2. Example: Stress Management For Infertility

As my husband and I tried to start a family, we experienced difficulty conceiving. It become an all-consuming focus for me, leaving me bitter, jealous, defensive, and desperate. I decided to try Graf Stress Management after talking to someone who’d used it to clear a terminal illness.

To me, the Graf Technique sounded like the ultimate holistic mind-body approach. I resonated with the idea that we each possess a subconscious “intelligence” which knows everything about us, including the events of our life and the way to run a healthy body. I’d been primed for such a thing during childhood.

My mother had been a very illness-centered person who visited doctors several times a week, every week. She expected to have health problems and sure enough, she did, and she had no sense of the body’s natural ability to manage or heal itself, believing instead that it needed medical expertise to run properly.

She extended this negative thinking in the direction of her children as well, constantly announcing that we were exhibiting symptoms of some malady even though we felt fine.  A single cough was the beginning of bronchitis; a sneeze, allergies.  In my case, she was given to maddening predictions about health problems I was certain to face in the future because they “ran in the family” : asthma in my teens, phlebitis in my twenties, high blood pressure by thirty, arthritis in my forties, and the kidney trouble was just a question of when. In truth, I was strong, healthy, active and athletic kid, and I resented having these negative expectations planted in my mind.

In response, I resisted not only her incursions but the entire undercurrent of negative health programming so normalized in daily life that few of us consciously recognize it. When someone would say, “Don’t go outside without a coat, you’ll catch a cold,” I would remind myself, “The temperature is NOT the problem; the belief that it will make us sick is.” I was willing to wear a coat if needed for comfort, but I refused to buy into the fear of sickness.  Ditto for the bogus rule against swimming after eating (finally debunked).  If digestion were truly that risky, there would be actual reports (“Woman Falls to Her Death While Digesting Dinner”) and regulations such as no driving after eating.

I disregarded even “sensible” advice like making sure sick people didn’t sneeze around me.  I considered myself well able to fight off the billions of harmful microbes crossing my threshold each day. In fact, I believed they helped make me stronger by building my resistance, not that I purposely sought them out but neither did I feel any fear around illness. For the most part, my strategy worked; I confess that 95% of the times I stayed home ‘sick’ from school, I was brazenly faking it.

Notwithstanding my brilliant mindset, I hadn’t managed to “think my way out” of infertility, and nothing else was helping either.  Graf Stress Management sounded like exactly what I needed: a direct linkage between my mind and my body, as opposed to the vague visualizations and hit-or-miss affirmations I’d tried.

My consultation with Dr. Graf lasted an hour and forty minutes.  Through a series of questions he pinpointed my stresses and while the specifics are private, the major stress preventing me from conceiving was a subconscious fear that my children would reject me.  [Note: This is fairly common.  Many of us know someone who’d been unable to conceive until after they’d adopted a child, after which they became pregnant (surprise!) once the feared rejection hadn’t materialized. Incidentally, fear of rejection is an equal-opportunity stress; in my client work, I’ve seen infertility due to the father’s stress as much as to the mothers’s.]

My intelligence had accommodated my fear by making sure I didn’t become pregnant, thereby protecting me from the dreaded rejection. How did my intelligence do this? By preventing ovulation, fertilization, or implantation?  I don’t know, and I don’t need to know–not that I wouldn’t like to.  But ultimately, my job is not to micromanage my body but rather to take care of my stress and let my intelligence run my health. A good division of labor in my opinion.

When my appointment was over, I felt entirely different from when I’d arrived.  I was peaceful, excited, and felt as if I were floating.  I could not believe the amount of stress I’d released and how wonderful I felt when it was gone.  That alone would have been worth the visit.  Truthfully, I felt like it was a stretch to expect that something this simple — and pleasant, did I mention? — could have a real impact on conception, but I was wrong. I was delighted to learn less than three weeks afterward that I was pregnant. And the fertility problem never resurfaced.

About Elizabeth

Elizabeth Richardson, in Rockville, Maryland, has been certified to practice Graf Stress Management since 1991. In addition, she holds a B.A. in Economics and an M.S. in Operations Research and formerly worked for the Congressional Budget Office doing econometric modeling.
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