Trying to conceive has a way of taking over your life, especially once you’ve hit the point of infertility. You go home to find an entire drawer in your bathroom devoted to ovulation kits and pregnancy tests. You look at your calendar and wonder how you’ll fit in all the appointments alongside work and personal commitments. You cringe through conversations about when you’ll “finally” have kids. You reconfigure your social media feeds to block out pregnancy announcements and updates. And you juggle a mental load that’s crushing…and largely underrecognized.
That mental load begins mounting before you’ve even set foot in a reproductive endocrinologist’s office: You’re constantly being hit with both unsolicited advice (like “just relax and it’ll happen!”). On top of that, you’re also taking in so much research and information about all the things that can affect fertility.
In 2023, we have access to so many facts about reproductive health. Living in a time where fertility-planning options exist, when the ins and outs of reproduction are finally being discussed, and when people have access to tools that help them advocate for themselves in medical settings is a privilege. At the same time, sometimes the abundance of information feels too…well, abundant. And it's time to address how this adds to the already heavy mental load of trying to conceive.
Studies are constantly emerging about all the things that can affect fertility: Inflammation, diet, sleep, exercise, stress…the list feels never-ending. In the past week alone, we’ve just seen studies that have linked exposure to “forever chemicals” and teenage cannabis use to reduced fertility. They’re both important pieces of research, especially for the experts who gather data and make larger recommendations in the world of reproductive research.
But for everyday people, the volume of information can be overwhelming — especially when the research deals with things many people who are in the thick of it have no control over. You can’t exactly go back in time and erase your teenage cannabis use. You can’t scrub your whole environment of those “forever chemicals” (which, according to the research, exist across the Earth’s surface and appear in personal care products) — for the vast majority of people, you can’t even fully identify or make sense of what those chemicals even are. But seeing this information can put you in a spiral of panic all the same.
Of course, other lifestyle factors that have been linked to fertility do fall within your control — like sleep, exercise, and diet, for example. But even research that points to those things you can technically control can feel incredibly overwhelming.
Getting more sleep, consuming healthy food, and reducing stress is always helpful, even when you’re not focusing on fertility. But when you’re in the thick of trying to conceive and you see all this information about how making those lifestyle changes may boost your chances of conceiving, it can put a whole new level of pressure on you. And for many people, that pressure just amounts to something unhealthy.
You may find yourself obsessing over everything you eat, every product you use, every trip to the gym, every night of sleep, and every exposure to something that may cause you stress…which, of course, can just stress you out even more. It isn’t just about the research you find online either: Well-meaning people love to dole out advice about fertility too: They love to tell you about their friend who tried acupuncture and finally got pregnant, or their cousin who went vegan and finally got pregnant, or (arguably most common of all), their co-worker who decided to “just stop trying” and miraculously…you guessed it: got pregnant.
Whether or not it comes from a good place, this advice can make you feel like you’re being bombarded. When you’re facing fertility issues, it’s almost impossible to not obsess over it. Between the emotional heaviness of the experience, the time commitment fertility testing and treatments involve, and the sheer amount of information you’re required to process — it’s just a lot.
While we’re major advocates for giving people information about their reproductive health and ownership over their fertility outcomes, we also know that there’s a fine line that every person needs to draw for themselves. That line marks the difference between empowering yourself with information and carrying an unnecessarily heavy mental load, and finding it can help you preserve some level of your peace during a tumultuous process.
The University of California recently published a guide that focuses on a realistic approach to improving fertility outcomes and busts common myths that exist where fertility is concerned. Guides like this can help you figure out what to focus on and what to let go of.
Ultimately, our best advice is this: Listen to your doctor and voice your concerns to them. Do the things they advise and let go of the things that don’t feel helpful or add unnecessary stress to your life.
That might mean pausing your regular Google searches related to fertility. It might mean setting a firm boundary with the people who routinely offer up unsolicited advice. It might mean ditching the fertility diet or not tracking your sleep cycles. It might mean stopping acupuncture if fitting appointments into your busy schedule feels like too much.
At the end of the day, fertility exists largely outside of our control. The best thing you can do is direct any questions to an expert who is familiar with your case — but as for your own capacity to process information and focus on endless factors? You know that better than anyone. So focus on the things that feel purposeful and let the extra go if you need to. Consider this your sign to put down some of that load.
Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.