Mindfulness and Fertility
It's not unusual for my clients to describe infertility as the most challenging thing they've ever experienced. The hardest part? The negative self-talk, second guessing and hyper-vigilance on a constant loop in your head.
Here are some of the more common thoughts:
- I should have tried to get pregnant sooner. If only I'd started earlier...
- I think my breasts might be more tender than they were before. I wonder if this means I'm pregnant. Or that my progesterone is high. Or ...
- Everyone else gets pregnant "accidentally." If I have to go to another baby shower I'll explode.
- My body is broken. How can I make it do what I need it to do?
- Should I spend money on IVF? What if we don't get pregnant? What if we can't get pregnant?
- I'll never be a parent.
- Etc. Etc.
The emotional strain can become overwhelming, particularly since you may not feel comfortable sharing what's going on with your friends and family.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness refers to consciously being aware of what you are thinking, doing and experiencing. Essentially, you're observing yourself and using what you find to make choices about your actions.
It sounds a little "new-age" for some people, and others may have no idea what that even means. Examples of mindfulness strategies include focusing on your breath to keep your attention on the present moment instead of in the past or the future, noticing self-judgement and choosing self-compassion instead, and journaling to examine what's going on in your head.
Being mindful means noticing what's going on in your mind and body and taking steps to change things if needed.
How does Mindfulness help Fertility?
The short answer is that mindfulness can help you better handle the stress of infertility. It gives you tools to cope with the negative thoughts and emotions that come along with struggling to get pregnant so that you can feel calmer and more empowered.
One study found that a 10-week group mindfulness program for people struggling with infertility led to fewer symptoms of depression and lower reported levels of shame, entrapment and defeat compared to a control group who did not complete the program. Women in the mindfulness group felt that they could handle infertility more easily (Galhardo et al., 2013).
In a similar intervention, women undergoing IVF were assigned to a mindfulness group or a control. People in the mindfulness group experienced increases in self-compassion, coping and fertility-related quality of life and had a higher pregnancy rate after 6 months than those who did not participate in the mindfulness intervention (Li et al., 2016).
Women undergoing their first IVF cycle and using a mindfulness intervention reported that mindfulness helped them to feel calmer and more relaxed, improved sleep, enhanced their relationship with their partner, gave them tools to live in the moment and feel more compassionate toward themselves and others, among other things (Li et al., 2019)
Should you try Mindfulness for Fertility?
If you're feeling a fair amount of distress related to your fertility, I recommend giving it a shot. Mindfulness practices are free, don't require any special equipment, and can make a big difference in terms of your overall well-being.
How to Get Started with Mindfulness and Fertility
I love and highly recommend the book Conquering Infertility by Dr. Alice Domar. It provides guidance appropriate for a beginner, and gives you what I like to think of as a menu of mindfulness practices from which to choose.
The paid apps Calm and Headspace are great places to start if you'd like to try meditation. Neither are specific to infertility, although they both include stress management components that apply. Insight Timer is a similar option that's free.
If you're intrigued by the idea of fertility yoga, check out Lynn Jensen's book and resources.
While I don't personally offer general fertility mindfulness counseling, my preconception weight loss program is mindfulness-based. I'd love to work with you if you need assistance in this area.