Many women can spend up to two decades of their life trying not to get pregnant. When the time comes that they decide that they do want to have a baby, it can come as a shock that pregnancy may not happen as easily as they thought it would. Conceiving a baby is typically not as simple as just discontinuing your birth control and then getting pregnant the next month. It can take time for your body to regulate once you stop birth control pills. And even once your body has regulated and you’re having normal cycles, it can take up to six months for a normal healthy woman under the age of 35 to get pregnant. And if you’re over the age of 35, conceiving a child can take longer. The process of trying to conceive a baby naturally can drum up all kinds of emotions that you didn’t anticipate.
Lack of control – For many women, trying to have a baby represents one of the first major life goals over which they have relatively minimal control. They may have been able to choose what college they attended, their career path, or where they live. When it comes to getting pregnant, there’s only so much you can do and there’s a lot left up to chance. The experience of encountering that lack of control, and certainly the frustration when pregnancy doesn’t happen quickly, can be a very new one for women and one that they sometimes don’t have the tools to cope with. Continue to focus on the plans and activities in your life that you find meaningful, and not put life “on hold” while you await a much-desired pregnancy. If there are goals in life over which you have more control, it can be very healthy to pursue them. Being fully engaged in your life can keep the process of trying to conceive from dominating your time, energy, and emotions.
Feelings of shame and inadequacy – There can be a lot of shame associated with not being able to get pregnant. Some women report feeling as though they’re less of a woman because they’re not able to do something that is supposed to “just happen naturally.” Other women feel like they have failed their partner or their family by not being able to provide a child or grandchild. Others feel really confused because there may be no explanation as to why they are not getting pregnant. They’ve never had any irregularity with their periods or any indication that anything is wrong with their bodies. At times they look at other women who are pregnant and have babies and wonder “why not me?” It can be very reassuring to speak with your healthcare provider about these concerns. Your provider will be able to give you more specific information, and run tests if indicated, that can provide some reassurance that everything is “in working order” and that it is most likely just a matter of time before pregnancy occurs.
Competition and jealousy – Another dynamic that people don’t really talk about is that getting pregnant can actually be quite competitive. When a woman knows that her peers, her sister or her coworkers are either trying to get pregnant or are getting pregnant, there’s an element of competition that can emerge. It can be really painful to watch the people around you get pregnant, and maybe get pregnant very easily, if you yourself are struggling. That can elicit feelings of jealousy of friends or even family members. And then there’s the guilt for feeling jealous because your sister or your best friend is pregnant and you’re not. These feelings are totally normal and appropriate, especially given that this is such a central and meaningful life goal. While it may be nearly impossible to avoid these emotional reactions, it is possible to respond to them with self-compassion rather than guilt or criticism. In doing so, it will be likely that these thoughts will have minimal impact on your behavior in the context of these important relationships.
Gender communication – There can be a significant gender dynamic associated with heterosexual couples who are struggling to get pregnant naturally. Men and women typically experience trying to get pregnant in different ways. For the women, it is very much a physical reality every month. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that is closely tied to the menstrual cycle. There is the optimism and hope that this might be “your cycle,” followed by the often deep disappointment that arrives with your period. It can become all-consuming. Men tend to have more distance from the process both physically and emotionally, and it can be less stressful for them, at least at the beginning stages of trying to conceive. Later on, if the process takes longer than expected, they too can experience shame, sadness, confusion, and frustration. It is common for men and women to struggle to figure out how to communicate these concerns given that their emotional and physical experience of trying to get pregnant can be so different. Learn to engage in active listening – listening with the intention of understanding the others’ perspective without getting pulled into a “problem-solving mode” or trying to change or “fix” the way the other person feels.
“When Are You Going to Have a Baby?” is a very emotionally laden question. For women who have been unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, having to answer that question can be very painful. You may dread going to family functions for fear of hearing this question yet again. It’s hard to know how to answer this very personal question that elicits a really intense sense of emotional vulnerability. So how do you respond? It depends on your personality, who you’re talking to, and your level of comfort. You can simply respond with “not yet” or “it’s something that we really want” and leave it at that. If you’re comfortable using humor, you can say something like, “I’m not comfortable talking so openly about my sex life. Why don’t you tell me how YOUR child was conceived?” Keep it brief and don’t feel like you owe anyone an explanation.
Seek emotional support – I think it’s important to seek support if pregnancy isn’t happening as quickly as you had expected. Living with something that is impacting your day-to-day life, potentially really profoundly, and not feel comfortable sharing it with anyone can leave you feeling isolated. It can make a difference to have at least one person in your life, other than your partner, who knows what you’re going through and that it’s hard for you. If you’re struggling to get pregnant and are experiencing emotional ups and downs, you can also talk to your primary care provider to request a referral to a behavioral health provider. There are mental health professionals like myself who specialize in helping women, men, and couples cope with the process of trying to conceive in a way that minimizes the impact on their moods, their lives, and their relationships.