“Just Relax”

Since we reached the definite end of our fertility journey, I’ve found myself opening up about it more. I don’t mean that I’m telling everyone I meet or walking around with a sign attached to my back, but I am talking more about it as and when the subject comes up. I’m talking about it because, in an odd way, it’s therapeutic for me to share, but also because infertility still remains such a taboo despite affecting so many people. If my tiny voice can make a tiny change in awareness, then that has to be a good thing.

There is one place that the subject comes up more than any other. You can’t get a group of mothers with similarly aged children together without certain topics arising. You know the ones – food choices, schools and… the subject of “more children”. Of course, my closest mum friends have known all along about our struggle to conceive another child. But there are plenty more mums that I class as “good acquaintances”. The ones that I see week in and week out at the same groups or activities, or at pre-school drop off and pick up time, but never outside of those arenas. They’re not friends, yet we know a fair amount about each others lives through our children. They’re exactly the people I’m opening up more to about our experience of secondary infertility.

And for the most part, the reception has been great. Warm and supportive. Others have confided their own, hitherto unknown, difficult journeys. People have told me how sorry they are with sincerity, and validated my desire to have another child when I’ve still been wondering myself whether all of this isn’t just selfish indulgence. Not everyone has known what to say, of course. Some people can’t help but offer practical solutions, or supposedly helpful anecdotes of their sister’s-best-friend’s-cousin’s miracle conception. Sometimes I’m in the mood to try some gentle attempts to alter perceptions. Sometimes I’ll patiently explain things like why the adoption road is fraught with difficulties for a couple in our circumstances and it isn’t necessarily the simple solution they present it as. More often I’ll just let it roll over. I’ve been doing this just long enough now to have become good at self preservation.

There is one thing, however, that people say that is guaranteed to generate entirely the opposite reaction to the one that they are promoting.

It’s that old chestnut “Just relax, and it’ll happen.”

Sometimes it’s dressed up in one of those miracle stories. You’ve all heard the one about the couple who “stopped trying” after countless years and many rounds of assisted reproductive techniques only to conceive a healthy baby the very next month, simply because they’d “relaxed” and “stopped trying”?

That’s the one that raises my blood pressure and pushes the anger buttons that lie right at the bottom of my heartache.

So let me tell you, right here, why this seemingly innocuous little statement is so offensive to people struggling with infertility of any sort.

For starters, it’s not even accurate. Even leaving aside the fact that relaxation is not going to magically alter the number and quality of my available eggs or Ian’s sperm, there is not a single well-designed scientific study that shows any positive correlation between relaxation and successful conception, whether naturally or by IVF or other techniques. Furthermore, there’s not really all that much anecdotal evidence either. The tales of long-lost family members, or distant friends, conceiving simply because they relaxed are far outweighed by the number of women who conceive in, for example, war zones. The women who conceive as a result of rape, under unimaginable stress. The huge number of babies conceived in deprivation to which our middle-class, developed-world problems not only pale in comparison, but simply cease to exist as problems in comparison. Life prevails. Women have proved this over and over again and conception can happen in the most horrific of circumstances. The vital ingredients are eggs and sperm, not a zen state of mind.

That aside, however, suggesting that relaxing is all we need to do in order to conceive is completely ignoring the fact that we did not wake up one morning, decide we wanted to have a child, and then have a complete meltdown at the stress of the situation. I can assure you, if I’ve ever seemed stressed about our infertility (clearly, I have) the stress is a product of the situation, not its cause. Hell, IVF is bloody stressful, especially when you are juggling a demanding professional career and a toddler to boot. But when we started trying to conceive a second child, it was fun. Imagine that! Sex at the start was not about timing. I wasn’t taking my temperature the moment I woke, examining my cervical mucus or peeing on sticks to confirm a hormone surge back then. We were just making love.

A whole lotta love.

Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Especially as we were coming to the end of our first year of parenthood when physical intimacy hadn’t been the highest thing on the agenda for months. It took a long while for the stress to set in, as it does for every other infertile couple that I’ve spoken to. If relaxation were the missing ingredient, we’d have  had a much better chance of hitting the jackpot right back at the start.

The biggest reason, though, that I cannot stand to hear the relax line is this: When you utter those words, it implies that you think this is our fault.

Think about it for a moment.

When you tell us to relax what you’re really saying is “If only you stopped worrying about it so much, you’d have your baby by now. This is all in your control if only you could manage your emotions.”

And you know, I’d give up work tomorrow if I thought it would help. I’d give up every possession we have to live on a remote island in the sun, to do nothing but sip cocktails, practice mediatation and have heavenly massages if that would give me what I long for.

I’d move heaven and earth to have another baby.

Trust me. Even if I relax to the point of melting away, neither heaven nor earth are for moving.

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4 Replies to ““Just Relax””

  1. O I hate that line with a passion. There are miscarriage variations and I hate them too because as you say you’re blaming me for something that my subconscious has already blamed me for half a hundred times before breakfast – grrr! Hopefully the gentle and supportive comments will continue to outweigh the rest 🙂

    1. Generally they do, and I know that when people say this they don’t do it with the specific intention of being hurtful, but I still can’t help getting fixated on these hurtful moments from amongst the support and positivity. I’d feel good if I could make just one person realise that saying nothing at all is better than trotting out a line like this!

  2. Yes! Thank you for this post! I can’t count how many times people told me that I was just too stressed out and that’s why we couldn’t conceived. The advice is really annoying. It’s hurtful, even when you know it’s plain wrong. And, yes to the other commenter, I’ve also received the miscarriage variations. Now that we’re moving toward adoption, we’re finding out about the adoption variations as well. Everyone has a friend of a friend of a friend who became hyper-fertile after they adopted.

    1. Of course I’m sorry that you can identify with this post. I think people so often seem to assume they have to say something and don’t think through what they say. I wish they’d stick to “I’m so sorry” or somesuch. And I’ve no idea why the whole world seems to consider itself an expert on adoption! I’m sorry you’ve had a rough ride, and hope things go well for you in the future – with less hurtful comments from the clueless!

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