Women's fertility. It's not just about biology.

women's fertility and stress

Trying to get pregnant can be quite a stressful endeavor. Perhaps just thinking about the "ticking biological clock" raises your anxiety. Or maybe you've actively been taking steps to conceive and finding that the harder you try, the more distressed you feel and the more difficult it is to conceive. Due to advances in society, medicine, and culture, women are waiting longer to start growing their families. In many ways, waiting to start a family can be empowering and beneficial for a woman. However, society has also evolved faster than biology. There are real limitations on women's reproductive capacity that occur over time. But it may not be as black and white as you think... 


Stress and Infertility

Biology and age are certainly not the only factors involved in fertility. In fact, it can be empowering to have accurate information about how other factors that you have some control over also significantly influence fertility - and can in turn alter your biology! Research has pointed to stress being a significant factor in a woman's ability to conceive. This WebMD article on stress and infertility explains the proposed mechanisms by which stress impacts a woman's ability to conceive. Stress changes hormones and blood flow to the uterus, pointing again to the close connection between the mind and body. For about 40% of couples trying to conceive, there is no "cause" of infertility, meaning that difficulty conceiving cannot be accounted for by a medically explained condition. Stress likely plays at least a part in these cases. 


Acceptance and Mindfulness for InFertility Stress

Stress, like any other unwanted emotional experience, tends to get stronger and more powerful the more we want it to go away. If someone tells you "just relax," how do you feel? The more you try to relax, the more stressed you tend to feel! This is where acceptance and mindfulness-based psychotherapies are incredibly helpful. There is some promising preliminary evidence for treating infertility-specific stress with acceptance and mindfulness. A study by Peterson and Eifert found that an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy couples intervention decreased stress and depression for women undergoing in vitro fertilization. A center in Portugal conducted a mindfulness based program for infertility with women and found that the participants had a decrease in depressive symptoms, anxiety, and shame after going through the program. There is also ample research supporting acceptance and mindfulness for general stress reduction that would likely carry over into the specific stressors of fertility concerns. You can start practicing mindfulness now with this mindfulness of breathing exercise


Looking to your feminine wisdom 

We can also take a step back and consider more philosophically and archetypically what it means to be receptive and embrace femininity - and how this impacts fertility. Women have unique creative and reproductive abilities and wisdom that is stored in the body. When the environment that a woman is in is threatening in some way or not conducive to a healthy pregnancy, her body will know and may respond by blocking conception, essentially blocking receptivity and setting a boundary. Sometimes our bodies know things or respond to things that our minds have not yet been able to understand. By tuning into your body, you may be able to pick up on wisdom and guidance about something in your life that could be changed. A threat could be spending too many hours connected to your stressful work life. Or if could be something about you partner that is unhealthy for you and a future family. These may not be easy things to look at, but being willing to dive in and listen to the wisdom in your body may be the key to your fertility. 


Support is available

If this blog post resonates with you and concerns that you have about your fertility, I encourage you to comment below or contact me for a complementary consultation. I run a women's fertility concerns group and provide individual psychotherapy out of my Andersonville, Chicago office. If you live anywhere in Illinois or Rhode Island, we can do online therapy through Breakthrough.