Learning how to cope with stress could help couples facing the challenge of infertility and potentially improve their chances of having a baby.
“This program is a wonderful way of teaching people how to access their own inner resources for healing.”
Leslee Kagan, MS, FNP, runs a program at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine (BHI) at Massachusetts General Hospital that teaches couples how to use mindfulness, gratitude, meditation and cognitive skills to reduce stress and improve the quality of their life. Many are undergoing treatments, including in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Many women struggling with infertility have likely experienced the chemical cascade of stress that the body produces. Exactly how this impacts fertility is unclear. Medical interventions can help both female and male infertility, but programs that address the emotional toll are more difficult to find, Ms. Kagan says. This is where the BHI can make a difference in a couple’s outlook.
By working effectively to better manage stress and enhancing self-care, women feel they are doing all they can to maximize their chances of having a baby, Ms. Kagan says.
Learning Long-Haul Skills
Infertility is a common occurrence in the United States and a health issue for both men and women. About 12 percent of women between the ages of 15 to 44 years old have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The eight-week program at BHI offers individual time with Ms. Kagan and group sessions. Partners are invited to two of the group sessions.
The group meetings combine education and skills training in a group setting where women can share their experiences and support one another. They are also taught how to recognize and change negative thinking patterns.
As a result, women regain a sense of control and acquire a set of skills that allow them to better manage the demands of treatment and can support them through any life struggle. Ultimately, their resiliency is enhanced.
Infertility and Pressure
Tara Tehan, RN, participated in the BHI program in 2012. She entered the program after having miscarriages and a failed attempt at IVF. The Mass General nurse remembers feeling isolated and wanting to connect with other women facing similar challenges.
“The skills are what maintain you for the long-haul. Infertility treatment is such a stressful process.”
She hoped she would become a mother, but as time dragged on, it became difficult for her to stay optimistic. She knew her biological clock was running out and felt her pathway to motherhood was limited.
From Ms. Kagan, Tara learned to step back and consider the sources of pressure on her. “I can’t control this,” Tara began thinking. “What will be, will be.”
Tara began to meditate each day. When stressed, she would imagine sand gliding through her toes at the beach. She formed bonds with women in the group. When she worried that she would never get pregnant, Ms. Kagan refocused Tara on her mind-body skills.
Accessing Inner Resources
“The skills are what maintain you for the long-haul,” Tara says. “Infertility treatment is such a stressful process.”
After four cycles of IVF, Tara became pregnant. Her pregnancy was difficult. She delivered early at 31 weeks at Mass General, but felt better able to handle it because of what she learned from Ms. Kagan.
Her son, Nolan, is now a healthy 2-year-old. And she has kept in touch with other women who went through the program at the same time as her. Through the years, many of the women have formed friendships and support systems that outlast the program. Some return as mentors to help new groups.
“This program is a wonderful way of teaching people how to access their own inner resources for healing,” Ms. Kagan says. “It’s incredibly magical to see how people can change their lives in eight weeks.”
Philanthropy Can Help
Philanthropy could help women attend the program. Individual sessions with Ms. Kagan are covered by insurance, but group sessions are not. Additional funding could help more women attend the program and also support research into mind-body interventions and the effect on pregnancy rates.