Your blood doesn't clot properly thereby making it impossible for the embryos created out of your sub-par eggs (coming out of your prematurely failing ovaries) to remain implanted in the uterus, thereby necessitating conception attempts to move from the bedroom to a sterile doctor's office (and pay thousands monthly for the experience) with a cast of six male doctors staring at your vagina while attempting to manipulate the catheter on any given visit. No one can tell you how long this will take or how much money you will spend or what your body will endure.
But, of course, despite all of that, we're going to have to ask you to just relax if you want this to work.
Stress reduction has long been held up as the panacea for a host of ailments including infertility. In last weekend's New York Times magazine, Peggy Orenstein had an article titled "Stress Test" that points out the missing threads in this line of thinking:
It’s not that I think the mind-body connection is a total sham. But even where it would seem most established, say in the relationship between stress and heart disease, the mechanism is unclear. Is stress an independent risk factor or does it merely influence others, raising blood pressure or encouraging over-eating? Either way, popular mythology both simplifies and generalizes the potential harm, applying it to everything that ails us. After all, it feels true: I’m more at peace with my frenetic life after a few rounds of sun salutations. Yet, what does that prove?
I would take it a step further to say that even if the mind-body connection exists and stress levels affect hormone production, pointing out how stress affects the body and asking those in a health crisis to relax through therapy, yoga, and meditation is reductive (and, in turn, raises stress levels when you hit that brick wall). If it were truly a solution, the infertility crisis would be moving towards resolution rather than chaos as technology improves and stress reducing outlets increase.
In the end, it's a prescription that moves in a circuitous route rather than forward towards a solution. It is an empty prescription--one that states the problem without stating a true solution. It is like this: we can say that overeating leads to obesity. And we can point out ways to curb overeating including portion control, drinking a lot of water, and exercising instead of consuming food. But if these solutions were implementable, many more people would do it. No one consciously chooses to be unhealthy. Yet sometimes we truly cannot help our unhealthy tendencies, no matter how much the head battles the heart.
The reality is that we're talking about some major emotional rewiring.
It is too hard to stop overeating simply by having someone tell you to stop overeating. It is too hard to stop overeating simply because you are attending therapy or drinking two liters of water a day or even exercising with a personal trainer while eating with a personal chef. Can we do it for short periods of time--even months or years? Of course. When other factors are aligning themselves in the outside world, we can muster amazing willpower to override our natural tendencies. But we can't sustain this level of self-control indefinitely. We all have a way of moving back towards the way we deal with our stress: overeating, obsessing, consuming mind-altering substances.
Because, what all of these things have in common is the control we are desperately trying to grasp in the face of having a lack of control.
We all have our ways that were either taught or intuited that help us process life. I'm not saying that our methods are healthy. Many times, like stress or overeating, it can be detrimental to our health or push us even farther from the goal. But pointing it out doesn't make the problem disappear.
Worrying, not deep breathing, is the anxious girl's way of dealing with stress. Because what is worrying other than emotional preparation? Running through the what ifs, feeling the intensity of the emotion ahead of time, falling apart and having a long cry--these are the ways we exercise our hearts to deal with the crisis when it actually occurs. How many times does the anxious girl say that she's great in a crisis? Preparation--it's the motto of anxious ladies and girl scouts.
And that, I would say, is a more feasible goal. Someone needs to invent a therapy that doesn't go against the natural tendencies of the worrier but instead embraces them. Oh...wait...it does exist. It's called blogging. And I'd love to see a study where blogging, writing the what ifs out to their limit, sitting in front of the computer and having a good cry, falling apart completely is shown to have the same success rate as those who go against their body and unnaturally force it to relax.
Once they do that study, I'll go back to visualizing my happy space and shoving all of my infertility worries into their alloted daily hour.
Orenstein finishes the article with this thought: "Stress is our burden, our bogyman, and reducing it is the latest all-purpose talisman against adversity’s randomness." In the end, aren't we all simply searching for an answer; an explanation; the secret door that lets us out of here? And can we blame researchers for holding out this idea even if being told that unattainable relaxation will help only brings on more stress?