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Healing Emotional Issues in Infertility

The entire process of conceiving and bringing souls into the world can be fraught with disappointment, struggle and pain. As women, we hold a very sacred gift of bringing new life into the world, and when it does not go “as it should,” it hits straight to the heart of who we are. As a life coach and Reiki II practitioner, I have held space for women struggling with infertility, women dealing with multiple miscarriages, women processing the loss of a stillborn child, women who are lucky enough to get pregnant and then experience traumatic labor and birth, and those who have had to leave babies in an isolating, indifferent NICU. I do this through my holistic energy practice, hoping to relieve even a small amount of heartbreak. In parallel, my heart breaks with every story, too.

Tabitha Carlisle (left) and Tiffany Hoffman.

I have been reading all the blog posts on infertility posted by Reno Mom’s Blog and I want to dig further into the “why” to try and understand why the heart break happens to begin with.  I reached out to my teacher and Reiki Master, Tiffany Hoffman at Sacred Space Reiki and Birth Services, who specializes in helping women. She is a doula, midwife’s assistant, and specializes in holistic energy work and massage for those experiencing infertility and birth trauma. I wanted her take on what fertility issues mean emotionally. Our discussion started with the technical questions, but like many of our talks, it took the path of spirituality and personal lessons.

Tabitha: In your practice, what are the emotional issues that come up most often with infertility?

Tiffany: Fertility is something that holds a tremendous amount of emotion. We need to reframe how we perceive fertility. Even the terminology can be limiting. Discussing “issues with fertility” rather than using the words “infertile/infertility” when we discuss it makes a difference. Infertile is a heavy label to carry. It creates an environment in the body that fulfills the label of feeling broken, less than. Very often, issues with fertility are multifactorial. One piece that is rarely addressed is deeply held, unexpressed emotion. Nirvani Payne, who created  The Whole Person Fertility Program, writes, “because your body constantly is influenced by your emotions, thoughts and beliefs, which manifest themselves physically, your life story becomes your biology.” Emotions play a huge part in hormonal imbalance. Repressed emotions like anger, fear, sadness can all show up as symptoms and ailments in your body. The body/mind connection is powerful. In my practice, I see many women diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). PCOS is becoming more common, for reasons that aren’t quite clear. PCOS has a hormonal imbalance component that has many potential causes. Stress (internal or external), excessive exercise, imbalance between feminine and masculine, excessive work, can all be things that trigger an endocrine response that throws hormones out of whack.

Tabitha: If your story becomes your biology, what emotional issues do you think give rise to PCOS?

Tiffany: I believe stress is the biggest contributor, though everyone is different. And stress is more insidious than we realize with a deeper impact than we know. Stress is a physiological response in the body that changes the hormones running through the body. In short bursts it can be quite healthy. When stress sticks around for longer periods of time at low levels, it damages the body. Stress can come from a hectic lifestyle, poor food choices, environmental chemicals, overwork and not enough sleep to name a few. As women in today’s society, we are expected to perform at our highest levels at home and work. We generally take very little time for ourselves. This lack of self-care results in high levels of stress that are not released in a productive ways. We stay in our sympathetic nervous system producing high levels of cortisol, which is the fight-or-flight hormone. Staying in this zone for extended periods of time comes with consequences. To address the emotions and lifestyle choices that can create this level of stress I might ask my clients: “What are you trying to make up for? What feels like not enough in your life?” Multiple studies show that women from societies that oppress women have more issues with PCOS. Not feeling innately safe being feminine causes hormonal shifts to the more masculine side. Functioning too often in the masculine side and not honoring the gifts of the feminine will shift the hormone balance.

Tabitha: What is your opinion about the causes of unexplained infertility or issues with fertility with no known physical cause?

Tiffany: Because we usually look first for physical causes of infertility, when the results come back “unknown,” it feels defeating for women and takes this already out-of-control experience and worsens it. To empower women, I strongly believe the next step should be for women to explore the emotional and spiritual side of infertility. What underlying issues are you dealing with? Self-esteem? Need for personal growth? Are you having relationship issues? Is there a history of prior sexual or physical abuse? How do you feel about your abdomen? Is it where you store weight? Do you have scars? Is this one of your body parts that you love? How do you feel about being a woman? Where is your energy going? Do you overwork and care for others at the detriment of yourself? Do you give your energy and power away? Do you stop yourself from crying or feeling emotion because it’s seen as weak? It all comes back to worth. Do you feel worthy, truly, deeply worthy of the blessing of a baby? Do feel worthy of the honor of being a parent? Do you feel worthy enough to take time off and possibly rearrange your schedule and career to care for a baby? Do you feel worthy of having what is truly missing in your life?

Tabitha: How do you address these issues with the women you treat?

Tiffany:  There is no magic pill or perfect formula. The solutions vary from person to person. I start by getting my clients to connect with their emotions and feelings. I help them work on really understanding and acknowledging buried fears around parenthood, who they will be after a baby comes, understanding what they deserve on a deep level. Sometimes this means resolving buried resentment from childhood or addressing sexual abuse. None of these issues are light. The emotional work and releasing I facilitate through Reiki and massage works beautifully in conjunction with traditional therapy and medical fertility treatments.

Tabitha: What happens when your clients embark on this deep dive into their lives?

Tiffany: The results can be amazing. First, many clients are able to get pregnant, and the positive side effects to pregnancy are numerous. All of this personal growth prepares these women to be amazing mothers. It allows them to deeply and truly figure out who they are, which leads to increased confidence and understanding what they can offer to their children. It also strengthens their marriages and other relationships in preparation for the shifts that babies bring to a family unit.

Tabitha: So, you really believe that infertility can be an opportunity for personal growth.

Tiffany:  It can be. The universe is giving us an opportunity to grow, develop, complete, or heal something before rocking our world again after baby arrives.

Tabitha: Some women may see this viewpoint as blaming women for their fertility issues. What do you say to that?

Tiffany: What is important is that women feel a sense of empowerment. When you realize that fertility struggles aren’t something happening TO you where you have no power, you begin to understand that you have the power to begin to change things. You may still choose medication or IVF or other reproductive therapies, but you have the power to look inward to grow, heal, and make decisions, and you can play a part in conceiving your baby. This isn’t about looking back to place blame, it’s about recognizing in the moment what you can work on to improve your future chances. It also helps you get to know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses which can help you be the best parent you can be. And in the end if you don’t become a parent, the personal growth may help you better deal with that possibility.

Tabitha: Here you and I go again down the spiritual rabbit hole! Why do you think we are seeing larger number of woman struggling with this issue?

Tiffany: I believe we are in a period of great change and shifting consciousness. Women are being challenged to connect to themselves by working through tough issues. It heals them, it heals generational wounds and it also heals the world. For every person making personal changes to heal, it affects the people around them, and they in turn affect others. It is a beautiful process that is so much bigger in the grand scheme of things.  One of my favorite quotes is by the Dalai Lama: “The world will be saved by the western woman.”

Tabitha owns the Nahara Center in Reno, where she works with women in all stages of motherhood, from pre-conception to living with teenagers, to define their dreams and balance the chaos of motherhood. When she is not assisting others in finding their passions, Tabitha is running around after her four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.  If there is any time left over after that, she loves getting outside for a run or rolling out her yoga mat for a handstand.

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