Many gynecologists advise young patients with unexplained infertility that the reason they are having trouble getting pregnant is because they are too “stressed-out." This seems to occur frequently when the patient is a young career woman and the doctor is more than 45 years old.
Their standard advice is: just relax, take a holiday, and you’ll get pregnant!
These are well-meaning doctors, and the purpose of their advice is actually to reassure the patient that everything is fine, and they have a good chance of getting pregnant without any medical help.
However, sometimes this advice backfires, because what the patient hears is that it’s her fault that she’s not getting pregnant, because she is too tense. Husbands can be quick to agree with this “medical assessment," as can moms and mothers-in-law.
However well meant, this advice is actually a form of victim blaming. It’s never the stress that causes the infertility; it's the infertility that causes the stress! "Just relax" is one of the many inappropriate comments people receive when they are having trouble getting pregnant.
Why do doctors, of all people, continue perpetuating such harmful myths? For one thing, "you're stressed out" is an easy explanation to give when all of the medical tests required to diagnose infertility appear normal. Rather than admit to the patient a diagnosis of unexplained infertility—which just means that medical science has a lot of shortcomings and does not have all the answers—often doctors would rather offer a “waste-paper basket” label of stress, because it is convenient for them to do so.
These doctors don't realize the inadvertent harm they are doing by labeling infertility as stress-related. As mentioned above, such a label can make the patient feel unduly blamed. Also, after “relaxing and trying for another 6 months,” she may just get fed up and move on to another doctor who can offer a more concrete and useful suggestion. She is thus “lost to follow up,” in the mind of the original doctor.
However, the ones who do conceive (not because of the doctor’s advice, but in spite of it) happily go back to the doctor with a box of chocolates! This reinforces the doctor’s misconception that getting patients to relax helps them to get pregnant.
Rather than attributing infertility to stress, good doctors explain to patients that if all the test results are normal, then sometimes continuing to try in the bedroom can result in a pregnancy, if they are willing to be patient (especially when the woman is young and they have not been trying to have a baby for too long). “Relaxing” does not affect the outcome!
Dr. Aniruddha Malpani is an IVF specialist with a brilliant career with numerous awards, educational distinctions and prizes. Dr. Malpani completed his postgraduate degree in Gynecology from the University of Bombay in 1986. He received further training in IVF from UCSF, San Francisco, and U.S.A. As a medical student, he studied at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Yale. He practices in Mumbai, India along with his wife Anjali. He can be contacted at email@example.com, or learn more at http://www.drmalpani.com.