Trying to conceive (TTC) is a very stressful time for many couples, especially if it takes a while. There’s all the scheduling, the planning, the charting, the testing — blech. It’s so stressful, and sometimes it’s hard to make it fun, even though sex is the most important activity when TTC. If you’re stressed and feel like your life revolves around fertility apps, peeing on sticks and scheduling intercourse, you may be wondering how to keep from obsessing while trying to get pregnant. You’re not alone. I feel like all I can think about and talk about are babies and ovulation tests and trying to “relax” while hoping I'm pregnant each cycle. Take a deep breath and check out what a psychologist and endocrinologist have to say about the matter. And, no, it’s not just to “relax,” because as we all know, that’s counterproductive advice and kind of annoying.
Some techniques psychologist Dr. Wyatt Fisher recommends to help keep your stress levels down when TTC include behavioral relaxation techniques like exercise, deep breathing through your belly, visualizing a relaxing place and what you’d be experiencing with your five senses, and practicing “progressive muscle relaxation.” In an email interview with Romper, Fisher says, "Progressive muscle relaxation is where you tense up one part of your body, hold for 10 seconds, then release as you move from your head to your toes."
Fisher also recommends cognitive relaxation techniques, which include ‘what if’ exercises. "Make a list of your ‘what if’ concerns, then add a ‘so’ in front of each one. For example, your thought of ‘what if we don't get pregnant this year’ would be changed to ‘so what if we don't get pregnant this year,’” he says. “Also, play out your worse case scenario. Imagine it actually happened, then develop a plan on how you would respond if that became your reality. Often, if we feel somewhat prepared for the worse case scenario, it doesn't hold as much power over us.”
OK, I know that seems like a lot of “just relax” talk, which I said doesn’t feel like helpful advice when all you want is that positive test, but these are actual concrete actions you can take to control your mindset. Not just “Oh, relax, it will happen,” right?
Additionally, Fisher offers tips about how to deal with the heartbreak of getting negative after negative pregnancy test results. The first? Validate your disappointment. “It's understandable to get your hopes up only to feel crushed when one more month goes by and you haven't conceived. Therefore, begin by exercising self-compassion. Second, consider joining a support group of other women struggling with similar fertility issues so you don't feel alone. Third, take off the self-imposed deadline of when you want to conceive to alleviate the pressure and stress of getting pregnant, which may be the very reason you're not conceiving,” he suggests.
If you just can’t seem to stop obsessing, it can, unfortunately, have some negative consequences on obtaining the thing you want most and are actually obsessing about. Dr. David Diaz, reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Romper that if you are stressed and cannot control the obsessing, it can impact your relationship and diminish the frequency of sexual contact with your partner. This obviously “diminishes the odds of conception,” notes Diaz. “When the level of stress reaches a chronic, steady state, it transforms the quest for pregnancy into an obsession at the expense of family and social life. This level of pressure cannot continue unabated and ultimately will have a physical and emotional impact, underscoring the need to seek counseling.”
Diaz says, “Striking a balance between acceptance and the need for control is what most separates the helpful stress from the crazed stress.” He also asks you to remember some very important — though somewhat frustrating — statistics. “It is estimated that in healthy couples having unprotected sex during the woman's peak years (under 30), the odds of achieving pregnancy is 20 to 25 percent per month. This assumes that many moving parts must function perfectly every month.”
Unfortunately, once you do become pregnant, stress can affect the baby in the early stages of pregnancy when you don’t even know you’re pregnant, especially if you drink more alcohol or smoke when you’re stressed. “There have been numerous studies that document the importance of the first trimester of pregnancy. This is where a woman is urged to be particularly careful of herself and the pregnancy … the unhealthful habits that arise from stress such as alcohol or smoking have been documented to have a negative impact on embryo development, especially around the organ-formation time at 7 weeks in the pregnancy,” Diaz says.
TTC can be a crummy, long process — believe me, I know. It’s way easier said than done, but try to not let it control you, your thoughts, or your life. Try to spice things up in the bedroom instead of making it all about making a baby. Remember, sex is supposed to be fun, right? Try some of those exercises, and eliminate any feelings of guilt you may have, because you shouldn’t feel that way whatsoever. It’s not your fault. Plus, there may not even be a fertility issue since conception only works, at best, 25 percent of the time. Take a deep breath, pick up a hobby or two, and stay positive.
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