You Are Not Alone - Really

As we passed National Infertility Awareness Week, the fact that there's a week dedicated to infertility reminded me that we've come a long way. Resolve's theme this year was, You Are Not Alone. I believe that statement is more true than ever for the fertility challenged, and here's why:

Infertility is Being Talked About 

Infertility articles are being written every day. New books are out to share what it's like for men dealing with infertility, or guides couples can read together as they tackle infertility hand-in-hand. Even blockbuster movies are now touching on infertility. 

Celebrities who talk about their infertility are no longer being shunned for their revelations as they were in the past. They are being thanked by those inside the infertility community and supported by those outside the community. 

There is a better understanding that infertility is a disease, not a flaw - and more sympathy out there as a result. And when infertility is met with sympathy, instead of shame, more people will talk about it. The cycle is circular. The more sympathy and understanding, the more people will open up. The more people open up, the more sympathy and understanding will come. 

Encouragement from Support Groups 

Resolve and other organizations have peer-led and professionally-led support groups throughout the country to help those dealing with infertility. When you're trying to have a child, and can't get pregnant, it feels like nobody else could possibly understand the longing and the heartache you experience each month. From Resolve's website: Support groups help you feel less isolated, empower you with knowledge and validate your emotional response to the life crisis of infertility. I couldn't word it any better.

Social Media Helps

Even those who feel they can't open up to their family or friends about infertility, or don't feel comfortable attending support groups, can interact with other infertility warriors anonymously through social media. Infertility bloggers are keeping everyone in the know. When to see a specialist and what to ask. What to expect from a cost perspective. The ins and outs of fertility treatments and the choices out that are out there. 

Anyone experiencing infertility can create a Twitter account and find others who are experiencing the same roller coaster ride, with its ups and downs and shaky tracks that rattle you to the bone. There is someone out there to talk to and to listen to and to commiserate or celebrate with.

New Services are Available

Though in vitro fertilization is the treatment most often talked about when it comes to infertility, only 5% turn to IVF. There are new services like Conceivable that address the entire community of infertility patients. Conceivable is a personalized program on your iPhone that helps identify and address underlying health factors that may prevent conception or carrying a baby to term. As programs like Conceivable help more and more women successfully conceive, I envision the community of infertility warriors banding together even more.

So click your heels three times and say the words, "You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone." Because it is true.

Lessons Learned: Parenting after Years of Infertility

 Photo by Melissa Glynn Photography

Photo by Melissa Glynn Photography

I haven't thought much about how our parenting was impacted by the years we spent trying to conceive, but looking back now, I realize there was a dramatic effect.

We ached for a child. We went through test after test, and treatment after treatment. I was finally pregnant with our first in vitro cycle, and then I wasn't. After our second in vitro, we were blessed with this beautiful baby girl in our arms. After more than four years of trying.

And so we lavished her with our affection and attention. 

And I mean lavished.

The sun revolved around Sydney Addison Miller. And so did our family.

Sydney never spent a moment by herself unless she was sleeping. If she fell asleep for a nap in the car, one of us would stay with her, no matter where we were or what we were doing. Even on Christmas Day. Chris literally ate Christmas lunch on a china plate, in the car, while Sydney snored on.

Speaking of the car, when Chris was driving, I rode in the backseat with her to keep her company. Always. I think back now at just how crazy that sounds.

As a baby, I would sing her to sleep nearly every night, slow dancing with her in the dining room where there was the least amount of light. When she climbed out of her crib at 18 months and moved to a "big girl bed," one of us would lie down with her for an hour until she fell asleep. 

We constantly entertained her, read to her, taught her and played with her.

The first time I remember Sydney actually playing on her own was at exactly two years old, three months before her little sister was due. She spent an hour lining up her collection of chapsticks. I remember being amazed just watching this feat. Not the balancing of the fruity sticks across the couch, but that she didn't require any attention for a full 60 minutes.

We had date night once a week, and I would feel so guilty as we walked out the door while Sydney screamed and cried loudly in the background to make sure we understood the depths of her disappointment and despair at our abandonment.

Now, I will caveat all of the above with the fact that Sydney was a fussy baby (at least in the opinion of this mom, who admittedly had very little experience with babies). Which is the reason we spent so much time with her. She cried often, and once she got going, it was hard to get her to stop (and still is today, at age six). She cried nearly every minute in the car unless we were singing Old McDonald Had a Farm. She cried at bedtime most of all. And cry-it-out, which I tried to brave at the four-month-mark when Sydney was still awake at 10pm, did not work for her. It just made her more, and more, and more riled up. To the point where she almost threw up. You know that hormone that gets released when children cry that makes them sleepy? That doesn't happen with Sydney for some reason.

I spent endless hours online researching why she was crying. I took her to the doctor five times as often as there was a fixable problem, like an ear infection. I changed my diet to make sure it wasn't my breastmilk that was making her colicky. 

As Sydney's grown up, she has gotten easier. As a baby, she was upset more times than not. As a two-year-old, we'd have four outbreaks a day. At three, she was down to two outbreaks a day. At four and five, she would have one spell a day or less. And at six years old, we can make it a few days straight without a "crazy" moment.

We do still tiptoe around anything that will trigger a "Sydney Spell." For example, Sydney used to get very upset when anyone held their hands to their lips to tell her to be quiet. And once she got upset, she would stay upset, squeezing her neck and gasping for air. For an hour or more. So instead of shushing her, we created a secret phrase to ask her to be quiet. Spell avoided.

Have other parents gone through these great lengths to keep their babies and kids happy? Maybe. But had we started trying to conceive, gotten pregnant in that first year, and had our little boy or girl without any complications, I think our attitude would have been different. And our attention a little less lavish. As is evidenced by our behavior with Sydney's younger sister Sabrina (3), and brother Luke (2), who received a lot less attention (as often happens with the second and third kid).

I believe they are the better for it. They are much more laid back. They are not as strong willed. They aren't nearly as sensitive. They are comfortable playing on their own. They are capable of entertaining themselves. They are happier more often.

Here is how I describe our three children to a new babysitter: If Sydney gets a shot at the doctor's office, she will still be crying an hour later. When Sabrina gets a shot, she cries for about 45 seconds, until she can pick her lollipop. When Luke gets a shot, sometimes he doesn't even cry out, but if he does, he stops as soon as the nurse says, "All done!"

Were Sydney, Sabrina and Luke simply born with their temperaments, and different actions would not have resulted in different outcomes? I honestly don't know the answer. But in the end, our lesson learned is that while attention is great, too much attention may not be.

Infertility Authors & Experts Interview: Cindy Bailey, The Fertile Kitchen® Cookbook

Q&A WITH CINDY BAILEY

Co-Author of The Fertile Kitchen Cookbook®

Question: How did the idea for The Fertile Kitchen Cookbook® come about?

Answer: This book came out of our own experience. After trying to conceive for over a year, we visited a fertility specialist who gave us a 2% chance of conceiving on our own. Of course, I was devastated, but at the same time I refused to accept his grim prognosis. It was simply unacceptable to me that I don’t get to have a child, so I did a lot of research and put myself on a fertility friendly diet, among other healing regimens, such as yoga and meditation. Four months later, after I turned 40 years old, my husband and I conceived – naturally. During that time, what made the restrictive diet so much easier to follow was my husband Pierre’s cooking. He created a wide variety of dishes that were simple to make, yet full of flavor (you can’t tell these dishes contain no wheat, sugar or dairy!). Having those recipes kept us from getting bored and giving up. It made the diet easier to follow and helped us stick with it. Plus, it was a project we could do together, and we both felt empowered by the process. Naturally, we wanted to share what we learned and all the recipes with others in hopes that it might help them in the way it helped us.

Question: What is the goal or message of your cookbook?

Answer: Our goal is to spread the message that, yes, you absolutely can make a difference in your own fertility through diet and nutrition. And through our book, we aim to empower women and couples to do so.

Also, because we know first-hand how overwhelming and stressful going through fertility issues can be, we designed our book to be easy to use in every way. Dietary guidelines are painless to follow and recipes are simple, yet flavorful, to make.

Question: Are there specific foods women should avoid while trying to conceive?

Answer: Yes – any foods or drinks that overly tax or stress our bodies. These include overly processed foods, trans fat, processed sugar and artificial sweeteners. Dairy and wheat products should also be avoided or, even better, eliminated, because they are hard to digest. Also, many women have a sensitivity, intolerance or outright allergy to dairy or wheat, creating a lot of inflammation in the body and making them especially hard on digestion (as well as the body). We want to create less work for digestion so our body’s energy can be applied elsewhere, such as to our reproductive system, for healing and growth.

You also want to avoid alcohol, caffeine, sodas, coffee, iced or cold beverages (stick with foods closer to your body temperature), and fruit juices (too much concentrated sugar, although whole fruits are great).

Question: What types of recipes do you feature in your book?

Answer: We feature a variety of ethnically diverse recipes that are all simple to make. Women and couples struggling with fertility issues are often already overwhelmed. We didn’t want them to feel changing their diet would be another burden. We wanted them to enjoy flavorful dishes so they wouldn’t notice too much that they were on a diet. We feature recipes for vegetables, beans, rice and grains, meat, seafood, soups and salads, sides and sauces and breakfast dishes. We only feature a couple of desserts, as processed sugar is not allowed. Favorite dishes include: Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup, Chicken with Portobello Mushrooms, Lamb Stew, Spicy Garbanzo Beans, Crepes Salée, Chile Con Carne (healthy version) and more. All are easy to make.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a former athlete, Cindy Bailey has a passion for good health and nutrition, and a commitment to helping others find natural, holistic ways of healing. In addition to giving workshops and talks on Eating and Fertility, she is a professional member of RESOLVE, the national infertility organization, and is on the Advisory Board for the International Academy of Baby Planner Professionals (IABPP). Her fertility story has aired nationally on NBC and CBS.

www.fertilekitchen.com  -  @fertilektichen  -  facebook.com/fertilekitchen

Infertility Authors & Experts Interview: Lisa Newton, Amateur Nester Blooger

 

Q&A WITH LISA NEWTON

                                                 Blogger at AmateurNester.com

Question: How did the creation of your website, AmateurNester.com, come about?

Answer: I originally intended it to be a blog about my attempts at DIY, crafting, and decorating my home. I quickly realized I wasn’t very good at any of that, and decided to blog about my infertility treatments instead. Luckily for me, the name of the blog lent itself to both DIY and infertility!

Question: What has been the toughest part of your journey?

Answer: The toughest part is how much infertility affects every other area of my life.  Obviously, it takes a huge financial and emotional toll, but it’s also affected other, more surprising areas. For example, I’ve gained some weight since our treatments started, but I’ve resisted buying new clothes because each month I hope I’ll get pregnant. I don’t want to waste good money on clothes that I’ll outgrow during a pregnancy. So, I have very few clothes that fit right now and it’s taken a surprising toll on my self-image. 

Question: You interview other couples who have gone through the infertility rollercoaster. What story has inspired you the most?

Answer: That is almost impossible to answer! Each interview inspires me in different ways depending on their circumstances and stories. However, if I had to choose one, I’d say it’s Candace and Chris from Our MisconceptionThey have been through hell and back, and I was awe-struck by their willingness to have their final IVF cycle documented for MTV. Watching their episode made me realize just how powerful openness and transparency can be, and that’s when I decided to reveal my name on my blog and eventually “come out” on my personal Facebook. 

Question: How has your faith helped you through the trials and tribulations of infertility?

Answer: My faith in God is what keeps me from losing all hope. I don’t believe that God causes bad things to happen to us, but I believe He uses them for good in our lives.  Don’t get me wrong. I question God on a daily basis about why He allows infertility for me and all the other people who struggle with it. I don’t understand. But that’s where faith comes in. Even though I don’t understand, I choose to believe that there’s purpose in what I’m going through and He will ultimately use it for good.

Question: If you had a younger sister go through infertility, what advice would you give her?

Answer: I’d tell her to seek out community. It can be in the form of an in-person support group, an online group, or blogging. I’d encourage her to connect with other people who have been through infertility in whatever way she can. I’ve received so much support and made some amazing online friends through blogging, and I’d encourage her to do something similar. It’s amazing how much it helps to know that other people understand what you’re going through. 

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Lisa blogs about her infertility journey and interviews other infertility survivors at AmateurNester.com.  When she’s not blogging, she’s eating Ruffles Reduced Fat Potato Chips, watching The Big Bang Theory reruns, or reading (often all at the same time).  She lives with her husband, Tom, and their orange cat, Hemingway, on the California central coast.

Website: www.amateurnester.com 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/amateurnester 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amateurnester

Breaking Down Lahl's Arguments to Ban Surrogacy

Jennifer Lahl is fighting to outlaw surrogacy in the United States. In her new documentary, Breeders: A Sub-Class of Women, she explores the issue of third-party reproduction. However, the documentary is not about the surrogacy industry, which is how the movie is marketed. It is a movie about independent surrogacies gone wrong, without the checks and balances of professional agencies, lawyers, therapists, etc.

Surrogacy is not a worldwide fertility option. It is banned in many countries, and where it is allowed, there are often ethics committees involved in evaluating cases. Several countries will allow altruistic surrogacy, where the carrier is not compensated above and beyond the expenses of pregnancy and delivery. Countries have many reasons for banning surrogacy, one of the chief reasons being the belief that surrogacy commodifies the human body.

I haven't seen Lahl argue the legal uses of a woman's body as a reason for banning surrogacy. Let’s review her main arguments against surrogacy from her recent ABC News Interview:

 1. Surrogacy has become a baby-buying operation by wealthy women.

First, surrogacy is not always a baby-buying operation by wealthy women. Does that happen? Sure. But of the 2,000 U.S. surrogacy cases in a given year, is it 5% of the time? 10%? 25%? To my knowledge, there are no statistics available around the wealth of the couples hiring carriers. I doubt the majority seeking out surrogates are women who want to “buy” their baby to avoid stretch marks or the uncomfortable side effects of pregnancy. I believe this is a very small percentage, just like Lahl’s handful of examples of surrogacy gone wrong versus the thousands of cases where it has gone smoothly.

Most often, surrogacy is sought by couples who cannot have their own children due to infertility. Women who cannot carry a baby to term, for whatever reason, have only one choice outside of adoption, and that is to have a gestational surrogate carry the couple’s child. Surrogacy is very expensive, but you’d likely find many middle-class couples who used their savings in order to bring their biological child, their dream, into this world. Is it fair that less fortunate couples cannot afford surrogacy? Certainly not. Unfortunately, there are many unfair realities for the poor, of which there are way too many in this country. But that is for another discussion.

Same-sex couples also turn to surrogacy to have children that carry on their own genes. In a time where a majority of people in this country finally agree with same-sex marriages, are we now going to ban them from having children?

“Banning gestational carrier surrogacy is a way of saying that certain people shouldn’t have children,” said Barbara Collura, executive director of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association in a Good Morning America interview. “I am not sure that is what our country wants to tell people.”

2. Surrogacy exploits vulnerable women, often those of lesser means.

First, surrogacy is not always for money. Sometimes family members or friends or even neighbors agree to be surrogates. I remember the day my sister volunteered to be a surrogate for my husband and me. We had been trying to conceive for three years, had tried multiple fertility treatments, and had miscarried with our first in vitro. We had unexplained infertility, and if I had not been able to carry a baby to term after a few more tries at in vitro, we would have considered my sister’s offer. 

Not everyone has a volunteer to turn to - and surrogacy is a very big favor to ask of someone. For commercial surrogacy, guidelines published by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine state that a gestational surrogate is “generally compensated for the time and effort involved in fulfilling this role,” and recommends that the compensation be agreed upon in advance and “documented in the contract between the carrier and the intended parents.”

So who are the carriers undertaking pregnancy for money? And are they, in fact, vulnerable women being exploited? Lahl would like everyone to believe this is the case. But again, there are no statistics to back this argument, at least none that I could find. Only hand-picked examples, like those in her documentary.

Professional surrogacy agencies go to great lengths to make sure the carrier is psychologically stable and that all of the parties understand the agreement details before a legal contract is signed. Again, the examples in Breeders were not carried out by professional agencies. And that contributed to many of the surrogacy issues documented in the movie.

The documentary talks about the significant percentage of military wives who become surrogates. One reason for this is because, with their husbands abroad and children of their own at home to care for, there aren’t many other options to bring in the kind of revenue surrogacy can. If you asked the surrogate military wives if they were vulnerable, and/or being exploited, what would they say? Many of those interviewed loved the experience and were grateful for the opportunity.

3. Surrogacy and IVF are damaging to children.

In the ABC News interview, Lahl said she also worries about the “primal wound” when a child is separated from its carrier. What is the primal wound, and does it apply to surrogacy?

The primal wound theory is that those who are adopted carry a scar from being separated from their biological parents. This theory came out of clinical research that showed adopted children often have more psychological issues. But the primal wound theory appears to be just that – a theory.

In an interview with Dr. Charles Nelson, Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and one of the leading experts on how early childhood neglect, abuse, malnutrition, institutionalization, and prenatal environment affects children, Nelson claims, There is no scientific evidence to support the primal wound theory that all adopted people carry a scar from being separated from biological parents. A theory that says just because they were separated from their birthmother leaves a permanent wound is just false on the face of it.”

Even if proof existed for a primal wound, that there is some kind of irreparable broken bond between biological mother and parent, would it apply to surrogacy, where the birth mother has no biological tie to the child? Is it a biological issue or a psychological one?

As to Lahl's claim that surrogacy and IVF are damaging to children, no proof exists to substantiate this damage, other than stories here and there where children were disappointed to find out that they were surrogate children, or where surrogate babies were delivered into the hands of abusive parents. While these are certainly awful situations, they do not represent the masses. They do not substantiate banning surrogacy for all. 

Lahl also worries that children do not have a say. ”It always strikes me that the children are so absent in the discussions,” said Lahl in the interview. While this is certainly true, children NEVER have a say about what family they’re born into. I’m not sure where that argument is meant to go.

Jennifer Lahl’s documentary is just that, a one-sided opinion about the issues she sees in surrogacy. Lahl has written in the past about why surrogacy and in vitro are not Christian concepts. From what I’ve read and watched, I wonder if this all really comes down to her belief that science does not belong in the realm of baby making. That only God should be able to make those decisions. And she is certainly entitled to that opinion. But that is what makes the United States of America a wonderful democracy. Along with Lahl’s entitlement to her opinion, comes the freedom of choice for all of the other women in this country who disagree with her.

I personally do not believe it should be up to Jennifer Lahl, or lawmakers, to say who should or shouldn’t have children. As an infertility warrior, I have to side with the couples who are willing to go to great lengths to have a baby. And I see positives for carriers, even for commercial surrogates, in the right circumstances.

Lahl claims the Unites States is the "Wild West" of surrogacy. I believe consistent regulations around surrogacy throughout the country that protect carriers, the intended parents and the children involved would be ideal. So let's focus on how to improve the surrogacy contract and how to handle any arising disputes, instead of crushing the dreams of couples hoping to bring their baby into this world.

You now have my 2 cents. And that may be exactly what it's worth. But it sure does feel good to get it off my chest.

Infertility Authors & Experts Interview: Justine Froelker, Author of Ever Upward

Q&A WITH JUSTINE FROELKER

Author of Ever Upward: Overcoming the Lifelong Losses of Infertility to Own a Childfree Life

Question: What inspired you to start the blog, Ever Upward?

Answer: I was honest within my very first post in November 2013. I started Ever Upward, the blog, to build credibility and the platform for the book. Never could I have imagined the life it would grow all on it’s own. The people I have met, the relationships and connections that have grown, the support and love I have felt are simply immeasurable!

Question: Please tell us more about your upcoming book, Ever Upward: Owning My Childfree Life in Our Child Obsessed World.

Answer: Ever Upward is my hopeful story of what I did to change my life for the better after the heartbreaking, devastating and life-long losses of infertility. Ever Upward begins with my incredible story of surviving life through two back surgeries, a year in a body cast and two rounds of IVF with a gestational surrogate. I guide the reader through the strategies I used to overcome the loss of my dream of motherhood and chose to thrive through the ownership and acceptance of my childfree life.

Question: What do you hope readers take away from your story?

Answer: I hope they will be entertained by my life story and, better yet, changed to know that we are all capable of changing and redefining our lives. I hope to start and continue the conversation around breaking the silence of infertility of any kind.

Most of all, I hope to give readers the permission to own all the parts of their story; to accept and even love every version of the happy endings, no matter the loss, trauma or tragedy suffered, especially in infertility treatments.

Question: Do you think your experience as a therapist made the infertility journey easier or harder on you?

Answer: Honestly, both. Easier in that I read, research and know many resources for life improvement, even just beyond the therapeutic theory. But also more difficult in that there were times through my recovery from infertility that I felt like a fraud in fighting my own struggles and in searching for my own recovery. What I know now is that my struggles, my ownership of my fight and my recovery are what make me a great therapist. As I have done my own work I have seen how much more I can give to my clients in helping them through whatever they are facing right now. I also know my struggles and my story of infertility, especially my ending in which many would say can’t be a happy ending, helps me tremendously with understanding others going through the journey, no matter where they are in it or what their result.

Question: What is your favorite piece of advice to give couples dealing with infertility?

Answer: Talk about it and maybe even seek outside professional help. I think to only rely on each other and your medical team is way too much for any relationship to handle. You don’t have to tell everyone in your life and you don’t have to write a public blog or publish a book like I have. But, I think, if we actually break the shamed silence of infertility and own all the parts of our stories, our treatments could have higher success rates, we could get the understanding we so want and need and we will be happier and healthier versions of ourselves, no matter what our happy ending looks like.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justine Brooks Froelker, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator-Candidate (based on the research of Brené Brown) with a private practice in St. Louis, Missouri. For the last 14 years she has helped her clients achieve success in improving their quality of life as it relates to anxiety, depression, relationships, infertility, addictions, perfectionism, eating and weight issues and common discontent, using a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Solution Focused Therapy.

In addition to her private practice, Ms. Froelker is an adjunct faculty member at Saint Louis Community College, where she teaches General Psychology. She can be seen regularly on the St. Louis KMOV live midday show, Great Day St. Louis. Ms. Froelker contributes to the monthly publication, St. Louis Health & Wellness Magazine, as an expert therapist. She is also currently updating her blog, Ever Upward, about her personal experience with infertility, which can be found at www.everupward.org. Her book will be available late 2014 or early 2015.

Website: http://everupward.org/ and http://www.jbftherapyandcoaching.com/

Twitter: @JustineFroelker 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/everupwardblog

Infertility Authors & Experts Interview: Thomas C. Vaughn MD

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Q&A WITH DR. THOMAS C. VAUGHN 

Question: What inspired you to focus your medical training on infertility?

Answer: I was very interested in Obstetrics and Gynecology in medical school but I became more interested in infertility as I progressed through my OB/GYN education.  I found the practice of infertility to be more intriguing than the practice of obstetrics and gynecology.  I enjoyed the reconstructive surgery required for the practice of infertility more than surgical procedures for general gynecology such as sterilization, hysterectomy, etc.  And, the patients having difficulty conceiving are really engaged in their health care which makes the practice very enjoyable.

Question: What do you typically recommend at the first appointment for a couple who’s been unsuccessful getting pregnant on their own?

Answer: Many social habits can reduce the chance of conceiving.  It is important to identify those habits and encourage changes that are beneficial.  Smoking strongly reduces the chances of conceiving and increases the chance of miscarriage. Smoking should be avoided.  Also, it is important to limit caffeine and alcohol.  These are things that couples can do on their own to maximize their chances of conceiving.  Also, it is a good idea to explain the tests necessary to diagnose the cause of their infertility.  It is important to make a plan for the couples to complete these tests in a short period of time.  After completing the diagnostic tests, it is a good idea to meet with the couple again to discuss the appropriate treatments.  Sometimes there is no identifiable cause for the infertility and the patient is considered to have “unexplained infertility.” Although this diagnosis may sound discouraging to a couple, there are many treatments that can improve their chances of becoming pregnant. 

Question: What is the biggest challenge for you, as a physician, in the infertility field?

Answer: The biggest challenge is encouraging couples to ask for assistance early in their quest to become pregnant.  It is recommended that couples seek advice if they have had 6-12 months of unprotected intercourse and have not conceived.  The age of the egg is one of the most difficult barriers to overcome. Fertility for women begins declining at age 30 -31.  Unfortunately, some patients delay asking for help until they are in their late 30s or early 40s.   

Question: The average success rates for births at fertility clinics have roughly doubled in the past decade. What do you attribute the increased success to?

Answer: Success rates have increased significantly with in vitro fertilization because of improvements in the IVF laboratory environment.  Also, a new procedure for cryopreservation of embryos and oocytes called vitrification has revolutionized the procedure and increased the success rates. Many women are cryopreserving their oocytes prior to treatment for cancer since chemotherapy and/or radiation can destroy the ovary, rendering a woman infertile.  Cryopreservation before treatment gives them hope of being able to become pregnant after completing their cancer treatments.  

Question: We came to almost every appointment with you together, as a team. In your experience, are husbands getting more involved in the infertility process these days than they were in the past?  

Answer: Yes.  After all, at least 40% of the time there are issues with the sperm.  Therefore, it is really important that the husbands attend as many appointments as possible.  Most husbands are interested in accompanying their wives for appointments but their work doesn’t always allow them to be present.  Clearly, husbands are invited to attend all appointments and consultations.

ABOUT THE EXPERT

A native of Dallas, Texas, Dr. Vaughn received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He completed his medical school training and residency in Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. He attended Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, for his fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility. Dr. Vaughn was a founder of Austin’s oldest and largest In Vitro Fertilization Program in Central Texas. He has served as the President of the Medical Staff of the Seton Health Care Network. Dr. Vaughn is Board Certified in both Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility.

Learn more about Dr. Vaughn and the Texas Fertility Center at http://txfertility.com/

Infertility Authors & Experts Interview: Barbara Blitzer, Author of The Infertility Workbook

Q&A with Barbara Blitzer

Question: What inspired you to write the infertility workbook?

Answer: I was inspired to write the book after years of working with people struggling with fertility issues. I observed that instruction in specific mind-body, stress reduction skills were empowering and helpful. Those who understood the challenges of fertility issues went through the process more easily, had better relationships, and could make decisions more effectively. I wrote the book to share the techniques and insights that have been effective with countless clients and to make them available to a wider audience. 

Question: What types of exercises and worksheets are in the book? Are some of them geared to have couples to do together? 

Answer: This is an inclusive book. It addresses conceptual, emotional, and practical issues related to fertility. For each topic there is an informational section, a set of exercises that help the reader explore her personal experience and a Take Charge section with instruction in mind-body practices that relate to the specific topic discussed. Topics include the mind-body connection, understanding and reducing worry, coping with the emotional roller coaster of hope and disappointment, and working with the body. There are also chapters involving more practical issues such as choosing a fertility practice, understanding the fertility workup and some common diagnoses, and making decisions about treatment options. There is an entire chapter on working with relationships with discussions of how infertility impacts couples and specific instruction in communication techniques and ways of strengthening your bond. This chapter lends itself especially well to couples but all of the chapters can be shared by couples. When I wrote this book I wanted to offer as many techniques as possible so have included work with thoughts, imagery, meridian tapping, meditation, cognitive therapy, breathing, journaling and more.  Not every chapter or technique is for every person but there is a lot to choose from and something for everyone. It goes beyond basic stress reduction because it relates all techniques to specific fertility issues and also helps people understand and express their feelings. 

Question: Therapy is your specialty.  In what ways can therapy help couples that are dealing with infertility?

Answer: Infertility is a huge emotional challenge for couples. It can create depression, and anxiety. It you are dealing with infertility it can leave you feeling isolated from friends and families who don’t share your experience or who don’t seem to understand how to say and do the right thing.  Infertility can be very lonely and very stressful. Having someone to talk to who listens can be helpful all by itself because it breaks down some of the isolation and allows a time and space to explore feelings, thoughts and options. Therapy helps people develop coping strategies, good communication and realistically optimistic ways of thinking. Mind-body technique integrated with the therapy, can give couples a sense of control, a way to reduce stress and pain, and a path to greater peace and deeper connection with themselves and with each other.

Question: There are several recent news articles linking stress with infertility issues. What are your thoughts?

Answer: I’m a long standing believe in the power of the mind to affect the body and vice versa which is really what the mind-body connection means, but, having said that I would never suggest to anyone that they are causing their infertility. People get pregnant under very stressful conditions all around the world. Also, people have fertility issues for different reasons. Not everyone is the same so what may be helpful in one instance may be less so in another. The truth is that we don’t have all of the answers yet but we have to act upon what we do know as well as we can. I like to go back to basics on this issue. We know that infertility is stressful and also that there have been several studies indicating a correlation between stress reduction and improved outcomes. If you are going through infertility, you are most likely investing a lot of money, time, and energy. If reducing stress has any chance of increasing your chances of success, it seems like something to try. The only side effect is giving you skills that will help you feel more peaceful and in charge.

Question: You’ve recently added a new Infertility Workbook coaching program. Sounds awesome - please tell us more about it!

Answer: The Infertility Workbook includes lots and lots of exercises to help people explore their own personal fertility issues and to learn techniques. It is designed to offer resources that people can use on their own. The process, however, can open the door to emotions, questions, or the need for support. On their own, people can get stuck. They may not know how to apply or practice the skills. They may want some encouragement or instruction as well as someone to listen and support them as they go through the book. They may want to deepen and improve their experience. That is where the coaching program comes in. I am here to help people as they go through the book. If I am coaching you and you are reading the chapter on relationships, for example, we can talk about your relationship specifically and I will help you. If you are trying to breath, or tap, or do a meditation, I can help you move through any obstacles and make your experience more successful. We can focus on any issues you might have or we can work through the chapters of the book together with you, your life,  your concerns as the focus. I am working by phone, skype, as well as in the DC metro area. The program is flexible and anyone who is interested can contact me and we will explore what will work best. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Barbara Blitzer, LCSW-C, MEd, is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and expert on mind-body techniques and their application to fertility. Formerly a faculty member at The Center for Mind Body Medicine in Washington, DC, she now works in private practice, with special focus on treating anxiety, depression, and infertility through talk therapy and mind/body approaches. She is available for individuals throughout the Washington, DC area in addition to offering services via telephone and SKYPE. She is a professional member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Resolve, the National Association of Social Workers, and the Greater Washington Clinical Society. Her work has been cited in the Washington Post, Washington Woman, Conceive Online,INCIID.org (The International Council on Infertility Information Dissemination) and on several websites. If you would like to learn more about her private practice, or to learn about The Infertility Workbook coaching program, please visit www.barbarablitzer.com.