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. 

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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

The Draconian Midwife

Before I got pregnant, I’d heard from my Western friends in Osaka that Japanese midwives and doctors are very strict about weight-gain for expectant mothers. Pregnant women in America are told that “normal weight gain” falls between 25 – 35 pounds. In Japan, it tops out at 10kg, or 22 pounds.

At 5’5″ and 118lbs when I conceived, I figured weight-gain in pregnancy wouldn’t be a big concern for me. After-all, I’ll be 46 next month and had gotten pregnant naturally at 45 and 1/2, against all expectations. Weight gain, when I learned I was actually knocked up and not sick with the stomach flu, was the last thing on my mind.

Apparently, the midwife at my maternity hospital here would like to disabuse me of my laissez-faire attitude towards my growing belly.

At my last appointment, I was about 1.5 kg over target. In addition, the baby’s heart was still beating and the chromosomal screenings came back all-clear. I couldn’t have been happier. Until that draconian midwife beckoned my husband and me into her office.

In Japanese with my husband translating, she informed us that I was already entirely too fat. She admonished that Americans like juice, and I needed to stop drinking juice right away. Although I asked my husband to explain that I don’t drink juice, she remained unmoved. She encouraged me to weigh myself every night and every morning, so I could remember how fat I was getting. Then, despite it still being late summer, she brought up the holidays. December was around the corner, she warned, and then she switched into broken English, seemingly for emphasis: “So please don’t enjoy!”

In my own broken Japanese, I tried to explain that I didn’t celebrate the holidays. “Why not?” she wanted to know.

I couldn’t remember the Japanese word for Jewish, so I asked my husband to translate again. A brief conversation between the two of them ensued about what “Jewish” meant, and it seemed to distract her for a moment. Veering off course from my apparently egregiously ample belly, she inquired about what I celebrated in December, if not Christmas.  Next followed a rough explanation of Chanukah, although, I explained, adults don’t usually celebrate it, since it’s mostly a holiday for kids.

She mulled this information over for a few moments, uncharacteristically silent. “Well,” she finally told me in Japanese, “You’ll still probably be too fat in December!”

After my husband translated this last bit for me, we both couldn’t help but giggle. And I still can’t get worked up about her distress. If I end up becoming much more than 1.5 kilos over the Japanese target, if I develop high-blood pressure or gestational diabetes, if I stop being able to eat healthily and start scarfing down sweets, then I’ll start taking her diatribes more seriously. As I said, I’m still in shock over my luck that, if all continues to go well, I’ll turn 46 in about 3 weeks and be 24 weeks pregnant. I don’t have any room in my psyche for distress over 1.5 extra kilos. In fact, as I reach the 21-week mark now, I think I’ll celebrate with a fresh glass of juice.

What Passes for Au Naturel in Japan

After four plus years of failed fertility treatments, more than a year taking care of Shogun Sr after he was confined to a wheelchair and then months preparing to move him into a care house, and over six years trying to be a good Japanese wife (without a dishwasher: oh, the horror, the horror), my hands were in disrepair. Nails weak and chipped from where I’d bitten them, waiting and anguishing, throughout countless hours at the fertility clinic, cuticles ragged from all the hand-washing and sanitizing you need to do to care for a beloved failing elder, and no chance of getting a good gel manicure while you’re fretting over how to cut out the inorganic products in your life, lest they compromise your dismal chances at fertility as a 40-something with a poor hormone profile.

So since the Shogun and I have given up trying to make a baby, and his father Shogun Sr is now in the care house full-time, I’ve started treating myself to manicures again. I found a salon right near out apaato (that’s “apartment” as the Japanese pronounce it) where the guy will give me a gel manicure for well less than the around $80 it usually costs in Japan.

For my first manicure there a few weeks ago, I asked for “something that looks natural.” Naturar-u, onegashimas! I asked in my broken Japanese; “Please make it look natural.” So we chose a pale pink–or I chose a pale pink after refusing the shocking pink he first suggested for a natural look.

Today I went back for another manicure, and this time I asked for a French manicure, with white tips and clear polish so your nails look clean: like the real, natural you, only better. Moi kai, naturar-u onegaishimas! I asked; “Again, please make it look natural.”

To-rashee-san wa naturar-u suki desu-ne! The manicurist nodded. “Tracy-san likes natural, isn’t that so!”

I noticed as he was painting the white stripe at the top of my nail that he was making it a little thick, but I decided not to protest. At least it will look clean and hopefully help my nails grow longer, I thought. Plus, I don’t know how to say the word “thick” in Japanese.

Then he whipped out the sparkle.

Spaka-ru! I protested, shaking my head. I couldn’t wave my hand for emphasis because my nails were drying under the UV lamp.

Hai, spaka-ru! “Yes, sparkles!” he confirmed. Kono mani-cua wa spaka-ru irimasu, he decreed: This type of manicure requires sparkles. Brooking no delay, he dipped a tiny brush into the pot of sparkles and began painting. Iie, ne! he’d exclaim periodically: “It’s great, isn’t it!”

Before he was finished, he tried convince me to add some additional beads and sequins to my nails, then offered to add a decal with a lacy stripe to each tip (at no extra cost, he assured me), but I demurred.

In the end, he was so pleased with his work that he asked me to pose my hands on a black bolster with little puffy hearts stitched into it. So here’s my “natural-looking” manicure, Japan-style: Like the real, natural me, only, I suppose, more sparkly:

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