Interview with Helen Adrienne

Why did you write On Fertile Ground: Healing Infertility?
I began working with infertility patients in 1979 and I had my first article published in 1990 when I was one of the few therapists who specialized in working with this population.  Infertility patients face so many challenges and before the internet, patients were desperate for anything that would help them to feel understood and normal under the circumstances.  I became a columnist for the not-for-profit web site INCIID (InterNational Council on Infertility Information Dissemination) and I found that I really enjoyed providing this kind of guidance to a wider audience than just those whom I saw in my private practice or in my stress reduction groups.  As the years went by and my experience and skills grew, I realized that I could put the whole nightmare into a perspective that would provide relief and reason to be hopeful.  It was as if there was an inner motor running and I could say that at times it felt as if the book was writing itself.

For whom did you write the book?
My goal was for the infertility patient to feel understood and to understand the many facets of the infertility challenge so they could reclaim control of their lives.  It didn’t take me long to realize that the way my mind works resulted in the book’s usefulness to a much broader audience.  Those who want to understand an infertile friend or loved-one would benefit from this book.  Therapists and reproductive endocrinologists, too, would have a window into the infertility experience that would enhance their relationships with their patients.  And a happy surprise came when a colleague of mine read an early draft of the book.  We were meeting for lunch and she came running down the block waving the manuscript in her hand and burst out with, “Helen, I’m going to buy this book for my friend Lisa.  She’s not struggling with infertility, but your guidance would help her with her issue.”  Subsequent to that, many others, including professional reviewers of the book, have made the same comment.  If you pull out the word infertility and plug in any adversity, there’s much to be gained by reading this book. 

How is it organized?
This book is written from a mind/body orientation.  When couples fail to conceive, the levels of physical and mental stress magnify each other and are so great that often their minds take off for distant planets as their bodies walk the earth like zombies.  Therefore, emphasis is put on inviting the mind back into the body even though it feels like a painful place to live.  And I must add that my experience as a clinical hypnotherapist figured in, too, because I have seen the enormous benefit to patients who use trance work to manage the frenzy.  In fact, I teach self-hypnosis at the end of chapter 7.

First, I present the reading audience with a map of the typical ways in which infertility impacts individuals, couples, families and friendships.  Then I normalize depression and anxiety. Two categories of mind/body coping and their options are laid out: “problem-solving coping” and “letting-go coping.”  The latter has a positive correlation with rates of pregnancy.  Hypnosis is in that category and a full chapter is devoted to this topic.  Those struggling with infertility invariably ask, “Why me?” Therefore it was important to include a chapter on spirituality.  All of these chapters move the reader toward feeling back in control of their life.  And there are even more opportunities to get a grip on the challenge by building self-awareness.  Six typical personality traits are examined: negativity, anger, lowered self-esteem, impatience, insecurity and fear.  This enables readers to identify what they do under duress and mindfully choose how to respond to stress rather than react to it. By looking at what can be gained by navigating through this journey, readers see that opportunities for growth are ever-present.  The words of my interviewees, women who have taken my mind/body classes or worked with me individually and resolved their infertility, expose the benefits of facing adversity head-on; it becomes clear that it is possible to give birth to a new, improved version of yourself.  

Each chapter ends with mind/body exercises which allow the reader to develop confidence in dealing with this and other of life’s challenges.   

How is On Fertile Ground: Healing Infertility different from other books?
It’s normal to want to run from adversity.  On Fertile Ground: Healing Infertility encourages readers to enter the experience and learn how to achieve a higher level of their potential, which provides great satisfaction.  No other book for infertility patients takes this position.  The book is organized to show that it is possible to gain from the pain.  The interviewees, the “real” experts, provide first-hand experiences that offer inspiration.

On Fertile Ground provides another unique approach.  Rather than say things like “… all you have to do is …”, it deals with the fly in the ointment, namely the natural resistance to change.  No other book delves into unconscious processes and brain function and makes them comprehensible and manageable. 

Must one be in medical treatment to benefit from this book?   
No, as a matter of fact, infertility does not discriminate in terms of demographics.  There are those who cannot afford the huge expense attached to in vitro fertilization, the mainstay of medical treatment.  There are others who live far from the state-of-the-art clinics.  And not everyone can afford psychological support services either.  Because this book is a mind/body program, which is clearly written and easy to follow, and because it guides readers through the maze of unconscious resistances, readers can use this book as a kind of “bibliotherapy.”  Of course, if a woman has blocked tubes, or if a man has less than optimum sperm, they would need to find creative ways to get to their goal, perhaps by deciding to travel great distances or by borrowing money from parents for IVF or adoption.  No matter what, On Fertile Ground will reduce stress.    

How does On Fertile Ground reduce stress?
I would say that the most important feature of this book is the way that it keeps the heart in the story.  Assisted Reproductive Technology, affectionately known as ART, may as well be science fiction, given the capability to manipulate microscopic cells outside of the body and then put them back in.  Thank God for it, but it is mind-blowing.  What comes naturally to most becomes medicalized for the approximately 18% of couples of childbearing age who want to start a family.  Longing for a baby is a heart issue; medical intervention reduces people to their body parts but neglects the heart.  On Fertile Ground humanizes the technology. 

Can you give the listeners any buzz-words that hint at how people can change their response to stress?
I talk about “the three A’s” which is short hand for Acceptance, Awareness and Adaptation.  Nothing can change without acceptance of what is.  If we develop compassionate awareness of our behavior and the behavior of others, we set ourselves up to adapt to the reality.  On Fertile Ground shows the reader how to accomplish this.  Each chapter fills in what could be crucial missing pieces so that appropriate adaptations can be made.  The explanations and the exercises at the end of each chapter form a comprehensive approach to the challenge of infertility.

Is there a way to sum up what makes this book so comprehensive?
There is a thread running through the book that can be summed up with the phrases “being you” and “seeing you.”  This means that if you use the guidance of On Fertile Ground to step back, you’re best able to see you or study how you react to the challenges that come at you from all fronts.  And if you use your mind to enter your body, you get to experience being you with an objectivity that allows for enhanced coping and healing.

How would you define healing?
Infertility is a trauma.  Traumas lodge in our limbic brain, particularly the amygdala.  The mind/body techniques that I teach at the end of each chapter, which are rooted in current brain science, allow the individual to escape from the frenzy that accompanies the trauma and it breaks the spasm so that the stress on the body doesn’t continue to escalate uncontrollably.  Said another way, readers can learn to create an “infertility-free zone.”  The limbic brain can be taught to reverse the physiology of stress; we can come out of overdrive and aim back in the direction of neutral.  I call this “diving under the turbulence.”  This is empowering.  It is a skill that will go with the reader for -the rest of their lives.  Healing is not synonymous with a once-and-for-all cure.  However, if it is understood that life on planet earth is about the peaks and valleys of anxiety, and if it is understood that anxiety can be under your control, then in some ways that is as good as it gets.  And, by the way, diving under the turbulence means choosing to use a letting-go technique and using letting go techniques are correlated with rates of pregnancy.  The key word here is “choosing.”  We must have the mental muscle to recognize that if you’re not in a good place, there is something you can do about it. Then you have to do it.

Is there any good news besides the important opportunity to use this adversity to mature into a more evolved version of yourself?
Absolutely! Love is the answer.  Infertility puts inordinate stress on the couple.  Any glitches in their relationship loom large especially because the stress is so relentless.  I have had the pleasure of guiding couples, who love each other but may not have ever before been faced with a challenge this big, to a place of greater intimacy.  Most couples vow to get through this challenge together without realizing how many pot holes they’ll be bounced into.  Even those who are stress-hardy arrive at a place where they feel that this crisis is bigger than they are.  Part of the problem is that it is common for resolution of the problem to drag on for years.  Developing more effective means of communication, respecting and empathizing with each other and keeping a space open for joy are all about keeping the heart open.  On Fertile Ground never loses sight of the heart as the heart of the matter. 


  1. Infertility sucks... so does getting pregnant at the drop of a hat and being allergic to latex! Marriage is so difficult these days, stress of all kinds is endemic. But I feel for those who cannot get pregnant... just had the opposite problem.

    Does this count as the first comment?

  2. What a great interview! I knew infertility was traumatic but this gives so much more information!

  3. Sorry Dejah you were beaten to 1st place by 'Wench Writer'.

    I'm feeling good today though and so have decided to give you a half page ad for coming in a close 2nd. Email me for details.

  4. Dejah, last chance to claim your banner in the W&A Magazine. I can make the ad for you if needed but I need to know what to include. contact me asap.


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