One area of fertility that is not always adequately addressed by mainstream health services is that of emotional wellbeing. Karenna from Your Fertility Hub is a fertility coach who wants to help thousands of women feel more positive about their fertility journeys, and to be in the best possible place to become a mum. She not only offers one-on-one coaching (available online), but also online courses and free practical tools via her website and podcast. During our interview we discussed why emotional wellbeing is important to fertility and some practical tools to ensure that you are in a great head space for trying to conceive, and for your journey into motherhood. (Transcript below video).
Today you are going to talk to us about the emotional side of fertility which I think is often neglected by the mainstream fertility services, why is it important?
It is so important! I often think that with all of the challenges and procedures going on with fertility, I actually think it is the emotional side that is the hardest thing to get through. We know that the stats for depression and anxiety are really high for women going through infertility and one study even compared them to the same levels of despair seen in people with terminal illnesses. So it really is a very serious and a very forgotten part of it; doctors are going through what they can do but there is so much you can do on the emotional side of things as well.
It is such a fundamental thing to want to have a child, and to have that taken away from you, taken out of your hands, you feel like you have got no control over it; you can see the similarities with the terminal illness feeling. A feeling of a complete lack of control, you are getting monthly disappointments, you might have all of these people around you, you are keeping it private and everyone is asking you these sensitive questions – it really can be a hurtful, private and isolating journey for women and couples going through it.
How do our emotions then affect our fertility?
This is an interesting area and where I come in, and what I work on. We often think of our mind and body as separate things but there is an increasing acceptance that they are one. Whenever we have a thought or a feeling it causes a chemical reaction in the body, the easiest example is when we are stressed, you start off with adrenaline and cortisol, and all of these sort of hormones running through us, but our stress hormones and our reproductive hormones are actually generated in the same place in our brain and they bounce off each other so you can see, and we know, that when women are stressed they are half as likely to conceive.
They have done some studies about high stress levels in saliva going into an IVF cycle, they are half as likely to be successful. So it is really is so important to be looking after yourself on the emotional side of things, as well as the physical side. People go heavily into diet and supplements and that sort of thing but you can actually make a real change just working with your mind and emotions.
The unfortunate thing is that stress and infertility really go hand in hand. It is a very stressful process to go through and what I am trying to create is to show people there are some tools and support out there that they can reach out for, and they can do this to boost their natural fertility. This isn’t somebody telling you to “just relax and it will happen,” which everybody hates of course! It is a lot more than that, these are actually practical tools and steps you can take to help improve your natural fertility, as well as just feel better on an everyday basis.
That is excellent that you have some practical steps, can you tell us a bit more?
It is exciting because there are so many things!
The first thing is to reduce the stress and bring back the feeling of control. You often feel it is really out of your control but ask what are the things you can control in your life right now? Where can you change and how can you improve things? So working on stress management to get your stress down is the first thing.
Relaxation tools; what relaxes you? What works for you? Using things like guided imagery, meditation, relaxation audio, things like that which guide you through getting relaxed, stimulating that automatic relaxation response in your body but also then effecting change on your thoughts, and then you can start delving into things like cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology where you are changing people’s mindset.
There are then loads of different tools within that, that you can use such as mindfulness, gratitude, creativity and all of those kind of things and you basically bring all of that together with some relationship skills, coping skills and practical things, and say right, you are here, you can feel supported, you can feel like you’re doing something – because within fertility you are always trying to ‘do something’ to make it better – and also find ways where you can just ‘be,’ because it is always hard to find that peace-of-mind when you are going through that.
It sounds amazing what you are offering and great that there are some practical tools that you can use, rather than doing what so many people suggest and ‘just take a holiday’ where you spend the whole time thinking about it!
Are there any other things that women can do to support themselves emotionally while they are going through infertility?
I think the main thing is getting support. We are really trying to get through it ourselves; keeping it private, just getting to the next appointment or the next month, those sorts of things, but you can actually experience this in a more positive way. So reaching out for support, reaching out online; to support groups like the your fertility toolbox group that we’ve got, or a coach like myself, or a counsellor – there are counsellors at infertility clinics and most people don’t use them but they are a great resource – and thinking about your community, your support community, and really saying to people, this is what I need you to not say, and being a bit assertive about what you need right now, to help you get through because infertility is not a permanent situation, so these are just tools to help you get through to the other side.
It would be great if the wider community were more aware of it too, firstly how common it is to have these struggles, as well as what to say or not to say, and how to support people. Even just getting this information out there to the future grandmother, for example, would be really helpful!
That is what I do sometimes with my clients, I say this is what you need to say to your mother-in-law, just be crystal clear about it, she is clearly upsetting you on a regular basis. I’m sure if you told her this is what to say, don’t say this, we will tell you about this when we’re ready, and almost putting a bit of a structure around some of the communications you have with your families and support networks.
What is a fertility coach?
I bring together all of those tools; the meditations, hypnosis, relaxation, stress management tools, relationship tools and I work with women on a one-to-one basis; to set goals about where they want to get to, what they want to achieve, and coach them through, be there to motivate them, support them and give them a clear idea, and be like an experienced guide who holds their hand while they go through it.
I’m just thinking it reminds me of a doula, but a fertility doula!
Yes, it is a bit like a doula! I do a lot of work virtually with women all over the world, that’s the great thing about it, it doesn’t matter where they are, we just talk like we are now over zoom, or over email or Facebook and it’s really accessible for anybody.
What other services do you offer?
I’m a coach but I can only coach so many people myself, so I set up yourfertilityhub.com to share some of the tools and I share a huge amount of that for free. If you join Your Fertility Toolbox, it’s a free members area, you can access loads of tools, I have put meditations in there, workbooks, free stuff you can download and there is also a community attached to that, you can join us in a secret Facebook group, so nobody knows that you’re in there because obviously a lot of people keep it private. So come in there and chat and hear from other women.
Just jump onto yourfertilityhub.com and you can read information on there, other people’s stories on there, join the Toolbox, access my coaching and if you want to go into some of this stuff in more detail I have actually developed some online courses so people can learn more about the stress response and how they can reduce that, they can purchase some meditations and learn more about worrying, which is something that we all do but within fertility it can become overwhelming and there is a workbook you can go through about it.
You have a special offer for people who feel that they could benefit from one-on-one coaching…
First of all I do a free thirty minute coaching call, if you jump onto the fertility coaching page on yourfertilityhub.com they click that straight through to my calendar and book to speak to me directly, or if you want to try out some of the fertility specific meditations, if you purchase the fertility meditations course and type in 50MEDOFF I will give you 50% off, just for you guys.
Where can we find you online?