Tuesday, April 22, 2014

New website launch

Mindful Muma-to-be is now Embrace Fertility come across to my new website by clicking here or on the image below:

All content has been included in new website apart from the bookshelf which will be added in the future.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Upcoming Fertility Summit

Five of my favourite ladies are going to be speaking at the Fertility Focus telesummit at the end of the month. Online summits are a fantastic way to gain access to vast amounts of information and inspiration and the best bit is that it is free to listen to all of the interviews. 
Hosted by Sarah Holland of the Fertile Mindset who will be talking about EFT this summit has a huge amount to offer with 15 fertility experts speaking.
I've listed 5 of the talks here but the check out the Fertility Focus website for full details.

Emma Cannon- Leading fertility acupuncturist and author of best selling books ‘Total Fertility’, ‘You and Your Bump’ and ‘The Baby-Making Bible’.
Optimising & Preserving Fertility Through Chinese Medicine, Lifestyle Adjustments & Self-Care
  • Preserving fertility -  the importance of taking steps to preserve fertility whatever age
  • Chinese medicine theory and evidence
  • Lifestyle changes evidence regarding alcohol, smoking, exercise etc – how to achieve a balance
  • Optimising fertility over 35
Listen to Emma speak LIVE on Monday, 28th April at 12pm Pacific | 3pm Eastern | 8pm UK time (the recording will then be available to listen to for 24 hours after.)
Molly Nichols – Leading Fertility Visualization Expert and Mind-Body Fertility Coach as well as the Founder of The Mind Belly Connection where she helps women from around the world struggling with infertility.
How to Mentally and Emotionally Reclaim Your Life and Your Fertility
  • Discover why the thoughts you have about your fertility may be impacting your chances of having a baby far more than your diagnosis.
  • Learn the importance of reconnecting with and trust in your bodies fertility, especially when you are over 40 or have experience one or more miscarriages.
  • Experience a simple technique that when practiced daily, can improve your fertility and quality of life while trying to have a baby.
Listen to Molly speak LIVE on Monday, 28th April at 2pm Pacific | 5pm Eastern | 10pm UK time (the recording will then be available to listen to for 24 hours after.)
Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer – Co-founder of Blossom and Be and creator of The Fertile Body Method network of therapists who use a unique combination of hypnotherapy and other mind-body techniques to treat fertility problems.
Optimum Mind for IVF Success
  • How to create a healthy mindset for IVF
  • Addressing unconscious fears
  • Tips and tools for using your mind to increase the likelihood of success
  • Experience a guided hypnosis session to help you prepare for IVF (or other medical) treatment
Listen to Sjanie speak on Tuesday, 29th April at 1pm Pacific | 4pm Eastern | 9pm UK time (the recording will then be available to listen to for 24 hours after.)

Anya Sizer – Patient co-ordinator at the London Women’s Clinic and author of Fertile Thinking. Anya is also and the voice of experience having faced a difficult journey in starting a family and is leading advocate of a more open and supportive approach to fertility.
Coping Strategies When Facing Fertility Issues
  • What to do when you realise the enormity of challenge your fertility issues present.
  • Discover the best secrets for helping yourself
  • Learn practical steps for building a support structure so that you don’t have to face this alone
  • Give yourself the emotional tools to preserver
Listen to Anya speak on Thursday, 1st May at 1pm Pacific | 4pm Eastern | 9pm UK time (the recording will then be available to listen to for 24 hours after.)

Sarah Holland – The World’s Leading Fertility EFT Practitioner, Host of The Fertility Focus Telesummit and Co-founder of Blossom and Be a new emotional support forum for those on a fertility journey.

Turn Confusion and Overwhelm into Clarity and Ease on Your Fertility Journey 
  • At the end of this Telesummit week you may be feeling overwhelmed by all the new information. On this call discover how to turn overwhelm into clarity.
  • How clarity and ease on your fertility journey can improve your chance of success.
  • Discover the extremely effective technique of EFT for all the emotional aspects of your fertility.
  • Use EFT live with Sarah to overcome overwhelm and take your next steps towards parenthood.
Listen to Sarah speak LIVE on Friday, 2nd May at 2pm Pacific | 5pm Eastern | 10pm UK time (the recording will then be available to listen to for 24 hours after.)

I've only listed 5 of the talks here but the check out the Fertility Focus website for full details and to sign up if you are interested.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

If you loved me then you would...........

This week as part of my Embrace online mindfulness/CBT/EFT course we are discussing relationships, with our partners, families, friends, colleagues and even strangers. While experiencing infertility it is so easy to feel isolated and to distance yourself from people when actually the opposite would be more beneficial. I thought I would to share with you one of the most valuable things I've learnt in my adult life that has allowed me to be happier and more fulfilled in my relationships:

We mistakenly assume that if our partners love us they will react and behave in certain ways – the ways we react and behave when we love someone.”1

Just pause for a moment and really let that sink in. In short if your partner does not show you that they love you in the way that you need to be shown then you may believe they do not love you. The above statement completely changed the way I viewed my relationship with my partner.

Any statement beginning with "If you love me then you would.........." is assuming that they show love in the same way that you do. So you might feel that somebody loves you when they tell you that they love you, they hug you at least once a day or they do little things to show that they care like make you a cup of tea. This would work perfectly if your partner has the same values as you but if they feel that somebody loves them by big gestures such as expensive gifts, taking care of the big things in life and generally just being there with someone without needing to tell them all the time you might come up against problems.

The most common complaint we hear about relationships is “He/she just doesn't understand me.” If we knew how our partner shows love and how they like to be shown that they are loved our relationships would be a lot smoother. So to achieve this very thing I have created a relationship questionnaire.

To help open up communication between you and your partner each complete the following questions/statements, without asking the other for their answers. When you are done swap and talk through your answers. (I suggest handing your partner your sheet first and discussing before looking at his/hers.)

I've included the below as a PDF in the files section of the Mindful Muma-to-be support group page for easy printing. (To read more about our free online support group click here or sign up here.) 

'Mindful Muma-to-be offers a brilliant, confidential source of support and solidarity for women who are trying to conceive. I recommend it to women all over the world who want to connect with other women who really understand how it feels.' Jessica Hepburn Mindful Muma-to-be member and author of The Pursuit of Motherhood.

Embrace Relationship Questionnaire:
  1. List the top five ways you like to be shown that you are loved: (i.e. hugs)
  2. List the top five ways you think your partner likes to be shown that they are loved:
  3. List three things that you appreciate about your partner:
  4. List three things that you think your partner appreciates about you:
  5. I think my partner would say that my most annoying habits are:

  1. My partner's most annoying habits are:

  1. I am least happy in our relationship when:

  1. I am most happy in our relationship when: 

I tested this out with my husband and it was a really enlightening exercise to do as a couple, the Embrace ladies know the relevance of the photograph that accompanies this blog! I hope you gain something from doing it and would love to hear back from you. It also opens up communication to discuss what you are unhappy about in your relationship and what you could do to change that. You might hear yourself saying:

But he/she should just know how to make me happy.”

I suggest removing the word should from your vocabulary, if you have never told your partner what you need how are they going to know? They are not a mind reader! Also wouldn't it be better to have one conversation which changed your relationship for the better than spend a lifetime thinking "He should do this!" "She should do that!"

The next Embrace course will start late April. Visit the Embrace page for full details, course content and more testimonials: 

“I'm really happy with the course so far - early each week I watch Naomi's excellent videos, then the EFT video the next day or nearby and 2-4 meditations a week. With some other bits thrown in from the suggestions. I've had a shocking few weeks of bad news and lowered resilience and the course has gotten me thinking quite a bit about which 'solutions' (for want of a better word) work best for me at different times. But I can see such a huge difference from now, since I've been consciously practising mindfulness, EFT, yoga and other nourishing activities to, say, last year, when I was in a whirlwind of very severe ups and downs which I wasn't easily able to support myself with. I'm also loving the fact that the course is relevant to life and not just fertility as I know I can come back to any of the week's practices and see them as relevant at any point.” Emily Embrace member

1 John Grey. Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. A practical guide for improving communication in getting what you want in your relationships. HarperCollins publishers 1992.   

Friday, February 28, 2014

Fight, Flight or Freeze and the Fox!

Today I'm going to tell you a story. Last summer while working from home I used to leave all of the doors and windows open at the back of the house. A small black cat arrived one day and after cautiously creeping through the kitchen used to sit next to my desk while I wrote. She was adorable, petite, with a glossy coat and white chin and belly. A tuxedo cat. She looked like she had been a stray, under nourished, her head slightly too big for her body, but a round belly as if she was now being fed. I'd let her run around the house but one afternoon put her outside after she stole a piece of chicken straight off of my baking tray!

Half an hour later I felt bad, I'd given her a small bit of chicken (a prize for being so daring – and anyway she wasn't my cat so no need for me to try and train her) so thought I'd go and see if she was still hanging around. Our back door has glass down to the floor. There was the little cat pressed up against the glass looking bigger than usual, fur all sticking out like she had been given an electric shock. 2 metres from the cat on the decking was a huge male fox. Now, I am not a fan of the city fox, scavenging through bins, living on Macdonald's and bits of kebab and looking like a party host for fleas and rabies. (I was also bitten by a dog when I was a child so fox is very closely linked to dog flagging up WARNING in my mind.)

My body went into instant fight, flight or freeze mode. I froze my heart rate quickened, I started sweating and my breathing became erratic. A split second later I decided the only option was to fight. I flung the door open and ran at the fox. He turned and ran 100 paces up the garden only to stop at the corner of the house and turned to face me. Definitely time to run! The cat had already done so and had disappeared inside the house and I quickly joined her. As I locked the door (Areyes just in case the fox could figure out how to use the door handle) my whole body was shaking. My mind started to process what had happened and the repercussions if I had not entered the kitchen when I did. Memories of stories about cats that were killed by foxes popped up in my mind.

I found the cat at the far end of the living room behind the television, I scooped her up and her heart was pounding within her tiny rib cage. 30 minutes later and the cat had recovered and as merrily cleaning herself in that completely focused way only cats seem to manage. I on the other hand was a wreck. My heart rate had still not returned to normal, I felt agitated and unable to settle. What do I do? She's not my cat so I can't keep her in the house but what if I put her out and the fox gets her? My mind is spinning and my body is very much still in stress response.

It was then that it hit me. This is how I used to feel permanently! Every deadline was a fox, every phone call a threat, my body was on constant high alert and the only time I really calmed down was on day three of a holiday! Part of me got a high from the adrenaline rush, each task completed gave me a buzz, proving I could keep going and win the fight. But our bodies need balance, time to rest and replenish after activity.
Our nervous systems can be in one of two states:

Fight, flight or freeze mode:
The sympathetic nervous system, which triggers your stress response and prepares your body to deal with a threat. When triggered it shuts down the immune system, digestive and reproductive systems, pumping blood away from your internal organs to your arms and legs to prepare you to fight or run. Blood also shifts from the front of your brain which is responsible for rational thought to your limbic brain which is the seat of the instincts and emotion, so while stressed we actually become more stupid! Adrenaline and cortisol are pumped through the body. Our heart rate quickens and our breath becomes fast and short to supply oxygen to the body. You're primed to move but if you do not physically take action you are left feeling nervous and on edge.

Rest and digest mode:
The counterbalance is the parasympathetic nervous system, turning on the relaxation response and facilitating a period of rest and recovery. Blood is pumped to the digestive organs, your heart rate slows and your body relaxes. It takes longer for your body to engage this system fully, three minutes to be precise compared to a split second for your stress response.

The system is designed to be self regulating but constant sources of stress and anxiety may lead to a state of prolonged activation of the fight or flight mode which can lead to impaired health and illness. When was the last time you felt truly relaxed, completely at ease in your body? It is not uncommon for people to spend the majority of their time in stress response without even realising. Fear not there is much you can do, below are techniques you can use to self sooth, to calm your body and engage your parasympathetic system bringing you out of stress mode.

The fear point:
On the back of your hand in the soft part between the bones of your little and ring finger is the point within EFT known for reducing fear. Tapping on this point with two or three fingers is like a natural sedative and tells your body that you are safe. Research at Harvard Medical School has shown that stimulation of selected acupoints decreases activity in the amygdala, hippocampus and other parts of the brain associated with fear.1

Tap to refocus:
Located an inch below the ends of your collarbones on your chest your K27 points can be tapped to again calm your body down and also to refocus your attention. A fantastic point to use if you are feeling overwhelmed at work.

Give yourself a hug!:
Use this technique whenever you are in need of comfort. Wrap one arm around your ribs under your breast and then wrap your other arm on top holding just above your elbow and give yourself a hug! This position allows you to hold certain acupressure points which calm your body down and give you an energy boost. Hold for a few minutes while breathing deeply and then swap sides.

Hold your head:
It is our natural instinct to clap our palm to our forehead if we don't know what to do in any given situation. As mentioned when you go into stress response the blood drains from your forebrain to your limbic brain and your mind can become foggy. By placing the palm of one hand across your forehead while your other hand cups the back of your head you are encouraging the blood back into your forebrain, hold these points until you feel a strong pulse in your forehead on both sides. This technique is fantastic to use when you are feeling distressed and if you hold for long enough (from a minute up to 10 minutes) you should feel more relaxed and clearheaded.

The above originate from Donna Eden's teachings, she has lots of videos on YouTube so check them out if you would like more information. 

Here is an article with some videos attached about using Donna's techniques with EFT.

1J. Fang et al. “The salient characteristics of the central effects of acupuncture needling: Olympic and Paralympic Nerocortical network modulation.” Human brain Mapping 30. no 4 April 2009. The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner. Hay House 2013. 

Photo of Fox courtesy of Peter Trimming http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2286912

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Thoughts are not facts yet our thinking shapes our reality

Cognitive behavioural therapy teaches us that our thoughts are not facts, we can question the ideas in our minds. Mindfulness teaches us to view our thoughts as waves upon a beach, constantly coming and going, sometimes soft and gentle at other times rough and violent. We are not our thoughts yet our thinking shapes how we experience our lives.

Christmas this year was easier due to the techniques and practices I have learnt but one experience left me feeling unnerved, raw and distressed. The scenario, seeing 2 seconds of a cartoon! My dad had just switched on the Disney film Up. Immediately my heart started racing and I couldn't leave the room quick enough. “This film should have a mental health warning” I muttered to my confused father: “Oh yes is it because his wife dies?” “No” I reply “Death is a natural part of life.....” I finish the end of my sentence in my head as I have already reached the kitchen “.... it's the fact that the film covers a subject which is probably as unnatural as you can get.”

I didn't even watch the scenes of the couple decorating a nursery, then crying at a doctors appointment, then undecorating the nursery. This section of the film is only a few minutes long and involves no words, yet my mind in a split-second had recalled watching the film in the past and the emotions it evoked and then projected how I would feel to watch it again and decided it was safer not to.

Nothing had changed in my personal situation for one second to the next. I was still not pregnant, still planning an IVF round for February, I went from being perfectly content and considering which Roses chocolate to have next, to tense and upset purely from imagining watching a cartoon! I repeat, I did not even watch the film, I was just recalling how I felt when I'd watched it in the past. What can we learn from this?

The only experience we can ever have is of our own thinking.1

The outside world is not creating our emotions, our thoughts about the world are. I know this, I've been practising mindfulness for well over a year and I'm training to be a cognitive hypnotherapist but still, my thoughts were powerful enough to affect me deeply. This is where acceptance comes in, a problem can arise when we do not accept that our thinking is just that, just thinking, just a story our thoughts are telling us. When we fight to change our thinking or ignore it we risk intensifying those thoughts by giving them attention. The old chestnut of positive thinking comes into play here. I'm sure we have all been told “Just stay positive and it will happen.” I am a great believer in doing everything we can to feel happier and I have read and been inspired by many “positive thinking” books and agree with many of the principles discussed, the issue surfaces when we do not accept our current situation/thoughts and instead try to force ourselves to think positively.

In my Up scenario the “positive thinking” route would be to stick a big smile on my face and watch the film, all the while chanting in my head “It's all okay I will have a baby, I will, I will, I will!” or to utilise affirmations correctly “It's all okay. I am pregnant. I am pregnant. I am pregnant!” Hmmmm that would have guaranteed that I was fighting my thoughts and feelings at that time. So many of us have set off down that route of beginning to believe that the reason we not yet pregnant is because we have not been positive enough, which is a great way to make yourself incredibly anxious and unhappy!

A fantastic question to ask yourself if feeling distressed is “What thought is creating this feeling?” and then “ Is this thought helpful?” If a thought is making you unhappy then let it go. It really is that simple. Thoughts only have any power over us if we give them power. I talk in my fertility summit interview about imagining your thoughts as snowflakes in a snow globe, to just let them float down like autumn leaves, leaving your mind clear.

Another powerful version of this is to imagine that your thoughts are colourful helium balloons. Some beautiful, bright and joyous, others black, oppressive and depressing. These thoughts can only affect you if you hang onto them or start to fight them. If you try to shove a thought down, it will have the same response as a balloon, resurfacing the second you release your attention. This is very much how I see traditional positive thinking, shoving your negative thoughts down with the use of positive statements. If however you imagine simply opening your hands and releasing the ribbons of those balloons they would float ever upwards and out of your consciousness. The same thought may pop into your mind again and again, but if each time you simply recognise that this thought is not helpful to you just release it's ribbon and let it float away.

You may find it hard to let go of some thoughts or they may feel like balloons that are tied to you. In this case imagine cutting the ribbons with a pair of golden scissors. If you are still unable to free yourself then this is where EFT (Emotional freedom technique) is perfect. We all have thoughts and beliefs that are tied to us. Any statement that begins with:

I am....................
I am not...............
I will.....................
I will never............
Life is...................
Life is not.............

Many of our statements are not facts but beliefs that affect our lives. EFT allows you undercover and release any beliefs that are not benefiting you.

For your free 5 minute guided mindfulness meditation and '10 easy ways to bring mindfulness into your day' poster sign up at the bottom of this blog. If you are interested in learning more about EFT and how:

Thoughts are not facts yet our thinking shapes our reality.
  • How trying to 'stay positive' may be the root of anxiety and even unhappiness.
  • Why we need emotions both positive and negative.
  • How to free ourselves from the negative once we understand the intention behind them and allow our natural positivity to surface.

For your free 5 minute guided mindfulness meditation and '10 easy ways to bring mindfulness into your day' poster sign up here.

1. Somebody should have told us! Simple truths were living well. Jack Pransky. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to stop the Infertility Grinch from stealing Christmas

'I long to experience the excitement of the family going to buy the tree and decorating it to the sound of cheesy Christmas classics. This year we've decided to go away. Somewhere hot. Somewhere we're not reminded of the family we haven't got.' Jessica Hepburn

I have just read Jessica Hepburn's “The pursuit of motherhood” in under 24 hours, I could not put it down. It felt like having a long intimate conversation with the author or having stumbled across her diary and once you join her on the rollercoaster ride of trying, and failing, to start a family, you are desperate to see if there is a happy ending.

Her diary entry on Christmas resonated. Three years ago we had just started trying, I didn't drink at my work Christmas party which was paramount to wearing a T-shirt with 'I AM TRYING TO GET PREGNANT!' printed across my chest. I got knowing smiles and even a rub of my belly along with the line “You are going to be a fantastic mum!” Back then just a couple of weeks in to the trying game I smiled back and imagined how the following year would involve cards and gifts with 'Baby's first Christmas' written on them.

A year later, no baby, no pregnancy. It's Christmas Eve and I'm back in the village I grew up in staying with my parents. We attend church just once a year for the crib service, to sing carols and to catch up with everyone. After the service I'm stood with my mum and a group of her friends, each cradling a grandchild in their arms. "Come on Naomi when you giving your mum some grandchildren?" 10 pairs of eyes look at me expectantly. Seconds feel like hours. My godmother bless her, who doesn't know we're trying chips in haughtily: 'Naomi is far too busy with her important job in London to be thinking about babies!' Phew saved but that is not the case at all, I think about babies constantly and the fact that I don't have one yet.

Another year later, no baby, no pregnancy, but I have left my job, just, I go to the Christmas party to say farewell to people I've worked with almost 8 years. I'm leaving for many reasons, 32 to be precise but the overriding comment seems to be: "I bet you're leaving to have babies aren't you? You will be pregnant in no time." Christmas is just too much to handle and I officially declare it cancelled much to the dismay of family and friends. We email everyone saying we're not doing cards or presents (buy yourself something nice and stick a label on it saying it's from me) and will catch up with them in the New Year. We fly to Tenerife and stay in bizarre resort where the average age is 75 and every 2nd person has a mobility scooter decorated with tinsel! It's a strange Christmas, there is a tree by the swimming pool and we still watch the sequel to The Snowman.

Another year later, no baby, no pregnancy. There is no cancelling Christmas this year, my younger brother is bringing his new baby to the UK for a giant family Christmas. Luckily I am in a very different place to last year and am looking forward to dressing my nephew up in a fluffy reindeer onesie! However I am still apprehensive, Christmas is a time for gratitude for all that we have the flipside of this being that it is also a time to grieve that which we do not. Walking into a baby department a month after failed IVF is like walking on hot coals – excruciatingly painful unless you keep your training in the forefront of your mind. This year I will be utilising every tool I have and thought I would share a handful with you: 

Cognitive behavioural therapy – Thoughts are not facts. It is very easy in this situation to feel that infertility has stolen Christmas. I used to adore this time of year, last year it was something to avoid. But infertility is NOT a grinch like character, green and fluffy with a big sack into which he stuffs our joy, hope and happiness. Yes infertility is unfair, yes Christmas is 'all about the children' but infertility can only steal Christmas if we let it. When Christmas shopping for my nephew the thoughts running through my head went something like this: “What if I never get to shop for my own baby?” “What if aunt is as close as I ever get?” Along with these thoughts came the familiar panic in my chest and a deep overwhelming sadness. Time to bring in my first weapon, CBT. Simply ask the question:

“Do these thoughts originate from a fact? Are they true?”

Mine originated from the thought that I might not be able to have a child. This is not a fact, a possibility yes, but not a fact. Next ask:

“Is this thought helpful?”

If a thought is making you feel bad then it is not helpful. You can say to yourself:

“I notice that I am having thoughts that are neither true nor helpful!”

You may be amazed at how powerful this is and how it allows you to step back from your thinking and just observe. Be compassionate with yourself, don't beat yourself up for having these thoughts, congratulate yourself for the fact that you have realised and are now in position to change them.

Mindfulness – CBT goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness, bringing yourself into the present moment. For a copy of my '10 easy ways to bring mindfulness into your day' poster sign up here. The most useful over Christmas might be my 3 + 2 = 5 breathing. If your mind is racing or you are feeling overwhelmed just stop for a minute and count to 3 in your head as you breathe in. Hold your breath for 2 counts. Then breathe out to the count of 5. Repeat for 6 - 12 breaths. This sends the message to body and mind to slow down and relax.

Emotional freedom technique – I have written before about how important it is to acknowledge and accept our feelings, at Christmas even more so with the presumption that we should all be merry. EFT is perfect for this and just saying the below statements out loud can be releasing.

“Even though I am not looking forward to Christmas I accept these feelings and myself.”

“Even though Christmas reminds me of what I do not have I can accept these thoughts and at the same time be thankful for what I do have.”

“Even though I am jealous of those who have children I know that it is okay to be jealous and I accept myself anyway.”

A good tip when feeling jealous is to ask yourself if you would be happy to trade lives with the person you are jealous of. That means trading partners, houses, careers, family, friends and memories. You may find that when think about it from this perspective you realise how much you have to be thankful for. If you have not done so already you could also read my blog on coping with jealousy “Hands up who is jealous of Kate?”

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, CBT or EFT then take a look at my Embrace course. I am also being interviewed in January on mindfulness as part of a fertility and wellness summit. I will be emailing out details in January of how you can listen to the summit for free. 

To learn more about EFT right now and watch videos on how to do it see my resources page.

For my full review of 'The pursuit of motherhood' see my bookshelf page.

PS Yes I did draw the Grinch image!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Is evolution stronger than psychology? Stress vs fertility.

Being told by friends, family, even our doctors to "just relax" when it comes to trying to conceive is a guaranteed way to send our blood pressure through the roof. We can take their well meaning comments to imply that if we were not as stressed we would be pregnant by now, but is that the case? At this year’s Fertility Show in London I attended four seminars, all of which discussed the links between stress and fertility, hoping to finding some clarity on this subject.

The first seminar was by Professor Jacky Boivin from the Cardiff Fertility Studies Research Group who has been investigating links between the success of fertility treatment and stress by undertaking a large scale review of related research. They also studied women throughout their monthly cycles and found that anxiety levels soar during the two week wait (the time between ovulation and test day.) This coincides with the time that an embryo needs to implant. This fact alone was probably enough to raise the stress levels of her audience but she assured us that “Evolution is stronger than psychology to ensure that populations populate.” She backs her findings by the fact that the world’s highest fertility rates are in areas affected by poverty, famine and war. Boivin’s conclusion from reviewing fourteen studies with 3,583 infertile women undergoing a cycle of fertility treatment is that “Emotional distress caused by fertility problems or other life events co-occurring with treatment will not compromise the chance of becoming pregnant.”

Do I hear a collective sigh of relief or a niggling yes ….but? 

You are not alone, Boivin explained that we are aggrieved to let go of the belief that stress affects fertility as we feel that stress is something that we can manage, can control. How many times have you said to yourself “ Well it didn’t happen this month as I was so stressed at work, next month it will be different”?

The plot thickened as Boivin’s talk continued, although her study indicates that stress does not prevent an embryo from implanting (mini pause for celebration dance, just hearing that made me feel 100 times more relaxed) it does affect your chances of becoming pregnant for the following reasons:
  • When you are feeling stressed you are less likely to have sex. I should not need to explain why this might be an issue!
  • When stressed you are more likely to indulge in coping habits which negatively impact fertility, such as smoking, drinking, recreational drugs or having a dysfunctional relationship with food, either under or over eating. All of which have been proven to adversely affect the quality of both sperm and eggs. 
  • There is a link between stress and the immune system, those under stress are more likely to experience health issues which could have a knock-on effect to fertility. 
  • To top it off if you are diagnosed with infertility you are more likely to stop trying to conceive if you are stressed. Studies show that more people either just did not commence treatment, or abandoned treatment due to emotional stress levels rather than medical prognosis.
All of these points were confirmed and expanded on in fertility specialist Zita West’s seminar. West claims that a significant percentage of her patients get pregnant within 6 months purely by having more sex at the correct time of the month. She believes that fertility begins in the gut so stress-related disorders such as IBS could be affecting your fertility as your body is not able to absorb the nutrients it requires to sustain a healthy pregnancy. West’s philosophy is that pregnancy is a whole body experience, our cycles are ruled by our bodies, so one that is exhausted, stressed and running on empty is not the optimum for conceiving.

West discussed how trying to conceive affects couples relationships, as did Tracey Sainsbury a councillor at the London Women’s Clinic. Both suggested finding ways to enhance your relationship and take the pressure off timed intercourse which is likely to be putting a strain on both partners. Sainsbury offered that the quickest way of reducing stress often means stopping doing something. One suggestion was to stop monitoring ovulation and instead focus on bringing the intimacy back to the relationship. The most important piece of information you may take from this blog is that the ideal time to have intercourse is the day before ovulation occurs, therefore the day before ovulation sticks indicate ovulation and two days before your temperature rises! West also warned that temping and ovulation sticks are not always accurate and a late-night, illness or false LH rise may give false results. Your cycle can also change dramatically month to month. Sperm can survive for 3 to 5 days in the fallopian tube hence the advice that having sex two or three times a week will usually hit the target. The trick is to find what works best for you, some women find trying to fit in “spontaneous” sex three times a week all month far more stressful than pinpointing ovulation. 

Sainsbury’s seminar was enlightening, she discussed how the majority of people experience infertility by cycling through denial, anger, depression, bargaining and finally coming to a place of acceptance and empowerment. I discussed this subject and my personal journey through this cycle in my last blog I’ll be happy when I’m pregnant vs what can I do to feel better right now? 

Sainsbury stated that infertility is a surreal situation and therefore our normal coping mechanisms and ways of communicating may not work. She likened couples experiencing infertility to two hedgehogs on a beach with suitcases! Unstable ground, huge amounts of baggage and two vulnerable centres surrounded by spikes!

All clinics must offer counselling alongside fertility treatments and Sainsbury discussed the benefits of seeking out additional support before, during and after treatment. Sainsbury’s following quote has stayed with me in regards to fertility treatment “Nothing is going to feel 100% right as the situation is not and never will be ideal.” This really hit home, the ideal would be to conceive naturally, if this is not a possibility, then the next best thing is to prepare yourself as best you can, both physically and emotionally for the next step. 

Sainsbury stated that we can not consciously affect fertility, if we could there would be no need for contraception as we would just think each month; “I do not want to be pregnant!” This leads me nicely into Russell Davis’s talk in which he stated that only 5% of our thinking is conscious, 95% is unconscious and makes up our automatic behaviour and beliefs. Davis is a cognitive hypnotherapist specialising in fertility. He has an opposing view to Boivin and quotes Harvard studies that show that stress does impact fertility. The pituitary gland controls all of our hormone levels from stress hormones to fertility hormones and a delicate cocktail of hormones is required for conception and implantation to take place. When we are stressed, we are in fight or flight mode, stress hormones flood the body and blood is pumped to our arms and legs and away from our internal organs such as stomach and womb. You can feel this effect by the butterflies you feel in your stomach when you get nervous. 

Davis asked us to tense our entire bodies and then imagine trying to get pregnant. As more and more studies prove the intricate link between the mind and the body it is worth considering how our thoughts are contributing to our well-being. Davis asked us to say to ourselves “I accept myself as I am today” and then tune in to our internal response, he went on to explain how external circumstances do not dictate how we feel, it is the thoughts we have about those circumstances that affect us. Relaxation techniques such as focusing on our breathing can help quieten our inner dialogue and bring our hormone levels back into balance. Davis’s seminar was inspiring, he concluded that it is possible to come to a place of peace while trying to conceive, this is an area I am passionate about and the reason I set up Mindful Muma-to-be. Zita West has the same philosophy and ‘managing the mind’ is always part of her treatment plans. 

All of the seminars focused on reducing stress and anxiety to improve quality of life while trying to conceive and words such as nourish and nurture gave comfort to audiences dealing with the uncertainty of infertility and treatment. Each speaker encouraged us to find our own coping strategies and among the suggestions were cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation techniques such as meditation, visualisation and yoga, hypnotherapy, gratitude, distraction, counselling and peer support groups such as those listed on the Infertility Network website. 

A final quote from Sainsbury “We hear what we want to hear.” So you can pick and choose the information from this blog that you feel will benefit you most. I have chosen to take the following; I know that my body functions better when I am calm and relaxed, I am able to think more clearly and logically. When I am stressed my body feels physically uncomfortable and I want the feeling to pass. Therefore I intend to continue to focus on making space in my life for activities that nourish my well-being and reducing the activities that make me feel depleted. I will also be pocketing the nuggets that worrying about my fertility will not cause my womb to reject an embryo, nor will worrying about miscarriage cause a miscarriage. 

Mindful Muma-to-be

Final thoughts and resources:

1. A few final facts from Boivin, there is no evidence to suggest that going on holiday, adopting or ‘not thinking about it’ increases your chance of pregnancy. (Excellent ammunition for the next time somebody suggests one of these to you.) Stress can affect sperm quality. Depression can affect fertility. Read my blog on infertility and depression for more information.
2. Boivin’s study: www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d223
3. Boivin’s studies are controversial, the data and conclusions have been brought into question. www.bmj.com/content/342/bmj.d223?tab=responses
4. Zita West’s website: www.zitawest.com
5. From Sainsbury: “Stress can not cause miscarriage, but can lead to a small birthweight, which has its own complications.”
7. Russell Davis’s website: www.thefertilemind.net/
8. Webinar from Russell Davis for the Infertility Network UK www.infertilitynetworkuk.com/information/videos/web_casts
9. Russell will be speaking at our January support meeting in London. See events page for details.
10. Infertility network UK support groups www.infertilitynetworkuk.com/support/support_groups_6