One of the biggest myths surrounding infertility is that if you’ll just relax, you’ll get pregnant. And, by relax, people either literally mean to not worry about things or in some cases to stop “trying” and just let it happen naturally.
I’m constantly amazed at how prolific this particular myth is. So many people have said this to me over the years. (In many different ways, but all with the same basic meaning.)
Before we get started, let’s take a short quiz. Is anyone reading this a reproductive endocrinologist or a perinatalogist? If not, I’m asking you very nicely to please, please don’t give anyone reproductive advice. No matter how well-intentioned it is. Read on, friends…
I think in that in most cases, people are just uninformed and mean no harm. With that being the case, please don’t ever say “just relax,” “stop stressing,” or any similar iteration to someone experiencing infertility. And, please refrain from telling the “I know someone who tried and tried and gave up and it just happened” story. It makes us want to beat our heads against the wall. Not only is it not applicable, but it serves to point out that this works for everyone else, making us feel more and more alone. It hurts and just isn’t helpful. I know that you might not know what to say, but it’s ok, you don’t have to say anything–just listen. Hugs are good, too.
Thank you for caring! Most of us know that this is your motivation and are therefore able to shrug off these comments. But, let me explain why this is hurtful and after reading this, you can consider yourself an ‘Infertility 101′ graduate.
First and foremost, infertility is a disease that affects 1 in 8 couples of reproductive age. The definition of a disease is “disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body.” Infertility is due to some malfunction in the body, whether it be hormonal or structural. Ergo, a disease. Even for people with unexplained infertility, clearly something is wrong, but the reproductive system is complicated and sometimes it’s hard to diagnose. In my case, I do have several diagnosed problems including a uterine abnormality, luteal phase defect, Factor V Leiden, and autoimmune issues.
Without medical help, there is nothing I can do to have a baby. And, possibly not even with medical help. Nothing short of a miracle from God, that is. And, while I pray for that all the time, I can’t count on it. If you apply this “relax” thinking to the rest of your life, imagine this. Sitting around and waiting for a great job to land in your lap. Waiting to magically learn something new without studying. That doesn’t work – just like everything else, you have to work for it. And, just because some people didn’t have to work hard to have a baby, doesn’t mean I don’t have to. A little Marvin Gaye and a bottle of wine might work for some, but for me the recipe involves follitropin alfa injections, human chorionic gonadotrophins, anti-coagulants, steroids and lots of poking and prodding.
When people tell me to “just relax,” it’s insulting. Even though most people have good intentions when they say it, it hurts. It somehow insinuates that I have done something wrong. It makes it my fault. I know it’s not true, but it still hurts. It’s an accusation that somehow because of my inability to “relax,” I cannot have a baby. If only that were true, and that easy, I would have a 4-year-old by now.
Besides, I don’t feel “stressed” about my situation all the time. Usually just at key decision points. Everyone does and would. This has become part of my life, and I have learned to live with it. Usually, it’s a quiet sadness, not a throbbing stress. I talk about it all the time, but that’s because it’s cathartic to do so. To imply that I should be able to make life-altering decisions without a little stress is absurd. I’m pretty sure that lots of regular women who get pregnant all the time are stressing about their job, their kids, their relationships or something. Stress is not the problem.
Those of us struggling to conceive have been through hell. We’ve put our lives on hold. We have put our bodies through the ringer. Our relationships have suffered. We’ve had to deal with loss. We’re emotionally spent. We deal with failure on an almost permanent basis. We’re tired, frustrated and beaten down. Relax is not something we want to hear and it’s not the answer to our problems.
What people say [and my response]
- Maybe if you just stop trying/relax/forget about it/etc. “My cousin’s friend’s sister-in-law tried for a long time and then they gave up and what-do-you-know, they got pregnant. You never know…” [ Well, I pretty much gave up a while ago, but I'm still not a mommy. Also, all of those months in between the IVFs, I haven't "been trying." And, not all infertility is equal. Unless you know the nitty gritty details of your friend thrice-removed and my reproductive history, how can you compare? Your friend trying for 6 months and going on Clomid and giving up and then getting pregnant does not even remotely resemble anything to do with me or my situation. For the record, in this scenario, that would not even constitute an infertility diagnosis at all. Usually the threshold is one year of trying.]
- You need to stop thinking of all of this. [There have been times when we have taken a break from this battle. That didn't work. And, like or not, infertility has become part of me. It doesn't define me, but it's always there lurking in the background.]
- Take a vacation. [I've taken many during the five plus years we've been trying to conceive. Really gotten away from it all. Gone half way around the world. Sailed in the Mediterranean. Slept in the rainforest. Hiked a volcano. And, I didn't think about infertility at all. Nope, that didn't work. But, man, if it did, that would be awesome. Pregnant and lots of travel. Perfect!]
- You should meditate. [That might be a good thing to do, but it's not going to get me a baby.]
- Mind over matter. [Well, I have visualized a happy outcome, but it just hasn't worked. Besides if I could just conjure up anything I wanted, I would not only have a baby, I would also live in a custom house on the beach, travel the world, have great muscle tone and speak five languages.]
- You need to think positive. [It used to be easier to be more positive. Along with that positivity, I was also naive and blissfully ignorant. It's not that I'm not positive, but I'm a realist. I always hope for the best, but am prepared for the worst.]
- You need to stop being so stressed. [If you are experiencing stress and then feel pressure to not be stressed, the stress just multiplies. And, for me, there have been times that I have been stressed and times I have not. Not being stressed did not give us a healthy pregnancy. Also, when undergoing IVF, since all of the hormones are administered, stress does not play a part. See this study.]
Would you tell someone with strep throat to just relax? Maybe forgoing an antibiotic would be the right option. Would you tell someone with a gaping wound to just relax? Maybe relaxing would stop the bleeding. Would you tell someone having a heart attack to just relax? Surely relaxing would do the trick.
The resounding answer is NO!
When people like me, have problems like these…
anovulation, clotting mutation, reproductive immunology problems, tubal blockage, low sperm morphology, severe endometriosis, among others…
…relaxing won’t help us. Not trying won’t help us. We need medical intervention, just like people with other diseases do.
If you know someone experiencing infertility, consider taking it upon yourself to learn even more about the disease. You can go to RESOLVE’s Infertility 101 to find out more or read about other common infertility myths. To do my part for awareness, I have written this post for RESOLVE’s “Bust a Infertility Myth Blog Challenge” in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week (April 24 -30, 2011) and you can go here to learn more about that.
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