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)
In 2019, I was in Iceland and the University of Reykjavik had its “Research Marketplace”. This is where institutions present the research to Masters students in clinical psychology. Rakel Rut Björnsdóttir applied to do a feasibility study on Overcome Fertility Stress as her project. And we finally got published the following article, with the co-supervisor Magnús Blöndahl Sighvatsson in Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy. Evaluating the efficacy of an internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy intervention for fertility stress in women: a feasibility study. Below is a picture of us celebrating our publication in Iceland, in October 2022.