I’ve realized I may not have done the best job explaining exactly what I meant by “what makes me me” yesterday. So if you didn’t read that, please do. I attempt to clarify how I think that study relates to me here as well.
I can’t seem to access the full article now, but what I remember is that the study (referenced here again) looked at fertility of women over a year and found that higher levels of alpha-amylase, the enzyme that is released under acute stress, reduced fertility over a period of the first month, but over the course of a year of trying to conceive those values had no influence. What’s interesting is that ‘infertility’ is defined as inability to conceive after a year, not just a few months. It seems then that yes, this enzyme would be effective in delaying conception, but statistically not for what the medical community defines as infertility. I wonder though, if someone is under extreme acute stress for an extended period of time (unlikely but still possible), would fertility be compromised? The article didn’t address that.
Cortisol levels were also measured, which is more of a measurement of how your body is trying to sooth itself basically. More cortisol would maybe mean that you have experienced a lot of stress and your body is trying to recuperate. This study found that higher levels of cortisol actually related to higher fertility, which is totally confusing. So short term, acute stress is bad, but long term stress seems to be good? Mixed messages much?
In life in general, I don’t buy that stress is entirely bad. Stress makes us do extraordinary things. Perhaps I wouldn’t have worked as hard as I could on that project if I didn’t fear about turning in a bad version, maybe I would never have received that fellowship if I hadn’t “stressed” to get the application turned in on time, and we stressed to make the money/time commitments work to see our families when it otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. Stress makes fathers provide for their families (how many young dads stress about finding jobs once they have children?) and it helps mothers feed their babies when they’re crying (which produces stress).
What I thought was interesting about the article is the difference between involuntary vs. voluntary stress. Voluntary stress to me is more related to your situation: having a stressful job, being in grad-school, being in financial/martial stress, etc. Those are stresses that aren’t guaranteed to be constant forever and have the potential to change (although you made very well need to stay in those situations for the time being – this says nothing to the immediacy that they can be remedied) and are related to cortisol levels. Involuntary stress is how your body naturally responds to stress, more along the lines of how we have designated “Type A” and “Type B” people. There are people (like my husband) that it just takes forever to get them stressed out. Then there’s me, where it seems like I have an automatic response button or as my dad puts it a “sense of urgency”.
This is why I think the part about the alpha-amylase enzyme via acute stress was what I was referring to yesterday. It’s really interesting because your “fight or flight” mechanism really seems to be something that’s hard to control, its just automatic (hence, fight or flight). I know whenever I get in a conflict or tense situation (for example, when I am asked a Catholic theology question by my evangelical family member at a family gathering), or even right when I’m about to do any public speaking, my heart starts beating so fast, I get hot, and I feel like I’m either going to choke or throw-up. I literally have to practice what I’m going to say until I have it memorized because my brain will cease to function from nervousness! I have absolutely no control over that and its been with me my whole life. Of course its debilitating in other ways (its really hard for me to give an improvised talk because of this) but I’ve learned what I need to do and considering I still have to give talks on a regular basis, I know I have improved. But it will still never be ‘easy’ for me.
Seeing that that could be linked to not getting pregnant, well what’s a girl to do? Beat myself up more? These situations will always happen in my life, even if I limit them. I know breathing exercises and centering my thoughts and focus through prayer has helped calm it down, but that heart beating thing in a sudden situation just happens anyway. I’ve learned the best I can do when it happens is to just keep breathing and speak calmly. It seems like you could limit a stressful lifestyle, but could you erase that immediate response mechanism? This is what I mean by I am who I am. It seems to me that some people are geared like that and others aren’t. I look at my husband and he doesn’t even know what I’m describing when I tell him what happens to me!
But he has lived with me for 2 years and known me for the 2 years prior and has seen my natural responses and I guess knows me well enough to realize that this really isn’t something that I can just ‘turn off’. And I love him for expressing to me that even if we never have kids because of it, he still loves me for it.
Anyways, I’m certain I can’t be the only sub/infertile blogger that has these issues…