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Why Trying to Get Pregnant Is so Stressful

How to keep the crazy at bay.

I spent my late 20s in a basement in Cleveland, rejecting people. I’d taken a job as a researcher at Case Western Reserve University, working in the lab of the eminent social psychologist Roy Baumeister to study the effects of social rejection.

I’d get a group of college students together, have them talk for 15 minutes, separate them, and ask them to choose who they wanted to work with next. Then I’d tell half of them that no one chose them. The other, luckier, half got to hear that everyone chose them.

We found that the rejected students procrastinated more, ate more cookies, made more risky choices, were more aggressive, and were less willing to help other people. In other words, getting rejected by a few people they met for only 15 minutes really messed them up.

We are hard-wired to need other people, and hard-wired to want to create relationships. Wanting to have children touches the heart of this need. It also touches many other deeply rooted needs and desires, including the drive to reproduce, the comforting thought that your children are likely to outlive you, and the sense of purpose people get from parenting. Think about it this way, and it’s less surprising that psychologist Alice Domar found that long-term infertility patients were more depressed than cancer patients.

But as I found when researching my new book The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, many women these days are stressing out before they even start trying, or when they’ve been trying just a month or two.

That’s probably due to our modern illusion of control. The Internet allows us to access information and order virtually anything we want instantly. Many women meticulously plan everything from their careers to their weddings. Doctors encourage us to either be on birth control or actively trying to get pregnant. So we start to believe that we should be able to control getting pregnant—after all, we want it so much, and if we do everything right it should happen.

Fertility resembles many other health issues in that it’s only partially controllable. There are many things you can do to up your chances (for example, the three methods of ovulation prediction I summarize in the book; or eating the right diet and taking the right supplements). But after you do those things, you just have to wait. And that drives many of us nuts.

Fortunately, stressing out about getting pregnant doesn’t usually affect fertility (most studies find that anxiety isn’t correlated with infertility, though major depression is).

But it still doesn’t feel good. In The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, I describe 15 strategies for keeping calm while trying to conceive. Two of my favorites:

• Write in a journal. Social psychologist Jamie Pennebaker’s amazing studies show big benefits for both mental and physical health from writing about negative feelings and experiences. Somehow writing it down gets it out of your head.

• Natural techniques to fight depression. Clinical psychologist Steve Ilardi’s fantastic book The Depression Cure details these (such as exercise and omega-3 supplements). Even if you've never been depressed, these techniques give you the best chance of staying happy and healthy.

The best solution of all: Do everything you can to get pregnant quickly. Then you have less time to worry, and less time to drive your husband nuts. It's not always that easy, of course, but at least you can try to cut the number of months you spend stressing out. And if it takes longer, you'll know faster that it's time to see a doctor.

Were you impatient when you were trying to get pregnant?

What strategies did you use to try to stay calm?

More from Jean M Twenge Ph.D.
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