple fertility diets and dietary restrictions to try to make my maternal age “younger.”

When I turned 45, we decided I’d stop all medical treatment, because the statistics on pregnancy at or past 45 with a woman’s own eggs were so dire. (My husband is 5 years younger and was in good procreative health, according to our doctors, so the issue was me, I felt sure.) I stopped all the fertility diets and acupuncture, too, as well as the special fertility yoga, although I continued to do regular yoga. I started drinking wine again and coffee whenever I wanted. I felt freer in some ways, but also very sad.

I had a deep, gnawing yearning to meet our baby, and I felt sure that our baby existed somewhere, but I was trying hard, after my 45th birthday, to adjust to the fact that I was probably never going to meet our baby or hold our baby, because of my age and all of the factors my doctors had said would prevent me from getting pregnant and giving birth to a healthy baby.

Still, my husband and I continued to try to monitor my body’s cycles and to try to conceive a child naturally, mostly because my husband is an optimist and he convinced me there was no reason not to keep trying, and I couldn’t find a reason to disagree with him exactly.

When I was 45, my father in law got very ill. I loved him deeply, and I spent every day at the hospital in Osaka with him. My husband and I were both stressed and sad and very, very tired, so when I thought I might be ovulating, we tried to conceive but were so exhausted and overwhelmed we only managed to try once or twice a month for a while.

But one of those months I got pregnant. And now our daughter is 2, and she is perfectly healthy.

How My Pregnancy Contradicted Some of the Myths or Rules You May Be Struggling With

I’d be lying if I told you now that I know how I got pregnant naturally and delivered a healthy baby girl after I turned 46. And, no offense to anyone, but I’d guess that most people are lying–or at least are wrong–when they say they know the key to getting pregnant at an advanced age.

I tried really hard to be a good fertility patient–to eat the right foods and to avoid all the wrong ones, to stay healthy, to do the right things and not any of the wrong ones, etc.–and I always felt every month like I was failing. I was never 100% perfect with my diet, and of course I was never pregnant, or pregnant for long.

I can’t say for sure that none of the acupuncture or fertility exercise or diets I followed had no impact, because I did end up getting pregnant with a healthy baby eventually. But I wasn’t following any of this for at least six months before I ended up conceiving, so I certainly won’t say that any of these myths or rules proved true for me, either, at least not for the month I got pregnant and the half-year or so leading up to it:

  • If you’ve never had a child or carried a pregnancy to term, you can’t get pregnant naturally and deliver a healthy baby after you turn 45.
  • Drinking coffee will stop you from getting pregnant.
  • Drinking wine and/or beer will stop you from getting pregnant. I’ve never been a heavy drinker and I hardly ever have hard alcohol, but I drank a glass or two of wine or beer almost every night from my 45th birthday on, up until I was about six weeks pregnant–until the moment we learned I was pregnant, or actually about a week before that, when I started to feel nauseous (which at the time we attributed to a stomach bug I assumed I’d picked up visiting my father-in-law in the hospital).
  • Being stressed out will stop you from getting pregnant. As I write above, I got pregnant during one of the most stressful times of my life. And seriously, who isn’t stressed out when trying to conceive after, about, the first month or two of trying.
  • Thinking negative thoughts will stop you from getting pregnant. Let’s just say I’m not an optimist. I had negative thoughts all the time while I was trying to conceive and I always felt irked by the advice to think positively (more about this below). Struggling with infertility sucks and is incredibly hard, so go ahead and forgive yourself a negative thought or two–or two thousand.
  • You will get pregnant once you stop trying. As I write, we were still trying every month, just not with medical intervention anymore.

Resources & Ideas to Support You if You’re Trying to Conceive

Although I don’t know exactly how or why I got pregnant at 45, I do know what helped me get through my years of infertility and losses, and get through it with my marriage enough intact that my husband and I were still happy to keep trying naturally after my 45th birthday. In the hopes that some of these things may help or at least give solace to some of you, here they are:

  1. Accepting both the sadness and the freedom that corresponds with realizing I didn’t have much control at all over my own body: The number one thing that helped the most was actually something my dear friend Jenna said, which was roughly something like, “The most important thing to remember is that you have basically no control. Your body is just going to do its thing, and there is not much you can do to affect that one way or the other.” When she first said it, it sounded harsh and maybe even a little hopeless, but then when I thought about it, I realized both how true and also how freeing it was to accept that, for the most part, there was very little I could do to control–and thus very little I could do to ruin my chances of–getting pregnant. This may not be true for people who have structural impediments to conceiving or carrying a baby, but for many of us, whether or not our body produces a healthy egg and releases it at the right time and nurtures it the right way is something we cannot master. As I’ve mentioned, my doctors had so many reasons why I couldn’t produce or release or implant an egg normally without shots, pills, weeks of medical preparation, or another woman’s eggs, but in the end, my daughter’s first little cells formed, released, and took hold all by themselves. I didn’t even know about it until she was 7 weeks past conception.
  2. Accepting some negative or sad thinking while balancing that with an effort to take good care of myself as much as possible. Plus a podcast: I could never deal with the “positive thinking” movement–something else I write about a bit in my memoir.  First of all, unbridled optimism just isn’t my thing. But even more than that, it felt crushing to me to force myself to think happy thoughts about how an embryo was implanting or how I’d be pushing my baby in a carriage soon, and then every month to not get pregnant again.But I was able to find a resource that helped me combat negative thinking, which in turn helped keep me grounded in a space that balanced honesty with the tough odds I was facing, with solace and assurance that I was doing everything I could to stay healthy–and that I could feel good about that. I used podcasts by Belleruth Naparstek (especially the ones on fertility, anxiety, and general well-being). I liked these because they didn’t force false hope down my throat but enabled me to focus on staying healthy, but I think you could use anything meditative and it would help.
  3. Keeping up with my yoga as much as possible: Related to this, I did yoga almost daily, sometimes fertility-centered yoga but mostly just whatever kind of yoga routine I felt like I needed to feel best at the moment. I’m not saying that helped me get pregnant physically–or emotionally, for that matter. Plenty of people do yoga and still don’t get pregnant, and arguments about doing certain kinds of exercise (or diets, or thinking regimens) in order to get pregnant are specious at best, I believe, and dishonest at worst. But the yoga helped keep me strong and as relaxed as possible (which of course wasn’t very relaxed at all, especially not during treatment).Perhaps most of all, when I turned 45 and started to try to accept that my odds of getting pregnant with my own eggs had statistically dwindled to zero, the yoga really helped provide solace while I mourned. It also left me feeling like I hadn’t completely lost 4+ years of my life to infertility, because one thing the experience had given me was the ability to do so many more yoga moves than I’d even been able to do before. That, of course, wasn’t nearly equal to the pain of thinking we’d never be able to meet our baby, but it was something I was still grateful for, and finding anything I could be grateful for, at that point, helped.
  4. Keeping my focus on the love in my marriage, and on how lucky I was to have found my husband–child or no–also really helped me. Even after my husband and I gave up trying medically, remembering my love for my husband enabled me to know that we would be OK, that I would be OK, even if we never got to meet our baby. This was hugely helpful especially as I started to mourn the idea of having a child, when I turned 45 and we stopped all medical treatments and I thought my chances were basically nil. And if I hadn’t been able to get through all this with our partnership intact, then essentially I would never have been able to have my baby girl, because we wouldn’t have still been trying naturally.

I tell the story of how long we waited for our daughter, and all the ups and downs this waiting entailed, in my book, The Good Shufu. But I post this now in the hope that it gives some comfort and encouragement to anyone who reads these words and is struggling to get pregnant or feels guilt about whether you are too stressed or doing the wrong thing to conceive. And I wish the same incredible good luck for you too.

Note: Based on requests in the comment section of this blog and through email, I’ve started a new online group, New Mothers at 45 and Up, and I welcome you to join me, and many other readers of this blog, there. 

Wall Street Journal Profiles The Good Shufu

BN-LH212_japanb_G_20151116155444This weekend, one of the most thoughtful explorations  yet of The Good Shufu appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Expat Blog by writer Debra Bruno. What I love most about Bruno’s interview is how it captured so many of the nuances and complications of both expat life and multicultural, multilingual love + marriage.

WSJ writes,

Author Tracy Slater, an American writer and academic who fell in love with a Japanese man, married him, and now lives with him and their daughter in Japan, describes her journey in a new book, “The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Life and Home on the Far Side of the World.” (Shufu means “housewife” in Japanese.)

The book is a warts-and-all account of how Ms. Slater, 48, who had barely traveled outside the U.S. when she first visited Japan to teach business English, fell in love with an Osaka salaryman, adjusted to a new culture, made the tough decision to give up her life in Boston, and spent years helping to care for an ailing father-in-law and trying to have a child in her 40s.

Ms. Slater chatted with WSJ Expat about the complications of being a western woman married to an Asian man, why she never really became fluent in Japanese, and how she struggled to keep her sense of self in Japan. An edited conversation follows.

See the full interview here. And thanks, WSJ!

My Father-in-Law Made Me the Mother I Am

BC-Logo_SquareSo happy & honored to have this piece up on Brain, Child Magazine‘s homepage. It’s about how caring for my beloved father-in-law as he died made me both a sadder and a bigger person, about how he “convinced me I could care for a child, that I’d grown big enough in the shadow of his decline to be a mother.”

It begins:

My Father-in-Law Made Me the Mother I Am

By the time I married my husband, I’d already fallen in love with my father-in-law too. Not in any weird way, but alongside all the passion and love for my husband was a deep affection for the man he lived with, the man he called Otousan.

My husband, Toru, is Japanese, and in Japan, it’s not uncommon for people to live with their parents until they marry. Toru was chonan, the oldest son, the one who should care for his parents as they age. When Toru’s mother died in a car accident, he left his company-backed MBA program at the university in Boston where I taught writing, and he moved back to Osaka. Soon after, I went too.

We moved into an apartment a few blocks from Otousan’s. Most nights, I’d cook dinner either at our place or Otousan’s, and we’d all eat together. My father-in-law spoke little English, and like many older Japanese men, he wasn’t what you’d call a loquacious fellow. But in between his silent welcoming of me as family in a country where marriage to foreigners can spell shame; his kind laugh at my dismal attempts to learn his language; and his grateful head-dips towards the tea I poured him after every meal, I grew to love him.

I may have loved my father-in-law, but I was terrified of having his grandchildren—or any child, for that matter. Not because of who or how Otousan was, but simply because having children is terrifying if you go into it with eyes-wide-open. At age 40, the year Toru and I wed, my eyes were pretty wide open.

I knew it was a myth that every mother bonds easily with her baby. I knew people who’d never bonded with their child, and one who said that, if she had to do it all again, she might choose not to procreate at all. I could imagine becoming one of these mothers.

Read the full piece at Brain, Child Magazine online,

My Piece in Washington Post on how Writing & Giving Birth Have about Zero in Common

Excited to have my first piece in The Washington Post‘s “On Parenting” site, one of my favorite new columns. I originally titled the post “Let’s Keep Books & Babies Separate,” although it’s been renamed by On Parenting’s wonderful editor, Amy Joyce, to “Writing a book is like giving birth? No, not at all.”

Here’s how it starts:

As any reading parent knows, a common claim made by writers—female and male—is that ‘writing is like giving birth.’

As a woman in my 40s who couldn’t sustain a pregnancy but who finally scored a memoir deal, few comparisons rankled me more. Now, as a 47-year-old new parent with a spanking new book to boot, I’m still frankly baffled by the equation.

When, after nearly five years trying and failing to have a baby, well-meaning friends tried to cheer me with, “Well, at least you’ll be giving birth to your book soon,” I wanted to respond, Really? But I bit my tongue. I was thrilled to have a book deal. Who I was to complain? (Out loud, at least.)

But truthfully, the book deal didn’t come close to compensating for, or even seem relevant to, the experience of turning 45 and hearing doctors tell me I had statistically a zero-percent chance of ever getting to meet my baby.

Then I became pregnant naturally at 45 and half. I live in Japan, where my husband is from, and at four months past my 46th birthday, I gave birth in Osaka to a healthy baby girl. So I suppose I had one more chance to compare the experiences—the incredible good luck!—of creating a book and a baby that would both live to see the light of day….

See the full piece here at The Washington Post online, and learn why I think the experiences of pushing out a book and a baby have about zero in common.

Getting Through to Getting Pregnant at 45

I started this blog because of my book, a memoir about marrying someone from another world and then giving up my world (the US) for his (Japan), but I’ve noticed that the #1 search that leads people here involves pregnancy at or past 45.

The latter part of the book is where I tell the story of how long and hard I tried to get pregnant, and then how I somehow managed to get lucky enough to get pregnant naturally at 45–after 4+ years of infertility treatments (in a language I barely speak) and 2 pregnancy losses. But I wanted to write something quick and easy to access here, for all of you who come here searching right now for more information on the topic.

I remember sharply the sadness and disorientation of not being able to get (or stay) pregnant, the incredible endless-seeming limbo of it. So although of course I don’t know most of you personally, I’m keeping you all in my thoughts, and I hope you know how brave you must be to be wading through the pain of being not-pregnant.

I’ve written before about some of the myths of getting pregnant that my own pregnancy seemed to contradict. I’d be lying if I told you now that I know how I got pregnant naturally and delivered a healthy baby girl after I turned 46. And, no offense to anyone, but I’d guess that most people are lying–or at least are wrong–when they say they know the key to getting pregnant at an advanced age.

But I do know what helped me get through my years of infertility and losses, and get through it with my marriage enough intact that my husband and I were still happy to keep trying naturally after my 45th birthday. In the hopes that some of these things may help or at least give solace to some of you, here they are:

  1. The number one thing that helped the most was actually something my dear friend Jenna said, which was roughly something like, “The most important thing to remember is that you have basically no control. Your body is just going to do its thing, and there is not much you can do to affect that one way or the other.” When she first said it, it sounded harsh and maybe even a little hopeless, but then when I thought about it, I realized both how true and also how freeing it was to accept that, for the most part, there was very little I could do to control–and thus very little I could do to ruin my chances of–getting pregnant. This may not be true for people who have structural impediments to conceiving or carrying a baby, but for many of us, whether or not our body produces a healthy egg and releases it at the right time and nurtures it the right way is something we cannot master. As I’ve mentioned, my doctors had so many reasons why I couldn’t produce or release or implant an egg normally without shots, pills, weeks of medical preparation, or another woman’s eggs, but in the end, my daughter’s first little cells formed, released, and took hold all by themselves. I didn’t even know about it until she was 7 weeks past conception.
  2. I could never deal with the “positive thinking” movement–something else I write about a bit in my memoir.  First of all, unbridled optimism just isn’t my thing. But even more than that, it felt crushing to me to force myself to think happy thoughts about how an embryo was implanting or how I’d be pushing my baby in a carriage soon, and then every month to not get pregnant again. But I was able to find a resource that helped me combat negative thinking, which in turn helped keep me grounded in a space that balanced honesty with the tough odds I was facing, with solace and assurance that I was doing everything I could to stay healthy–and that I could feel good about that. I used podcasts by Belleruth Naparstek (especially the ones on fertility, anxiety, and general well-being). I liked these because they didn’t force false hope down my throat but enabled me to focus on staying healthy, but I think you could use anything meditative and it would help.
  3. Related to this, I did yoga almost daily. I’m not saying that helped me get pregnant physically–or emotionally, for that matter. Plenty of people do yoga and still don’t get pregnant, and arguments about doing certain kinds of exercise (or diets, or thinking regimens) in order to get pregnant are specious at best, I believe, and dishonest at worst. But the yoga helped keep me strong and as relaxed as possible (which of course wasn’t very relaxed at all, especially not during treatment), and when I turned 45 and started to try to accept that my odds of getting pregnant with my own eggs had statistically dwindled to zero, the yoga really helped provide solace while I mourned. It also left me feeling like I hadn’t completely lost 4+ years of my life to infertility, because one thing the experience had given me was the ability to do so many more yoga moves than I’d even been able to do before. That, of course, wasn’t nearly equal to the pain of thinking we’d never be able to meet our baby, but it was something I was still grateful for, and finding anything I could be grateful for, at that point, helped.
  4. Keeping my focus on the love in my marriage, and on how lucky I was to have found my husband–child or no–also really helped me. I’ve written about this in the past too, for the New York Times online, but even after I wrote that article, and even after my husband and I gave up trying medically, remembering my love for my husband enabled me to know that we would be OK, that I would be OK, even if we never got to meet our baby. This was hugely helpful especially as I started to mourn the idea of having a child, when I turned 45 and we stopped all medical treatments and I thought my chances were basically nil. And if I hadn’t been able to get through all this with our partnership intact, then essentially I would never have been able to have my baby girl, because we wouldn’t have still been trying naturally.

If I think of other things that helped me get through infertility, I’ll post them. In the meantime, I am wishing each and every person who reads this post the same good luck that somehow the universe delivered to me when I delivered my healthy baby girl at 4 months past my 46th birthday.

For more about trying to get pregnant, you can also see An Honest Take on How I Got Pregnant Naturally at 45 and On Delivering my First Child at 46, other blog posts I wrote in the hopes of supporting people slogging through infertility, although some of the content from these is reproduced in this post. Based on requests in the comment section of this blog and through email, I’ve started a new online group, New Mothers at 45 and Up, and I welcome you to join us there. Finally, if you’re still interested in my path to motherhood later in life, the story of how I met and fell in love with my husband and then went through years of IVF and finally got pregnant naturally, is in my book The Good Shufu

On Delivering My 1st Child at 46

If you’ve landed on this page after a random web-search, you aren’t alone.  The topics of “natural pregnancy at 45” and “getting pregnant at 45” draw more visitors than any other to this blog and have gotten almost half a million page views (which is a lot more than I ever expected!).

 And if you’ve landed here because you are struggling with infertility, I hope this post gives you some comfort and especially helps banish any guilt you may be feeling about what you are or are not doing to have a baby. And please know that although I (probably) don’t know you personally, I’m keeping you in my thoughts. 

After more than 4 years of IVF and other fertility treatments in Japan, a country where I barely speak the language, I turned 45, and my Japanese doctors turned down the corners of their mouths when I asked about continuing to try to get pregnant.

They pointed not just to my age but my high FSH as a procreative non-starter, as well as a luteal phase defect, a blood-clotting disorder, low progesterone, and inconsistent ovulation. I tried natural approaches to fertility enhancement, cutting out coffee, wine, milk, soy milk, meat from non-organic farms, even water without ice-cubes and exercise at certain times of the month (to, I was urged, “nourish my blood”–whatever that means). I tried acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. I subscribed to podcasts about “positive thinking.” I felt guilty that nothing I did was working because I must not have been doing any of it well or strict enough.

On my 45th birthday, my chances of getting pregnant, according to the popular statistics, reached zero. I cried, and my husband assured me we could keep trying naturally. I said “ok,” but I thought he was being foolishly optimistic.  We stopped all medical treatments, and I gave up all the alternative approaches to boosting fertility I’d been using too, like acupuncture and herbs.

There Go All the Theories about What To Do and What Not to Do

Six months later, just after mother’s day and just after I wrote this post, we learned I was almost seven weeks pregnant. At the time, my beloved father-in-law was dying, and I’d been spending 4-6 hours a day in a Japanese hospital with him, where once again, I couldn’t understand any of the nurses or doctors. So there goes the theory that we just have to relax or not be stressed and we’ll get pregnant.

My husband and I were still trying naturally every month, although sometimes we were so tired from his father’s illness that we could barely make it past 9pm. But still, we were still trying, so there goes the theory that we just have to stop trying to get pregnant.

After my 45th birthday, I’d started drinking wine and coffee again. I ate what I wanted to eat and worked out when and how I wanted to. I tried to monitor my body with OPKS and other physical signs of ovulation, but that’s it. So there go the theories that we have to monitor what we eat or how we exercise to get pregnant.

My husband and I had also decided not to adopt if we couldn’t conceive (as I’d written about here, in the New York Times online). So there goes the theory that you’ll get pregnant if you just adopt and start to love a child–which I found the most insulting of all theories, actually.

In February of 2014, I was 4 months past my 46th birthday when I gave birth to a healthy, perfect little girl. She is lying beside me now as I write this.

I tell the story of how we waited for our daughter, and all the ups and downs this waiting entailed, in my book (The Good Shufu). But I post this now in the hope that it gives some comfort and encouragement to anyone who reads these words and is struggling to get pregnant or feels guilt about whether you are too stressed or doing the wrong thing to conceive. And I wish the same incredible good luck for you too.