How can I stop worrying / stressing / thinking about getting pregnant?
The most common question I get asked by the women trying to conceive is some variety of the above.
My answer: You can't, so don't even try.
No. I'm not the worst coach ever. But my approach is not not to try and stop the stress/worry/unhelpful thoughts, but changing our relationship to those thoughts.
This is me in 2014, I look relaxed, but I'm secretly VERY stressed about baby making.
The vast majority of us spend our reproductive years actively trying to prevent pregnancy. For many of us, every forgotten pill or every broken condom wreaked absolute terror. As teenagers, we have it drilled into us to avoid the dreaded pregnancy at all costs - until, that is, it is THE RIGHT TIME.
So, when THE RIGHT TIME comes around, we stop using contraception, time our baby dancing around ovulation, and we expect (or at least I did) to become pregnant if not instantly, then at least pretty quickly … Then comes the realization: Why have I spent the last 20 years preventing pregnancy if conception is so damn hard!
For me, when it didn't happen immediately, there was internet research, extra vitamins, increasingly less romantic sexual demands (sorry husband!) and lots of worry, negative thoughts, stress and something close to obsession.
I'd been a pretty happy-go-lucky, laid back kind of person for the first 33 years of my life, this experience of obsessive thoughts was new and unpleasant and I was very ashamed of how I was feeling and desperately wanted it to stop.
However, I now know that trying to stop negative thoughts is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater - difficult, energy consuming and futile. That ball is going to pop back up sooner or later and usually with more force.
Some things I know now and understand about my obsessing over getting pregnant:
1. We hurt where we care
I was obsessive and stressed and worried because I really, really wanted to become a mother. If you're stressed too, acknowledge it's because you care. Because you have love to share with another human being. How wonderful.
This worry is in no way anything to be ashamed of, to feel guilty about, or try to stop. Recognise this stress comes from a place of love and try to welcome it in as a beautiful sign that you care and that you have love to give.
2. We are not our thoughts
When we have a lot of stressful or negative thoughts, it's very easy to see ourselves and our thoughts as one and the same, which means that we can become ruled by these thoughts.
Mindfulness and ACT (acceptance and commitment training) help us to recognise that we are separate from our thoughts, it's possible to step back and notice and observe them.
We can try saying 'I notice that I'm feeling really worried about getting pregnant' or 'I notice that I having the thought that pregnancy will never happen for me'.
3. Kindness and curiosity are our superpowers
Try to be open and curious with your thoughts and feelings. Once we've noticed the thoughts and feelings as separate from ourselves, we can observe them with curiosity and kindness.
The goal here is not to stop the thoughts, but to to help them become less powerful and consuming.
Try some self-compassion exercises when you notice the difficult emotions. A compassionate touch such as stroking your own arm or massaging the palm of your hand can give you some much needed tenderness in the face of challenging thoughts and feelings.
You can also use tender words to yourself, such as 'poor you, this is hard for you right now', or whichever words feel right for you.
4. There's strength in numbers
Recognize that you are not alone. When I was trying to conceive, I saw newborns and pregnant women everywhere. I felt like everyone was becoming pregnant easily except me.
This is a common response to stress. We tend to isolate ourselves and feel as if the burden of our experience is something to be handled by ourselves alone.
The reality is that many, many women struggle to conceive. They have done since the beginning of time, and they will continue to do so long after we are gone. I don't say this as a way to diminish or invalidate your experience - on the contrary. This experience is extremely challenging and hard. But, knowing that you are not alone can give us great strength. The sense of a common humanity can make us feel less isolated and know that we are strong enough to handle this experience just as millions have done before us.
So, when you feel stressed or worried next time, remember that many women, including myself, have had the same stress and worries and we're here with and for you.
If you'd like more support on managing the stress of trying to conceive, you can check out my fully online course that uses mindfulness, ACT and yoga to support you on your journey: