Although people having trouble falling pregnant often feel their problem is unusual, this is actually a very common problem. One out of six couples of childbearing age does not fall pregnant as quickly as they would like.
This means millions of people, many of whom report that this period is the worst experience of their lives. Undergoing an infertility workup and subsequent treatment can be a very difficult process and often impacts people on several levels: physically, psychologically, spiritually and financially.
A highly prevalent feeling for those who struggle to become pregnant is loss of control. Most people assume they can have children when they choose. After twenty or thirty years of assuming you would have your children when you wanted, and maybe even spending time and energy trying not to get pregnant, imagining that you may never have a baby can be very distressing.
Most of us were taught from an early age that the harder we work at something, the more likely we are to get it. Conceiving a child is different, however, in that how hard you work at getting pregnant or what kind of person you are is irrelevant to the process of becoming pregnant. Because the idea of having children is so fundamental to our identity, those who do not fall pregnant when they want to can begin to feel that life is utterly unfair and that their own lives are out of control.
The Fertility/Stress Connection
No study has proven that being calm causes conception. However, there is preliminary evidence that very high levels of emotional stress can slow conception by causing fallopian tubal spasm, irregular ovulation, hormonal changes, and perhaps by decreasing sperm production. Thus, perhaps a cycle of physiological and psychological events occur as a result of conception stress. And the cycle goes both ways: stress affects fertility and apparent infertility leads to stress.
The fertility workup and treatment may cause stress that itself reduces fertility. Even if a cause of infertility is found and treated, the extreme level of emotional distress may be causing other problems that continue to suppress fertility. If so, taking concrete steps like eliciting the relaxation response, doing exercises to relieve tension, and challenging negative thoughts may increase the chance of becoming pregnant.
However, these approaches cannot treat organic problems like endometriosis, tubal scarring, and blockages. So, what is the relationship between stress and fertility? We know that there is a relationship between stress and reduced fertility, but the specific nature of the relationship is unclear. We do know that most causes of infertility are physical. However, since we know that apparent infertility causes stress, it makes sense to try to alleviate that stress. At the very least, you should feel better.
Things you can do:
Learn the relaxation response!
The ‘Relaxation Response’ is a simple practice that once learned takes 10 to 20 minutes a day and can relieve the stress and tension that stands between you and a richer and healthier life. The technique was developed by Herbert Benson, M.D. at Harvard Medical School, tested extensively and written up in his book entitled, of all things, The Relaxation Response. I encourage you to set aside 10 or 20 minutes today and try it. The following is the technique taken word for word from his book.
1. Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.
4. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word, “ONE”, silently to yourself. For example, breathe in …out, “ONE”, in …out, “ONE”, etc. Breathe easily and naturally.
5. Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
6. Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation.