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With one in six couples experiencing problems when trying to concieve, Genevieve Morton, author of Bump and Grind - An A-Z Survival Guide for When You're Trying to Get Pregnant looks at one of the hardest problems most women trying to concieve (TTC) face: stress!
R is for rela– don’t say it!There is only one swear word in the TTC world – ‘relax’! Ugh, I can feel a shudder among you, fists clenched, lips pursed. There’s no denying there is nothing more irksome to the TTC community than when someone suggests that we relax in order to get pregnant. As if that’s the secret. As if that’s the one thing we haven’t considered. As if it’s as easy as that! It’s a slap in the face to anyone who has had the stress of trying to have a baby when all around you women are popping out of the nappy aisle at the supermarket with ‘Guess what? I’m pregnant! Again!’ Grrrrr.
How the R word makes us feel:• as if that’s the answer to all fertility problems (no amount of relaxing is going to unblock a fallopian tube or clear away endometriosis)• that we’re too uptight and strung out to join the Mummy Club• as if it’s our fault• as if our careers are to blame• as if we’re not Mother Earthy enough• as if we haven’t thought of ‘relaxing’ already.
‘It’s the most insensitive and ignorant thing that someone can say to a couple struggling to conceive. I don’t believe there is any thing in it at all when you need treatment. I could have relaxed until I was dead and still not fallen pregnant.’Kim, 37
Why do people tell us to ‘relax’?• Because they are clueless as to how much time it can take and how hard it can be to get pregnant.• Because it’s easy advice to give without really thinking.• Because they sense we are under pressure and want us to calm down.• Because they’re not used to seeing us upset.• Because some annoying Smug Fertility Goddess once swore that was all it took.
What to say when someone says ‘Just relax and you’ll get pregnant!’
‘Good idea! Let’s meditate together! I’ll go get my mat.’‘It’s weird but people telling me to relax just makes me psychotic.’‘I’m not sure if relaxing will unblock a fallopian tube/clear away endometriosis or remove a cyst from an ovary – but thanks!’‘I was relaxed … until we started talking.’‘I’m not sure there’s anything in that “relax” crap … cup of tea?’‘Oh, I think really uptight women get pregnant too … how many kids do you have?’
The truth is our bodies weren’t designed to get pregnant under a certain amount of stress or anxiety. Back in the day you might not have gotten pregnant running from a sabre-toothed tiger. And today, you might not get pregnant when you have job stress, money stress, emotional stress, negative thinking or unhealthy lifestyle stress on your body. When TTC becomes stressful too, the body recognises that as a ‘fight or flight’ situation and reacts accordingly.
‘Lots of women find it impossible to still themselves – it’s way too much of a challenge. To express and have validated the myriad feelings that arise when conception is challenging, I believe, is a vital first step towards a still mind.’ Fertility acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, Shauna Cason
>>Pre-conception health tips>>How to predict when you're most fertile?
Me, stressed?When the Fertility Sisters told me the only way I would get pregnant was to stop thinking so much and yep, relax, I rang my sister in tears. ‘I’m not sure if I’ve relaxed in a year!’ I sobbed, ‘What do they meeeean?’ She promised to send me soothing hippie music and lavender oil to burn. I was clueless. Relax? Like, sit down and stop thinking? Go for a walk? I honestly wasn’t exactly sure what true ‘relaxing’ might entail. And regardless, wasn’t I a pretty relaxed person in the big picture anyway? Then I realised that I was spending a portion of my work days sort of holding my breath and scowling at the phone. I was rushing to meet deadlines and spending a chunk of my time tearing my hair out when things didn’t go to plan. Not to mention the almost daily upsets that TTC would bring to any work day. Add to that the sleepless nights I spent worrying where all the TTC was going … Maybe I was stressed … Are you?
What exactly is a ‘relaxed’ state?Most people relax on holidays. Other people feel relaxed whenthey escape their everyday lives through books, movies or half a bottle of chardonnay on a Saturday night. Lots of people relax when they are most active – either power-walking through the park or tearing up their garden. Some people call this a ‘moving meditation’, where your body is active but your mind is at peace. Everyone is different. Sometimes it’s just the company of certain people that makes us chill out. Sometimes we only ever truly get it when we are alone. Here’s what it might feel like for you …• there’s a quietness in your mind (no chatter of negative thoughts or just ‘busy brain’)• there’s a sense of balance, things are just right• there’s no tightness in your shoulders, back or face• you have a sense of letting go• there’s a feeling time has slowed down or is right in the moment, with you, not racing ahead without you• you possess a feeling of contentment for yourself and those around you• you’re in an unworried and unhurried state• you’re in a sort of comfortable limbo of not feeling high or low – just sitting comfortably somewhere in the middle.
'Just telling women to relax is ridiculous; you haveto of fer them insight into what it really feels like.Some women may never have felt truly relaxed.'Fertility acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, Shauna Cason
The effects of stress on fertilityIn technical terms, stress can affect the functioning of thehypothalamus. This is the gland in the brain that regulatesnot only appetite and emotions but the hormones required torelease the eggs in women and produce sperm in men. Whenyou are really stressed, you may ovulate much later in yourcycle or not at all. To go back to the very beginning, it’s likewhen the Fertility Sisters told me that if I was a bunny rabbit the message I was sending my body was that there wasn’t enough green grass around to feed little bunnies so things just shut down. Until I stopped stressing and effectively told my body there was plenty of green grass, there would be no little bunnies.
Will my body tell me if I’m too stressed?Some women are so used to feeling slightly stressed with their work and lives in general that they ovulate pretty normally while others only need a sudden bout of stress to throw out their cycle. It varies from woman to woman. Your cervical mucus might also let you know when you are too stressed. Instead of wetness around ovulation time you might get a few wet days then dry – as if your body is trying to ovulate but stress is delaying it.
'I see so many women who lead busy, stressful lives. They don’t take any quiet time, they’re anxious and overworked and don’t sleep enough. They say they are doing every thing to conceive but really, the most impor tant thing might be just to slow down.' Fertility acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, Shauna Cason
>>The top 10 natural fertility boosters>>How to have baby-making sex
But TTC is making me stressed!We can’t get pregnant when we’re really stressed but not getting pregnant is the reason we’re really stressed! The bad news is that research does show that women going through infertility treatment (such as IVF) suffer heightened stress similar to those dealing with life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. It’s because there is so much waiting, hoping and disappointment when things don’t go to plan. The most important thing to do right now might be to really look at what’s making us stressed. Let’s put our TTC stress in a different basket to everyday stress.Everyday stress (mostly external): work; family;friends; commitments; busyness; money; the everydaydemands we place on ourselves.TTC stress (mostly internal): anxiety felt in the Two Week Wait; getting your period; worrying something might be wrong; worrying about tests; worrying treatment won’t work; worrying about the future; waiting for results; not being able to see beyond each cycle. What are your stressors? What makes you feel stressed? Sometimes just writing them out will help send them packing. Or just help you to see them clearly.
'When you’re TTC, try not to think in the immediacy of the moment. It becomes too hard when you hang ever y thing on if you get your period or not.Keep looking to the nex t cycle and the one after.'IVF specialist, Dr Bill Watkins
The 10-step TTC chill out1. Stop what you’re doing.2. Take a deep breath.3. Find a comfortable, quiet place (even an office bathroom cubicle will work!).4. Sit down.5. Close your eyes.6. Breathe in and out deeply, three times.7. Make each breath a little longer and slower than the last.8. Let your mind wander to a happy, peaceful place and imagine yourself there.9. Simply be still in that place, let thoughts come and go, keep breathing, stay there a little while.10. Slowly open your eyes and stretch.
'So of ten women will lie down on my table for acupuncture and tell me that it’s the first time they’ve had any quiet time all week. Immediately I hear alarm bells in my head.'Fertility acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, Shauna Cason
>>When's the best time to try for a baby?>>Ovulation explained
Quick Quiz: How stressed are you?1. Do you suffer from insomnia or anxiety?2. Do you find yourself holding your breath or taking small, shallow breaths?3. Have you forgotten the last time you took some real time out for yourself?4. Do you work longer and longer hours and still not feel you’re on top of everything?5. Are you quick to snap at people close to you?6. Do you have a constant feeling of panic that you won’t have a baby or that you’re running out of time?
If you answered ‘yes’ to most of the above then forget roadrage, you probably suffer from the odd bout of TTC rage. It might be time to stop, take a deep breath and get some balance back in your everyday life (or just take your hand off the horn). If you answered mostly ‘no’ then you’re probably chilled out – except when people mention the R word!
‘Do yourself a favour and stop stressing. If you’re really frustrated af ter only trying for a few months then you’re going to send yourself crazy.’ Karen, 38
To claim your 30% askamum discount on Bump & Grind An A-Z Survival Guide for When You're Trying to Get Pregnant by Genevieve Morton use discount code BUMP at www.whiteladderpress.co.uk
Bump & Grind by Genevieve Morton, £12.99 (White Ladder Press) is available from www.whiteladderpress.co.uk.
More...>> How to relax when you're trying to concieve>> Ovulation calculator- Find out you're fertility calender
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'Don't tell me to relax!' Non-annoying trying to conceive advice from someone who's been there...
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