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EcoWisdom Blog - Earth Day and Women's Fertility: How Can We Honor and Heal Both Everyday?

by Jenny Harrow-Keeler | April 22, 2022

Today the whole world stops and takes a moment to honor the Earth, the beautiful place we call home. The planet that creates and sustains so much Life. From the towering trees to the flowing streams to the expansive oceans and the multitude of creatures that habitate the land, the water, and the skies, the Earth is Mama to everything, to all of Life.

The topic of fertility has been front and center in my mind and body the past few years, as I have been preparing and trying to conceive a child. Unfortunately, without any success. Last fall, I received the devastating news that both of my fallopian tubes are completely blocked by scar tissue, making it impossible for me to get pregnant without the assistance of IVF.

It’s taken me months to really process the news. It was and still is shocking to me - to learn that a part of my body that is designed to create life is completely blocked. And to not really have any concrete answers why.

When I was in grad school writing my thesis on forest bathing, my professor strongly suggested that I include ecofeminism in my work and this has forever changed the way that I view the current climate crisis and the way I experience life on this planet as a woman. Ecofeminism affirms that the environmental movement, an effort that is focused on restoring the health of the planet that is being dominated and drained by humans, cannot make real progress until the patriarchy is addressed and lifted. In a patriarchal system, women are not fully honored through systems of oppression as well as cultural beliefs and attitudes, just as humans have created hierarchical structures to “dominate” the Earth and exploit resources without taking into account the health and safety of all life that lives on this planet.

I feel this in my body and soul as a woman. The way we treat the planet has directly impacted my own health and ability to conceive. From December 2017 to June 2019, I lived in a granny unit that was located on a vineyard in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County. At first I was thrilled to live in such a beautiful place until strange things started happening with my body. I had chronic bladder inflammation, my hormones suddenly went completely out of whack, which was confirmed by testing that showed high levels of synthetic pesticides in my body as well as increased levels of estrogen. And all of sudden I had extremely painful periods - waking up in the middle of the night with horrible cramps that felt debilitating. I gained about 20 pounds in less than a year, started experiencing depression, anxiety, and overall stagnation in my body, both physically and energetically.

Full hazmat suits needed to spray the vineyard that surrounded me and seeped into the well that I drank water from.

What does this have to do with how we treat the planet? There is no way for me to ever know for sure that living in this house that was surrounded by vineyards that were regularly sprayed with synthetic pesticides has impacted my fertility journey. I am still working on figuring out what exactly is going on with me but in addition to both of my fallopian tubes being blocked, I have multiple uterine fibroids and a new fertility doctor I’m working with thinks I may have endometriosis. Dr. Aviva Romm, a Yale trained MD and a midwife specializing in all things women's health, purports that “the rates of endometriosis are going up, most likely as a result of chronic exposure to toxin environmental chemicals”. Endometriosis and uterine fibroids are both linked to high levels of estrogen, which was confirmed while I was living at the vineyard house and multiple studies show that exposure to synthetic pesticides and other environmental toxins increase estrogen levels.

Was living in a home that was surrounded by environmental toxins and drinking water that came from a well on this environmentally compromised land the reason for my infertility diagnosis? I don’t know for sure and I don’t think I ever really will. But what I do know is that this environment dramatically changed my body - my reproductive, physical, emotional, and mental health. And who knows what other environmental toxins I’ve been exposed to throughout my life - maybe living on this vineyard was just a tipping point of overwhelming my toxic load? And if these environmental toxins impacted me in these ways, what are they doing to the multitude of life that lives on this land - the birds, insects, coyotes, rivers and creeks? A huge issue is how Latinx migrant and undocumented workers who are on the frontlines of being exposed to these poisons are experiencing negative health outcomes that often go unreported.

Now I am on a journey of figuring out what to do next. Do I have endometriosis? Is there a way to remove the scar tissues from my fallopian tubes? Is IVF the only option and if it is, how to best prepare for the journey that lies ahead with that? It’s a lot. Especially when my soul is ready to become a mom.

The health of the Earth and the health of all life on this planet is connected. We are all connected. According to a 2021 article in Scientific American titled Reproductive Problems in Both Men and Women Are Rising at an Alarming Rate: A likely culprit is hormone-disrupting chemicals, “the total fertility rate worldwide has dropped by nearly 1 percent per year from 1960 to 2018. It adds up to more than 10 percent per decade and more than 50 percent over 50 years. [This is] largely driven by a common cause: the presence of hormone-altering chemicals (a.k.a., endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs) in our world”.

The planet and its climate is changing at an ever-increasing rate. My work with Integrative Healers Action Network these past five years has brought my attention to the physical and mental health impacts of climate disasters like the wildfires we have been experiencing in California and the need for more awareness and support to communities on the frontlines of climate change.

My political science background drives me to think of solutions of how we can increase education and awareness and change policy on the ground in our communities to protect the health and safety of all life on this planet. But my training in integrative health, coaching, trauma-informed care, and ecotherapy has provided me with a new lens for advocacy, one that is more people-focused - providing emotional and physical care to communities who are experiencing the negative health outcomes of our collective abuse of the Earth.

Starting May 7th, I will be sharing a Fertility Journey Forest Bathing offering for all female-identified folks who are experiencing challenges either conceiving or carrying to full term. When I first received the news about my own infertility, I did a google search to see what support groups existed in my home of Sonoma County for women navigating infertility and I could only find one Zoom support group led by a local fertility acupuncturist. We need support. This is a very lonely journey, one that brings about a lot of shame, especially if you are surrounded by other women who are getting pregnant and having babies left and right. It is not something that you may hear talked about in public often - there is a stigma around this topic. I’ve noticed it is really uncomfortable for other people to hear and talk about, because they don’t really know what to say or do.

In my experience, the most powerful part of healing a wound is being witnessed. Being seen and heard and understood. That is why I am facilitating these groups - for women to be witnessed by each other and witnessed by the Earth. To have a safe space where we don’t have to hide our grief around the challenges of navigating a difficult fertility journey. And to be held by the healing power of the Earth - to practice mindfulness in nature to really give ourselves and our nervous system’s an opportunity to rest and replenish so we have the continued strength and courage to continue on this journey. Because a woman’s drive to become a mother is one of the most powerful forces in the world. I see this in the women that I am lucky to call my friends and I see it in Mother Nature every day.

The next time you go out into a forest, I invite you to notice how life continues to grow and thrive, even in the most desolate and seemingly “dead” areas. The Earth is designed to find a way to regenerate, no matter what. These photos of the natural world thriving in Chernobyl says it. After the world’s worst nuclear disaster, “While not fit for human habitation, wildlife has made a remarkable comeback in the exclusion zone; there are said to be more than 60 different types of mammals living there including wild boar and elk. Wolves are doing especially well, with a population that is seven times the size of wolf populations in neighboring reserves”.

New life flourishing after the 2017 Sonoma County Complex Fires at Sugarloaf State Park

We will find a way to continue making and sustaining life. That is the design of every living being on Earth. My hope is that we stop wreaking havoc on this one planet we are blessed to call home. But until we get there, my vision is that we support and love each other through this difficult time. If you are experiencing a fertility journey challenge or someone you know is, I invite you to please consider joining or sharing this ongoing offering. When we are alone, the challenges may feel overwhelming but together, we can find a way through.


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