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Stress Causes Fertility


a blog by Ellen S. Glazer, Mar. 11, 2010

Many years ago, I knew a psychiatrist who was going through infertility. She became pregnant during a particularly stressful time in her life, enjoyed an uneventful pregnancy and an on-time delivery of a healthy daughter. When I called to congratulate her, she said, “Please tell people that stress causes fertility.”

Her message echoed a few months later when I was at a baby party hosted by a fertility center. I approached a woman holding beautiful twin babies and she said to me, “I’m a psychiatrist. I was totally stressed out when I went through IVF and I decided to act upon my stress and do everything I thought I wasn’t supposed to do.” Then she held up her babies and said, “This was what I got. Please tell people they don’t have to do everything perfect in order to have a baby.”

I have other examples, but I hope you get the message. I don’t really mean to declare that “stress causes fertility” but believe that the message that “stresses promotes infertility” is a bad one. From my perspective, it blames the victim.

No one wants to feel stress, least of all someone going through infertility. However, the experience is inevitably stressful and to suggest that someone needs to reduce stress in order to conceive, only adds to the stress.

My message to clients is not “reduce stress,” but rather, “accept that stress is part of all of our lives and know that people become pregnant during the most stressful times.”

If you choose to do acupuncture or yoga or meditation to reduce stress, it should be for general health enhancing reasons — not because you are trying to eradicate stress in order to be pregnant.

Yes, this is all easier said than done.

I can try to reassure my clients that they are not causing or perpetuating their infertility by living with stress, but I know that they are constantly receiving messages that confirm those fears. These messages come from well- intentioned (but stupid) family and friends who don’t know what to say to help someone feel better and so they inevitably say what makes them feel worse: “Relax, you’ll see, you’ll get pregnant when you’re least thinking of it.” Everyone knows someone who tried for 25 years, went on a vacation to Hawaii, and lo and behold, got pregnant.

Sadly, it’s not only well-intentioned loved ones who advise infertilty patients to relax. These messages sometimes come from the infertility community as well. Mind-Body programs are wonderful in many ways, but I do meet people who come away from these programs with the message that if they practice their meditation regularly, are mindfull, take enough deep breathes, they will successfully conceive. Although it’s comforting to have something you can do -- something to work on -- it also has the potential to further blame the victim. Those who do “everything right” and still do not conceive end up feeling that they have failed yet again.

So what am I saying? I’m not suggesting that you go out and invite extra stress into your lives. This is not a casting call for new anxieties. Rather, it’s a plea for balance and acceptance.

We all live stressful lives. Stress permeates much of what we do. Reducing stress can help us feel better and that’s always nice. However, reducing stress with the goal of becoming pregnant may backfire and inadvertantly make you feel worse.

And that’s surely not the goal.

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