FertiCalm - A New App for Mental Health
For women who have been undergoing fertility treatment and are still struggling to conceive, daily scenarios and interactions can take a toll on their emotional health.
FertiCalm, a newly-released app developed by reproductive psychologists Dr. Alice Domar and Dr. Elizabeth Grill, was designed specifically to help women address the many challenging, emotional life situations that arise while struggling to conceive. Using cognitive-behavioral and relaxation techniques, FertiCalm offers users more than 500 different coping options for over 50 specific situations that have the potential to cause distress during the family building journey. From scripted dialogues for tough conversations, to relaxation techniques, FertiCalm offers users solutions to help them preserve their emotional health, and feel empowered to take control of their lives again.
“The emotional toll infertility can take on women is truly unparalleled,” said Dr. Domar, “For women who are going through fertility treatment and still not getting pregnant, everyday scenarios and interactions become exponentially difficult. We see this constantly in our patients that we treat every day, and know that women everywhere are experiencing this same emotional distress. We also know that not everyone has access to a licensed therapist or a reproductive psychologist, and even if they do, they can’t be right by their side through every single experience. That’s why we created FertiCalm – to help women in the exact moment they feel distress, whenever and wherever they are, so they can reclaim control of their lives.” Domar is also the director of the Mind/Body Services at Boston IVF and founder of the Domar Centers for Mind/Body Health.
FertiCalm is completely free to users, made possible through FertiCalm’s partnership with pharmaceutical company, Ferring. By making this app free for everyone, Ferring hopes to be able to help women everywhere who are experiencing these challenges in day to day situations.
Dr. Domar and Dr. Grill are reproductive psychologists with over 45 years combined experience, at two of the most prominent infertility centers in the US. They provide counseling for women, men and couples as they work to build their families. and saw an unmet need. Many people don't have the time, money, or geographical access to see a therapist specially trained in infertility counseling. While FertiCalm is not substitute for treatment with a licensed therapist or psychologist, FertiCalm serves as a helpful resource for women in the exact moment they feel distress, whenever and wherever they are, by providing them with coping techniques for many common social scenarios faced by women on their family building journey.
We sat down with them to find out more:
DC: Why did you create this app?
Liz and I were both on the board of directors of Resolve (she still is, I have served my ten years and had to step off) and were at the annual Night of Hope gala in November, 2015. Toward the end of the evening, Liz came up to me (we have been colleagues and friends for about 17 years) and asked if I had ever thought about creating a mind/body app. I said that I hadn't thought about it specifically, and she told me that her patients were coming in on a daily basis, asking for app suggestions to counter the daily stress of experiencing infertility. There were lots of generic apps, such as Buddify and Calm, but nothing specific to infertility. So the two of us literally sat down there and then, and sketched the app out on a napkin. We immediately knew how we wanted to design it, how it would function, and what we hoped to achieve. We provide these skills to patients on a daily basis, so we knew exactly what would help women struggling with infertility: effective and easy skills to use in the moment.
A few months later, we both happened to be in Chicago for separate work obligations, but since we each had about six free hours, we hung in my hotel room and literally wrote about half the content. We did the rest over the next few weeks.
From there, we hired a designer, interviewed app development companies, and once we had a finished product, pitched it to the big three pharma companies for licensing.
The goal of the app is for women to be able to find effective easy coping solutions the exact moment they are experiencing something stressful, and for those solutions to be geared directly toward what they are facing. So for example, if a woman is at a family event and her younger sister suddenly announces her pregnancy, the woman can take her phone somewhere, find that exact situation, and be presented with six different mind/body or relaxation solutions for her distress.
We have 50 different challenging situations included in the app.
The app is not designed to be a substitute for a mental health professional. But a therapist can't be with a patient every moment she is distressed. A phone can.
DC: What's the biggest hurdle facing women / men / couples when they are going through fertility treatment
Dr. Domar: “I think there are many hurdles facing individuals and couple as they undergo treatment. I can't pinpoint one. Money is huge for people living in nonmandated states. And even in mandated states, most third party efforts aren't covered. Another is the stress that infertility poses to the couple. Most people don't respond to infertility in the same way and it can be scary if your partner doesn't feel the way you do, or irritating or frustrating. There is also the social pressure, the shame, the guilt, and the isolation. We seem to live in a fertile society and it is lonely to be not.”
Dr. Grill: “In addition, I would add that the biggest emotional hurdle is tremendous and profound loss on multiple levels. Women, men, and couples face loss of perceived control especially over the plans they made and fantasized about throughout their lives related to how and when they would conceive. They may experience loss of status and security. There can be loss of self-esteem, sexuality, femininity/masculinity, relationships, and potential loss of genetic continuity.”
DC: Any specific advice you can give to those using egg donors or surrogates?
Dr. Domar: “Be patient. Be aware that you have to give up some control. Learn strategies to relieve your stress so that you can maintain some control over how you are feeling. Let the professionals involved in the process do their jobs. They are trying to help you and likely know more about the process than you do.
Maybe the most important advice is to not proceed until you want to be on that path. Don't move on to donor egg or surrogacy to stop the pain of infertility. Move on if that feels like the way you are ready to build your family.”
Dr Grill: “Those moving on from treatment must address the emotional consequences and mourn unsuccessful reproductive attempts as individuals and as couples while often simultaneously learning to accept and embrace new family building options with hope and optimism-not an easy task. For most individuals and couples, this is a difficult and emotionally painful process that once again raises intense feelings of loss. The mourning phase can vary in length and intensity between both partners. Individuals and couples should think about how the addition of a third party will affect their feelings about themselves, their relationship, and the relationship with their potential child. Disclosure to the potential child and others should also be explored. Those moving on to other family building options should be kind and patient with themselves and get the support they need to move through this often difficult phase of their reproductive journeys so they can emerge with acceptance and a renewed spirit of hope.”
The FertiCalm app provides a variety of more than 500 custom coping options for over 50 specific situations which have the potential to cause women who are trying to conceive distress throughout the family building journey. Developed by two leading reproductive psychologists, FertiCalm provides users with cognitive-behavioral and relaxation techniques that women can use to navigate the challenging, often stressful scenarios they may encounter on a daily basis, and helps women feel better and more in control of their lives again.