On December 31st, a childhood friend wrote on FB. “I stuck to my New Years’ resolution, I managed to not get pregnant for the first time in 6 years” to which 54 people pressed a “Like”. The emotional roller coaster and demoralization this caused me on the other side of the world was intense. It is hard to describe the emotional range I experienced. Was it jealousy? Sadness? Sense of failure? Anyhow, this lovely childhood friend posted this jokingly and this is common when fertility issues are being discussed.
Dealing with fertility-related stress is often considered “lightweight”. Yet, it is one of the most distressing experiences people go through. In fact, severe psychological distress is experienced by the majority of couples who are trying to conceive and are not successful. Over 50% experience, depression, and up to 76% suffer from anxiety during this time (Lakatos et al., 2017; Pasch et al., 2016).
In the same year, I finished my Ph.D., I got married and started my job at Oxford University as a Senior Research Clinician. I felt the most successful I have ever felt in my life! In reality, it was the start of the most miserable time in my adult life. The pain and misery of unsuccessful conception permeate into every aspect of your being. The feeling of failure is unbearable. There is a constant feeling that you are doing something wrong. You constantly interrogate yourself with questions to try to solve this puzzle “do I run too much?” (I tried stopping running which was a terrible idea), “am I losing too much weight?” (I tried bacon sandwiches for a month for breakfast, an interesting fact is that my weight stayed the same).
In my spare time when I worked at Oxford, I founded a startup. Its main product was building on my Ph.D. innovation and applying my treatment algorithms to new problems. Also, the programming was done by a professional rather than me hacking myself through PHP MySQL programming which I did for my Ph.D. program creation. In my Ph.D. I created a fully automated online CBT program for those who stutter. However, at this point in Oxford, I held 4 university degrees in psychology and had worked in Cognitive Behaviour therapy research for a decade. In my various training facilities at hospitals and research settings, I had seen how CBT could be applied to different areas. With this background, I started working on a new program using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to tackle fertility stress using CBT techniques. The result was Overcome Fertility Stress (OFS)
We are lucky to live in a time when medical advances are being made every day. Medication, operations, and IVF have enabled countless people to conceive who would not have had the opportunity just a decade ago. However, these options are not available to everyone, and the outcomes are not always successful. Being diagnosed with infertility problems typically comes with significant emotional and financial costs.
I am particularly interested in the stress, depression and anxiety that can result from fertility issues (please see my survey). A few weeks ago I discussed this topic in an interview with an Icelandic newspaper. I feel we need to be more sensitive when talking to people about their family planning. For example, the question “when are you going to have children?” is often inappropriate. It’s usually asked by well-meaning friends or family who have a genuine curiosity. However, if you take a moment to consider the reasons why someone does not have a child, you will see the list of possibilities is pretty short. It may be a decision of a personal nature, it may be due to relationship problems, or perhaps there are medical complications. In any of these cases, it’s not a good conversation to have over Thanksgiving dinner. In general, people will bring it up when and if they want to talk about it.
I encourage everyone to check out the National Infertility Awareness Week page, become involved, and think about how you approach these issues.
We’ve been very busy at AI-Therapy over the past few months. In this post we will summarize some of the new developments.
Icelandic TV Appearance
I was interviewed for the evening news in Iceland a few weeks ago:
During the interview I gave a demonstration of AI-Therapy’s social anxiety treatment program, and announced our new program in development called Overcome Fertility Related Stress (see below).
I have started working on a new treatment program for people who are struggling with the emotional aspects of conception and fertility problems. I’ve created a survey, and the information I gather will be used to ensure that the program is helpful for a wide range of people:
Fjola Helgadottir, PhD, MClinPsych, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of AI-Therapy.com, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety