7 December 2011

Don’t tell me to relax!

We’ve finally had a turn of good luck, so when trying to conceive this month I was really rather hopeful.  It felt like things might actually be coming together, and that this could finally be our time - but just days later I suddenly started feeling stressed and anxious. At first I thought it may be related to a job interview Mr Goldfish had, but the stress never abated. So for the last week I’ve felt completely awful, my euphoria at our good luck seemed crushed by some unknown cause.  But as I began writing this post I suddenly had an epiphany; the same day as Mr Goldfish’s interview a well meaning woman told me the best way to get pregnant was to relax.

I realised that I’d subconsciously bought into the “relaxing” myth. It doesn’t help that the only time I did get pregnant was while we were on holiday...but it was also our first cycle of Clomid (and the only cycle of Clomid I took before losing my right tube). There were plenty of other reasons why that cycle could have been successful, yet I forgot all that.  Instead I focused on how I was ruining our chances of conceiving by being unable to relax!  As soon as I realised that my stress has very little to do with our fertility, it felt like a band suddenly loosened around my chest. For the first time in days I could breathe freely.

In 2010 they did a study that compared the cancer survival rates of different personality types. It showed that whether you’re a grumpy or upbeat, you attitude doesn’t affect the cancer.  This probably seems obvious to you, but think of how many times you’ve heard someone say that “the best way to fight cancer is with a positive attitude!”

It sounds innocent enough, but really it’s insidious - what it suggests is that we have the ultimate control over our bodies. Research has found that rather than help people, all these comments do is make those dying from cancer feel guilty. They feel like they are responsible for their own deaths because they couldn’t be positive enough.

We all have our own coping mechanisms; people like me are always happy and cheerful on the surface, others are quiet and stoic, still others get angry or depressed.  These attitudes are as much a part of us as our hair colour.  (You can change your outlook a bit, just like you can dye your hair - but I suspect it still peeks out from underneath.) I’m often commended on being cheerful in spite of my health problems, but it’s not like I have any control over it – it’s just who I am.

So why do we believe this idea that relaxing will help us conceive? It seems to be a bit advice left over from the 1940s and 1950s when infertility was a complete mystery.  I realise that being less stressed in general is better for your health, but it isn’t a fertility barrier. There are plenty of people who get pregnant while in stressful jobs or during difficult times - so why do people assume that ‘relaxing’ will get me pregnant? Like the case above, it just suggests that somehow our infertility is my fault - that if I could just be less anxious then I’d have a baby by now.

I’m so glad to have this weight finally off my shoulders, as I suspect it’s been lurking at the back of my mind.  If I hadn’t realised the illogic of the situation going into IVF would be much worse. There’s no way I’ll be able to face my needle phobia everyday for months without feeling stressed. So now I can finish this two week wait with a sense of peace – it will work or it won’t – no matter how I’m feeling.

This was originally published on the Emma's Diary Blog.