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Letter From a Skeptic

by | Sep 11, 2015 | Grief and Loss, Mindfulness | 0 comments

Dear Buffy,

A friend recommended I look into “mindfulness” to help with our infertility diagnosis and our upcoming IVF cycle. This is my 6th IVF. I have a few questions.

I guess I just don’t understand how mindfulness can help me get pregnant. My husband has no sperm and nothing I think or feel or connect with my body is going to change that. How could our infertility happen because of stress in our lives? My husband isn’t more stressed than most guys, and most guys don’t have any problems with their sperm counts. How come this is happening to us?

Also, my main source of stress is trying to get pregnant! Before we started trying to get pregnant, I wasn’t overly stressed at all! Now, there is an endless stream of appointments with doctors, and phone calls with the insurance, and blood tests early in the morning before rushing to work, and the invasive trans-vaginal ultrasounds, and the constant waiting and waiting – waiting for results, waiting to for my period to start, waiting for an answer, waiting for another appointment, waiting in line, waiting on the phone. I feel like my whole life is just being on hold. Everyone around us seems to be having babies and moving along, but we are stuck waiting. Before we started our IVF, I thought the needles would be the worst part, but now I know the worst part is even worse than all the needles in the world. The worst part is the wait.

So, how exactly can mindfulness help us? Can mindfulness improve my husband’s sperm count? Can mindfulness make the waiting shorter? Can mindfulness guarantee that this IVF cycle will work and will bring us the baby we’ve been waiting so long for? I have a hard time believing that a series of meditations can make any of that happen.

And what if I can’t believe that mindfulness will help us have a baby? Will doing the exercises help even if I don’t believe they are helping?

I’m mostly sick and tired of people telling us to “relax”. As if this is all our fault and if we just relaxed more and were less desperate to have a child, we would suddenly get pregnant. We are told all the time to “just relax” but going on vacation isn’t going to help us get pregnant – unless we bring our sperm donor with us!

How is mindfulness different than “just relax”?

Hope to hear back from you soon,

Dear Sarah,

Thank you so much for your heartfelt letter. Your longing for a child is palpable and your questions are both wise and thoughtful.

I do not know the details of your husband’s infertility. But I do know this; the loss of the dream of having a biological child with your spouse can cause a heartbreak that for many is hard to heal.

And repeated failed IVFs can further impact your perceptions of the world as “hostile” or “unfair” and your body as “failing you,” or “betraying you,” developing chronic activation of your stress circuits which are intended to help you survive, but instead can have an adverse effect on your ability to conceive.

Loss, heartbreak, invasive trans-vaginal ultrasounds, surgery, needles, fearful anticipation and unmet longing can also trigger these primitive, sub-cortical, instinctual, somatic, right-brain, autopilot parts of ourselves.

We know our survival circuitry is triggered when we begin to avoid friends and family, feel sick and tired, and when waiting feels like the worst thing in the world.

Mindfulness is a very ACTIVE process that develops the brain regions responsible for SHIFTING from survive states to thrive states AMIDST stress and challenge.

Once the body shifts, the potent survival energy and resources used to sustain the chronic activation of these survival patterns gets freed up to repair itself and correct imbalances. We feel at ease, optimistic and vital in the midst of trying to conceive and conception rates go up by over 50%.

Sarah, I know there’s a lot of pseudo science out there and I know it’s hard to believe that mindfulness meditation can shift the structures of your brain that are important for reproductive functioning and conception.

But these things are now being proven by some of the world’s brightest researchers and being published in peer reviewed academic journals.

More importantly, programs like the Mindful Fertility Project are being developed based on this research with astonishing results that conventional medicine alone cannot achieve.

It’s not magic. It’s a practice validated by research in the fields of neuroscience, endocrinology, psychology, genetics and immunology.

I would need more information about your husband’s diagnosis to respond to your questions regarding how his infertility could be related to stress or influenced by mindfulness. I would ask his physician if lifestyle behaviors like stress reduction could have a positive effect on his sperm count. If so, mindfulness can help.

Mindfulness will affect processes in YOUR body that are proven by science to enhance your chances of conceiving if you are using donor sperm and IVF. Yes.

Does any of this guarantee you a baby? After years of research and practice in reproductive medicine – no intervention guarantees you a baby. Conception is a great reminder that we are indeed much more than a system of well designed body parts.

I like to ask women I work with, “When we experience loss while trying to conceive what story do we tell? Because we are taught to believe that when we get it all “right,” we will be blessed with a child. Mindfulness meditation exposes the pain of this conditioning and offers true healing from it.

Will doing the meditations help even if you don’t believe they are helping? The meditations will help you understand the effect your beliefs, including doubt, have on your reproductive functioning.

Can you take the meditations on vacation? Yes.

Will it make the waiting shorter? It may.

Once the body shifts there’s just a deep sense of relief and freedom and that potent survival energy and those freed up resources can then be used for more constructive and effective attempts.

If you have any further questions or comments, I welcome them. I hope to hear from you soon.

Until then, all my very best, always,


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