High-flyers who have difficulty conceiving may secretly be scared of having children. But a new holistic approach could help.


Career women in the late 1990s are supposed to have it all – the great job, the caring man and the wonderful home but, as many have found out, having it all comes at a price.

Successful thirty something women in the workplace may say they want a baby, but the reality, according to some experts, is that they only think they do and, subconsciously, they are too scared of losing their hard-won place on the career ladder to run the risk of getting pregnant.

What many high-flyers suffer is a deep-rooted conflict and secret ambivalence that can affect their fertility. And those who take the plunge but don*t get a baby on demand may rush off for fertility treatment and become depressed when that fails, too (more than 85% of the 35,000 couples who had IVF in the 12 months to April 1996 were treated unsuccessfully).

Elizabeth Muir is a doctor of psychology and director of the Fertility Enhancement Therapy Group in London. She specialises in helping women who have "unexplained infertility", who desperately want babies but who fail to get pregnant, by treating them with hypnotherapy and, this autumn, she will open the first holistic fertility centre of its kind in the UK.

The private clinic in London will be a one-stop advice centre on all matters affecting fertility, and will include the services of a psychologist, nutritionist, osteopath, endocrinologist and obstetrician.

With a medical profession that still classes women who have their first baby after the age of 30 as "elderly" primagravida, there is, according to Muir, a widespread fear that if you are over 35, time really is running out. But she argues that psychological and emotional factors, not age, have much more influence on a woman's chances of conceiving.

"For many career women, the concept of motherhood often conflicts with their professional life, although a lot of this ambivalence is subjective, which is why hypnotherapy is so effective. Also, the more successful women are professionally, the worse they feel when they cannot get pregnant quickly."

Hypnotherapy works on the premise that there are two states of consciousness - the conscious and the subconscious - which may be at odds with each other. In many cases, the subconscious can alter the body's biochemistry and Muir believes that, while a woman might consciously want a baby, her subconscious may be stopping her from getting pregnant.

Despite having no scientific evidence to support her theories, Muir even believes that, if women have a psychological block towards having a baby, the body will manifest this resistance in conditions such as endometriosis or polycystic ovaries, both of which reduce fertility.

"Most of the women I see have psychosomatic infertility related to conflicts or unresolved issues about having a baby. A combination of counselling and hypnotherapy can remove these problems"

Hypnosis also affects the area of the brain known as the hypothalamus. This is the neural centre at the base of the brain, which is linked to the pituitary gland and which controls the flow of hormones. The hypothalamus is highly sensitive to stress and, says Muir, acts as a bridge between the emotional and the physical, turning emotional messages into physical responses that then affect hormone levels.

"I firmly believe that women in our society suppress their natural fertility. They worry about not having enough money or a big enough house, or that having a baby will spoil their career. Most of these anxieties are imaginary, but they need to be reconciled in order to have a baby."

A hypnotherapy session involves talking through the issues that are bothering the client before guiding her into hypnotherapy. Muir then makes positive suggestions to the client's subconscious, that help her to visualise overcoming her resistance to pregnancy and seeing herself with a baby.

Muir's clients range in age from 37 to 43 and she claims a 45% take-home baby success rate, which is more than double that of many fertility centres. One client, who is now eight months pregnant, is Dr Sarah Andrews, 37, a hospital doctor who tried for three years to get pregnant, secretly worrying throughout that time that, if she succeeded, she might jeopardise her chances of a consultancy post.

Andrews says: "Once I thought I had decided I wanted a baby, I became obsessed with getting pregnant, and when it didn't happen after six months, I started falling apart. I had two attempts at IVF, both of which failed. That was a horrendous experience. It was a bit like being in a cattle market, with the same disappointed faces in the waiting room.

"After the second attempt failed, I thought I had to find something else. Right from the start, Elizabeth Muir helped me to feel better. I'm very ambitious: if I work hard at something I have to achieve it, so my sense of failure at not getting pregnant was enormous.

I also didn't know whether I should be concentrating on my career or on having a baby. I saw Dr Muir for nine months and, during that time, became much more relaxed. My blood pressure went down and she helped me see that I could have a baby and a career. Ironically, I got my consultant's job and got pregnant at the same time."

Dr Elizabeth Muir can be contacted on 020 7221 6566. Treatment is from £75 per session

Reprinted from the Sunday Times Style magazine 19 July 1998


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