Alice D. Domar, Ph.D
Director, Mind/Body Center for Women's Health at Boston IVF

One of the biggest assumptions made about infertility is that stress is involved. How it is involved is up for discussion, but everyone from the nosiest mother-in-law to the most prestigious infertility specialist agrees that stress is an issue. However, the mother-in-law usually insists that stress is the cause of the infertility, while most physicians feel that stress is the result of the infertility. In fact, although it is not the most scientifically astute thing to say, the direction of the relationship is not terribly important. What is important is learning how to reduce stress. Mind/body techniques can decrease physical symptoms of stress such as insomnia, headaches, abdominal pain and fatigue as well as psychological symptoms such as depression, anxiety, hostility, and tearfulness. And recent research has shown that women who participate in mind/body programs in conjunction with treatment from their physician have significantly higher pregnancy rates than women who receive medical treatment only.

Infertility can be enormously stressful; research has shown that the stress levels of infertile women are equivalent to women with cancer, AIDS, or heart disease. Conversely, recent research from around the world has shown that the more distress a woman reports prior to infertility treatment, the less likely she is to conceive. Thus, in order to both improve the quality of her life, as well as to optimize the chances of treatment success, mind/body techniques are an excellent complement to standard infertility treatment.

I have had literally thousands of women attend our mind/body programs, either the ten session evening program or a weekend retreat, and the results never cease to amaze me. Women walk in and tell the group of night after night lying awake worrying about the chance of never having a baby, of crying for days after hearing of a friend's pregnancy, of wondering about the ability of their marriage to withstand this crisis, and of second-guessing every step of their treatment. We tend to see women after they have hit bottom. We teach a buffet of skills, ranging from relaxation techniques for use during blood tests to how to handle the anger from the 10th insensitive comment of the day. We teach skills to get one's life back, to learn how to rediscover the pre-infertility self. And they do. By the end of the program, the depressive symptoms, the anxiety, the insomnia, the crying, and the misery are all significantly better. Many of the women get pregnant but more importantly, all participants feel they have the skills and abilities to help their dreams come true, somehow, someway.