A new medical study was presented this year at the annual American Society for Reproductive Medicine by Fertility Centers of Illinois and Pulling Down the Moon. It's a must-read for anyone dealing with the stress of infertility and/or miscarriage. As someone who found Pulling Down the Moon's yoga program really helpful while going through treatment, I believe these findings are not only exciting but important for those struggling.
New Study Uses Yoga to Quickly Reduce Stress During Fertility Treatment
Beth Heller, Creator of the Yoga for Fertility™ Program and Co-Founder of Pulling Down the Moon
Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron, Director of Fertility Preservation and Reproductive Endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois
Anyone who is in the midst of treatment knows that between the appointments, injections and hormone rollercoaster, stress is bound to come along for the ride.
If you are struggling to carve out some “you” time to decompress, new research around yoga and stress among fertility patients will offer hope and relief. In a new study by Fertility Centers of Illinois and Pulling Down the Moon, online yoga and in-person yoga were found to be equally effective in reducing anxiety among the most highly stressed infertility patients - those who have undergone at least one IVF cycle without success or have experienced miscarriage after IVF.
Not only did stress relief happen quickly, there was a significant reduction - up to 26 percent after a six-week online yoga program and 23 percent after an in-person yoga program. Yoga practice occurred weekly and while both groups followed the same yoga class, the online participants followed a DVD rather than attending a yoga studio. Group discussion followed yoga class while the online group met weekly on a video application. Both groups followed the Yoga for Fertility™ program.
The study was born out of the goal to treat both the emotional and physical challenges of treatment in order to reduce stress and reverse the 40 percent treatment dropout rate, helping patients achieve success. With infertility causing the same intense stress as a cancer diagnosis, having an accessible and effective stress reduction tool is critical. Yoga is one of the most accessible stress reduction options available and this study proves that significant results can happen, even from your bedroom in your pajamas.
To help everyone access the benefits of yoga and group discussion during treatment, we’ve put together a helpful Q&A section of common questions we are asked about the study:
How is yoga helpful for stress?
Yoga, a low-intensity form of exercise, works on the physical body. Through stretching and bending the spine and limbs and emphasizing deep diaphragmatic breathing, it is believed that the body’s relaxation response is mechanically stimulated. It has been hypothesized that yoga poses and breathing exercises stimulate the vagus nerve, a large nerve running the length of the spine that is a key regulator of our body's parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS in turn stimulates the relaxation response.
How does infertility affect mental health?
Infertility is isolating and very few people talk about their experiences. Women often feel sadness, guilt, shame, anxiety and depression. Sadly, 30 percent of IVF patients suffer from anxiety and depression, with studies showing that an infertility diagnosis causes the same amount of stress, anxiety, and depression as an HIV or cancer diagnosis. These challenges can lead to patients discontinuing treatment before experiencing success.
How can group discussion help women?
Group discussion and support are critical for women experiencing infertility. Being with others experiencing similar challenges immediately provides a support network and reduces isolation. Being around others who “get it” is validating, reassuring and energizing.
What does the group and online discussion entail?
The 45-minute group discussion centers on how to apply different yoga techniques such as breathing, meditation, and working with negative thoughts to the fertility journey. Women are taught to reconnect to their body in a loving and compassionate way, use breath awareness to release tension and re-energize, and are provided a framework for addressing the negative thoughts and beliefs that accumulate. Women are also invited to reconnect to their lives with a more relaxed and present-focused attention. And we make sure to do a whole lot of laughing.
How have participants described the study and their results overall?
One participant realized that racing downtown to attend a yoga class was going to cause more stress than it was going to reduce, so she joined the online course. In her own words, she explains, “It has been absolutely wonderful! A community of women on the same journey as I am. Even though I have never and probably will never really meet them face to face I feel still that they are my people. My family. My world. This experience has been invaluable to my journey and my life.”
What are the implications for the future of fertility care based on these results?
Unfortunately, nationwide infertility practices, regardless of patient financial burden, experience patient drop out prior to achieving pregnancy success. The most common reason provided by patients is the stress of the infertility process. With this study, yoga both in person and remote has been shown to mitigate this stress in the most severely stressed patient population. This is extraordinarily powerful as it is a cost effective and convenient way to encourage patients to stay in treatment.
What are the limitations of this study?
The two limitations that we experienced are the most common challenges all researchers face - participants dropping out of the program before completion and working with smaller participation numbers. Due to lower participation numbers, we cannot make a conclusion about the impact of yoga for stress reduction in regards to pregnancy outcomes.
What can women do today to start reaping the benefits?
Feeling relief can be as simple as doing this 7-minute Moon Salute Sequence video that follows a flowing sequence of yoga poses especially designed for fertility. We also recommend finding a local support group, joining an online forum or finding a weekly yoga class near you.
Karen, a.k.a. Hilariously Infertile, is a teacher and writer who lives outside New York City with her family. Check out free chapters to her book, Hilariously Infertile, on her website hilariouslyinfertile.com , and find her on Instagram and facebook for your daily laugh-out-loud, snarky take on infertility. She will not disappoint.
After being diagnosed with PCOS and hypothyroidism, you wrote a book about your experiences with infertility. You've drawn attention to the book (and infertility in general) through your website (Hilariously Infertile) and social media platforms. What inspired you to share what you went through with others?
After the birth of my second daughter I was on maternity leave, and I was helping two of my good friends through their infertility cycles. I knew when they were ovulating, how big each follicle was on each day, all of it. My husband happened to mention in passing that I should mentor women, or write a self-help book for women. So, I started writing. At first, I didn't really know what I was writing. Was it a blog? A book? An article? All I knew was that it was real, and funny, and honest (and not a self-help book like my husband suggested). I shared it with my husband, and a few close friends at first, they all encouraged me to keep writing. Once I realized it was a book, I tried to email literary agents to get a book deal. (So naive.) I quickly learned that I have no connections in publishing. So, a friend suggested that I start a website and social media accounts. This was intimidating to me because I never even had a personal Facebook account (I know, weird right?). I started the website and the social media, got some articles published on FitPregnancy.com and from there it all kinda took off. The more I wrote and posted, the more women were emailing and messaging me from all over the world telling me how I was changing their life. (Nuts!) At first I thought Hilariously Infertile would be a dream that would fizzle out when I went back to work after my daughter. I thought it would reach a couple hundred people and that would be amazing! Incredible even. Then it just grew and grew and the feedback became better and better and more forth coming. I realized that I am really helping women from all corners of the earth get through their day with humor about such a sad subject and that means more to me than any book deal or anything.
Recently I posted a submission written by my husband. In it, he talks about how infertility affected him, me and us. When I read it, I laughed, I cried, and…felt some shame. Not from anything he had written, but for the fact that I had always assumed he was fine throughout the process. Or even more honestly, I am not sure I even considered how he felt. I was so mired in my own self-pity that I couldn’t look beyond myself and notice that he was suffering too.
Before I start to sound like a self-centered, narcissistic bitch, I should explain a bit about our relationship. We have been together for a long time. We met in college, and (minus a break-up my junior year that lasted about six months) have been together for 17 years, married 14. Throughout this time, I have been the emotional one, he the stoic. Our differing personalities have served us very well, and particularly well during the years of infertility. I knew I could lean on him, no questions asked, no judgments made. When he told me about a year into treatments, “You should talk to someone, you’re not handling this as well as you think,” I took that as an act of love and concern, not a criticism. I cried, he comforted. I broke down, he held me up.
There of course are cracks in this stalwart exterior, such as a particular Johnny Cash song that makes him tear up, and romantic gestures connected to days I wasn’t even aware of (like the 10th anniversary of the day we met). But, in everyday life, he is a rock. My rock.
And so, I write to make sure that, if you have a rock too, please don’t forget to check in with him or her now and again. If you are the more emotive one, go ahead and emote right along but at least offer a chance to cry, vent, or just let go. Knowing my husband, I am 99.9% sure he would not take me up on that offer, but I also know that it would mean something to him that I offered it at all.
FertiCalm: Calm. Content. And in Control: An App Designed for Women Experiencing Infertility
Several weeks ago, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Alice Domar. As I mentioned in that post, she is a pioneer in women's health. She is at the top of the field and if you have ever dealt with infertility or other reproductive issues, you should familiarize yourself with her and her work. She has introduced countless research findings to the field and we truly would not have come as far as we have in all things related to fertility without her knowledge, guidance and expertise. And we now have even more to be grateful for. When Dr. Domar first told me about the new App she and Dr. Elizabeth Grill developed, I said it was a game-changer and I truly believe that. If you are currently struggling with infertility, go immediately to your Apple or Android device and download the FertiCalm App. For no cost, (the app is free!), you will find over 50 specific situations that we've all experienced at one time or another while trying to conceive. And this app offers over 500 ways in which to handle these situations.
From the Ferticalm website:
FertiCalm addresses 50 common and distressing situations which individuals struggling to conceive encounter, and a variety of custom made solutions for each one. For each situation you might face (such as getting your period at work for example), you can click on six different ways to help you feel better. In the moment. As in, right then when you are experiencing the distress.
I know this sounds like a paid advertisement, but I assure you it is not. It is just a product that I believe in and wish existed years ago when I was at the height of my infertility issues. It would have been so helpful in navigating so many painful situations.
Head here to download on your Apple device.
Or here for your Android device.
PROSECCO & PALMTREES is a blog written by Kristy Jassak, a mom in Winter Garden, Florida. On February 5, 2017, she published a post about her infertility journey that hit home for me, as I think it likely will for many others out there reading. Head to her blog to read the touching account below and many other beautifully honest posts.
I couldn’t bear to part just yet with my littlest man for a whole week, so we took him along with my parents, on a ski trip to Colorado this week. The full significance of taking Max to Colorado didn’t become fully apparent to me until the plane started its descent and. I saw the jagged mountains to my left and the peaked white roof of this all too familiar airport once again.
The first time I visited Colorado I fell in love with its mountains, pine trees, rugged rock formations, amazing food and low humidity (good hair days of course!). I knew immediately I wanted to come back again and again, but had no idea until what circumstances I’d return.
Dr. Christopher Sipe is a Reproductive Endocrinologist practicing at Fertility Centers of Illinois. He has been praised by his patients for his empathy and warmth, evident in his desire to help clarify the many questions people have while struggling with infertility. Read on to learn the answers to the these questions.
During National Infertility Awareness Week, April 23 through April 29, Fertility Centers of Illinois are joining millions of women and men struggling to build a family in an effort to promote greater awareness about infertility. According to the CDC, one in eight couples in the U.S. experience infertility and it has been reported that infertility affects 45 million couples worldwide.
After trying unsuccessfully to conceive on their own, patients walk through our doors with a lot of questions. In an effort to help others and shed light on infertility, I am sharing the 10 most common questions we hear:
“Why can’t pregnancy happen ‘naturally’?”
This can happen due to one issue or several. For example, factors including medical diagnoses, lifestyle habits, cancer treatment, prescription medication and excess body weight can make conception a challenge. In other cases, the cause of infertility is unexplained. For women, common infertility issues can include ovulatory disorders, poor ovarian reserve, PCOS, endometriosis, or fibroids. For men, hormonal imbalances and semen issues are common infertility diagnoses.
I was recently talking with a friend who had just had her transfer and was waiting on the results. There was so much I wanted to say to her-I wanted to be encouraging and supportive, but also was careful not to get her hopes up too high for fear of the fall if it didn’t work out.
The two week wait. A term that I was blissfully unaware of before I knew anything about ovulation, injections, dye tests, HCG shots, etc. It is an excruciating time and it goes by so slowly, standing still, almost. It is marked by: doing everything in your power to not take a pregnancy test; endless praying; googling “early pregnancy symptoms”; and trying to immerse yourself in minute-by-minute distractions. And yet all you can think about is the two week wait. How many days left? What will the outcome be? Will you be crying happy or sad tears? And how can everyone else in the world just walk around and go about the business of daily life? Even my husband was able to go to work and live like a normal person while we waited. How was this possible?
Why do people think it's ok to tell someone struggling to get pregnant that they "just need to relax and it will happen." I heard that, or some variation of it, at least 1,000 times. It's infuriating and invalidating. There is seemingly no relaxing when it comes to trying to have a child and being unable to do so. Not to mention that I know PLENTY of rigid and anxious people who have gotten pregnant on their first try. I get that people are trying to be helpful, but being told to relax just makes me more irritated and stressed out. I think the best that you can do is just try to reduce your stress and hope to offer some ways to do so.