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In Poland, only 19 percent of couples who experience infertility seeks medical help. The majority does not undertake any steps, which would bring them closer to the desired pregnancy. They put their trust in the powers that be: faith or the will of God. However, a different approach to the problem and a change in habits may help to boost fertility, say Joanna Kwaśniewska, psychologist and lecturer at SWPS University.

The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology estimates that approximately 15 percent (1.5 million couples, i.e. almost 3 million people!) experiences difficulties in conceiving a child. There are different causes of fertility problems, which lead to different diagnosis and the prognosis for conceiving a baby. Inability to conceive due to irreversible medical reasons, such as the lack of uterus, is defined as sterility. However, if a couple cannot conceive due to reversible reasons, such as ovarian cysts, blocked fallopian tubes, the quality of the man’s semen and high level of stress, we are dealing with infertility. Hence, infertility becomes a challenge for various medical specialists, psychologists and therapists, who decide what diagnostic and research methods, therapies, technologies and procedures should be employed to change the outcomes for people who are coping with infertility. Nowadays, medicine offers many different ways to solve the infertility problem. However, there are other factors, perhaps not very spectacular but important, which could make a difference. Changing one’s perception of infertility and the way of thinking about the condition as well as changing one’s habits and lifestyle may significantly increase fertility.

Overall health impacts fertility

The first step to giving birth to the long awaited baby is realizing that you can impact your fertility and that fertility depends on the condition of your body, your mental health and your habits. However, many people, even those who actively seek medical help, make a mistake, when they cede the whole responsibility for their fertility to medical professionals, yet they do not make any changes to their lifestyles. For example, they do not change their work habits and are dealing with a lot of stress, which is exacerbated by never ending medical tests, hormonal therapy and repeated attempts to conceive.

Numerous studies combining psychological and physiological approach, indicate that stress is a factor that decreases human fertility. In women, stress causes endocrine disorders (e.g. it increases secretion of endorphins, prolactin and glucocorticoids, which influence the functioning of the brain, the pituitary gland and the ovaries). It also decreases libido by inhibiting the production of estrogen. In men, the concentration of LHRH (gonadoliberin - releasing hormone responsible for the release of the luteinizing hormone produced by hypothalamus, stimulates the production of gonadotropin LH and FSH from the front lobe of the pituitary gland), the LH (luteinizing hormone), and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) decreases, which results in a lower level of testosterone. Additionally, stress in men negatively impacts the nervous system and erection, leading to impotence or premature ejaculation.

It is not true that motherhood after the age of 35 is normal.... the best fertility period for humans falls between the 18th and the 20th year of life. With every year invested in personal development, the natural fertility of your body decreases.

Fertility decreases with age

It is not true that motherhood after the age of 35 is normal. Stories of happy celebrities giving birth after forty cause many people to falsely believe that motherhood can be delayed. In our culture, the society demands more and more from women and women demand more and more from themselves. Women want to graduate from good universities, continue their education by completing professional training and certification programs, build their careers and find the right partners, before they even think about starting a family. It takes time and it is not aligned with the natural abilities of the human body. The best fertility period for humans falls between the 18th and the 20th year of life. If you want to achieve all these goals, you must be aware that you are taking a risk. With every year invested in personal development, the natural fertility of your body decreases.

Fertility is like immunity

Infertility can be approached as a challenge that you must face. Labelling yourself as “Infertile” increases the level of stress and decreases motivation to do something about it. It is much better to think about yourself as a person who experiences infertility or who struggles with the problem of decreased fertility. People tend to make assumptions about their fertility, based on the ability to conceive and the ability to give birth to a healthy child. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines infertility in the same way. According to the WHO, infertility is diagnosed if a couple cannot conceive, despite engaging in an intercourse, regularly four to five times a week, for a year. However, it is important to know that fertility is like immunity. You can build it up by taking care of yourself, through a holistic approach to your health. If you are immune to various illnesses and diseases, it is an indicator of success. Fertility is similar in this regard – you can improve it by reducing stress, by regular physical activity and healthy eating.

It takes two to make a baby

Some couples ask: “Whose fault is it?” Who has a problem, the man or the woman? Although from the medical point of view these questions are justified (it is important for the partners to undergo the relevant medical tests), the questions are counter-productive from the general point of view. Infertility impacts the couple, because the interaction of various factors between two people causes the difficulties in conceiving. Moreover, it is not two random people, but THESE TWO people, who want to have a child together and it is their common challenge.

Looking at fertility as a variable of many different factors opens a door to numerous potential changes in the lifestyles of partners, who aim to increase their chances to make their dream of motherhood and fatherhood come true. Often, these changes are enough to result in a long-awaited pregnancy and may support the medical treatment that the couple is undergoing at the same time. When the couple is trying to conceive, each of the partners can take care of their health, strength and vitality, hence their fertility. According to the reproductive filtering model developed by Samuel K. Wasser, human fertility decreases in unfavorable conditions. Therefore, it is necessary to make every effort and create the optimal environment for the couple that is trying to conceive. The optimal conditions will trigger positive signals in the body: “The conditions are favorable, safe, and abundant”, instead of heeding a warning: “Extreme conditions! Let’s focus on surviving. There is not enough strength, energy and resources to procreate.”

The article was first published in the Polish edition of "Newsweek Psychologia Extra 2/15”
The magazine is available here »

About the Authors

joanna kwasiewska

Joanna Kwaśniewska, Ph.D. - psychologist, lecturer at SWPS University. Specializes in psychological aspects of fertility. Co-author of Nadzieja na nowe życie (Hope for a new life), a publication aimed at women who are coping with infertility. Collaborates with Fundacja Instytutu Nadziei.

justyna kuczmierowska

Justyna Kuczmierowska - Psychotherapist specializing in therapy for couples dealing with infertility. Founder of Fundacja Instytut Nadziei, a foundation, which provides support for couples coping with infertility and educates the public about the causes and consequences of infertility.