For couples struggling with infertility, "just relax" may be the most aggravating two-word phrase in the English language. "Those are fighting words," says infertility expert Sandra Berga, MD, chair of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory University in Atlanta.
Couples don't need or appreciate any suggestion that infertility is "all in their head," she says. They also don't need to hear another story about a couple who finally conceived on a cruise ship or had three babies after they "stopped trying."
Links to infertility
Such advice may be maddening, but it also contains a seed of truth, Berga says. Studies conducted over the years strongly suggest that emotional stress can actually impair fertility in men and women. For many couples suffering from infertility of unknown origin, this apparent obstacle is also an opportunity. Berga and other researchers have found that some couples can dramatically increase their chances of conceiving simply by learning how to cope with stress.
Instead of intrusive advice from well-meaning friends, infertile couples need professional help, Berga says. An infertility specialist can check each partner for underlying illnesses or anatomical problems that can make it hard to conceive. Learning how to cope with stress will not help all infertile couples, of course, particularly if the infertility is caused by a biological problem such as a lack of viable eggs. In such cases, those seeking a pregnancy would probably be advised to consider advanced reproductive technologies, such as using donor eggs.
But if there's no other obvious explanation, psychological stress just might be the culprit. In such cases, Berga says, a professional counselor or therapist may be able to help couples handle stress and put them on the path to parenthood.