Don't worry, be happy

Want a baby through IVF? Better learn to control your feelings.

Published October 19, 2006 1:37PM (EDT)

It isn't enough to have Clomid pulsing through your veins, making you drop eggs as fast as a Petaluma chicken, and being harvested and planted like one of ADM's genetically modified cornfields -- a woman undergoing fertility treatment, says a new study, needs to maintain a proper attitude.

In a word: Ladies, don't get so emotional!

On Thursday, Reuters alerted us to the study, published in the September issue of Fertility & Sterility. Based on pregnancy rates among 342 women who underwent in vitro fertilization at a single fertility clinic in Greece, the study found a link between how women deal with stress and their chances of getting pregnant. "Women who tended to focus on and share their feelings were less likely to become pregnant than women who found other ways to cope with their stress -- such as finding ways to 'distract' themselves from their emotions," Reuters explained. The researchers acknowledged that other studies have concluded that expressing emotions is good for your health, but those studies have not looked specifically at pregnancy outcomes after IVF.

Maybe it's a problem of journalistic oversimplification, but whenever doctors begin to counsel women on the proper way to manage their emotions, I can't help flashing on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's proto-feminist fiction "The Yellow Wallpaper," which chronicles a woman's descent into madness after following her doctors' advice that she give up work, society and other stressors.

Having watched the strange cloud of anxiety and obsessiveness that descends upon friends in the throes of technologically aided pregnancies, I know the bulk of the stress during infertility is experienced by the woman. Her body must sync itself up with the needs of the laboratory, and despite more studies linking some causes of infertility to men, the conventional wisdom holds that it's the woman's body that is at fault. Now, to think that these women are going to be counseled to manage their feelings in a certain way to improve their outcomes  well, just imagine the waiting-room tjte-`-tjte:

"Don't cry, honey! Hey, check out this story about Paris Hilton. I said don't cry!!! Think of little Joey!"

Many of the women who are now popping fertility pills and freezing their embryos got there in part by thinking long and hard about getting pregnant. Now they are paying the price for waiting for the right partner or putting their career first or just spending time growing up. I'd hate to see one more layer of self-consciousness piled on top of women's already stressed-out wombs.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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