TW: This article mentions infertility struggles.
Most of us don’t realize that even in our 20’s and 30’s, there is only a 20% chance any given month that a pregnancy will occur and that’s if we have unprotected sex within our window of ovulation. On top of this, there’s the sudden rush we feel once we decide we want to try for kids that comes along with a sort of impatience and inevitably ignites our fears.
There are many different frameworks in which individuals look at the ability to achieve pregnancy with their partner and the journeys associated with it.
‘’For some, it’s about an expression of a couple’s love, while for others, it is seen more like a project to undertake together. ‘’
Some couples become pregnant and it’s completely unexpected and others who are meticulous about trying, and it takes more time than they hoped. The good news to keep in mind: the majority of couples will get pregnant on their own after a year of trying. However, the time in between agreeing to start a family and successfully doing so can be challenging for a relationship.
If you ask most male partners for their thoughts on needing to have sex every other day for a period of time in an effort to conceive, many would be happy to sign up immediately. For many women, there is an initial excitement in feeling both uninhibited by the stress of preventing pregnancy and the thought that “this time might be the time we create our baby.” Those early months of trying are typically fun and freeing. Trying for a baby, and the sex itsleff, can become far less exciting if it becomes less about spontaneity and more about a specific mission, especially if the mission starts to feel difficult to accomplish.
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Often, women trying to become pregnant can become hyper-focused on what they need to do in order to “succeed”. They might start to track their basal temperature each morning or use ovulation predictor kits to track their most fertile days. This information eliminates the sense of a “best guess” and allows for conception attempts to become more targeted. Tracking ovulation gives women some sense of control over a process that feels distant and impacted by many unknown factors. In most cases, women inevitably start to also tune into any possible sign of conception, fixating on any sensation or sign of implantation or pregnancy leading up to the date of their next period.
Having intimacy (or not) under conditions that someone - like a doctor - or something - like your ovulation predictor kit - is dictating is rarely ‘sexy’. When a couple actively begins to equate sex with the pressure of conceiving along with the intimate fears around fertility, the mystique and spontaneity of the act can disappear. The theme arises of sex as a chore rather than something fun, an expression of love or an act of intimacy. In such a situation, it can be difficult for one or both partners to be “into it” while managing expectations around performance. There is truth to these concerns: when sex is felt like a chore, it’s hard to get excited about it and expectations around things like ejaculation can be discouraging. Feelings about not getting pregnant right away are also important to take into consideration. If this has been the result of timed intercourse over a few months, it can begin a pattern of thinking that can be sexually inhibitive. To add to the stress, we often see pregnancy announcements without the backstory or full discrepancy on the amount of time a couple tried.
Pretending that these conditions don’t exist can perpetuate them, so it’s important for partners to talk openly about what they’re feeling along the way. Supporting each other in managing expectations, embracing the time of life, and exploring options to better understand and improve fertility health can relieve some of the pressure individual’s feel around their ability to successfully conceive.
While it can be hard to remember while “trying for a baby”, pregnancy is not a race to be won. This is where we’ll reiterate once more - even in our 20’s and 30’s, there is only a 20% chance any given month that a pregnancy will occur and that’s if we have unprotected sex within our window of ovulation.
Regardless of the timeline, the process of trying to conceive can - at best - be a fun and exploratory time where couples can connect more deeply, face and embrace vulnerabilities around family building, practice healthy habits, and build foundational communication and encouragement skills that will serve into the much larger journey of parenthood.
Dr. Julie Bindeman graduated from George Washington University and is the co-owner of Integrative Therapy of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland. Her specialty is in the field of Reproductive Psychology, where she actively writes, lectures, and presents. She is an approved consultant in EMDR through EMDRIA. She has served on several committees within the Mental Health Professional Group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and was elected in 2021 to its Executive Committee. She served as a former Board Member of the Maryland Psychological Association for over 10 years. Dr. Bindeman is a member of multiple organizations focused on Maternal and Reproductive Mental Health and was appointed by the Governor of Maryland to serve on its Maternal Mental Health Task Force. She was recently awarded the Karl Heiser Award for her legislative efforts on behalf of psychology. Dr. Bindeman has published several chapters and articles pertaining to Reproductive Psychology.