Enhancing Fertility: A Mind/Body Perspective

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Fertility & Birth Control

The mind/body approach to fertility is based on the premise that knowledge is power and that a change in perception based on new information is powerful enough to effect subtle changes in your endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. Regardless of what you’ve been told about your fertility, you need to know that your ability to conceive is profoundly influenced by the complex interaction among psychosocial, psychological, and emotional factors, and that you can consciously work with this to enhance your ability to have a baby.

The first thing that’s needed in the area of fertility is a new language. Few labels are more damaging to women (or to men) than the label “infertile.” It strikes at the very heart of one’s self-concept and self-esteem and results in a punishing internal dialogue in women who are going through this experience. Many feel inadequate, guilty, and to blame for their condition, which creates a vicious cycle inside them. The word infertility conjures up images of barren, dry, sterile earth that can’t bear fruit. If you currently carry this label, try replacing it with the following: “I am a sensual, sexual, fertile being with a great deal of love and nurturing to give to others—and to receive for myself.” Internalizing the feeling that goes along with these words will help you change your self-concept (and physiology). Remember that changing your self-concept is a process, not an event. Give it time.

Here are some other suggestions:

Step one: Look at the big picture. Know that you’re not alone—millions of women are charting new territory when it comes to balancing personal and professional lives.

Step two: If you are over thirty-five and trying to get pregnant, examine your programming about your biological clock! The popularity and widespread publicity surrounding assisted reproductive technologies have made it seem as though every woman over the age of thirty-five is apt to have problems conceiving. But this just isn’t true. Meldrum1

Step three: Make the connection between your emotions, your family, and your fertility. The crux of the mind/body approach to fertility is discovering how the messages you internalized from childhood are currently affecting your ability to conceive.

To get started on this, construct an ephistogram. An ephistogram is an emotional and physical family health history that diagrams family patterns. It was developed by Niravi Payne as an adaptation of the genogram used by family therapists. It can help you understand what circumstances, over many decades, may have caused you to experience reproductive problems. “Filling it out,” writes Niravi, “is a powerful method for creating new pathways for healing, conceiving and carrying a baby to term.”

To create an ephistogram, you use the same diagram you would use when drawing a genealogy, or family tree, except that in addition to the names of your grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and siblings, you also put in any illnesses or physical symptoms they had, any emotional patterns you remember, and any reproductive difficulties they may have had. This is like detective work. Remember, for better or for worse, your family served as the model for your current intimate relationships. Ask yourself the following questions about each member of your family tree: What message did I receive from this person about having children? Was it positive? Was it negative? Did I internalize any of it? What did they lead me to believe about the process of conception, pregnancy, labor, and birth? Were there any family secrets, such as miscarriages or pregnancies that were kept hidden?

-Step four: Name your ambivalence. It is perfectly normal to be somewhat ambivalent about having a baby. It is possible to very much want a baby and to be terrified of the process at the same time. After all, it changes your life permanently and in ways that you can’t really plan for. Ambivalence is a problem only when it isn’t acknowledged and worked through.

What Causes This

There are other factors to consider when getting to the root cause of your fertility issues:

Unabated Stress

Unabated emotional stress results in high adrenaline and cortisol levels. This leads to imbalances in other hormones that are important for optimal fertility including thyroid, progesterone, and estrogen. One of the most tried and true ways to decrease emotional stress and its physiological effects is with guided imagery, meditation, breathing through the nose, and relaxation. A wide number of well-documented modalities are available to help with this.

Mindfulness meditation and techniques such as Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response Benson2 have been successfully used by Alice Domar, Ph.D., to help women heal from the stress of infertility while also increasing conception rates substantially. Boston3 For years, those interested in PMS have batted around the idea of a “menotoxin” present in women around the time of their periods because of this Jekyll-and-Hyde phenomenon and also because skin breakouts were worse premenstrually. A practical guide to Dr. Domar’s program can be found in her books Healing Mind, Healthy Woman (Henry Holt, 1996) and Self-Nurture (Viking, 2000).

Mindfulness and relaxation training are especially important if you’re going through any high-tech medical fertility treatments, since it is clear that unresolved and unexpressed emotional and psychological stress has physiologic consequences that may hamper the effectiveness of fertility treatments. Facchinetti4 But when emotional stress is addressed and resolved, pregnancy rates go up. Helpful, guided imagery for enhancing fertility has been created by my colleague Belleruth Naparstek. (See www.healthjourneys.com.)

Consider the Male Factor

When people hear the word biological clock we usually think “women.” But this simply isn’t true. Fully 40 percent of infertility problems lie with the man, not the woman!

Artificial and Natural Light

Living in artificial light without going outside into natural sunlight regularly can have adverse consequences on fertility, because light itself is a nutrient. The scientific literature on light and human biocycles is extensive.

Nutritional Factors

Nutrients affect every hormonal interaction in the body, and adequate levels of them are clearly important in human reproduction. For more information, see chapter 17, “Nourishing Ourselves with Food” in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom.

Tubal Problems

In order to become pregnant, the fallopian tubes have to be able to pick up an egg and assist its passage to the waiting uterus. This process is dynamic and can be affected by myriad factors, one of the most common being scarring of the tubes from previous pelvic infections that are often the result of sexually transmitted diseases. This can be treated with a variety of techniques including deep tissue massage.

Spiritual and Holistic Options

Helpful New Modalities for Enhancing Fertility include:

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

Though our culture is quick to bring in the big-gun technologies when it comes to fertility enhancement, these are often not necessary. One of most helpful modalities for enhancing fertility is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I’ve been referring patients to practitioners of acupuncture and herbology for years with great success. It’s the first place I go for any health problem myself!

My colleague Randine Lewis, Ph.D., has dedicated her life to helping women enhance their fertility through the use of TCM. Dr. Lewis, author of The Infertility Cure (Little, Brown, 2004), was in medical school when she began to have fertility problems herself. After exhausting the western medical approach, she discovered the ancient wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Not only did TCM resolve the imbalances that were leading to her own fertility problems, Dr. Lewis realized that it was the perfect solution for many other women as well.

She eventually dropped out of medical school to pursue training in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Following training in China, she returned to the U.S., where she opened a clinic helping women achieve optimal fertility with a 75 percent success rate. Her fertility enhancement work also supports women who are using assisted reproductive technologies, helping them achieve better outcomes.

Dr. Lewis points out that in Chinese medicine, it takes a disturbed ovarian cycle a full ninety days to regenerate. That’s why she urges her patients to complete her ninety-day program. TCM, like most holistic methods, is aimed at rebalancing the body from the inside out. It’s not a quick fix the way western medicine claims to be. Dr. Lewis offers Fertile Soul Retreats four to six times per year that include personalized evaluation and recommendations.

Deep Tissue Massage

Pelvic adhesions that interfere with fallopian tube function have long been associated with fertility problems as well as chronic pain. It is estimated that approximately 40 percent of female infertility is associated with scarring of the pelvic organs either from prior surgery or infections. A noninvasive, nonsurgical type of deep tissue massage performed by specially trained physical therapists known as the Wurn Technique (after its founders, Larry and Belinda Wurn—both physical therapists) and Maya abdominal massage (a technique used for centuries by indigenous healers in Central America) has been used to successfully treat infertility as well as other reproductive and pelvic disorders.

Learn More — Additional Resources

References

  1. Meldrum, D. R., 1993. Female reproductive aging—ovarian and uterine factors, Fertility and Sterility, vol. 59, vol. 1:1–5; Wood, C., Calderon, I., Crombie, A., 1992. Age and fertility: results of assisted reproductive technology in women over 40 years, Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, vol. 9, no. 5:482–4; Tan, S. L., et al., Cumulative conception and livebirth rates after in-vitro fertilisation, The Lancet, vol. 339, no. 8806:1390–4.
  2. Benson, H., 1985. “Stress, Anxiety and the Relaxation Response,” Behavioral Biology in Medicine: A Monograph Series, No. 3. (So. Norwalk, CT: Meducation, 1985), pp. 1–28.
  3. While the pregnancy rate for other infertile couples seeking medical treatment is between 17 and 25 percent, the pregnancy rate in Dr. Domar’s program is 44 percent, with 37 percent taking home a baby (some pregnancies end in miscarriage). “The Goddess of Fertility,” Boston Magazine, March 1997, pp. 57–117.
  4. Facchinetti, F., et. al., 1997. An increased vulnerability to stress is associated with a poor outcome of in vitro fertilization—Embryo transfer treatment, Fertility and Sterility, vol 67:309-14.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

Comments

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  1. Jocelyn
    3 years ago

    Hello 🙂 I found Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom in 2010; I’m grateful for all the love and encouragement I see in this flourishing community of women. I have sought room to grow, and the wisdom in my Being has presented to me the need to heal the relationship I have with my mother. My creativity needs room for expression, and I find things here that have held me back from fully expressing my beauty and the life that flows in me. I am thankful for the support of a loving community and the courage they provide as I go on my journey through another house.

    Love for everyone 🙂

  2. Gillian D.
    8 years ago

    I do think there is so much more good news than we read/hear about. My husband’s business has turned around after 5 months without bringing home any paychecks. Jobs that were put on hold have been given the green light. Last week, he was able to bring back his employees!

    I have a wonderful little poster by S.A.R.K. that must be at least 20 years old with yellowed edges. It’s as appropriate now as ever. There’s lots of great advice but one part always sticks in my head: “…rewrite recession to read: Money Recess. Remember recess? You got to go outside, kick a ball, and feel free from school. We all need to feel free about money! … What you are worth is not about money.”

  3. Elektra G.
    8 years ago

    people are so focussed on lack when it comes to recession! they focus on all that can go wrong, are full of fear… and guess what? it happens! HA!

    i talked yesteday to a friend and told her “but there is so much abundance around us! why not focus on THAT?” truly don’t get it…

    the same with news – drama! drama! drama! and more drama… there is so much GOOD news out there, but it seems that the reporters are addicted to the adrenaline rush when they publish the bad news over and over again. the same with people who read it.

    i see a lot of good things come from this ‘recession’ syndrome.
    last time at the Ladies Evening Steam Bath – it was.. wo.. crowded! many were simply enjoying the nice and simple steambath and each other’s company. smiling to each other and genuinely inquiring how you were doing!

    on the streets – people say ‘hi’ more often.
    around 10 pm everyone is asleep – the streets are dark and empty.
    people come together at dinner time more often and are more creative cooking meals, instead of going to the restaurant.
    shopping streets are less crowded – this means that people are buying less junk, the one they never needed in the first place.

    and the very good news is that all those people who enrich themselves behind people’s back get exposed! YES! groovy..

    it’s truly time for parasites to ‘move house’ – change!

    i was wondering: how come we, as children never tolerated backstabbers, liars and the like? they always got excluded… and how come we grew up to be adults who do?

    Hmmmm!

    Happy RE-session 😉 everyone!

    Elektra

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