Women dealing with sub-fertility tend to exist in a state of pretending to be happy on the surface, whilst hiding deep pain on the inside. Friends and family smile supportively and make cheerful noises of optimism and bright futures. Comments like ‘you just need to relax’ or ‘have a holiday’ are well meant and common place, yet all the while, the women alone with their fears are screaming inside - tortured by their desperate longing to have a baby.
“I’d always been sceptical of complementary therapies, all the yin and yang, funny smells and gobbledegook terms, but this was something different. Never before had I met a person before who instilled such positivity. For the first time in a long time I felt like someone finally understood me, understood our situation and genuinely wanted to help. Nichola’s down-to-earth and truthful approach was something we hadn’t experienced during treatment so far. Everything else was very generic, and we were just a number in a very large group with a common theme; unexplained infertility. Nichola’s approach was different; she dug deep to learn more about me as a person and alongside the reflexology, the work was heavily complemented by a genuine desire to learn about the feelings I was experiencing, and the desire to try to unravel the negative thoughts spinning round in my head. Rather than concentrating on the thoughts placed in our minds by our medical professionals, I began to realise that all the inconclusive testing was actually a positive thing. My mindset changed and it was no longer about consultants not being able to find a real cause for our constant failures, it became more about the fact that they couldn’t find a cause because there just wasn’t anything wrong; there was no reason for the treatments not to work. This became my new outlook. The NHS waiting times between treatments were long but I used this time to let the Nichola work her magic and get me into the most positive and relaxed mindset possible. Don’t get me wrong, there were still moments I sat quietly on a night and asked myself if I was living in the real world, or was I letting myself be led into a place where fairies danced and where everything was going to be nice and perfect. Physically, my menstrual cycles started to change and became less of a hassle. My partner was finally able to take his tin-hat off and felt safe I wasn’t going to throw things at his head every month. As our final IVF cycle loomed, I actually felt more in control than I had throughout any other treatment. My partner and I made all the decisions around our treatment; not the nurses, nor the consultants. I was in a positive place and didn’t experience the pressure I’d felt on myself during other cycles. Our treatment went relatively smoothly, just as the previous cycles had. The outcome though was unexpected. After over 60 months of unbearable disappointment, seeing a single blue line each and every time, we finally saw 2 very definite blue lines. As for the yin and the yang, the funny smells and the gobbledegook; which actually makes perfect sense, we’re now firm believers. To be understood as person, rather than counted as an unwanted statistic makes every difference”.
'Cytotoxicity’ – the quality of being toxic to cells.
Q. I don't think I'm stressed. I love my life. I just can't get pregnant?
A. Stress isn't really about not coping in life, or about not being happy. Stress is much more related to the manner in which we think, and to what occurs in our mind sub-consciously. Sub-fertility can bring about moments of deep fear and acute distress, and those emotions can often be powerful enough to set off the stress response and hinder conception.
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Finding Flow & IVF
Fear, Stress and Sub-Fertility
Cortisol, one of the bodies stress hormones, is released by the adrenal gland during stressor events. Under normal circumstances it takes
around 24 hours for cortisol to leave the bloodstream.
During times of chronic stress, where too much cortisol collects in the blood, non-essential systems, such the endocrine system can become
impacted. Over time, this chronic stress state can begin to negatively impact both a menstrual cycle, and work to hinder functional implantation of a fertilised embryo.
The Emotional Impact of Sub-Fertility
Specifically, chronic stress causes a decrease in gonadal steroids through inhibition of Gn-RH (gonadotrophin-releasing hormone). Inhibition of Gn-RH in women leads to decreased levels of luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and ultimately also estradiol.
Post embryo transfer, a woman now waits and tries hard not to agonise over the next ten days, until either a menstrual bleed occurs spontaneously, or a test confirms either a pregnancy or a failed cycle. It is easy to imagine how any woman might find this entire process deeply stressful.
For most ladies undergoing IVF, referral to a specialist fertility unit is but the latest stop on a very long journey. Initially, most will feel only relief when the IVF referral letter arrives – finally they will see the doctors who really know what they’re doing!
A 2014 study (Kwak-Kim et al.) demonstrated inflammatory immune responses play a key role in reproductive failures such as multiple implantation failures (MIF), early pregnancy loss, and recurrent pregnancy losses (RPL). Researchers believe an excessive recruitment of peripheral blood natural killer (NK) cells to the uterus may lead to cytotoxic environment in utero.
Women come to know their bodies intimately, charting basal temperatures and testing for ovulation, yet often lose faith in their bodies completely. They recount tails of engaging robotically with their husbands and partners, and talk of how fertility issues have damaged their sex life, and feelings of intimacy and closeness. The dreaded arrival of the menstrual bleed is simply a reminder of how they’ve failed yet again, each month, each failure, only adding to the deep sub-conscious fear they will never become pregnant.
"Instead of obsessing about possible reasons for not conceiving, reflexology focused on the physical and mental issues that put my body in turmoil, and gave me a sense of perspective and hope. Stopping the contraceptive pill after 14 years left me with constant bleeding and hormonal irregularity, so that my body felt completely alien to me. Reflexology helped me to reclaim and understand my body, so that within weeks of starting treatment, I was healthier and happier than I had been in years. It took less than 10 weeks to prepare me to conceive naturally. Throughout my pregnancy, reflexology kept me grounded, focused and healthy. On of the most valuable aspects of Nichola's approach is her understanding that is not always possible to completely remove all potential barriers to conception. Giving up a stressful job was not an option for me, but the treatments helped me to understand how my body responded to that stress and therefore gave me the power to choose a different response." (On File)
Finding Flow & Sub-Fertility
"After 5 years of heartache including a natural pregnancy that ended in miscarriage, 4 rounds of IVF, again one of which ended in miscarriage and numerous tests stating 'unexplained infertility' I decided that before commencing my 5th and final bout of IVF, I would give acupuncture and reflexology a go. I contacted Nichola and began seeing her a couple of months prior to beginning treatment. Nichola helped me to sort my head out (not an easy task!) and try to get rid of all my negativity. I went in to my treatment on this occasion feeling much more positive, which resulted in a successful treatment...A fabulously healthy pregnancy. .and the birth of the most beautiful baby boy." (Facebook Review)
Women will often talk of their deep distress when friends become pregnant, and then later their feelings of shame for experiencing envy. Some women find the very sight of a pregnant woman difficult to endure, while for others, it is the sight of a mother pushing her pram. Siblings, relations, friends, workmates, and hardly known acquaintances all seem to be able to pro-create easily enough, without assistance, and irritatingly, some even go on to do it twice!
Nichola Gregory BA (HONS), MBACP
Then arrives the day of the first appointment, and no matter how well trained and welcoming the staff are, no matter how inviting the environment of the IVF unit, the moment a woman is given the date schedule for her IVF protocol and she becomes aware of what lies ahead of her, fear and panic can often set in.
Within the supportive space, clients can also learn about their body, and pick up useful tips on how better manage daily stress responses. The overall outcome generally manifests in a calmer brain, and a more stable menstrual cycle.
No matter how astonishing the science of IVF, the reality of the protocol for most women might be best described as negotiating a path of hurdles. One cannot move forward to the next phase of treatment until X, Y or Z has been achieved, and at all times there is a worry the protocol might be abandoned should the woman not respond accordingly. Where the protocol is completed through to egg collection phase, attention turns to concern over how many eggs will be retrieved successfully, and of those eggs how many will fertilise, and will they be good enough grade embryos?
Women attending for supportive sessions for the first time, during a third or fourth IVF cycle, for example, often report:
Both reflexology and auricular acupuncture excel in encouraging deep states of physical relaxation, and have been recommended where stress and anxiety exists. Reflexology offers the additional bonus of encouraging perfusion (blood flow) directly to vital organs, such as the uterus and ovaries.
Fear is perhaps the most harmful emotion when considering matters of sub-fertility, and understandably, many women challenged by this difficult life hurdle will admit to experiencing regular states of fear, panic and deep stress.
The Emotional Impact of IVF
Grief, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, and fear are all familiar emotions to those who find they are challenged with the pain and isolation associated with sub-fertility.
"Amazing!!! I would highly recommend Nichola - she is truly amazing!! After 2 ectopic pregnancies and a failed IVF I was emotionally run down and feeling very low!! I live in Germany with my hubby and I had heard that reflexology can help with IVF, etc, so when I was in UK visiting family I contacted Nichola. She was amazing talked through my experiences and she instantly made me feel happier and gave me hope. I had about 6 sessions with NIchola and she lifted me up when I was feeling like there was no hope and generally down about myself. After the 6 sessions I returned to Germany happier, more hopeful and ready to have another crack at IVF which I told myself was going to work!! Nichola made me believe and I felt a lot more positive!! So I excitedly waited for my cycle to start so we could start the IVF medication 8 days later still no cycle - only to find out we were pregnant already I had conceived naturally. I can not thank Nichola enough." (Facebook Review)
“I am a 44 year old GP who had been trying to conceive for 8 years, having undertaken seven IVF attempts, in addition to one frozen cycle, and one IUI cycle, across a number of years. Nichola talked about the negative effect of stress hormones on the uterus, and the reduction in the chances of embryos implanting, which made a lot of sense. Because of my treatments I realised how stressed and deflated I had become as a result of the repeated failures. Nichola gave me faith that the treatment could work if we got my body and mind in a confident state and ready to receive a pregnancy. I was going to be away in Cyprus for the treatment and Nichola was very reassuring that not having reflexology for a couple of weeks would not impact negatively on the outcome, because we had already helped my body and mind into the right place to conceive. With a previous practitioner I would have rushed back up from embryo transfer to have acupuncture, which seemed to add to the stress and the pressure of the whole process. I felt relaxed as I left for the transfer and managed to deal with the whole experience well. I am sure reflexology has played a significant part in preparing me for this pregnancy and ensuring that my body and mind were in the right place to receive a pregnancy. The therapists treatment, support, advice, stories of her life experiences and good humour have all played a vital role in helping me to finally become pregnant. Something that I thought would never happen.”
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