The Canary In the Coalmine

Back in the day, coal miners used canaries as signals of safety. They would bring canaries down into the mine with them; if gases such as carbon monoxide accumulated at unsafe levels, the canaries would die. This would indicate to the coal miners that the gas levels were unsustainable and that they needed to exit the mine immediately. The canaries were more sensitive to the mine conditions than the miners themselves, so they were a good indicator light, so to speak. Basically, “the canary in the coalmine” is a harbinger of what’s to come. It indicates a danger zone.

Today, our reproductive function is the canary in the coalmine. It is exquisitely sensitive to imbalance and adverse conditions. When reproductive function shuts down, it indicates that something is wrong and will only get worse if we don’t address it.

Reproduction is an incredibly robust, but delicate, process. If our bodies perceive that our environment is unsafe (e.g., due to war) or unstable (e.g., due to famine), our reproductive function will shut off. Though it may seem disconcerting, this “off switch” is a brilliant adaptation. You wouldn’t want to bring a baby into a world littered with war and famine, would you? And, if you did, that baby is unlikely to survive. So, your body shuts off your ability to conceive and bides its time until conditions improve.

In our modern-day world, though, our bodies may experience the “unsafe” signal when navigating morning traffic or the “unstable” signal when you try your 15th diet of the month. If anything is off in your body, your reproductive function will feel it first...and act accordingly. This may manifest as severe PMS symptoms, PCOS, adult acne and even irregular or absent ovulation -- all of these are signs of hormonal imbalance, which is a precursor to infertility.

So, if you are having period problems or trouble conceiving, it’s time to heed the warning. Rather than being frustrated about your fate, thank your body for the heads up. And, start exploring.

What areas of your life are out of balance? Where might your body be feeling “unsafe” or “unstable”? Figuring this out is the first step in restoring your baby-making ability.

If you know where things have gotten out of whack (e.g., an intense travel schedule, an erratic sleep schedule, a nutrient poor diet), then go ahead and start troubleshooting there. If you are unsure what might be causing your symptoms, then it may be time to dig a bit deeper with some targeted testing in partnership with your health practitioner. In either case, it's up to you to take the lead. It's up to you to figure out what the canaries (read: your hormonal symptoms) are trying to tell you.