Today I’d like to talk about something very sensitive, but something that needs to be said. It’s about the “R” word…relax. Now before you click away – hear me out!
The reason I want to talk about this is to call attention to something I’ve been observing for years, and I’m sure you have been too.
Telling women to relax is unhelpful at best
The problem is of well-meaning but insensitive people telling women to “just relax” so they’ll get pregnant. Go ahead and slap that palm against your face, I’m right there with you.
Here are some small excerpts from conversations I’ve recently observed in online forums:
“We had secondary infertility. It was so frustrating to hear we needed to relax and stop trying… that literally just doesn’t fix some issues!”
“Relaxing. LOL I wanted to punch those people, as someone who has fertility issues and needed IVF to have my twins after many, many, many failed pregnancies and disasters with IUI”
“My sister’s good friend, who is fertile AF, told her that it was easy and that she just needed to relax. This was while my sister was taking all those horrible shots for IVF. My nephew is 10.5 now and I still haven’t forgiven (her).”
What do you notice as you read those comments?
When I read these words I see women who are frustrated. Women who feel misunderstood. Women who regularly experience the sting of misjudgment from friends, family, and strangers. Women who are holding in some intense feelings of justified anger.
Why the anger, you might ask? Anger from being stuck in a reality filled with unimaginable pain, heartbreak, and loss. Anger from feeling isolated, as the world continues to minimize that pain.
Anger for a body that is failing them, while others seem to have it so easy. Anger from being told to “just relax.” Anger from being silenced with hurtful comments along the lines of “you can always adopt” or “there’s a reason for everything.”
I’d like to briefly address the issue of “just relax.”
Does Stress Really Interfere With Conception?
The short answer is yes.
There are a number of studies that have shown a high correlation between stress and infertility. University of Louisville and Emory University Epidemiologists looked back at the “Mount Sinai Study of Women Office Workers,” which included detailed daily journal reports from 1990 to 1994. They looked at data from 400 women and found an overall 46% decrease in conception rates in a given month for women who reported high stress during the fertile window. (1)
There was also a study in 2010 that measured stress hormones in saliva samples, drawing a similar conclusion – that higher stress around the time of ovulation is associated with a lower incidence of conception, in a given cycle. (2)
Then there is the anecdotal evidence. We all know someone who has experienced a miracle pregnancy once they finally stopped trying or even adopted a child. I offer a big authentic HOORAY for them…but they are not you. And you deserve to be offered more than a story.
These studies and stories are important but unfortunately, they aren’t really being delivered in a helpful format. Doctors give backhanded advice to just relax and let go, and now suddenly the whole world has caught wind of this concept – all declaring in unison that infertility is just a matter of being too uptight.
How very helpful.
Saying “just relax” to someone struggling with infertility is as helpful as saying “just eat less” to someone struggling with obesity. It is a surface level declaration that fails to take into account the greater complexity of the unique human involved.
It might be more helpful to stop making blanket statements of supposedly simple truth, and instead, start asking questions.
What Questions Might We Ask?
How can we help women actually reduce stress levels while trying to conceive?
What is causing these increased stress levels?
Why is relaxing easy for some, and not for others?
What else is underneath the surface?
Are there mental blocks or histories of trauma that could be correlated?
Why do some women experience higher stress levels around the time of ovulation?
Are there lifestyle factors that can be changed? Are there some that seem beyond their control?
What about the stress of how they are being treated by the medical system? Is the medical treatment of infertility creating more stress?
Are any of these women getting outside pressure from friends and family about when they are going to ‘finally’ have kids?
What about the strain of poverty? What about sexism in the workplace? What about pressure by religion, or societal idealism concerning when to have children, and in what way?
What about the unconscious fears about becoming a bad mother?
What about the unconscious fears about never becoming a mother at all?
In a loud, noisy, opinionated word…I believe we’ll discover more by asking questions.
Wishing For a More Compassionate World
I long for a world where women can see each other, and acknowledge the hidden battles that each of us faces.
I long for a world where women will listen, and offer empathy and encouragement, instead of minimizing or offering a quick-fix for another’s hardship.
I have hope that we can create this world, one conversation at a time. But it’s going to take much more than opinions or simplistic solutions being served up like cliches. It is going to take much, much more than that.
What about you? Have you asked yourself any of these questions in this post? What other questions would you add to the list? I am all ears…please share your thoughts in the comments below.
The impact of periconceptional maternal stress on fecundability
Akhter, Shekufe et al.
Annals of Epidemiology , Volume 26 , Issue 10 , 710 – 716.e
Stress reduces conception probabilities across the fertile window: evidence in support of relaxation
Buck Louis, Germaine M. et al.
Fertility and Sterility , Volume 95 , Issue 7 , 2184 – 218