Coping with the Stress and Emotions of TTC

A 5-step survival guide for your baby-making worries
woman looking anxiously at a pregnancy test stick
© Can Stock Photo / Diego_Cervo

There is no doubt that trying to conceive (TTC) is an emotional roller coaster with ups and downs, twists and turns, excitement and anxiety, and lots of anticipation. You can’t really appreciate how it will make you feel until you start trying, but there are a few helpful things to know about preparing for and dealing with all the feelings TTC can trigger.

The baby-making ride

For many parents, the phases of the journey to conception looks like this:

  1. Excitement!—Let’s make a baby!

  2. Fun!—Lots of sex (hopefully).

  3. Anxious excitement—Time slows down as you mentally ward-off your period, and you become hyper-aware of the slightest possible pregnancy symptom.

  4. Disappointment—Your period comes.

  5. Troubleshooting—What can you do differently next round?

  6. Repeat!

For the first few months, you feel prepared for this cycle but with each ensuing month that passes without conception, the excitement wanes, apprehension amplifies, and the baby-making fun can turn to drudgery. All the in-between time gets filled with problem-solving. You begin to anticipate 6 months of trying, then 12 months, then 24 months…

How stress sabotages the fun AND the fertility

For many couples, intimacy becomes more goal-oriented and passion takes a pass with each successive month of trying. TTC can lead to performance anxiety in both men and women. This manifests as irritability, fatigue, erectile dysfunction, frustration, sexual discomfort, and lack of interest. This clearly doesn’t do wonders in the bedroom, neither for fertility, nor for relationships.

Moreover, stress and anxiety can physically impact your ability to get pregnant by altering your hormones and depleting your nutrients. Ovulation and stress are both managed in an area closely connected in the brain—considering that it’s not so unusual for women’s periods to cease during stressful times, it should not be surprising that this would affect fertility functioning.

Chronic stress also changes our lifestyle behavior. This may find us caught in a cycle leading to patterns of poor sleep, ingesting caffeine to keep us up, drinking alcohol to wind us down, and neglecting a healthy diet.  That kind of cycling doesn’t do any favors for the delicate hormone balance that is needed for fertility.

Weathering the TTC turmoil

Women have often been led to believe that pregnancy happens in a blink of an eye. While this is true for some lucky few, what is more common is that even if all your (and your male partner's) parts are healthy and working correctly, and you time it just perfectly, you still only have a 20% chance of getting pregnant in a given month. As each month passes with no baby in sight, would-be parents start to feel stress replacing excitement and hope. Simply knowing this is normal may not make the waiting easier once you’ve decided to take the plunge, but a few techniques can keep your stress levels lower.

1. Make self-care a priority

Some people think self-care is getting your nails done and eating ice cream. If that sounds like fun for you, then do it. Fun and laughter are essential to supporting your nervous system and stimulating those feel-good hormones.

The foundation of self-care begins with a diet rich in nutrients that support fertility, avoiding toxins, and staying active. If you’re an older mom trying to conceive, consider supplementing with fertility friendly nutrients like CoQ10.

But the self-care you should especially engage in to control stress includes activities that increase your parasympathetic tone. In other words, you need to calm your nervous system and give yourself space daily to relax and keep stress levels low. These activities may include:

  • Meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises

  • Going for walks

  • Spending time in nature

  • Getting a massage or acupuncture

  • Taking long, indulgent baths or showers

Self-care is also about giving yourself permission to sit out social engagements and say no to added or unnecessary demands or requests if they feel like a chore or an obligation. And no explanation need be offered.

Check out “coherent breathing,” the process of breathing in a little slower and deeper than usual without pauses­–inhale 5 seconds, exhale 5 seconds

2. Take trying to conceive outside of the bedroom!

There is a small fertile window each month that requires sperm to meet the egg and the fertile window does not care if you are tired, feeling unattractive, or grumpy at your partner. Find ways to nurture intimacy with your partner throughout the month that don’t have to end in intercourse. Do things for each other that foster attraction and encourage flirtation without expectation. And of course, have sex outside of the fertile window and nurture these practices well before TTC.

3. Phone a friend: the TTC support line

Make sure you have a robust and available support system. Sometimes it’s family, sometimes it’s friends, and other times it’s neither and only includes your health care team.

Many couples opt to not tell anyone they are TTC. This can have its pros and cons. On one hand, if no one knows, it can feel like a really lonely process, especially if it’s taking longer than expected. However, if everyone knows, then you get unsolicited “Are your pregnant yet?” questions which can either spoil good news you were waiting to share at a special time or make you sad every time you say no. Be choosey with a select group of close confidantes who really know how to hold that space for you to fill without their inquiries.

This can be a very vulnerable time for a lot of couples. Check in with yourself about what you need from your support system and let them know early on. It never hurts to have someone willing to listen without problem-solving and to hold positive intentions for you.

4. Be fully intentional about why you’re getting pregnant

Many people know they want a baby or they don’t want a baby. That’s the “easy” part. Take it one step further to figure out what parenthood means to you and why you want it. Start unpacking the feelings you have with respect to your intentions about parenthood. Ask yourself:

Why do you want to have a baby? Start getting a clear picture of what factors in your life contribute to your desire for family: biological urge, deep love for your partner, friends starting families, and religious beliefs, for example.

What kind of parent to you intend to be? What is your relationship like with your parents? Are they a good role-model for you, or do you plan to do things quite differently with your future baby? Spend some time really imagining yourself as a parent, visualizing the good days and the bad days.

Doing this deep work around personal belief and intention can help you grapple with the challenging emotions that might arise when trying to conceive and understand where the “pressure,” if any, is coming from. Sometimes what comes up for you may require more professional support to resolve limiting beliefs that add to your anxiety.

5. Honour your ambivalent feelings

Very possibly, someone you know will become pregnant while you are struggling with it. It is common and perfectly acceptable to feel happy for your friend and deeply sad for yourself. Both feelings can co-exist genuinely, and you are entitled to honour the way you feel. It is absolutely fine to sit out your friend’s child’s birthday party or her baby shower. Since TTC emotions come and go like waves, what feels right one day may feel different another.

Welcome aboard the fertility roller coaster! Go ahead, kick back, put your hands up in the air, and try to enjoy the wild TTC ride. Inject as much as fun as you can, understand your fears, and forgive yourself for any negative feelings—it’s all a normal part of this intense and important experience.