How To Take The Pressure Off TTC

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By Juliana Kassianos, Natural Fertility Therapist

If you've been trying to conceive (TTC) for a few months, a year or more, you may start to feel a lot of pressure weighing down on you, which may be negatively impacting your overall health and wellbeing. This can either be pressure you’re putting on yourself or pressure you’re feeling from outside sources like family members and friends. Let’s take a look at some examples.

PRESSURE FROM WITHIN

  • To be pregnant by your next birthday, as you’ll be another dreaded year older

  • To be pregnant by Christmas as you don’t know how you’ll survive the holidays

  • To be pregnant for your brother’s wedding so you can show off your bump

  • To track your fertile window with the utmost precision so you don’t miss ovulation

  • To have sex to schedule as you want to target ovulation

  • To get pregnant this month as you desperately want to have a baby

  • To get pregnant so your child is in the same year group as your pregnant sister

  • To get pregnant as your nearing 40 and are worried about your age

  • To get pregnant as you don’t want to be an older mother

  • To get pregnant because you've just found out so and so are pregnant

  • To get pregnant as your best friends got pregnant first month trying

  • To get pregnant because all your friends are either pregnant or have children

  • To get pregnant as you’ve already spent so much money on tests/treatments, you’re not sure how much more you can afford

  • To get pregnant with IVF as you’ve put so much into it both physically and emotionally, and really want it to work

  • To put on an “I’m fine” face at your best friend’s baby shower

  • To “Just relax” throughout the month, even though you’re a bundle of nerves

PRESSURE FROM OUTSIDE

  • When people say: “When are you going to have kids?”“You two better get on with it, time’s ticking”“Are you pregnant yet?”“You’ll probably get pregnant on holiday” or “Hopefully you’ll be pregnant by then”

  • Parental pressure: “When am I going to get a grandchild?” or “When am I going to get another grandchild?”

  • Your partner's family, who wants you to have not just a child, but a son to carry on the family name

  • Cultural pressure to have a child

  • Your fertility specialist – not to smoke

  • Your partner, who doesn’t want to be an older father

IDENTIFY THE SOURCE | TRIGGER | EFFECT

There are various ways you can manage both internal and external sources of pressure. First though, you need to identify the source of your pressure, so whether it’s coming from within you or other people, then what's triggering it, followed by the effect it's having on you. Make a list like the one below, so you can clearly see the source, trigger and effect associated. By becoming more aware of the pressures you're experiencing, you're then in a position to address them.

  • Source: Within me | Trigger: Best friend’s baby shower | Effect: Pretending “I’m fine” playing baby name games and talking all things baby related when all I want to do is break down and cry

  • Source: Friend Trigger: “You’ll probably get pregnant on holiday” Effect: Pressure to get pregnant on holiday and that they’ll ask me on our return whether I’m pregnant yet

  • Source: Mother Trigger: “When am I going to have a grandchild” Effect: Pressure to give my mother a grandchild, especially as she’s not getting any younger (which she keeps on reminding me) and to get pregnant before she starts asking again

ARE THEY IN YOUR CONTROL?

Some pressures we put on ourselves are within our control. Highlight those you have some degree of control over, then ask yourself what you can do to reduce or manage the pressure your experiencing. 

For example, say you're experiencing pressure around trying to work out when your ovulating each month. To reduce this pressure, you could:

  • Have sex every 2-3 days throughout your cycle (unless your partner has a low sperm count)

  • Look out for changes in your cervical mucus

  • Use an Ovulation Predictor Kit (OPK). For some, however, using OPKs can actually cause another type of pressure – sexual performance pressure

An example of a pressure you could manage is one which involves money. If you feel financial pressure about not being able to afford fertility tests/treatment, then you could take the following action:

  • Clean out your purse or wallet

  • Ask anyone who owes you money, when you can expect it back

  • Review credit card statements, check for errors and list what your spending your money on

  • Create a spreadsheet to itemise your essential expenses, such as your mortgage, bills and food shop

  • Stop living beyond your means – strip out anything you don’t actually need

  • Take any spare change to the bank and exchange for notes

  • Keep all your bills in one place and note in your calendar when you need to pay them by

  • Set up automated transfer of a certain percentage of funds into a savings account each month

  • Immediately unsubscribe to anything that isn’t essential, such as Spotify or Netflix accounts. You can re-subscribe once you’ve got your finances back on track. It may be difficult in the short-term as you’re taking away all the little things that give you pleasure in life, but keep in mind why you’re doing it

  • Ask for help from your friends and family. This can be hard as it puts you in a vulnerable position. You may not feel comfortable asking for a handout, so instead, why not see what ideas they have for how you could earn or save a little bit extra

  • Be brave and ask for a pay rise. Think about what additional value you could add and what new skills you need. Websites like Coursera offer free courses to help you up your skill-set. You may wish to stay at your place of work for maternity benefits, but your partner could be on the lookout for opportunities

Some pressures are in our control, but are felt more in the moment, such as if someone asks you "Are you pregnant yet?". The is an incredibly intrusive question that can very quickly touch a nerve and cause you to snap back. This is where practicing mindfulness can help as instead of reacting, you respond. You see, when we get caught up in our thoughts, feelings and emotions, our brain reacts automatically without really thinking. Although our ability to immediately react to situations helped us to survive in prehistoric times – such as bolting from a sabre-toothed tiger – in our modern lives, it can prevent us from responding in a way that brings out the best in us. Take time to respond from a higher place by saying something like "We're working on it", which is a polite way of saying please stop asking me as we're doing all we can to make it happen.

Some pressures can feel like they're out of our control, but this is where we can practice mindfulness so that they don't weigh us down. Say for example your best friend announces she's pregnant, which apart from making you really upset, despite being genuinely happy for her, you feel even more pressure to get pregnant as you don't think you can bare watching her go through her pregnancy. When thoughts, feelings and emotions arise around this pressure, try not to cling on to them or block them out, instead just observe and acknowledge their presence, without judgement or criticism. Accept them, let them be and notice how slowly they subside. Try practicing gratitude by being thankful they haven’t had to go through what you’re going through and reframe your thoughts into positive ones. For example, the fact your best friend is pregnant means you now have someone to go to for advice when you get pregnant, no matter when that may be.

ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS REALISTIC?

Unrealistic expectations are a recipe for pain. By saying to yourself “I want to be pregnant by my birthday”, you’re putting pressure on yourself to deliver on this, whilst setting yourself up for disappointment if it doesn’t happen, as you attach your emotional wellbeing to the outcome. Highlight any expectations you’re holding on to and ask yourself “Are they realistic?” Try to let go of any unrealistic expectations by instead practicing acceptance for whatever comes your way. I know this is hard to do, but you want to keep an open mind, in the sense that anything could happen and not create a timeline for when you want/need it to happen by. Also, you could try turning an expectation into a positive plan of sorts. For example, you could say “If I’m not pregnant by my birthday, we will visit a fertility specialist”.

ARE YOU PRIORITISING YOU?

I used to have a ‘disease to please’ and was constantly saying ‘yes’ to everything and everyone, but I’ve come to learn that there are times in our lives where we have to prioritise ourselves and say ‘no’. Trying to conceive is one of them. For example, you don’t have to attend baby showers if you don’t feel up to it, after all, why put that pressure on yourself? You can always send a hand-written note saying how unfortunately you can’t make it – there’s no need to say why – and include a little gift as a thoughtful gesture. The gift doesn’t need to be specifically baby related either as buying a baby present can cause stress in itself. A nice and easy one is a One4All gift card you can get from the Post Office (UK), which includes 'Mothercare'. Do what you need to do in order to stay sane and put yourself first.