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The stress of trying to conceive

It’s difficult enough dealing with your own emotions when you’re trying – and failing – to get pregnant, but throw in dealing with your partner’s worries, lack of sensitivity from family, and friends appearing to get pregnant willy nilly, and it can feel like quite an emotional ride.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jun 14, 2021

Couple in bed

Here are a few tips on how to cope with the more stressful aspects of trying to conceive from those who have been there, done that and got the stash of ovulation sticks to prove it.

The joylessness of sex

It's easy to get stressed about having 'the right kind' of sex. Once you know when you're ovulating, the worries about having sex at the right time can also start to build. Obviously there are some basic essentials, but as long as all the correct components are there, if you can keep sex about sex rather than baby-making, it will feel less pressured for you both.

Sticking your legs up the wall and a pillow under your bottom after the event might help things go in the right direction, but at least try to have a conversation at the same time. No one wants to feel like (a) a sperm bank or (b) some sort of fertilisation receptacle.

And whatever you do, don't mention trying to conceive while you're actually doing the deed. It's about as raunchy as having The Archers on in the background.

“You honestly just need to try and forget that you're TTC. Just have sex every two to three days (particularly mid-cycle) and try to forget that you want a baby from it. Otherwise, it becomes a kind of mission. A task. I found that, once past ovulation, I lost interest, particularly as month rolled to month.”

Timing being everything

We like to believe every baby born is the result of a spontaneous and passionate union, but in practice the whole business of trying to conceive often has the effect of turning sex into a military operation, when ‘I want you. Meet me under the station clock at seven’ becomes ‘I’m ovulating. Please be home by eighteen hundred hours for manoeuvres'.

If you've spent all month charting temperatures and popping your folic acid only to realise you’re ovulating while one of you is away for work, that’s obviously very disappointing.

Try to remember this wasn’t a ‘wasted’ month, it just becomes a 'no pressure' month. If you had lots of sex in the run-up to ovulation you could still be pregnant and if you didn’t, make the most of it and enjoy a luteal phase free of symptom checking and wondering if it’s OK to have a drink.

My husband goes to work on a Monday morning and returns on a Friday evening every week, and guess what? I ovulate on a Wednesday! Something tells me this could be a long wait…

Things get really tricky for shift-workers and couples where one or both parties work away regularly. If that’s the case, spend time getting to know when your most fertile days are, by temperature charting and using ovulation sticks, then at least you will be literally ready to pounce if you do both manage to be in the same room at the same time – or you could book some leave for the crucial few days.

Trying to conceive causing rows with your partner

Whether it's pressure to perform, feeling like TTC is taking over every area of your life or concerns about money or health, it's easy for frustrations and worries to spill over into a row.

Try to ease the pressure on both of you. Perhaps he'd find it easier if you didn't tell him when you might be ovulating? Or maybe you'd find it all a bit less exhausting if you had early nights to get some kip occasionally as well as try to conceive.

Don't let TTC become a chore. Change something – book a holiday for your next fertile time so you can at least have sex in a new location and don't have the added pressures of work and domestic drudgery to deal with, too.

Keep talking – to each other, of course, to share your worries and feelings, but don't forget to talk to friends, too. Sometimes it helps to be able to let off steam with someone who isn't 50% of Team TTC.

“It's a bugger of a thing, this trying to get pregnant business. Finding a friend who was going through the same process in real life and who I could be real with, and who was similarly trying to remain grounded during the process was helpful. My husband is great, but having a woman who is going through the same thing to talk to has been important.”

The dreaded 'two-week wait'

Fourteen days of obsessing over symptoms that feel like pregnancy but could be your period, wondering if everything will change in the next fortnight or if you’ll be back at square one again… and you can’t even have a few drinks to take your mind off it. It should be known as the two-week torment, really. Instead, try to reframe this time a bit.

Rather than thinking of it as 'dead' time, just ticking off days before you can do a test, make it a time to spoil yourself and nurture body and soul. If you are pregnant, then all to the good, and if you’re not, well – even more reason to go easy on yourself for a couple of weeks.

Make the effort to get early nights and stock up on sleep, have long baths on the weekend and spend time doing things just for you, whether that’s pottering in the garden, meeting a friend for coffee or taking yourself out to a yoga class followed by brunch. Because you’re worth it… and once you’ve got a new baby you’ll be forever relegated to the status of ‘serf’, so make the most of it now.

If putting it to the back of your mind is definitely not an option, sometimes just sharing the crazy with others can help you gain some perspective, or at least pass the time. Head to Mumsnet's trying to conceive talk boards to chat to other women also on the two-week-wait.

“Plans for today? Outwardly: paint shed, mow lawn, buy things for lunch tomorrow, make summer pudding. Inwardly: choose baby names, decorate an imaginary nursery, write a birthplan, attempt purely through the power of my mind to hold off period!”

Early pregnancy symptoms or just your imagination?

Bloating, cramps, tender boobs… It seems a cruel irony that the symptoms of early pregnancy are almost exactly the same as the signs that your period is on the way. These things are sent to try us.

When you’re already feeling anxious about whether or not this is Your Month, being tearful, crampy and having sore boobs, too, is enough to send you over the edge.

One way to reduce the stress is to at least understand what’s going on with your body, even if that doesn’t mean a firm answer (just yet).

Many of these symptoms are down to increased levels of progesterone which surge around this time, whether or not you’re pregnant.

Tender breasts could be due to either PMS or being pregnant. A feeling of ‘fullness’ in the breasts, rather than just tenderness, is more often a sign of pregnancy but it’s hard to tell and usually this doesn’t occur until after your period would be due.

Cramps could also be a sign of either PMS or pregnancy, though some women report that implantation cramps are felt more on one side than the other (depending on where the egg is settling in) and feel more like a pinching or dragging sensation than a squeezing, cramping pain.

If cramps are accompanied by spotting or brown or pinkish discharge, this could be another sign of implantation – though it obviously could also be a bit of spotting in the lead up to menstruation, too.

Exercise, try a new hobby, do something physical… I signed up to the gym and also ski lessons! Felt mad and crazy on day one but I realised afterwards it was the first time in weeks I had stopped thinking about TTC

Beyond understanding what’s going on, try your darndest not to think about it. Repeatedly Googling your symptoms won’t change things one way or another so try to avoid getting sucked down that wormhole, or at least limit it to 10 minutes a day.

Wondering about it constantly will make no difference whatsoever to whether or not you’re pregnant, but it will start to send you a bit insane eventually. And if you’re squeezing your boobs every quarter of an hour to check if they are tender, chances are they WILL feel tender after all that!

If you’re a die-hard symptom-spotter, however, nothing is likely to deter you, so if you want to embrace it, pop over to our conception talk boards, where you’ll be able to discuss your symptoms (both real and imagined) in forensic detail with other hopeful mums-to-be.

Pregnancy test

Trying to resist doing a pregnancy test early

The temptation to test before your period is due is enormous. Some tests can be done as much as a week before your period is expected, but a negative result at this stage doesn’t mean you definitely aren’t pregnant so won’t really give you a firm answer until your period arrives.

If you can, try to resist cracking out the pregnancy tests until the day your period is due at least. Here are a few ways to help you dodge the urge to pee on a stick:

  • Remind yourself all you’re doing is lining the pockets of the pregnancy test manufacturers (and those things are not cheap!).

“You could always get a bit of cardboard, draw one control line on it and have a good wee… well it replicates my usual pee stick experience – one line, no joy with the other one.”

  • Keep going with your temperature chart each morning. It gives you ‘something to do’ and if your temperature is remaining high there’s always a chance you’re pregnant.
  • Keep busy. Probably best not to blot it all out with a long session in the pub just in case you are pregnant, but go and watch a film, have dinner with friends or get stuck into a gripping box set at home.
  • Remember a negative test will just make you feel sad (and you still won’t know for certain) whereas if you wait for your period to arrive, at least then you’ll be on the first day of your next cycle and can start trying again in a few days. Psychologically, it’s easier on the soul.

“I could only stop myself testing early if I moved to an island where the only chemist shop opened once every year. Even then I'd probably swim to the mainland! But it is better not to test early.”

Chat to other women resisting the urge to POAS (pee on a stick).

Coping with friends getting pregnant when you’re not

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that as soon as you have trouble conceiving, every woman and her dog in the western world will get pregnant. Especially your sister-in-law. And she’ll probably send you her scan picture just as you’re tossing yet another negative pregnancy test in the bin.

The key is to find methods of coping:

  • Give yourself some distance. You don’t need to cut off every fertile couple you know for fear they are going to ‘announce’ any day, but you can quietly remove yourself from Facebook for a while and re-focus, perhaps by spending a bit more time with friends that aren’t also in the throes of this life stage.
  • Remember, when another pregnant friend is banging on about how she only has to use her husband’s face flannel once and she gets upduffed, it’s OK to think ‘I hate your outwardly perfect life and and I hope your baby never gives you more than two hours’ sleep when it’s born’ but try not to say it out loud. Write it down if you want (but do shred it afterwards!).
  • If it’s a close friend and you just want to cry every time you see her, tell her. Most people will understand how hard it is. Saying: ‘Please know that I am thrilled for you but I’m finding my own sadness hard to deal with at the moment, and it’s blotting everything else out. I hope you’ll understand if I can’t do lots of pregnancy chat’ is not the end of the world. Chances are by the time her baby arrives, you’ll be pregnant yourself or will at least have moved on in your ‘trying to conceive journey’ in some way.
  • Be kind to yourself. It’s not horrible to feel this way. It’s natural. If you don’t think you can go buggy shopping with your best friend without crying, explain nicely why and just don’t go. If attending your colleague’s baby shower feels like too much, have a ‘tummy bug’ on the day. It’s not raining on anyone’s parade to simply take yourself out of the equation – much better than to spend an hour sobbing afterwards.
  • Have some dedicated wallow time each month. Next time your period arrives or you get a negative pregnancy test, pencil yourself in a night with a bottle of wine, a bar of chocolate and a box of Kleenex and let yourself have a good sob. It is unfair, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be upset. Just don’t let it take over your life. Have your well-deserved self pity party, then determine to move on again.
  • Never forget that you don’t know someone else’s story. They might tell everyone it was an accident, but for all you know they’ve been secretly trying for years. Smile inwardly to yourself in the knowledge that when your time comes, you’ll be much more discreet and thoughtful about it.

“It's awful when everyone around you is finding out they are pregnant, you're bound to feel like you're the only one, however, if you check out the conception boards you'll see there are TONS of us who are in the same boat for whatever reason, so don't despair. You are totally normal and it's normal to be pissed off when you hear others’ happy news.

Think of it like this – if you were applying for a job as a nurse and you had trained for a year or so, put in all the effort required, done all your revision and then your best friend rings out of the blue and says 'Oh, yay I got a job as a nurse, I just fancied it!' you would be really annoyed! This is no different so don't beat yourself up about it."

When the stress of trying to conceive gets too much

Sometimes the ups and downs of trying to conceive can just become too much and trigger depression or anxiety, particularly if you’ve suffered miscarriages or have been trying to get pregnant for a long time with no luck.

If you feel like the whole thing is weighing too heavily on you and trying to conceive has taken over every aspect of your life, consider taking a break from it for a while. This might feel like a very difficult thing to when you’ve been so invested in it all but even a month or two’s break can give you the mental space needed to get your mojo back a bit and feel stronger when you start trying again.

Sharing your worries and feelings, not just with your partner, but with others, too, often helps reduce feelings of stress, especially if you happen to have a friend who is currently going through or has also experienced similar difficulties.

If you find you’re met with very unscientific advice from friends and family about booking holidays and getting puppies (because, obviously, not having a pet is a reliable method of contraception), or you just feel you need more support than they can give, it might be an idea to talk to a professional. Your GP may be able to refer you for therapy or counselling, or you could see someone privately. As well as providing a listening ear and support, they’ll be able to help you find ways to cope with what’s happening and develop your own methods of reducing stress levels and working through it all.

“There are things that I found I couldn't say to my husband for fear of hurting his feelings. I also blamed myself a lot of the time and needed someone to talk this through with. I needed time and space to cry, rage, despair, hope and dream. I would definitely recommend counselling as a means of helping you cope. You can find a local counsellor either through your GP, or through the British Association of Counsellors.”

“I did yoga once a week, reflexology twice a month, acupuncture once a week when I could, and some counselling sessions which helped me to see that work was a massive stress in my life. It gave me the courage to step down from a very high position and take a step back for a bit and look after myself a bit more.”