Many families want to add a baby to the family, but conceiving isn't always the easiest thing to do. The CDC estimates almost seven million women have difficulty, and it's an emotional and heartbreaking problem.
For eight years, Karen Kelly tried having a baby with her husband, but was unsuccessful. Karen visited doctors, explored in vitro, and considered adoption. She says the experience was stressful.
"You start out that marriage saying, 'We'll do it when we are ready' and you think it's going to naturally happen, then conception came, for us, an ordeal," explained Karen. "It's a huge issue that required medical intervention, and medical analysis to figure out what was wrong."
Karen's journey pointed her to a familiar face. Retired WTVT anchor Kathy Fountain now counsels women like Karen, and helps couples overcome infertility.
"The ability to conceive is such a primal instinct," Fountain explained. "Not having a baby when you want to can cause stress and anxiety. Studies have shown infertility can cause depression, just as a woman with heart disease, AIDS, or cancer, which are the most stressful things you can go through."
But stress is not just a result of infertility. Some believe it's powerful enough to cause it.
"Stress can impact a woman's ovulation cycle, immune system, and sperm count," Fountain stated.
The amount of stress we experience appears to be growing. A 2012 Carnegie-Mellon University study finds stress levels increased over the past 26 years. They also found women experience more of it, and some fertility specialists say it can sabotage plans to create a family.
"If you're stressed out to the point where you are anxious, you are not having sexual relations with your partner, it's going to make it very difficult to get pregnant. That's going to be a very direct cause," explained USF Health infertility specialist Dr. Shayne Plosker. "We don't eat as well as we should, it might lead to more alcohol consumption, you're not exercising enough."
Still, a solid link between stress and infertility has yet to be established. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine finds there is no proof stress causes infertility. However, University of California - Berkeley researchers found stress changes reproductive hormones in females.
Exercise, meditation and yoga can reduce stress and improve health. Kelly added a mind-body class, which helped connect her with other families, trying to overcome the same infertility obstacle.
"Sometimes they are better able to open their minds up to other alternatives -- plan B, plan C -- on their way to becoming a parent. At some point they would have thought, 'I would never do this. I would never do that,'" continued Fountain.
The classes worked for Karen. She says it helped bring little Dagny, her 3-month-old daughter, into her life.
"We are not defined by the fertility monitor, we are not defined by our fertility or ability to conceive," Karen said. "We have other identities and roles that are just as important, and need to nurture those as much as you pay attention to that stick that you're peeing on every month. It's just as important, if not more."
Kathy Fountain Infertility: http://kathyfountainfertility.com/
USF Health Infertility Department: http://health.usf.edu/medicine/obgyn/ivf/team.htm
Stress puts double whammy on reproductive system, fertility: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-06/uoc--spd061509.php
Fear of treatment puts stress on women undergoing fertility therapy: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/f-sf-fot100312.php
Stress, infertility linked in study by Magee-Women's Research Institute: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2001-06/UoPM-Sili-2006101.php
Stress and tension do not stop fertility treatment from working: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-02/bmj-sat022411.php