Back when my mother and grandmother were raised, I can’t help but feel like things were simpler. Tradition dictated that you fall in love, get married, settle down, have children and then your life path would become one of motherhood. A woman’s destiny was normally pre-decided, thanks to social conventions. Women generally didn’t have careers, or those that did normally ended up unmarried. The main source of anguish for a young woman decades ago was not being married at a young age. And while the fear of the spinster life might have been real, questions regarding if or when to have children were probably rare.
Fast forward several decades and times have indeed changed. Today a woman’s life is rife with freedom and choice. A byproduct of our equality and independence has been that rather than a clear cut path carved for us, our course meanders and there are many forks in the road that require us to make choices. As women, the big questions of our life often include choosing a partner, choosing whether or not to have children, when to have children, what career path to choose and if there are children involved, how to balance that career path with family life. All of these decisions weigh heavily on many women, whether these thoughts are at the forefront of our minds or not. The fear and worry surrounding these questions are often pushed into our subconscious and left there to tumble around on repeat causing stress that were aren’t even aware of. Questions about how to have it all AND do it all abound.
The Pregnancy Decision
While it’s easy to come up with various scenarios, it’s nearly impossible to predict the outcomes and the stress related with each and every decision made at this critical juncture of adulthood. It starts with finding a partner, which can be hard to do on a timeline that is compatible with a biological clock, as there are so many options open to both men and women in this day and age. Once a woman has settled down with someone – whether it’s the person of her dreams or just the exact right timing (not always in sync, which can cause problems down the line, depending) – the next question is about fitting in work with parenting. Will a woman resent her partner or even her child if she decides to put her career on hold? Will her partner or child resent her if she decides NOT to put her career on hold but instead does her best to work and parent simultaneously? Will her parents judge her choice harshly if she pursues a life path that is different theirs?
With all these issues and questions in a young woman’s head, conscious or subconscious, it is no wonder that infertility may be on the rise. Dr. John Sarno has written several books about the mind-body connection as it presents in the field of medicine. He discusses modern disease within a construct of the subconscious affecting the body. In his book, The Divided Mind, he discusses the “epidemics” of whiplash, low back pain, fibromyalgia and even reflux disease of the stomach. He feels that some of these entities are manifestations of the brain’s subconscious affecting the body. So while it’s true the patient has a physical ailment, he believes it was initially caused by conflict in the brain, or the subconscious. The mind is a powerful organ. We know that stress affects female reproduction. One example of this is in cases of extreme stress, the hypothalamus shuts down, the pituitary no longer sends out signals to a woman’s ovaries and she no longer gets her period. This is one reason for anovulation and infertility. Unfortunately, we can’t always easily pinpoint the source of the stress.
This leads me to wonder if the myriad choices available to today’s woman can lead to subconscious conflict, which in turn can increase the odds of stress and fertility difficulties. While I don’t have any empirical evidence, I do know from years of working with thousands of fertility patients that an integrative approach to conception can be a game changer. I believe diet, exercise and tending to the needs of the body does improve a couples chances of conception. Working off a more holistic approach to wellness which includes acupuncture, meditation, mindfulness and therapy can improve the success of modern western fertility treatments.
Together We’ll Find A Way
While I do not have any concrete answer regarding stress and fertility, I encourage my patients to learn stress reduction techniques. Finding ways to relax the whole mind rather than just the conscious mind will aid the body. We are happy to discuss what’s going on, and make recommendations to alleviate your stress and get you on the path to conception. To learn more about the impact of subconscious conflicts on fertility, please contact the West Coast Women’s Reproductive Center.