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Finally: Proof that Stress Does Not Cause Infertility

I literally could feel myself coiling up inside as I saw that there was an article in the newspaper today on stress and infertility, but I can release my breath because instead of one more article telling infertility women they should “just relax” or not sabotage their fertility with worry, there is actual scientific proof that not only does stress not cause infertility, but infertility causes stress.  Chicken — meet egg.  That’s where you came from.

Women who are stressed and anxious before in vitro fertilization (IVF) are no less likely to have a baby, new research suggests. But if the treatment fails, it may take a toll on their mental health.

In two separate studies in the journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers found women with anxiety or depression symptoms were just as likely as others to become pregnant.

I never experienced depression before or since infertility, but those years of trying to conceive the twins were the darkest moments I’ve ever experienced.  The self-hate, the suffocating sadness, the bleakness, the desire to be anyone but myself.  Everything I missed out on in other facets of life during those years because I was immobilized by infertility, by failed treatments or loss.  It was like trying to breathe underwater; impossible, and in its impossibility, it became life-threatening because no oxygen was coming in, no carbon dioxide was going out.

I am trying not to cry in this Starbucks.

I’ve always known what I went through emotionally, knew it was real and valid.  But there is something about reading it in black and white on the screen, in major newspapers across the country, that makes me feel like someone outside the experience might one day understand too.

And thank you, Lauri A. Pasch, for this:

And although women with a failed try at IVF were at higher risk, even women who became pregnant had substantial rates of depression and anxiety, Pasch’s team found.

During pregnancy, 30 percent of those women had depression in the “clinical range,” while half had clinical-level anxiety. Those rates were close to what they were before IVF.

According to Pasch, infertility practices should do more to help women with mental health symptoms – though not because it would be expected to improve their odds of IVF success.

You just changed a lot of women’s lives with this; at least, how we feel about ourselves and the way we cope.


1 gwinne { 06.28.12 at 10:02 am }

I will check that out. Thank you for this post.

2 Trisha { 06.28.12 at 10:44 am }

Major “Like” for this!

3 Peg { 06.28.12 at 10:45 am }

Nothing like having some outside validation for something you knew in your heart.

4 sass { 06.28.12 at 10:54 am }

Thank you! I am always telling myself this – to avoid feeling guilty and depressed about feeling depressed – but it is really wonderful to see it confirmed by actual research.

There are lots of reasons to try to stay positive, but fear of dooming your chance at pregnancy is not one of them! Thank goodness.

5 Io { 06.28.12 at 11:01 am }

Whew – I was happy to see this. Because I am feeling rather stressed right now. And then worrying if my stress would mess me up more. Which causes more stress.
So maybe now I can feel less stressed…

6 Marisa { 06.28.12 at 11:17 am }

I will never forget the first time I saw an article that touched on the depression and stress couples going through IVF experience and tied it to research. I sobbed because the validation that I wasn’t alone or insane. Thank you for sharing this article. I hope it helps women going though IF realize that their feelings are real and it’s okay to feel that way.

7 Augusta { 06.28.12 at 11:30 am }

Thank you for this post, Melissa. Alice Domar interprets the research in that same way in Conquering Infertility, and it helped a great deal to read that. And that’s from a few years back. It sounds like more up-to-date research is really leaning more in the way that infertility is what causes stress, depression and anxiety, and not the other way around.
Infertility is a hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It’s hard to imagine that life will ever get better, and it heartens me to read that yours has by orders of magnitude.

8 tigger62077 { 06.28.12 at 11:35 am }

Like I told the people on my Facebook when I posted this “now you have scientific proof that stress doesn’t cause infertility. The next time you feel like telling someone who is trying to get pregnant to ‘just relax’ do us all a favor: don’t. It’s not helpful, and just causes us more stress.” Several of my friends agreed, although it did not prompt the discussion I had hoped it would.

I’m very glad they put this article out there, though. As Peg said, there’s nothing like external validation for something you already knew in your heart.

9 Tiara { 06.28.12 at 11:36 am }

What an important article. As someone else said, major Like!!

10 Cristy { 06.28.12 at 11:44 am }

Just more proof that telling couples living with infertility to “just relax” is fruitless, if not more destructive.

The thing is, even though depression and anxiety do not cause infertility, there is a lot of evidence about the mind/body connection and IVF that can not (and should not) be refuted. Just as stated in Pasch and colleagues “these findings suggest that attention be paid to helping patients prepare for and cope with treatment and treatment failure.” There was an article from Domar and colleagues (2011; Fertility and Sterility) looking at the impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients. Their results were the following: “Only 9% of the MB participants had attended at least one-half of their sessions at cycle 1 start. Pregnancy rates for cycle 1 were 43% for all subjects; 76% of the MB subjects had attended at least one-half of their sessions at cycle 2 start. Pregnancy rates for cycle 2 were 52% for MB and 20% for control.
MB participation was associated with increased pregnancy rates for cycle 2, prior to which most subjects had attended at least half of their sessions.”
Granted, this is one study headed by Ali Domar, but I think both these articles argues for a specific type of intervention.

11 Becky { 06.28.12 at 11:51 am }

To add to what Peg said, nothing like having some outside validation to hand to others (particularly medical professionals and family members!) when they say really stupid things.

12 Nicole { 06.28.12 at 11:53 am }

When I was reading it all I thought was wow anyone going through IF could have told you that but it is nice to have the validation. I have always said that it is best to feel what you need to feel when you are going through IF rather than feel depressed and then beat yourself up that you need to stay positive in order to get pregnant.

13 a { 06.28.12 at 12:10 pm }

To think they actually had to do research on this…

Some things are fairly obvious, and yet apparently unbelievable.

14 Mic @ IFCrossroads { 06.28.12 at 12:13 pm }

I personally can attest that my infertility experience pushed me into a full on depression that didn’t end with pregnancy or birth.

15 Corey Feldman { 06.28.12 at 1:22 pm }

I’m a big fan of actual scientific research instead of assumptions. I hope this helps reduce stress for people going through this.

16 Anna { 06.28.12 at 4:29 pm }

I welcome this with open arms. I just wish I’d read it during my wilderness years, when I was fighting the deep consuming darkness and all the panic that my despair was going to stop me getting pregnant anyway. It will take a long time before any lone voices of sanity filter down into the healthcare system but I can understand your relief and thanks for posting about it.

17 Molly { 06.28.12 at 5:04 pm }

I posted the link in F_ace:book and someone wrote, “Well, in my case taking some time off work worked. But everybody’s different.”

I was tempted to say, “I’m sure you wouldn’t have written that if it hadn’t worked.”

18 serenity { 06.28.12 at 5:43 pm }

Yes. Yes yes yes. Finally, some research that proves it.


19 Daryl { 06.28.12 at 8:57 pm }

Thank you so much for sharing this!

20 Alicia { 06.28.12 at 9:53 pm }

Finally. Thank you so much for this. Today I am anxious and stressed, and despite my rationalization that this is not going to impede implantation, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in some way blowing my chances this month because of stress. Thank you for this post.

21 Sandra { 06.29.12 at 12:00 am }

I’m thrilled to see this as I’ve often wondered if it was my mental state that made our attempts fail. Thank you!

22 persnickety { 06.29.12 at 12:23 am }

In Australia IVF clinics cannot get accreditation unless they are able offer patients access to therapist services as part of their treatment! This is not a pre-requisite for any other form of medical care (including cancer) but is a requirement for fertility clinics. It isn’t well publicised, and in the end, mine only covered one therapist session (but better than nothing).
The therapist also had a very good point, which I am going to try to retain on the next cycle- this is one of the most stressful experiences we can put ourselves through- a process where the odds of failure are higher than the odds of success. Yet we deny ourselves many of the things that would help us cope- alcohol, exercise, nice food- as part of the process.

23 Manju { 06.29.12 at 2:42 am }

After 5 failed IVFs, I was advised by a doctor to undergo psycotherapy as it is believed to help with IVF success! I think the most pathetic creatures in this world is the woman struggling with infertility. Scientists have tested all possible hypothesis and most of them are totally stupid and of no use.

24 Molly { 06.29.12 at 3:35 am }

Me again. Got another response from another person saying, “But you know, I know a friend who got pregnant after she quit work.”

I wrote back: “Yeah, but you haven’t done any research about that, have you? But some people have and that’s the report in the article.”


25 Bea { 06.29.12 at 7:08 am }

News of the obvious to me of course… But not always to the world in general so good to see.

26 loribeth { 06.29.12 at 8:49 am }

Any sort of research that “legitimizes” what we go through in the eyes of the general public is a plus in my books. It’s just sad that it’s needed. :p

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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