Understanding the Emotional Impact of Trying to Conceive
Understanding the Emotional Impact of Trying to Conceive
By Tracey Sainsbury
Tracey is an experienced fertility counsellor, working at the London’s Women Clinic and Advisory Board Member, she is also the co-author of “Making Friends with Your Fertility”.
‘I just want to be pregnant!’, a common thought for anyone trying to conceive, whether a couple experiencing infertility or a single person or same sex couple who, because of their relationship status, had planned to conceive with assistance. Friends, family members and sometimes our partners too, will suggest that we relax, try not to think about it and ‘it’ will happen.
Rather than promote a sense of us feeling understood and supported, comments like these can routinely promote frustration and anxiety that no one, even those close to us, understands. We can also feel that we ‘should’ be more relaxed and are failing somehow in promoting the best chance for conception.
How to fix this common problem? Gain an enhanced understanding of what goes on unconsciously when we try to conceive, together with lots of self-compassion. The desire to parent is recognised as a primal unconscious desire, a fundamental function for humans to achieve success; consciously we know we are much more than ‘baby growers’, but it’s our unconscious in charge in this area of our lives.
We often take for granted the other areas in our lives where we do have control, or at least an ability to influence the outcome; but with pregnancy, we are vulnerable, we have no control. To make it more difficult, our bodies, designed to give us healthy children, will avoid conception and pregnancy wherever it knows it will not be a positive outcome, for example if there are chromosomal abnormalities in eggs, sperm or embryos.
We often don’t so much fail to get pregnant, rather succeed in not having a healthy pregnancy.
The fertility emotional rollercoaster, ridden by anyone trying to conceive, can be higher or lower depending on many parameters. A survey for Fertility Network UK in 2016 found over 42% of people experiencing infertility had suicidal thoughts. Personally, I felt this was low, as a higher percentage of the people I work with have moments when they wonder ‘what’s the point in carrying on, if not to be a parent.’
If everyone understood this was an OK thought to have, life would be much easier; for anyone trying to conceive, and those who love and care for them. If we didn’t have that thought that we ‘need’ to become a parent, or in the case of secondary infertility, a parent again, many would have stopped trying, or not tried to conceive, instead being comfortable with their relationship or an alternate form of nurturing.
Being mindful and accepting of the emotional highs and lows, takes the pressure off how we think we should feel. Self-compassion promoting self-care for the lows, which if we see them as a reminder of how much we want to be a parent; validate that we do want to carry on trying to conceive, as if we didn’t have awareness of the lows, we wouldn’t have the drive to carry on.
The highs can be scary too, as we can feel that we will be more devastated if it doesn’t work this month, just because we got carried away. We can often feel we ‘shouldn’t’ be too positive (did you notice the evil ‘should’ word in there?) If we are experiencing anxiety or depression not relating to fertility, our GP often may prescribe a sort of counselling called CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; it helps us to challenge big, overwhelming thoughts, to change the way we think and change the way we feel, so we can feel better for longer. It works very well in many situations but for fertility, can sometimes make us feel worse, as we can feel we are failing in managing to control our thoughts correctly.
If we are up and we try to bring ourselves down, not getting to far ahead of ourselves, at the same time as trying to lift our mood during the lows, we don’t promote calm, instead we create a pressure cooker of restricted thoughts. We can often feel exhausted, just thinking about our fertility ‘stuff’.
Claiming your thoughts and feelings, all of them, as being OK, takes the pressure off trying to attain a state of how you think you should be thinking or feeling. It allows you to stop stressing about the stress!
But… stress affects fertility, we know that to be true, but not how you might think. When we’re stressed our sex drive can go down, we can avoid intercourse if we have been trying to conceive for a while because we don’t want to fail again. How we manage stress can also impact on fertility, a too high or too low BMI because we’re eating too much or too little to manage stress, not just the amount, what we eat, what we drink too, all impact on our hormones; which in turn affects our fertility. If you’re having assisted conception treatment, your clinic controls your hormones, so stress is OK, but the stress can promote you stopping treatment before you’ve had a fair chance to conceive, so therefore still promotes infertility.
If trying at home, I always suggest using sex as stress relief, we feel better, sleep better and have a higher chance of conceiving. Many fertility specialists suggest throwing away ovulation predictor kits and instead having intercourse every 2-3 days, it can be freeing for some couples and hard work for others. But the intimacy aspect can be helpful for everyone, a cuddle or hug helps us to feel accepted, regardless of how we’re feeling.
We take control by deciding when we try to conceive and how, we can also promote being in the best shape, ensuring optimal nutrition, a supplement such as Proceive together with a colourful diet, (if every plate is colourful it’s usually well balanced, it’s the bland things that are often less healthy.) a healthy BMI and an increasing virtual tool box of coping strategies.
If the first thing in our coping strategy tool box is acceptance of how we’re feeling being OK, we are already doing really well!
Other tips and suggestions can be found in Tracey’s book – Making Friends with Your Fertility,
Tracey Sainsbury and Sarah Rayner, Creative Pumpkin Publishing. (2017) ISBN-10: 0995794855