Time to Focus on the Non-Exotic Infertility Patient!

By Alice Domar, PhD
Executive Director
The Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF


Last week I attended a reproductive nursing meeting in Tampa, Florida. 

There were three key topics which were the focus of the meeting (plus my talk on holistic nursing) – pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), embryo donation, and infertility treatment for cancer patients. While perusing the schedule, it occurred to me that I was the only speaker who was going to focus on the needs of the vast majority of infertility patients. Before I began my planned talk, I remarked that this seems to be the norm. The infertility field is faced with so many rapidly changing technologies that health care professionals must constantly learn new science, yet the basic physical and psychological needs of our patients remain relatively unchanged. 

Last year I chaired a small brainstorming session for mental health professionals who work in the infertility arena. My only ground-rule was that we could only talk about regular infertility patients. There could be no talk of third party reproduction (i.e. nothing on sperm or egg donation, surrogacy, or embryo donation). Lo and behold, there was a lot to discuss.

Individuals and couples who are going through infertility face some significant medical, financial, social, and psychological challenges. Simply trying to conceive a healthy baby from your egg and your partner’s sperm can cause significant symptoms of anxiety and depression.  You don’t need to be faced with anything else. Going through an infertility workup and subsequent treatment is likely to be one of the more difficult crises you will ever face.

So don’t feel guilty if you constantly wonder “why me?”, if you feel jealous and angry at every pregnant belly you see, if you loathe going to social events where you know the focus will be on everyone else’s kids, if you wish infertility on non-supportive friends or family members,  or if you simply are sick and tired of feeling different. Those are all completely normal reactions to infertility.

Whenever my patients slink in and share these evil thoughts, I frequently shock them by responding that I have heard far far worse and they are going to have to be far more creative to get my attention. The fact is, there are many normal and healthy reactions to infertility. Don’t feel guilty that the process makes you feel lousy. Sure, you may have friends and family members who are dealing with other terrible life situations, but that doesn’t make your infertility any easier. The non-exotic infertility patient deserves to feel sorry for her or himself.  No one would choose to go through this process.

The key is to constantly check in with yourself to see what you need and what you can do to get those needs met. And always remember that infertility is a temporary crisis. As hard as it is, you will not be going through it for the rest of your life.


Alice D. Domar, PhD is a pioneer in the application of mind/body medicine to men’s and women’s health issues. She not only established the first Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health, but also conducts ongoing ground-breaking research in the field. Her research focuses on the relationship between stress and different women’s health conditions, and creating innovative programs to help women decrease physical and psychological symptoms.

Dr. Domar received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Health Psychology from Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Ferkauf School of Professional Psychology of Yeshiva University. Her post-doctoral training was at Beth Israel Hospital, Deaconess Hospital, and Children’s Hospital, all in Boston.

She has conducted research on infertility, breast cancer, menopausal symptoms, ovarian cancer, and premenstrual syndrome. Dr. Domar has earned an international reputation as one of the country’s top women’s health experts.

She is currently the Executive Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, and the Director of Mind/Body Services at Boston IVF. She is an assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, and a senior staff psychologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Domar has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments as a best-selling author, media authority and sought-after public speaker. She is the author of numerous books, on the advisory board for Parents Magazine, Health Magazine, Conceive Magazine, and Resolve, and on the Board of Experts for LLuminari. Two of her books have been finalists for the Books for a Better Life Award. She was also the Series Editor for a series of mind/body books by Harvard Medical Publications/Simon and Schuster. She is the narrator of the DVD’s “Stress and Relaxation Explained” and “Infertility Explained”, both of which won silver Telly Awards.  Dr. Domar has appeared on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Dateline NBC, CNN, PBS, and the CBS and NBC Evening News, to name a few. She presents lectures and conducts workshops throughout the US and around the world and went on tour with Oprah in the spring of 2004 and 2005 with the LLuminari team. Dr. Domar was named to the prestigious list of 15 “Women to Watch in 2004″ by Lifetime TV. Her newest book is “Be Happy Without Being Perfect” (Three Rivers Press, March, 2009) and she is currently working on a new book, co-authored with Dr. Susan Love, called “Live a Little” (Crown, December, 2009). She is also a featured expert on the new online social health network BeWell.com.