When a study came out a few weeks ago linking a certain stress-related enzyme to a reduced chance of conceiving, a collective groan from infertiles both ex and current could be heard across the land. See, we knew exactly what would happen ... and it did.
Instead of interpreting the results of the study and what it actually said, the mainstream media, as if one giant lumbering beast, reported it as, essentially, "WE TOLD YOU, you weird uptight infertiles! Just relax and you'll get pregnant!"
Except, you know, that's not what the study found.
Melissa Ford, who writes the blog Stirrup Queens (where she maintains an exhaustive list of infertility-related blogs) and authored Navigating the Land of IF, took on the "just relax" study, and the media coverage of it, in a recent BlogHer post. As she points out, the study actually found that women who had higher levels of the stress enzyme alpha-amylase during their first cycle of trying to conceive were less likely to get pregnant. They may have gotten knocked up the second time out, mind you.
Alpha-amylase is what's released when you have a stressful day or week or month. Cortisol, the "stress hormone" that causes all kind of damage, is created through long-term stress....and, wait for it, is linked to a higher likelihood of pregnancy overall. And while they didn't test women going though true infertility (which means a year of unprotected sex with no pregnancy), as a veteran of the treatment merry-go-round, I'd be willing to bet that's the most common kind of stress hormone infertiles are sporting.
And here's the thing: "Just relax" is a douchey thing to say, even if reams of studies proved conclusively that stress is better at preventing conception than the birth control pill. It turns something that, for most people, is a medical condition into a failure to be positive enough, relaxed enough, zen enough. It's telling you, essentially, "you're doing it wrong."
I once saw a commenter on a site I love say, when it comes to infertility, child timing, etc. that "we're women so our hearts are in our uteruses." Um, yeah, if my heart is in my uterus, the doctor that did my c-section seriously screwed up.
Infertility is not, I repeat, not a mental illness. And as I have pointed out to countless people, if relaxing helped, we would have gotten knocked up sometime in those first few months of throwing away the birth control and happily "seeing what happens." Instead, it took two and half heartbreaking years the first time, eight months the second (and we still kind of consider our son a "surprise" pregnancy because it came so much more easily).
In short, there is one thing, one only, to say when someone says they're having trouble getting pregnant. It is some variation of "Man, that sucks. I'm so sorry you're having to go through that." If they want your advice, they'll ask. Your support and kindness? Now that, they could use.
Image via Evil Erin/Flickr