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Can hypnotherapy help with infertility?

After a diagnosis of ‘unexplained infertility’ and struggling for years to get pregnant after a miscarriage, Laura Cannon found hypnotherapy gave her back her strength and optimism in the darkest of times

by Psychologies

Another month, another negative test. But instead of my usual ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again’ attitude, I felt very low. I was depleted of energy, happiness and the hope that I would become a mother.  A few years after our miscarriage and the ensuing vacuum of ‘unexplained infertility’, I had reached rock bottom. For the first time, I struggled to restart the monthly treadmill of trying to get pregnant, to put on my brave face and start over again. I had lost faith and I’d lost my way; cutting myself off from friends and family, focusing solely on the baby-shaped hole in my life.

It was in that darkest time that I confided in a colleague that I was at a low ebb and she suggested I see Lisa Jackson, south-London based clinical hypnotherapist and founder of Quiet Medicine (quiet-medicine.co.uk), as she offered hypnotherapy for fertility. I cannot portray enough my gratitude to Lisa for the impact our sessions had on me (and my husband!), my ability to deal with infertility and the renewed hope and optimism I felt as a result of her treatment. 

I had miscarried after conceiving very quickly when we began trying for a baby at 34, and was inexplicably unable to become pregnant again. We jumped through all of the hoops of poking, prodding and tests but nothing was found to be wrong. ‘Unexplained infertility’ was our diagnosis and we were eventually given the green light for NHS funded fertility treatment. 

Whilst I was relieved that we would finally be getting some help, I was an emotional wreck. I had spiralled into negative thought patterns, cut myself off from my friendship groups, struggled to share the joy of new or mums-to-be and felt thoroughly lonely and misunderstood. I was exercising, having acupuncture, eating healthily, I had cut out alcohol, tried reflexology, broken the bank on vitamins and yet my busy mind was making me feel stressed and isolated. I was sick to death of hearing people tell me ‘relax and it will happen’. 

When I saw Lisa, that was a turning point for me. Infertility is a lonely place. I felt no-one understood what my partner and I were going through and couldn’t find any support anywhere except online forums, filled with other desperate souls. Each month, my husband would pick me up again. Despite his optimism, we felt trapped in a cycle of negativity and hopelessness. 

Before my first visit I felt nervous and a tad cynical. I had no previous experience of hypnotherapy and I didn’t know if I would feel spaced out, so I took my poor sister along to sit in the car and wait whilst I went to be ‘hypnotised’. In reality, the hypnosis part of her therapy is not what I expected, it is a wonderful gift of total and utter relaxation. But visiting Lisa is more than hypnotherapy. Her undivided attention, contagious optimism and kind, authentic way of being make her sessions a very special experience. It is like a gentle and miraculous reboot. 

Meeting Lisa, for the first time in the loneliness of infertility I felt that someone finally ‘got’ what I was going through. Not just that, this was someone who genuinely wanted to help. When I began seeing her several months before my IVF cycle began, I didn’t dare to dream that I would become a mother. My language was ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ - but this is a mindset that Lisa worked with me to change.

For the first time too, someone addressed the grief that we had not truly faced after our miscarriage and encouraged us to let go and put that to rest in a beautiful and ceremonious way. We both wrote a letter to our baby we had never met, attached them to a helium balloon and released it in our favourite place where we read a poem and finally said farewell. As we watched our words disappear into the sky - I felt a cloud lift and some of the pain I had clung on to ease.

Each session I would talk about how I had been, what I was finding difficult and Lisa would give me techniques to help manage difficult emotions or patterns of behaviour. These simple exercises would make a huge difference. Some I used daily were a STOP! technique, where I would imagine a huge STOP! sign spring up in front of me or a loud, shouting STOP! inside my head if I began to drift into negative thoughts. When I felt myself getting low, I would imagine a rollercoaster car pulling up alongside me. In that moment, I could make the choice to get on and take a ride on the emotional rollercoaster I had been on so many times or to let it go on without me. I suddenly felt empowered and in control of my emotions, not the other way around.

The hypnotherapy scripts were different each week and visualisations included seeing myself discard my negative experiences of pregnancy or miscarriage from the past, seeing myself literally replenishing my vitality and energy from my head to my toes, entering the fertility control room of my mind to visualise a system working in perfect harmony, visualising myself as relaxed, fruitful and abundant. I took time every day to deeply relax and positively see my mind, body and womb as optimally healthy and ready for a baby - physically and emotionally.

The change in me was phenomenal, as my husband will attest. Visiting Lisa for our sessions was like a sanctuary, reenergising and rebooting me each time. After each session, I put into practice techniques Lisa taught me helping me to change patterns of behaviour that weren’t serving me or my efforts to get pregnant and I began to rediscover my 'self' that I had lost in the fog of trying for a baby. I grew in strength, resilience and optimism. Entering into IVF with hypnotherapy skills by my side, which I used daily, I felt fully prepared mentally and physically to embrace the experience. 

Lisa told me: “Working with women who’ve had a diagnosis of ‘unexplained infertility’ is incredibly rewarding and in my role as a clinical hypnotherapist I’ve helped dozens of couples conceive. When couples are undergoing treatment the fertility clinics look at the physical factors hindering conception (things such as abnormal ovulation, damaged Fallopian tubes and low sperm count), whereas I take a more holistic view and help them assess the emotional and lifestyle factors that may be affecting them. 

She says that any number of things can hamper fertility and hypnosis is a very effective way of helping people become optimally fertile. “Some women need help losing weight, for example, others need assistance with exercise motivation, or reducing their alcohol or caffeine consumption. And some women have unresolved traumas that need to be worked through, such as terminations, miscarriages, stillbirths, abusive past relationships or bereavements. A woman’s own difficult birth, or stories she’s been told of other’s traumatic births can also be an obstacle to conception, as can a fear of imitating negative parenting styles, or a life that’s so busy that there doesn’t seem to be room for a baby in it.”

Lisa explained that by far the most common issue she helps women with is stress. “Having difficulty conceiving or undergoing IVF are extremely stressful experiences so I teach women a calming breathing technique, self-hypnosis and self-nurture strategies so that they can learn to reduce their stress levels. Stress is extremely detrimental to fertility because it can delay the release of eggs and prevent the implantation of fertilised eggs, and the ‘flight or fight’ response channels blood away from the reproductive organs and into the arms and legs to prepare the person to flee or fight. It also has a negative effect on hormones: boosting levels of fertility-inhibiting prolactin and reducing levels of progesterone, which is essential for building and maintaining the uterine lining.”

I had tried fixing all of the physical aspects of myself, but I had neglected the mental toll that infertility had taken on me. When our IVF cycle began I was mentally, as well as physically prepared and realistic about our chances first time round. The success rate of IVF depends on the age of the woman undergoing treatment, as well as the cause of the infertility (if it's known). Chances decrease with the woman’s age from 29% under 35 years to 2% over 44 years old according to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority. We were fortunate enough that we fell pregnant with the first round. Throughout the treatment and the pregnancy I used my self-hypnosis scripts and relaxation techniques to help me stay calm - even during a stressful redundancy process that lasted the span of my pregnancy. 

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I was eager to do Lisa’s hypnobirthing course with my husband. He fully immersed himself and was completely invested in the power of hypnotherapy having seen the impact it had had on me. We practiced the breathing and relaxation techniques regularly together to help prepare us for the birth and he was an integral partner throughout and during the labour.

I cannot thank Lisa enough for her kindness, generosity of spirit and unwavering faith. I want others to know that hope can be found in even the darkest of times and that optimism can be felt even when you haven’t reached your end goal - in my case, a baby. For me, it was my sessions with Lisa and work that we did together that helped me to find my strength again.

Mind/body research: 

- A study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Women's Association showed that 42% of 132 women experiencing difficulty becoming pregnant conceived within six months of completing a mind/body programme. 

 - Research has shown that hypnotherapy is a very effective aid not only to natural conception but also when used in conjunction with IVF. 

- A study published in Fertility And Sterility 55% of the previously infertile women who used mind/body techniques conceived, compared with 20% of the control group who didn't use these techniques.

- An Israeli study of 185 women showed that the success rate of IVF treatments doubled from 14% to 28% when the subjects underwent hypnosis during implantation.

Image: Getty Images.

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