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Published August 02, 2010, 12:00 AM

Visualization, relaxation help couples get pregnant

While Joanne Verkuilen struggled to get pregnant for the second time, everything around her reminded her of babies.

While Joanne Verkuilen struggled to get pregnant for the second time, everything around her reminded her of babies.

She imagined blanket-wrapped infants who smelled of baby powder. She felt a twinge in her stomach every time she saw a pregnant woman. And she felt little comfort when well-meaning friends told her that she and her husband were lucky to have one healthy child.

After five years and several miscarriages, Verkuilen finally had a second child. But the stressful experience convinced her of the power the mind could have over the body. And it eventually prompted her to launch Circle + Bloom, a year-old line of MP3 products that use relaxation, visualization techniques and “emotional-release exercises” to help enhance fertility in women.

“If you talk about the connection between stress and infertility, more research is proving that link,” Verkuilen said. “Research shows that women undergoing infertility treatment have the same level of stress as people with heart disease and cancer. It becomes this awful downward spiral.”

Circle + Bloom is just one of many emerging mind-body programs that claim they can enhance medical fertility treatments. Infertility affects

7.3 million women in the United States, which represents 10 percent of the population of reproductive age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Verkuilen’s mind-body theories echo those first promoted by Dr. Bernie Siegel in his book “Love, Medicine & Miracles.” Siegel believes the mind is so powerful that it can direct the body to make physiological changes. The surgeon encouraged his patients to visualize healing and positive outcomes, prompting their bodies to actually do so.

In fact, Siegel sits on Circle + Bloom’s advisory board, along with Dr. Dehan Chen, a fertility doctor at Valley Hospital Fertility in Paramus, N.J., and Josiane Caggiano, a New York City psychoanalyst and hypnotherapist.

While Siegel’s work has primarily been with AIDS and cancer patients, he believes relaxation and the right attitude can help someone with fertility issues as well.

“When people have trouble conceiving and it becomes work, there’s a tension that goes with it that changes your body chemistry,” Siegel said in a phone interview. “So you’re less likely to conceive than when you’re literally making love.”

As evidence, he and Verkuilen point out how couples frequently become pregnant when they “stop trying” to have babies, go on vacation to forget their infertility struggles or begin the adoption process.

Can stress hamper fertility?

There is some limited research to support the stress-infertility connection, although not as much as the scientific community would like to see. Verkuilen cites studies done by Dr. Sarah Berga at Emory University, in which Berga points out how chronic stress can hamper fertility.

Berga attributes the infertility-stress link to the hypothalamus, a walnut-sized area in the brain, which governs both our release of hormones to trigger ovulation and the release of cortisol in response to stress. Berga believes a cascade of events, including stress, reduce those hormones that trigger ovulation.

But Berga says there are solutions. In a small 2003 study, she showed that ovulation was restored in seven out of eight women who underwent cognitive behavioral therapy, compared with two of eight women in a control group.

And in a separate study at Harvard Medical School, 55 percent of women trying to get pregnant had a viable pregnancy within one year while receiving relaxation training. That compared to only 20 percent in a group that didn’t get the training.

Even so, the mainstream medical community would like to see more hard science behind this. Although Verkuilen uses guided imagery and many hypnotherapy techniques, she’s not a licensed hypnotherapists.

After reviewing the Circle + Bloom website, fertility specialists at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo declined to be interviewed for this story.

Still, after just a year in business, Circle + Bloom has customers in 85 countries, Verkuilen says. “I believe with every fiber of my being that Circle + Bloom is one of the reasons we can finally say we are expecting,” one client wrote in a testimonial.

How it works

At the very least, Verkuilen says the programs help to restore peace of mind. Customers report feeling calmer, more grounded and more in control of their bodies during the stress of fertility treatments.

“If we can reduce stress and improve outcomes then recommending us is a no-brainer,” Verkuilen says. “We’re not a drug, there are no side effects, and we’re not that expensive.”

The company offers four, downloadable programs, varying from $29 for a “healthy pregnancy” package to $59 for a package meant to coincide with in-vitro fertilization or artificial insemination treatments. Each program is about six hours long; Verkuilen recommends that users listen to them at least 15 minutes per day.

Circle + Bloom is unique from other visualization/relaxation programs in that its messages change during each day of a woman’s cycle.

Verkuilen’s visualizations are also quite specific and technical, telling listeners to envision their “follicles and eggs gentle rotating” or their “ovaries accepting just as they should, the hormones and medicines (brightening) them.”

Jen DeMaio runs Two Turtles Wellness Center in Moorhead with her husband, Steve Spader. She sometimes gives acupuncture to people as a complementary therapy to medical fertility treatments, as acupuncture can help ease stress and balance hormones.

DeMaio believes Verkuilen’s programs could be an ideal addition to her own therapies. “I’m really, really intrigued by it now,” says DeMaio, who believes visualization can be a powerful tool. “What I tell clients is: ‘What’s it going to hurt?’ It’s going to give the mind something to focus on besides the worry and stress.

“Let’s think outside of the box and envision positive outcomes and see what can be created from that.”


  • For more information and to download samples of the visualization programs, visit www.circlebloom.com.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525