Like many women struggling to conceive, Jocie Fletcher often heard the phrase, “Just relax and you’ll get pregnant.” For the clinical social worker that was easier said than done. “We’d been trying to get pregnant for five years”, said Fletcher, 42. “We’d gone through one IVF cycle and were unsuccessful, so I was feeling completely stressed out about becoming pregnant.”
To boost her odds of conceiving, Fletcher decided she needed to learn to better manage stress. She enrolled in the Mind Body Program, a series of classes for couples dealing with infertility, offered by Kathy Fountain Fertility Counseling in Tampa. There, she learned relaxation strategies and stress management techniques that included guided imagery, and visualization techniques and deep breathing exercises, as well as communication techniques. She also formed a close bond with the other women in the groups dealing with similar issues.
Another bonus? Fletcher became pregnant using a combination of Mind Body Infertility Classes and IVF cycles. She is now a mother of two children ages 3 and 6. “It helped me tremendously,” says Fletcher of the 8-week program. “It’s something that I still use today in my everyday life. Being able to cope with stress has very positive effects on your mind and your body. And I made some lasting friendships in the class with other women who were going through similar experiences. ”
While fertility experts say the exact link between stress and fertility remains a mystery, stress can play a role in a couple’s ability to conceive.
Dr. Sandy Goodman, a fertility expert at The Reproductive Medicine Group believes “Our minds and our emotions are very powerful and definitely play a role in the types of hormones released by our bodies. When we are stressed, the hormonal cascade becomes one of “fight or flight”. High amounts of stress hormones are less conducive to fertility since pregnancy represents a vulnerable state. Once we appreciate the mind-body connection, then it is easier to understand why stress management is so important.”
Dr. Goodman and other fertility experts agree practicing stress-management techniques and relaxation strategies can help some women get pregnant when they couldn’t before.
“It is impossible to eliminate stress completely nor is it necessary to do so” says Dr. Goodman. “However by decreasing stress or learning how to cope more effectively, the chances of proceeding forward with treatment and achieving a positive outcome increase significantly.”
While stress does not cause infertility, infertility most definitely causes stress. A 2012 study in Fertility and Sterility found that women who were highly stressed before a cycle of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) were less likely to become pregnant. And according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, chronic stress increases the production of certain hormones in the body which can either delay of completely skip the time a woman releases an egg.
Infertile women report higher levels of stress and anxiety than fertile women, and there is some indication that infertile women are more likely to become depressed. This is not surprising since the far-reaching effects of infertility can interfere with work, family, finances and intimacy. Finding ways to reduce stress, tension and anxiety can make you feel better.
“When a woman can’t become pregnant it affects every aspect of her life: physically, financially, her relationship with her husband or partner, her family, her job, her church and her spiritually,” says Fountain. “There is no part of her life that is not affected by infertility. She feels negative, helpless and out of control.”
The Mind Body series assists women having difficulty getting pregnant. They are taught stress-management techniques to help relax their body and achieve a state of peace. Those techniques include yoga, meditation, prayer and guided imagery.
“It’s like rewinding a tape,” Fountain adds. “If you’re stressed, you need something to reverse those effects and the only way to do it is to bring your body and mind into stillness at the same time. And women are never still.”
Fountain says when it comes to handling stress, there is no one-size-fits-all. Women have to learn what techniques will work for them.
And while Fountain doesn’t guarantee her course will increase the probability of conception, she says 9 out of 10 couples who complete the course become empowered to choose their best pathway to proceed forward in their pathway to parenthood.
“We can help lead them to a resolution,” she says. “Whether that’s getting pregnant on their own, In Vitro Fertilization, using donor eggs or maybe it’s adoption.”
Despite the lack of scientific evidence linking stress and infertility, learning ways to cope with stress is helpful for everyone, Fountain adds.
Fletcher believes reducing her stress levels while her body underwent IVF helped her become a mom. She says she still takes time out of her busy day as a working mother to practice the techniques she learned at Mind Body.
“It can be deep breathing exercises in the car when the kids are screaming in the back seat,” she says. “I make a conscious effort to take a few minutes to do something every day to help me be calmer.”
Fletcher found the course so helpful, she is training to become a licensed mental health counselor so she can help other women deal with stress, and, hopefully, achieve their dream of being mothers.
“I think it’s really important to learn ways to control your stress and find a way to become a mom,” she says. “Infertility is very stressful. Learning techniques that can help you lower your stress levels is important. It won’t help every woman get pregnant, but it can’t hurt.”
Couples are welcome to attend the next Mind Body series which begins in January 2015. Kathy Fountain will lead a free infertility support group at 7 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Memorial Hospital Auditorium. For more information on the Mind Body series, visit www.KathyFountainFertility.com.
For more information on how our team can help, please call The Reproductive Medicine Group at 813.914.7304. Also, join our community on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ReproductiveMedicineGroup or on Twitter @ReproMedGroup or Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/rmgfertility.