Mind-Body Coping with Infertility
Mind-Body Coping with Infertility

Infertility will invariably send levels of mind/body stress skyrocketing.  Stress cannot discriminate in its impact on mind and body because mind and body are not separate. Think of it this way: The mind sends its confusion and upset into the body in the form of tense muscles, headaches, belly aches or elevated autonomic functions such as heart rate and blood pressure.  Conversely, whatever the body experiences makes its way into the mental sphere resulting in irritability, tearfulness, or fuzzy thinking, for instance.  The impact of stress travels in both directions along a two way street.  Symptoms can be uncomfortable and understandably elevate personality traits such as anger, negativity, insecurity, impatience, loss of self-esteem or fear.  Most people need coping mechanisms that go beyond what they have customarily relied upon; coping with infertility demands more.  Yet, the physical and emotional symptoms which are provoked by stress are the body’s wisdom.

Coping mechanisms fall into two categories: problem-solving coping and letting-go coping.  We can think of these categories in another way, too: coping by doing and coping by being.  When you can match a solution to a problem, there is something that you can do.  Some aspects of the infertility challenge can be addressed in this way.  Changing an aspect of your life style such as altering a work schedule, getting more sleep or keeping exposure to people with babies at a minimum can make a big difference.

Learning how to let go and just be is powerful.  It will break the mind/body stress response.  If you learn various forms of mindfulness or meditation (which usually begin with awareness of the breath) you will not only interrupt the stress cycle, you will also be participating in an activity which has a statistically significant correlation with rates of pregnancy!

Understanding “Body Language”

If you can tune in to symptoms as mind/body wisdom that flows from mind/body unity, then you’ll notice that the fertility quest presents you with one wake-up call after another to mind and body awareness.  But if you’re like Kim, physical and emotional symptoms can hit you over the head, to no avail.  Kim dismissed the stress as external to herself.  It took two years of struggling with infertility before she began to respect stress’s capacity to alert her to the need for change.

Kim took up the challenge to change by taking a leave during her next IVF, slowing down her life.  Instead of 12 hour work days, she found pleasure in admiring the trees in Central Park.  She utilized meditative techniques that I taught her, which not only gave her a respite from the stress as she just let herself be, but in the process her empowerment to use the breath as a built-in tranquilizer whenever she felt the need.

When Shari was a member of my mind/body support group, she became aware of the connection between the stress of the journey and exacerbation of what she called ‘her major stomach problems and acid reflux.’

Shari allowed her symptoms to register as a plea for help much sooner than Kim.  She allowed her digestive woes teach her that something needed to change.  All through her fertility quest, Shari integrated mind/body techniques into her repertoire, healing the experience of infertility and at the same time learning to manage her pattern of putting upset into her gut.

Plop, plop, fizz, fizz … oh what a relief it is ….

Mind/Body techniques are like Alka Seltzer for the soul.  Monique learned at first through yoga and then through other mind/body methods that “one second of peace” could get her “addicted” to feeling relief.  For her, the empowerment that followed suit was a remedy for feeling swamped by stress.

Monique joined my mind/body support group.  As she said, she joined the group “to address the need for human support.”  But in the process she told me that “the many mind/body options, taught me a lot about myself, what makes me tick and what changes I have to make to be happy.  The more I realized that infertility did change my life, the more it made me take steps to change my life.”  Monique learned to be the sculptor of changes which gave her mastery over her mind and body’s responses to stress.

She went on, telling me “I had always done yoga, but I needed to make it an every-day part of my life.  When I did, I got that one second of peace and that’s what got me addicted.  I got serious about yoga, nutrition and all different kinds of mind/body work.  Restorative yoga, meditation, guided visualization – everything.  I was trying to do something at least once a day.  I realized that some days watching my breath did not work.  Some days I needed a walking meditation.  Some days, if I was too scattered, listening to a tape really helped.  I picked the tool for the day to get relief from feeling crazy.  And I would say that therapy became one of my tools, too.”  Living without joy for a long time created an awareness in Monique that all can change when we decide to pursue happiness.   

You Can Win at the Change Game

We all are ourselves in habitual ways.  Stress has a way of making us more of who we already are and it has a way of creating a frenzy which causes us to flee from our bodies. But be heartened.   With self-awareness, we re-enter the experience of being us.  With this comes the ability to choose to learn and apply mind/body coping techniques for relief and empowerment.

Excerpted from chapter 6 of On Fertile Ground: Healing Infertility

©2011 Helen Adrienne, LCSW  |  212-758-0125  |  helen@mind-body-unity.com

Image credit: IchZeit