Stress and Fertility: Help is at Hand

The fertility journey is challenging, it can be draining emotionally, it can be draining financially, and it causes a lot of stress along the way. However, it is important to know that you are not alone.

Help is at hand, with world-class fertility clinics and specialists and organisations across South Africa. It wasn’t always so, but today you can simply reach out for wide ranging fertility support and world-class treatments around the country. There is a range of fertility specialists who can help you navigate your fertility journey, while assisting you to manage the inevitable acute stress of fertility treatment, as well as the chronic TUPS stress that can affect your treatment results.

‘Stress and Fertility’ was one of the Expert Topics at this year’s Fertility Show Africa 2023, and this important issue was unpacked by renowned clinical psychologist, Dr Mandy Rodrigues from Medfem Fertility Clinic, and the CEO of the Infertility Awareness Association of South Africa (IFAASA), Saskia Williams, during an expert panel discussion.

Dr Mandy Rodrigues is a respected clinical psychologist in private practice. She is also the chairperson of the counselling arm of the SASREG (Southern African Society of Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy) board. She has worked in the field for nearly thirty years, coinciding with her own fertility and IVF journey.

Dr Rodrigues works with individuals, couples and groups, helping them to cope with their fertility journey and assisting them with making life changing decisions. A large part of her practice involves stress management, and the need for a multidisciplinary approach to infertility, and she has published various books and articles on the subject. She is also responsible for assessing donors, recipients and surrogate mothers and is not limited in her practice to the field of infertility, but also focusses on more general clinical work, including depression, stress, marital problems and trauma, with or without infertility.

Dr Rodrigues was joined by Saskia Williams, who is the founder and CEO of the Infertility Awareness Association of South Africa (IFAASA) – you can find out more about IFAASA at She started IFAASA in 2013 after a seven-year journey through infertility and is now responsible for organising the annual Fertility Show Africa, where couples can find the information and guidance they need for an infertility journey.

She raised some very pertinent questions about stress and fertility, as well as where to turn for help, which Dr Rodrigues answered drawing on her 30 years of experience.

SW: What role does stress play in fertility?

MR: We know from the field called psycho neuro immunology that the brain and the body and the hormones all work together. And the more stressed we are, the more we do anything in excess – whether it be exercise or eating – the greater the impact on the pituitary, which then has an impact on your menstrual cycle, on your fertility, and your chances of cancer. In fact, for a whole range of illnesses, the more stressed we are, the more at risk we are of getting those illnesses.

The type of stress that increases our risk of illnesses and medical conditions such as infertility is chronic, ongoing stress. This is different to the acute stress of a shorter-term experiences such as fertility treatment.

No one can help but to be stressed when going through fertility treatment, because it’s got so many implications. This is very acute stress, absolutely, but it is not the main challenge.

The real culprit when it comes to the effect of stress on pregnancy rates is the stress that happens separate to the acute stress of IVF – the ongoing stress of work deadlines, the stress of home and life commitments, the monthly stress to pay the bills – the chronic, ongoing, never-ending stress that has likely pervaded your life for months, maybe even years – this is the type of stress to be most concerned about for your health in general and especially if you are trying to conceive.

In a study among 50 women with endometriosis, who already had one failed IVF cycle and presented as the Type A personality that is stress-prone, the effect of stress on pregnancy rates could be clearly seen. Before they underwent another IVF cycle, these women were taught how to better manage their stress. These women were then all exposed to the same IVF treatment and endured the same acute stress during the treatments. But those who reduced their chronic stress were the two-thirds or 67% who fell pregnant in the subsequent IVF cycle.

SW: How can couples better manage stress during their fertility journey?

MR: We wrote a book 26 years ago and have since developed an online stress management program to help couples better manage stress during and after their fertility journey.

So, for free, you can go to and test your stress levels, using six different parameters that measures stress. The measures look at how depressed you could be, your levels of anxiety and how much of your stress is Time Urgency Perfectionism Stress or TUPS. Then you can go on to do a very structured Self-Help Program that teaches you how to manage stress in a systematic, concrete manner.

You can also reach out to fertility organisations, like IFAASA, for support and guidance, and catch up on this year’s Fertility Show Africa event on its YouTube Channel.

You should also reach for the professional counselling that is now available to help couples navigate the difficult fertility journey. While most couples leave Medfem Fertility Clinic with a baby in their arms, the fertility journey includes sad losses, negative results and difficult decisions along the way, even for those who are eventually successful. It is such a difficult journey. When I went through my fertility journey, there was so little support, there was no social media and infertility was more of a stigma. I’d like to think we have made huge strides in this aspect over the last decade and encourage couples facing fertility treatment to reach out for help, and to learn how to manage both chronic and acute stress.

The acute stress of IVF treatment can also be managed better by planning and predicting. This is easier when you are supported by a recognised and respected team of fertility specialists at a registered and accredited fertility clinic. Knowing you can count on the expertise and experience of a world-class team during your journey reduces uncertainty and stress. I’m also proud to say that South Africa sits right at the top with superb specialists and clinics.

In the local fertility field, you will also find that every organisation, every agency, many lawyers, and especially the counsellors, all speak of their own fertility journeys. They truly understand what you are going through, and they are able to assist you to navigate this journey and to manage the stress that it comes with.

Reach out to us!

From helping you manage your stress levels to offering all of the most effective assisted reproductive therapies (ART), Medfem Fertility Clinic is an understanding team of medical professionals, who have the experience, knowledge and desire to provide you with the best chance of a successful outcome at the end of your treatment.

Since the 1980’s, Medfem Fertility Clinic’s team has assisted couples struggling with infertility to experience the joy of parenthood, helping to bring more than 18,000 babies into the world.

If you would like to meet one of our fertility specialists or Dr Mandy Rodrigues, simply click here to book an initial consultation or contact us telephonically on +27 (11) 463 2244.

Our Fertility Specialists can also meet with You During a Virtual Consultation Via Zoom or Skype. Click here to book a virtual consultation now.

We look forward to meeting you!


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