"Relax and it will happen." Lori Ramsey remembers hearing those oft-advised words when she was having trouble conceiving her third child. After easily becoming pregnant with her other children, her third baby took 16 long months to conceive—a cause of frustration and stress for Ramsey and her husband.
Ramsey knew something was amiss in their efforts, so she began studying human reproduction. Along the way, she learned about fertility charting and tried several different herbs and vitamins in the hopes of conceiving. She also learned about the high amount of stress involved when conception doesn't come quickly. "I found the more I obsessed about my cycles, the more difficult it was to even try," Ramsey says. "My husband looks back at that time in our marriage and says he's never felt such stress about trying to conceive."
Ramsey now has four children and says they were all conceived when she wasn't stressed. She finally became pregnant with her third child in the month after she had given up hope.
Ramsey believes stress does affect ovulation but above all, she feels it affects a couple's relationship. "It's important to have fun during the journey to parenthood," she points out. "Try not to be so scheduled or regimented in having sexual intercourse."
How Big a Role Does Stress Really Play?
Dr. Estil Young Strawn Jr., MD, is the director of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. He explains it's too simplistic to say stress either does or does not play a role in infertility. "Women can and do become pregnant in life situations far more stressful than what many couples consider stressful," he says. "Specifically, in countries where there is open warfare and starvation conditions, women are becoming pregnant."
Overall, Dr. Strawn believes stress plays a small role in infertility and says it should not be considered in the same category as other known causes. More than anything, he explains, stress can hurt a healthy sexual relationship and lead to loss of sex drive. "I never tell the couple to relax, but rather suggest to couples having significant difficulty that they begin working with a therapist who can help them with stress management," says Dr. Strawn.