I barely had any time off sick at school (thanks to my now infamous immune system), and I was too much of a goody-goody to skip lessons.

But somehow, I must have missed a key biology lesson: the one where Miss Hicks explained to us that relaxing was the best way to get pregnant. Never mind missed pills and broken condoms, being relaxed was likely to get you up the duff, pronto. I can only assume it was part of the national curriculum, because it seems to be common knowledge that the best way to get pregnant, particularly if you are struggling, is to ‘just relax’. 

Oh, wait. Is it not part of the curriculum? So how is it that some people are so sure that ‘just relaxing’ is the key to overcoming my fertility issues?

If you’re reading this blog, I’m willing to bet quite a lot of money that you’ve heard this piece of ‘advice’ at least a few times. It comes in many guises. Sometimes, it’s just a straight-up, chirpy ‘don’t worry – just relax and it will happen’ after you’ve revealed that you are starting IVF. Or, the wise sage you are talking to shares the story of that famous couple, invariably a friend’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s friend, who had been trying to conceive for years, went on holiday, got drunk and bam! – they were pregnant! You nod and smile, but internally you roll your eyes and respond silently with a sarcastic ‘of course, why didn’t I think of spending £30k on a holiday instead of IVF?!’. 

Sometimes, ‘just relax’ isn’t immediately obvious, but it’s there, lurking beneath the surface. In the last couple of weeks two people have told me about friends who decided to adopt after long battles with infertility, and then got pregnant. I’ve even been told that if we decide to pursue surrogacy, I’ll probably get pregnant naturally because I won’t be so focused on getting pregnant. The moral is that, once I’m relaxed and not obsessing and stressing about getting pregnant, I’ll probably be able to get pregnant.

And it’s not just the amateurs. The professionals are at it too. Just the other day, my IVF doctor and I were discussing next steps after yet another failed transfer. She advised that we take some time out to recuperate, and that, when I’m less stressed, we could try doing a transfer without all the adjuvant treatment I’ve had with recent transfers. She even suggested anti-anxiety medication. I really like and respect my doctor, and I know she has my best interests at heart, but wasn’t she essentially saying that it might work when I’m more relaxed? Wasn’t she just grasping at straws because literally nothing else has worked?

What I struggle with most when people tell me to ‘just relax’ is the inference, however unintentional, that it’s my fault that I can’t get or stay pregnant, because the last three years have made me so anxious. Not being able to conceive when all you want is a baby is so stressful – I would argue one of the most stressful things you can experience – so being anxious is natural and pretty much inevitable. It’s unhelpful, to put it mildly, to imply that anxiety could be a cause of what we are going through. We infertile people are very good at blaming ourselves for our situation. We don’t need an extra stick to beat ourselves with – apart from anything else, it just makes us more stressed! 

Not only is it deeply unhelpful to imply that stress could be causing our infertility or miscarriages; the medical profession isn’t actually certain that it has any impact at all. Some studies have found a connection, others haven’t – it’s inconclusive. Personally and completely unscientifically, I call BS. I was completely relaxed for at least the first six months of trying to conceive – but it didn’t happen.I’ve been on several holidays since – nothing. If you’ve got an issue, explained or not, it’s unlikely that relaxing is going to change it. If your friend’s cousin’s colleague got pregnant thanks to some wine and a nice holiday, it was because they were lucky, not because they were relaxed.

If infertility is making you feel anxious and worried, then you should absolutely address it – but for your own wellbeing. Infertility treatment is a marathon, not a sprint, so you need to look after yourself both physically and mentally. And yes – relaxing is part of that. So find time for things you enjoy and make you feel relaxed, whether that’s going out for dinner, watching TV, having a hot bath, seeing friends, having a massage, reading a book or whatever works for you. But if and when you feel anxious, don’t blame yourself and please don’t worry that it’s harming anything. As an expert on a podcast I listened to pointed out: birth rates do not drop significantly in warzones, and while infertility is stressful, a warzone it is not.