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Is there a link between our emotions and fertility?

Is there a link between our emotions and fertility? - The Sabi

Fertility can be affected by your emotional state. It is a complex relationship between both physical and emotional health. 

Our bodies respond to our emotions all the time. We tend to shake when nervous or anxious, we’re more energetic when we’re happy, and we slow down when we’re stressed or sad. That is because our emotions and our bodies are not separate entities - they are intertwined.  "Our biology is significantly affected by the emotional environment, which exists in a cultural and social environment,” says Gabor Maté, physician, trauma and stress expert.


The reproductive system is not exempt from this fact; according to Fertility Awareness and Reproductive Specialist Lisa Henrickson Jack, fertility can be affected by your emotional state and your body can make the decision not to ovulate, if it feels unsafe or overtly stressed to protect you. Studies support the claim that stress impacts fertility, like this one from Boston University’s School of Public Health in 2018, which found that women with higher levels of stress have lower rates of conception.


Understanding how your body responds to danger is called “somatic intelligence”. In this mind-expanding book by Suresha Hill, it’s described as a conversation every body has with itself and its environment — one that Hill says your body also wants to have with you. Listening and understanding your body can also be known as “body wisdom”, a gift embedded in all humans


If you are struggling to conceive, starting to try after a period of chronic stress or prolonged doubt, or already on the path of medical fertility intervention like IUI or IVF, consider some of the social, emotional, and cultural factors that may subconsciously relay the message to your body that your environment or you, do not feel safe enough or ready to become pregnant. 


THREE COMMON EMOTIONAL CHALLENGES & HOW TO HANDLE THEM


  • STRESSORS: low progesterone and emotional stress

  • SAFETY IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP: are they the one you want to do this with?

  • UNCHECKED FEARS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD: the mother wound


  • So let’s dive in…..

     

    STRESSORS: low progesterone and emotional stress 

    Progesterone is the star of the fertility scene. A mismatch between our physiology and lifestyle is one of the reasons progesterone levels can dip

    Have you ever noticed your period being delayed or becoming heavier after being super stressed? Cycles are sensitive to what is happening in our lives and may present you with the psycho-somatic report as much as the month after, depending on what is going on in your life.  Long distance travel, work stress, a delicate family situation or illness may all play a part.


    “The myth is that we ovulate on day 14 all the time, but ovulation is highly variable. If you have an issue with ovulation, that means your body has decided that it is not a good time to procreate, “your body is potentially protecting you.” Lisa Hendrickson-Jack, Fertility Awareness Educator and Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner, discusses in an episode of the Get Pregnant Naturally’ podcast with Sara Clarke podcast with Sarah Clarke. In response, Sarah adds, “Survival comes before conception.”


    Fertility is a complex relationship between both our physical and emotional health. Being pregnant is a highly vulnerable state on both accounts. Your hormones and body change significantly, your needs change. You require different nutrients and habits. Your energy may dip or you may be more emotional or even experience anxiety at times in the natural process of growing another human being inside you. Your sense of self may shift and be challenged. 


    A mismatch between our physiology and lifestyle is one of the reasons progesterone levels can lower. When talking hormones, progesterone is the hormone that helps us feel in flow with life, calming the brain and stimulating metabolism. It is also the star of the fertility scene. Known as the “pregnancy hormone”, it helps a woman get pregnant and is only produced if you have ovulated, which may be variable due to internal and external stressors. 


    “The glorification of the grind, the high-stress, fast-paced, always-on perfectionism, the constant blue light and social media, the lack of time in nature, the lack of community and play… all foster reliance on stress hormones.” Nutritionist Kaely McDevitt gives us key information about the low production of progesterone in one of her Instagram posts


    Progesterone is a precursor to cortisol. This means that progesterone is needed in order to produce cortisol – a stress hormone. Imagine a weighing balance: when you’re stressed, cortisol levels go up because your body tries harder to produce the hormone, while progesterone levels go down because cortisol uses progesterone in its production. 


    We know it’s tough, but try to take care of your emotions and avoid stress as much as possible to help support your fertility journey. Practising mindfulness through meditation and yoga, eating nutrient-dense foods, and sleeping enough is a head start. We recommend this really helpful guide, Cortisol: The Master Hormone: Improve Your Health, Weight, Fertility, Menopause, Longevity, and Reduce Stress, containing everything you need to know about how cortisol levels affect fertility and how to reduce the ever powerful stress. 


    SAFETY IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP: are they the one you want to do this with?

    Your relationship with your partner may play a key role in your fertility. 

    Your relationship may play a key factor in your fertility. It’s a scary, seemingly final and potentially heavy decision to make. If it feels heavier than you think it should, ask yourself: is this person really the one you want to do this pregnancy, parenting and bound for life thing with? In your relationship, do you truly feel safe?


    In this recent study, women perceived more pressure to form a relationship than men, especially from friends and family, because of cultural stigmas, gender stereotypes, and biological barriers such as late childbearing for women. In turn, this type of social network stress can increase women’s fear of being single, and may later lead to unsatisfying relationship choices and behaviours. 


    The same research stresses that the fear of divorce and the stress on independence could heighten the pressure to become partnered, exerted by family and friends. And if your partner is not the best fit, you may fear being the “bad guy” in the relationship or that it’s too late to find another partner if you do decide to leave.


    All of this may play a part in the desire to settle down, even if the person you are settling down with may not be the right one. Trust that your body knows how you feel, even if you may not be able to consciously identify a lack of safety, comfort or full trust that this person is the one to take this big step with.


    When in a safe relationship, you can most likely be yourself; not compromising your emotions for your partner. However, many women get into the act of pleasing their partners and mistake this for giving. You may truly love your partner, but when you prioritise their feelings at the expense of your own, it’s actually people-pleasing. It’s a vicious cycle and trap that once you’re caught in it, may lead to self abandonment and losing touch with the importance of self-care. 


    It may come from the fear of losing love, not being good enough or deserving love and the need for approval. It may also stem from the expectation that women should be givers of affection, sex, children, nurture, and comfort, as explored by Kate Manne in her book, ‘Down Girl’


    That pressure, imbalance and/or discomfort in the relationship can cause stress. High stress levels = lower progesterone = lower chances of pregnancy. 


    How do you deal with this? Shift what’s troubling you and try to view it in an entirely different light – something that Katie Byron recommends in her invaluable book, Loving What Is. It includes a step-by-step guide presented as ‘The Work’, a powerful tool that can help solve a broad range of human problems like this and allow you to find your happiness. 


    When you’re ready, begin the practice of acceptance, experiment with living outside others’ expectations, and shift your mindset towards positivity in small measures. Learn to prioritise your own needs and wants, return to your own body, and set boundaries – all of which can help you get back to your sense of self.

    UNCHECKED FEARS ABOUT MOTHERHOOD: the mother wound


    Stress caused by the “mother wound” is a possible contributing factor to one’s inability and lack of interest to conceive, even if it is an unconscious one.


    A mother is the perceived powerhouse of a family. And anticipating that role definitely does not lessen the pressure on someone trying to conceive; sometimes it even releases a torrent of fears…  of who you will become, how you might change, and whether or not you will perform what is expected of you as a “great” mother.


    It may be greater than doubts about partnership or daily stressors. It may go much deeper and touch upon an “invisible” wound passed on to you by previous generations… the “mother wound”. 


    Perhaps you struggle to imagine being a mother because you weren’t able to witness a nurturing or healthy model of a mother in your life, or have a complicated mother relationship. It is seeing an ‘ideal’ mother and feeling like you will never be one because of your own flawed, absent or painful mother relationship. It is when the thought of conceiving in the future can bring up negative stressful thoughts or memories. It is when you think about your own mother and dread the thought of passing on any of her traits.

    Let’s look at some things that may lead to a mother wound:

    • Unresolved childhood trauma, emotional or physical neglect 
    • Lack of a positive or loving mother figure
    • Complex relationship with your mother
    • An absentee, toxic or abusive mother 
    • Grief over the loss of your mother
    • Feeling under-mothered

    If any of the above applies to you, then thinking about your complicated mother dynamic may be painful. Therefore, dissociating from it is normal and may be a measure of self-protection, or conversely, you may subject yourself to this toxic or painful dynamic out of a sense of duty, loyalty or (ingrained) need to view yourself as a good daughter. This all creates stress which, as we have explored above, lowers the all-important progesterone hormone.


    As a result of not addressing the mother wound, daughters may lead to building resentment towards their mothers or repeating patterns, despite not wanting to do so. 


    A powerful example of this in a fictional context is the mother daughter dynamic in the recent movie “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (SPOILER ALERT) where the protagonist, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) has a complicated relationship with her daughter Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu). In the film, Joy is driven by her pain to become a super villain. Joy creates a black hole and threatens to destroy all of the multiverses because of her anger towards her mother and resulting nihilism. It is only by confronting the pain she feels, and feeling seen and heard by her mother can Joy begin to heal and stop the path of ultimate (self) destruction. Though this is a beautiful happy ending, this reconciliation may not be possible for some, yet healing can still be had. 


    If any of the above describes you, then the powerful book ‘Mother Hunger’ is a must-read. It provides a much-needed key to the hidden impacts that being under-mothered can create and points the way toward healing and wholeness. Another is ‘Mothers and Others’ where Sarah Hrdy, anthropologist and primatologist, comprehensively explains our origins and describes what it means to be human and explores the mother role. 


    Whether one or more of these common challenges could be negatively affecting your fertility, it is important to rule out all physical causes and underlying issues with qualified medical professionals. But as we’ve explored here, interplay with our reproductive endocrinology and our emotional state is both possible and worth taking into account. Addressing your emotions and helping your body feel safe is a pivotal step to balancing your cycle and getting your progesterone levels and ovulatory cycle back on track for conception. 


    HORMONAL & PROUD

    Created as a brand to help women navigate the toughest moments in pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum — and practically every stage of life, the SABI aims to change the narrative around our hormones from one of taboo, embarrassment and loneliness, to awareness and even pride in appreciation of its power. Much more than a wellness brand, SABI offers a carefully crafted line of products to carry you through your hormonal journey; a set of rituals, supportive tools, and ancient herbal remedies that have been tested time and again by women and now, backed by medicine. SABI is a blend of science and nature conceived by women who have experienced the joys and deep implications of bringing a child into the world or the pains of a heavy and difficult period, miscarriage, burnout, difficulty conceiving and early menopause. 


    Here is an invitation to get to know your body and its cycles better and to really understand what is going on inside. Learn to use your hormonal cycle to your advantage no matter your stage of life, and know that you can always support and balance your hormone levels. Know that there is help, and know that you’re supported.


    ABOUT NIKKA

    Nikka is a copywriter and Associate Creative Director by day and singer-songwriter by night, based in Manila, Philippines. From creating commercials under an agency, she transitioned to independently collaborating with different people within the music community, as well as organisations in the area of social development, and now entering the beauty and wellness space with the SABI. Walking her dog + food trips + film photography are her favourite pastimes.


    SOURCES

    1. McDevitt, K. (2022). Progesterone. https://www.instagram.com/p/Cl4XBsKPcuI/?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y= 
    2. Cassata, C. (2022). What is Progesterone? https://www.everydayhealth.com/progesterone/guide/ 
    3. Good Reads. (n.d.). Gabor Maté Quotes. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/4068613.Gabor_Mat_?page=7 
    4. Sprecher, S., & Felmlee, D. (2021). Social Network Pressure on Women and Men to Enter a Romantic Relationship and Fear of Being Single. Interpersonal: An International Journal on Personal Relationships, 15(2), 246-261. https://doi.org/10.5964/ijpr.6139 
    5. Wade, R. (n.d.). Pleasers Lose Out: The Difference Between Pleasing & Giving. https://www.thefemininewoman.com/pleaser-women-always-lose-out-the-difference-between-pleasing-and-giving/ 
    6. Nagy B, Szekeres-Barthó J, Kovács GL, Sulyok E, Farkas B, Várnagy Á, Vértes V, Kovács K, Bódis J. Key to Life: Physiological Role and Clinical Implications of Progesterone. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Oct 13;22(20):11039. doi: 10.3390/ijms222011039. PMID: 34681696; PMCID: PMC8538505.



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