The longer a couple has been trying to conceive, the less likely they are to conceive” Dr Francoise Shenfield. ‘The longer a couple has been trying to conceive, the less likely they are to conceive’ is due to so many reasons, reasons that can be helped and reasons that cannot.
Why Do We Doubt our Fertility?
Infertility is so commonly talked about that some people now think before even trying to conceive that they will probably have trouble getting pregnant. A good friend of mine told me a few years ago he and his wife will be soon trying to start a family, followed by ‘I don’t even know if my little swimmers will work!’ The seed of doubt has already been planted and then many couples wonder why they then struggle to fall pregnant easily. There is so much written now about how conceiving can be a challenge that a lot of people already have a slight fear that they might be ‘that couple’ that ends up having to use IVF etc.
The radio, television, magazines are all full of advertisements offering fertility help. There are two radio ads I hear every time I get in the car – one by a company called Fertility First who say before you even start trying to contact them and another company called Westmead Fertility Centre who claim to be the leading fertility specialists. News from the ABC Health & Wellbeing (online 2007) website in Australia lists the following statistics;
•One in six couples is infertile. In 40 per cent of cases the problem rests with the male, in 40 per cent with the female, ten per cent with both partners, and a further ten per cent of cases, the cause is unknown
•Fertility problems strike one in three women over 35
•One in 25 males has a low sperm count and one in 35 is sterile
•For healthy couples in their twenties having regular unprotected sex, the chance of becoming pregnant each month is 25 per cent
•The chance of conceiving in an IVF cycle is on average around 20 per cent (but varies due to individual circumstances)
•More than one per cent of births in Australia involves the use of assisted reproductive technologies
I believe most of the time it's in the mind, some people have convinced themselves that they cannot get pregnant and as our minds are more powerful than most people would care to believe, by thinking you can’t get pregnant often leads to you not getting pregnant. Written on the wikiHow website under Tips states that ‘A lot of people feel stuck by their current circumstances but that circumstance is only their current reality. They start to feel stuck because they begin to think the same thoughts over and over and over again, so they get the same results over and over and over again. What they don’t know is that they can change their current circumstance if they find a way to approach that bad circumstance through a different vantage point. Nobody can teach someone how to do this because it’ll be different for every person and every situation, but it all boils down to not letting something change your positive feelings into negative feelings’. (WikiHow)
I think the main aspect of an unsuccessful conception early on in pregnancy (other than medical problems) is stress. Stress brings an unhealthy environment to the body making it difficult to conceive. I have included a few paragraphs from various books about this below to highlight the fact that it is a highly common and proven belief to be included in so many books about infertility makes a pretty clear statement; ‘In times of stress, what are known as fight-or-flight hormones kick in. It happened when your cave-dwelling ancestors confronted a lightning storm. And it happens when you confront your pregnant sister-in-law. Eventually, the fight-or-flight response can exhaust you mentally and physically. It can even make you sick or more prone to physical pain. (Rosenberg, 2001, p. 105)
‘Stress can affect both male and female fertility, and not conceiving can in itself become a cause of stress. Many women with fertility problems say that their whole life seems to revolve around their monthly cycle – hoping their period will not come, and when it does, feeling devastated, and that yet another month has been ‘wasted’. The couple’s relationship may be put under severe strain during the rounds of investigations and IVF treatments. For example, became pregnant naturally. He had gone with her for numerous IVF treatments but none of this had been spoken about. (Glenville, M 2000,p78)
Continuing noting these documented stress factors from Dr Dick-Read quotes, ‘Many young women have inquiring minds particularly in relation to childbirth: they attempt to seek information from girls of their own age and from older women and at times they listen to voices which utterly distort the truth. Such false information is frequently the origin not only of an inherent fear of childbirth but physical manifestations of that fear. Dr Dick-Read’s book recalled the visit of one woman in particular, attractive, experienced and accomplished. She was secretary of a well-known social organisation and during the 1959-45 War was a motor cycle dispatch rider in London, a duty requiring superlative courage, and she came seeking his advice. A man had asked her to marry him and she was worried about the intimate side of marriage. When he questioned her about this she rose from her chair, hands clenched and her face pale: ‘I could never go through it. That awful business. Women seem to talk of nothing else. When they bring their troubles to me I hate my office and feel desperately ill when I hear the word.’ ‘What word do you refer to?’ asked Dr Dick-Read and she stared at him and whispered ‘labour’. (Dick-Read, 1981,P89)
‘Couples trying for a baby often experience high levels of stress, particularly if medical intervention is required. The longer it takes, of course, the more anxious you may become – and the more chance there is of stress inhibiting your fertility. A number of studies show that if a woman becomes totally obsessed with having a baby she may release eggs which are not mature enough to be fertilised. There are many anecdotes concerning couples who have given up fertility investigations, put their names down for adoption, and then found themselves pregnant. Once a lady I saw gave up work to have a baby and got so bored that she decided to find another job and then got pregnant. Other women may find that the stress of the job they are doing may be affecting their fertility. We are all so different and what affects one person may not trouble another – ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’. Many couples find that they conceive on holiday when they are relaxed and have forgotten about all their domestic worries.’ (Glenville, 2000, P33)
It’s quite amazing how many couples actually fall pregnant naturally once they have given up trying because they decided to adopt or go ahead with fertility treatment. In my own personal situation after trying for a couple of years to conceive, and having all the tests done to find a ‘reason’, we were told it was unexplained infertility. We then decided on fertility treatment but before I even had the chance to go for the first appointment I was pregnant. As soon as I gave up trying and prepared to put it in the hands of someone else, my body was clear of tension which allowed me to conceive is what I believe. There is no other explanation when I followed every rule, pinpointed ovulation and gave myself every chance with a lot of pressure.
Another case of falling pregnant only days before they were due to start the IVF treatment was a close friend of ours – with twins. The doctors did a pregnancy test along with many other tests before giving her the ‘IVF’ medication she was told the wonderful news.
These stories are just a couple that I know personally but have heard so many that this concluded how stress plays a vital part in preventing conception and pregnancy. The harder you try, the harder it is to conceive.
Hammond states that ‘In approximately 50% of infertility cases the cause cannot be determined. It is widely believed that a proportion of these cases result from psychological factors – a belief that is reinforced by the common experience of couple’s finally adopting a child out of frustration, only to conceive a child of their own a few months later. (Hammond, 1990, p270)
And another write up by Gillman about conceiving and the effects of stress; ‘We all have busy lives and we are all vulnerable to stress, but couples suffering from infertility find themselves caught in a vicious circle. Are you infertile because you are stressed, or are you stressed because you are infertile? Of course, it is more complex than that, but what is certain is that too much stress can adversely affect your chances of getting pregnant. Studies show that a man’s sperm production decreases in response to stress and there are a few studies that show that the failure of women to menstruate during wartime may be just one example of the detrimental effect that emotions have on fertility’. (Gillman, 2007,p36)
More information connecting infertility with stress and even low self-esteem is noted here by Harris; ‘Stresses that have been found to suppress ovulation and menstrual cycle functioning include low self-esteem, poor body image and negative or ambivalent feelings about a relationship or the prospect of motherhood. Research has even shown that in some cases women who don’t ovulate can often be more tense, anxious, and have lower self-esteem compared to ovulatory women. (Harris, 2004, p75) ‘stress also hampers fertility because it produces unhealthy sperm and eggs, or both, and pregnancies created by damaged sperm or eggs usually result in early miscarriage. What’s more, higher than normal levels of stress hormone can also affect your libido because they can have a knock-on effect on the hormones – oestrogen and testosterone – that power sex drive. Not having enough sex or, as some experts believe, not enjoying sex if you do, is a prime cause of infertility.’ (Harris,2004,p76)
As you can see from the above excerpts there is a lot of information linking stress to infertility which is why I think the longer a couple has been trying to get pregnant the harder it is because of the amount of energy, stress, worry, anxiety, pressure, disappointment, sadness, anger, resentment etc is running through their minds and body’s. I have always been a believer that the majority of women who have ‘unexplained infertility’ meaning they can’t find anything wrong with his sperm or her eggs is likely to be stress related.
There is evidence that directly links the impact stress has on Fertility from course notes by Sharon Mustard: ‘Research studies now document the correlation between stress and infertility. Stress is literally a nervous reaction that occurs within the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). A vast network of nerves branching out from the spinal cord, the ANS directly affects every organ in the body. Divided into two distinct systems – the ‘Sympathetic’ and ‘Parasympathetic’ Nervous Systems-the ANS is responsible for maintaining the equilibrium of our internal environment. Put simply, one system is concerned with the mobilization of forces to meet an emergency (the famous ‘flight or fight’ response), the other with the relaxed, regenerative states.’ (Mustard, 2009,p24)
‘Hypnotherapy provides an effective means of establishing that restoration and enables women to create the level of safety essential for reproduction to occur.’ (Mustard, 2009,p25)
If the couples who have been trying unsuccessfully for a long time, who had no obvious issues relating to their fertility or were labelled as ‘unexplained infertility’ were taught self-hypnosis or practised meditation or even just took time to relax with deep breathing at least once a day, it’s clear the stress levels would drop and the body would go back to functioning at a normal level, giving most a chance of a healthy conception. It’s hard to convince someone to relax when they have spent so many agonizing months disappointed while trying in vain to conceive, but the mind is a powerful tool and plays a big part in how the body performs and provides.
On conclusion, all couples should practice a combination of meditation, relaxation, yoga, hypnotherapy and if possible long walks in nature. The idea is to relax the body and mind and create the optimum environment for a baby to be conceived.