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The secret to learning is unlearning

The secret to learning is unlearning

Have you ever considered how much of life is “unlearning” vs. learning? 

Growth and progress come from unlearning as much as they do from learning. 

In many cases, unlearning precedes learning. 

You have to be able to let go of old beliefs and patterns first, only then can you embrace new perspectives and skills. 

How does this relate to health and fertility? 

Many of us have been taught what to believe by doctors and the media. In many cases, this information has served us well. In other cases, not so much. 

Here’s the thing - you have a choice in what you elect to believe. In order to live consciously and deliberately (versus unconsciously and reactionary), you have to be willing to question and critically evaluate whether the prevailing narrative still resonates with you. Does this make logical sense? Is this consistent with my experience? Does this serve my interests? And so on. 

For example, as kids, many of us were taught that getting pregnant is super easy. Middle school sexual education is basically designed to instill fear that if a person of the opposite sex so much as sneezes on you, they could knock you up. The original motivation behind this approach (i.e., to prevent teen pregnancies) was reasonable, but we now see that it has a whole host of downstream effects. As young adults, we hear the same message in the media. It’s essentially the storyline of every romantic comedy. One night stand, got pregnant, fell in love. Happily ever after. The end. 

Unfortunately, in the real world, it’s not quite that simple. You are only fertile 6 days per month (5 days prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation itself). Why 6 days? Once an egg is released from its follicle, it can survive for ~6-24 hours. Sperm, on the other hand, can survive for up to 5 days in fertile cervical mucus. Together, that leads to a maximum 6 day window. If you have sex outside this window (too early or too late), you will not be able to get pregnant that month. You want to be having sex before ovuation so the sperm are raring and ready to go - waiting to fertilize the egg as soon as its released from the follicle. That’s why identifying this “fertile window” is a key part of getting pregnant seamlessly. Sex daily (if you’re feeling it) or every other day during this fertile window increases the likelihood of conception. 

The lesson to unlearn is that you can get pregnant at any time at the drop of a hat. 

The lesson to learn is that there is a specific time period each month that you can get pregnant; you want to optimize for that time period if you are trying to get pregnant and stay away from that time period if you are trying to avoid pregnancy. 

Here’s another example. Many women have been taught that age is the only determinant of fertility and, in particular, that fertility rapidly declines after 35. 

The most commonly cited statistic to support this claim is that 1 out of 3 women over the age of 35 will fail to conceive after a year of trying. 

Where did this statistic originate? It was first cited in a 2004 paper published by Henri Leridon in the Human Reproduction journal. The source of the data? Birth records from around 18th century France, a time before the availability of things like antibiotics and birth control pills, nevermind reliable nutrition and healthcare access. Women at that time likely were not even trying to conceive in their 30's and 40's; in fact, they may have been actively trying to avoid it by not having sex or having less sex. 

Instead of continuing to cite this three centuries old data, it is worthwhile to examine what more recent studies show for women in every age bracket who are actively trying to conceive and their respective likelihood of success. A 2004 publication by David Dunson looked at ~780 healthy European couples actively and naturally trying to get pregnant. 

The results: of women aged 35-39 years old, 82% of them conceived within one year of trying. Compare that with women aged 27-34 years old where the success rate was 86%. That's only a 4% change. The numbers beyond the age of 40 were more difficult to interpret. Likely fertility does decrease with age, but it is not the precipitous drop women are led to believe it is. 

The lesson to unlearn is that fertility is solely dependent on age. 

The lesson to learn is that there are many other factors that affect fertility besides age (and the good news for you is that, unlike age, most of these are within your control). 

With the amount of information coming at us on a daily basis, it requires us to be diligent about what information we let in and allow to shape our lives. 

So much of what’s going on in women’s health and fertility today may require a similar unlearning. 

It can be unsettling and liberating at the same time. 

Ask yourself: Are you open to the process of unlearning? Growth starts there.