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Why You Shouldn’t Stress Right Now About Stress If You’re Trying To Get Pregnant

These are stressful times. I hope that, if you are trying to get pregnant, you find this helpful. Sending love and light, Kirsten

Q: What’s more stressful than experiencing infertility?

A: Experiencing infertility during a pandemic.

It’s never a good time to be diagnosed with infertility—the inability for a woman to get pregnant for a year (if you’re under 35) or six months (if you’re over 35) or to carry a pregnancy to term. But as COVID-19 spread across the globe, many fertility clinics stopped or limited treatment, leaving those who were trying to get pregnant to forgo their dreams of becoming parents or of having another. Even as many clinics reopen and resume treatment (in full protective gear), the jury is still out on how the coronavirus impacts women who do manage to get pregnant.

Talk about stressful.

I thought infertility was stressful when I was going through four years of infertility (nine rounds of IVF and four miscarriages) before I had my daughter, but I learned some important things about stress that I hope will help moms who are trying to get pregnant now.

First, forget about the people who say, “Just relax and you’ll get pregnant.” I mean, literally forget they ever existed. Like, if that’s their starting gambit, it won’t get any prettier. They’ll regale you with stories of their best friend’s veterinarian’s aunt’s lover’s niece who had been trying forever—she did forty-five rounds of IVF! Drank witches’ blood! Took a vow of celibacy! And when she stopped everything, stopped thinking about it, lo and behold, she got pregnant.

When someone said, “just relax,” I thought: Now you’re telling me that my own stress is causing this lack of a baby? Are you saying infertility is my fault? That if I weren’t so GODDAMNED STRESSED OUT ALL THE TIME I WOULD BE @#$@# PREGNANT???? (They usually ran for the hills at that point, planning not to return till I gave birth.)

Listen: When I was interminably single, people kept telling me to “stop focusing on finding the one and it’ll happen…” You know what happened when I stopped focusing on dating? I got off all the dating websites, hung out with my girlfriends, read lots of books and grew cobwebs down there. It was only when I decided to leave Los Angeles and move to New York to find a husband that I met mine.

So I don’t buy that simply “not focusing” on conceiving is the magic pill.

Still, I want to investigate the science behind stress and its relationship to infertility.

“The relationship between stress and infertility has been debated for years,” begins a study in Clinical Neuroscience. “Women with infertility report elevated levels of anxiety and depression, so it is clear that infertility causes stress.” DUH. The study goes on to say that women who struggle to conceive are twice as likely to suffer from emotional distress than fertile women.

“What is less clear, however, is whether or not stress causes infertility,” the authors note, saying it’s impossible to prove the causality because it’s based on people self-reporting, and also because people feel really optimistic at the start (as you should!). So is the stress causing the infertility or is the infertility—and its failure—causing people to feel disappointed… and stressed?

Some studies show a physiological relationship between stress and time to pregnancy, and one study notes that “interventions to reduce cortisol prior to commencing IVF could improve treatment outcomes.”

“You need a healthy body and a healthy mind,” says Dr. Amy Beckley, creator of the at-home progesterone test Proov. “Our cortisol steals from our reproductive system, so if you’re too stressed, your body says, ‘We do not believe you can carry a child to term,’ and turns the needed progesterone into cortisol, a stress hormone.” She hates when doctors say, “Just don’t think about it.” She says, “You have to take actions to manage your stress.”

But can we really moderate our stress levels?

I spoke to Tamar Ben-Shaanan, a microbiologist and immunologist studying mice with tumors. In a study published in Nature, Ben-Shaanan and her colleagues found that “activating the reward center” in the mouse’s brain reduced the tumor, and concluded that “a patient’s psychological state can impact anti-tumor immunity and cancer progression.” Some recurrent loss specialists concluded that this would be a good line of treatment for people who fail IVF cycles: “It may be a great first step in a new protocol for IVF patients to focus on creating an environment that would lead to activation of this reward system,” they write, encouraging patients to do “activities that create enjoyment” and establish a “positive environment.”

Ben-Shaanan, who was not involved in that repeat loss study, told me, “It’s not a one-to-one ratio: The way our neurocircuitry reacts to our situations in life can perhaps have an impact. It may be hard-wired.” In other words: We may not have as much control over our stress as we want.

Of course, there’s also a lot of research showing stress has no effect on fertility. As I always say: Correlation is not causation. Yes, of course infertility causes stress. How can it not? Everyone telling you to “just relax” should try living a normal, happy life while waiting every second for a much-wanted event that hasn’t yet happened and they can’t be sure ever will. Of course infertility is stressful. Just please don’t tell me it causes infertility.

“While infertility causes stress, research shows it’s not vice versa,” says Dr. Janelle Luk of Generation Next Fertility. “Everyone’s stressed out, so it’s a silly statement,” she says. “It’s like saying, ‘Don’t eat without biting the food.’”

In fact, total fertility rates are often highest in countries that experience the harsh conditions of war, poverty and famine. In an analysis of 14 studies of 3,583 infertile women, researchers concluded: “Emotional distress caused by fertility problems or other life events co-occurring with treatment will not compromise the chance of becoming pregnant.”

Dr. Luk says, “Going through infertility treatment can be a high-stress event for most women, especially if they have been trying for a while.” She notes that while stress can cause menstrual and hormonal changes, “these changes are usually self-correcting and do not have any permanent impact on fertility.” So if, for example, you’re so stressed that you’re not ovulating, that can be fixed. If you’re so stressed that you’re not sleeping, eating properly or exercising—well, that can be fixed, too. And fixing those situations will probably help your fertility.

While you can’t fix a pandemic, you can fix your response to it.

And that’s why if you’re trying at home—or even back to your clinic—don’t worry that the added stress of our current isolation situation will negatively affect your chances of conceiving. We already have enough to worry about—stressing about stress shouldn’t be one of them.

Written by Amy Klein for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

How We Raise Liars and What to Do About It

No parent wants to consciously and purposefully raise a child who lies, but the truth is our kids lie. They lie often and they lie well. Dr Victoria Talwar, a leading expert on children’s lying behavior, has proven that as parents we only do slightly better than chance (60%) at telling whether our children are actually lying to us. Where do these lies come from, and what are we, as parents and adults around them, doing to promote this behavior?

First of all, let me reassure you. All kids lie, even yours, no matter what you might think. In fact, by their 4th birthday, 9 out 10 children will be experimenting with lying. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a developmental milestone to lie. Think about it, a kid has to know the truth, be able to invent a lie that is an alternative to the truth and then deliver it convincingly to the right audience. It’s an impressive accomplishment.

Kids start lying for two reasons: they want to avoid punishment or they want to make you happy. As they get older, lying becomes a way to vent frustration, gain status at school or cope with life’s stressors.

Some kids grow to be lifelong liars while others eventually stop. How do they develop into liars and why? The short answer is, we train them into it.

Sometime back I was sitting at the American embassy waiting to get a new passport for my son. The family behind me had a boy who looked to be 7 or 8. Old enough anyway to have some logic. I guess they’d been there a while because the child was getting restless and telling his parents he wanted to leave. As a response to the constant nagging his father told him ‘look, look our number is coming up!’ The kid could obviously read the numbers and as he pointed to the screen, he told his father no, there are still 4 people before us! The father, denying completely the fact that numbers are called in order and the fact that his son could actually figure out the calling system, insisted that their number was going to be called next.

More recently, I took my daughter to the pediatrician’s office to have her shots. She’s only 4 and was terrified. As the elderly man came closer with the needle, she cringed and started to cry. To reassure her, he blatantly lied: ” Don’t worry you won’t feel a thing. It’s not going to hurt at all.” He pinched her arm and inserted the needle. Her eyes widened with surprise as a scream tore from her throat.

What these kids are learning, is that adults lie to them, and that if those adults are in positions of authority, like parents and doctors, then lying is clearly acceptable.

Parents are masters of the mixed messages to kids. We tell them not to lie, then we angrily whisper at them to be polite about a present they hate; we claim they’re six when in actual fact, they haven’t celebrated their 6th birthday yet (unless we’re trying to get them in to an event for free in which case they’re under 6 long after their 6th birthday!); we encourage them not to tell on friends or siblings when someone does something wrong, teaching them that withholding the truth is in actual fact honorable.

We obviously have the best intentions. We are being empathetic, approximating, and using teachable moment to develop their integrity. They don’t see out intentions. To them, we are just blatantly lying. We don’t realize is that it takes the same emotional acuity to tell white lies as it does for the bigger lies and by modeling it for them, we are training our kids to be really good liars.

To make matters worse, when our kids are obviously lying to us or use flimsy cover ups, we find it funny or cute and we let these little lies slide (honestly, it’s exhausting to stay on top of house, kids, life and then to nit pick and how we react to a lying four-year-old).

“Did you spill chocolate milk everywhere?” You ask the child with chocolate milk dripping from her chin and covering her dress.

“No!” she says. “It fell by itself”.

“Ah! It must be the chocolate milk monster then” you reply. Which makes you much cooler than launching into a lecture. But our kids don’t recognize the coolness. They just get the message that some lies are ok.

The fact is, kids actually lie more as they get older, not less. We punish bad behavior and we let the little lies slide, so they practice telling us what we want to hear and they get better at it.

According to Dr. Bella De Paulo who studied adult deception, as parents, the way we react to our children’s lies can affect lifelong lying. So if you don’t want to raise liars, here’s a quick list of what to do and what not to do!

  1. Don’t enforce sweeping punishments for your child’s behavior. If they tell the truth, reward that over all else.
  2. Reinforce the importance of truth-telling over making you happy. They may not tell you what you want to hear, so fix your face and make sure your reaction doesn’t tell them you’re angry. Help them not repeat their mistakes instead of showing them when to lie.
  3. Applaud them when they do tell the truth and let them know you’re proud of them for that.
  4. Never turn a blind eye on the small lies they make up. Don’t laugh and dismiss them. Make sure you address the tiniest lie by letting them know lies are not acceptable.
  5. Try not to lie in front of your kids. Remember, kids do what you do, not what you say.
  6. Don’t try to entrap them or test their honesty. That will just degrade your relationship.
  7. Attenuate your tone of voice so it doesn’t carry a threat of consequences. For example, instead of, “Who on earth got red marker all over this wall?!?” try “Hey honey, this looks like your red marker on the wall. Shall we clean it up because you know we don’t write on walls.”

Written by Kat Shalhoub, PHD for The Healthy Moms Magazine and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

6 Easy Holiday Decorations Kids Will Love to Make

Boost creativity along with family togetherness by getting your children in on the decorating action.

Children develop an understanding of the world through the senses. The changing seasons provide a great opportunity to engage them through the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and feels of fall and winter, as we decorate our homes to reflect the seasons. This year, don’t resign your little ones to school crafts and jack-o’-lanterns—get them involved in decorating your home. Whether it’s baking cookies, hunting for leaves or planting evergreen branches, there are plenty of opportunities for the entire family to get involved in your home’s holiday decor. Here are some inspiring decoration ideas that are kid-friendly and family-approved.

1. Hang Autumn Leaf Wallpaper

Go on an outdoor trek with your children and collect bunches of colorful leaves around your yard, street or even at the park. Press them under a book overnight, then glue them to cut squares of textured paper. The result will be stunning enough to stay up year-round.

While you’re out collecting leaves, grab a few extra to adorn your mantel. Twigs and leaves add a natural, whimsical element to existing fall decor and give your children a fun way to put their stamp on your home.

2. Arrange Decorative Pumpkins and Gourds

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. Working Mother

Let your kids have fun and pick out their favorite pumpkins.

Photo: Julie Ranee Photography, original photo on Houzz

These lumpy, bumpy gourds add festive fall color, and the unique textures make them fun and interesting for little kids to check out. Decorations that engage the senses are always a plus.

3. Explore the Wonder of Japanese Washi Tape

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. Working Mother

The designs are endless with this versatile tape.

Photo: Pullga, original photo on Houzz

Washi tape—decorative Japanese tape made of paper—is a great tool for kid-friendly decor. I love how this homeowner made a simple vignette with a washi tape tree on the wall. It is easy to use, is incredibly affordable, makes a big statement and comes down without a fuss. There’s no need to stop at a tree with this stuff—encourage your kids to create snowflake, star and present shapes out of washi tape, too.

Encourage your children to go beyond traditional holiday colors. Give them free rein and see what creative color schemes they can create with a little low-VOC paint, some supervision and a few tree branches or blank ornaments. Who knows? They could come up with the star of your home’s holiday decor.

4. Get Creative with Classic Candy Canes

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. Working Mother

Make sure to save one for a treat after you’re done.

Photo: Michelle Edwards, original photo on Houzz

Some of the best holiday decor is the simplest. Give your children some candy canes (maybe one or two extra for snacking) and craft glue to turn something as simple as a white candle into a colorful holiday accent. This easy DIY project satisfies both the taste and smell sensory categories—once you light the candle, it’ll give off a slight peppermint scent.

5. Pick a Bunch of Branches

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. Working Mother

Perfect for your favorite ornaments.

Photo: Planet Fur, original photo on Houzz

This decorative branch makes me think of adventure! Just imagine the fun you could have while hunting for the perfect collection of twigs or branches with your children. Add simple store-bought or homemade ornaments, or let your children paint it with kid-friendly paint.

6. Create a One-of-a-Kind Christmas Tree

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. Working Mother

No watering needed!

Photo: Julie Ranee Photography, original photo on Houzz

Spur children’s creativity by encouraging them to use everyday items in unexpected ways. This holiday tree made of straw hats is a great example. I love how this clever display can be dressed down (as with the straw hats in this photo) or dressed up (by using top hats, bowlers or other fancy hats).

Some other fun ideas:

Fill the Front Porch With Festive Gourds
Sketch Out DIY Ideas on a New Drawing Table
Stylish Plant Stands to Hold Holiday Arrangements

Written by Summer Baltzer for Houzz for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

6 Holiday Backdrops for Taking Family Photos at Home

Give that mall Santa the year off—these photo ideas will make your holiday cards highly personal and truly memorable.

Sure, you could make the trek to the mall or a local photo studio, but if you feel like taking things into your own hands this year, we have nine fun, easy and creative ideas for taking holiday pictures at home. Enlist a friend to help (offer cookies as a bribe) or teach yourself to use the self-timer, and you can have Christmas card photos done in an afternoon—without leaving the house!

1. Deck the chalkboard wall.

Have a chalkboard wall at home? Consider it your personal photo booth—drape it with a festive garland or strand of lights, and write your holiday greeting right on the wall. Then all you have to do is smile.

2. While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads…

Have the wee ones pile into bed with festive jammies on, and snap a picture while they pretend to sleep. It’s even cuter if they peek.

3. It’s lovely weather for a wagon ride together.

Load a tiny tree into a red wagon, and have your littlest one either sit in or pull the wagon.

Outfit suggestion: holiday pajamas, plus an extra-long red and white striped knit scarf. This would also work with a pretend truck or car.

4. Baby, it’s cold outside.

Bundle up and haul the troops outdoors to your front porch or backyard. Have a fire pit? Light it up! If not, stack some firewood behind you to set the mood. Warm your hands with mugs of hot chocolate or apple cider with cinnamon sticks. Definitely invite the dog.

5. I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus.

Grab your sweetie and drape yourselves in a strand of old-fashioned Christmas lights—the multicolored kind with extra-large bulbs. Set up your photo shoot near an outlet so you can actually have the lights on. Santa hat optional.

6. Silent night.

Want the focus to be on your house? Take a photo in the early evening, from the outside looking in. Wait until after dark and the contrast in lighting will be too great—aim for early dusk. Focus through a window on the big indoor Christmas tree or place a smaller, potted tree outside, draped in twinkling lights.

Written by Laura Gaskill for Houzz for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

6 Holiday Backdrops for Taking Family Photos at Home
6 Holiday Backdrops for Taking Family Photos at Home