Not So Helpful Advice: Just Relax

by Brandi Lytle
Photo of a woman covering her mouth with her sweater on "Not So Helpful Advice: Just Relax" on Not So Mommy..., a childless blog

Trigger Warning:  Mention of “p” announcement

There are several not so helpful pieces of advice that well-meaning people give the childless.  Depending on the person and where they are on their journey, some sting worse than others.  For me personally, the advice that broke my heart more than any other while we were battling infertility was just relax.  Another way of saying this, “Just stop trying (or worrying), and it will happen.”

Oh, how those words caused me deep, intense pain…

Why is Just Relax not so helpful?

Those outside the childless not by choice community may wonder why what seems to be such an innocent suggestion ranks at the top of the cruelest words spoken to someone who desperately wants a child but just can’t seem to have one…

To them, I say this…  The reason those two words—just relax—are so painful is because you are blaming the childless for not being able to have a kid.  You are telling them that they are doing something wrong.  For the infertile, like me, you are saying that the woman’s worry is causing her to create such a hostile environment that no baby wants to live there.  You have dismissed the scientific fact that many childless were diagnosed with infertility and treatments failed.

To them, I ask…  How was I supposed to just relax and stop worrying when (because I have endometriosis and poorer quality eggs than I should for my age), my infertility specialist recommended that I monitor my ovulation?  This means, I woke up every morning to pee on a stick so that I would know whether today was the day my hubby and I should try to make a baby.  Because I knew our chances were worse than others, I thought about everything I ate, everything I drank, everything I did…  I didn’t eat chili dogs or have a drink when we toured Budweiser or get in a hot tub or enjoy any rides when we took our niece on her special days for fear that I might hurt our chances of becoming pregnant.

But you tell me to just relax.  So, did the careful monitoring and healthy habits cause me to worry too much?  And so, I worry that I was worrying too much, which caused me to worry even more…

Personal Experiences with Just Relax

During our infertility battle, I remember two specific instances when the not so helpful advice of just relax caused a profound ache in my heart…

The psychic said…

On one such occasion, someone who knew us very well went to a psychic and asked the reader of the stars if Dane and I were going to have a baby.  The psychic (professional that she was) countered with her own question, asking “What do you think?”  The person—someone who knew all the details about our struggle—responded, “I think they’ll have a baby.  I think Brandi is just too worried about it.”  The psychic agreed and said Dane and I would indeed have a child—a girl, if I remember correctly.

Even now—many years later—I have tears in my eyes as I try to manage the emotions that this memory evokes.  “I think Brandi is just too worried about it.”  I was heartbroken that this person dismissed our infertility issues and blamed me for the fact that we weren’t getting pregnant.  I’m not sure how I responded when I initially heard this, but I know that I didn’t share that this news crushed me…

She stopped trying and…

On another occasion, a family member called to give me the “big news.”  They were pregnant.  Initially, her concern about my feelings caused my happiness for them to outweigh the ache that Dane and I couldn’t seem to do this…  My smile quickly faded, however, as she went on to explain, “You know, I just stopped worrying about it.  And then, I got pregnant!”

They had only been trying a few months—less than a year.  No infertility issues.  Just didn’t get it on the first try.  But to her, “relaxing” was what helped seal the deal.  I hung up the phone, feeling dejected and wondering how the heck I could figure out this “just relax” method so that I, too, could get pregnant…

No amount of relaxing is going to help…

I now realize that no amount of relaxing is going to help my husband and me get pregnant.  We have not used birth control in 15 years.  I haven’t charted my ovulation in over 5 years.  We’ve accepted being childless and honestly, we don’t even think about getting pregnant.  And you know what, none of that was the magic “cure” to our infertility.

And the petty part of me wants to say, “See!  It wasn’t my fault!”  Because I know that I am a worrier.  I’m a high-strung individual, passionate, emotional, cry easily, wear my heart on my sleeve person.  But that is not the reason we couldn’t get pregnant.

To the childless not by choice…

And it’s not the reason you are childless not by choice either.  Because even if infertility isn’t the culprit of your CNBC status, there’s a distinct chance you’ve still heard the not so helpful advice, “Just relax,” with regards to your childless status…

Just relax and you’ll find a husband.

Just stop worrying and that situation will change.

Just…  Just…  Just…

To the childless not by choice, I don’t want you to ever think that you did something to cause your childlessness.  Please, do not place any blame on yourself that you didn’t just…

To those trying to support us…

And to those outside our tribe, count yourself fortunate that you were able to get pregnant and have the littles your heart desired.  We are happy for you, as we truly don’t want anyone to feel the heartache that we have felt…  The pain that comes with wanting a child so desperately and yet not being able to have one…

As you try to support us…  And we do greatly appreciate your love…  Let me give you a bit of advice…  Whatever you do, just don’t say, “Just relax.”

If you’re still not convinced about why this piece of advice is not so helpful, think about something you can’t change.  Something you’ve tried desperately to do, but just can’t seem to make happen.  Finding a new job?  Selling your home?  Growing the perfect garden?  Well, what if I said, “Just relax.  Stop worrying, and it will happen.”  Helpful?  Not so, huh?

So, please, please, do not tell the childless to just relax.  Because it is just not so helpful…


Next Wednesday, 8 August, a CNBC story will be shared. 

The “Not So Helpful” Series will continue on Wed, 15 August.

In case you missed it, read “Not So Helpful: Just Adopt” here…

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Featured Photo:  Remy_Loz on

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Jane Pritchard August 8, 2018 - 4:38 am

Brandi – thank you so much for this series – its so helpful to see in black and white why I felt so disregarded for all those years and why I backed away from so many friends. I felt so guilty for so many years and now I don’t – I didn’t have the strength to speak up (I also believed it was my fault) and years later, I know it was the right thing. Even when you can spend the time and energy to educate people – they quickly forget or move on. It reminds me of a few other not so helpful comments – a friend once said “i just know one day you’ll walk through the door and tell me you’re pregnant” (this was just prior to embarking on IVF). I never visited again – i thought I would go when I was pregnant! 6 failed cycles over 15 years followed. During this time, I bumped into her husband and all he said to me was how much I had hurt her!

Brandi Lytle August 8, 2018 - 8:46 am

Jane, I’m so sorry for your struggles and that you had to deal with such insensitive comments and people! I am glad that you were strong enough to step away from those that caused you pain, as we must protect our hearts. I’m also grateful that you are a part of this community (despite the circumstances that brought you here). Thank you for sharing part of your story with us!

Nicci Fletcher August 3, 2018 - 12:01 pm

Hi Brandi you have such a lovely way of imparting your wise words. Whilst Andrew and I were still trying we had a number of people suggest that we should relax or “stop trying so hard” because then we were bound to get pregnant. We also had the “two months after we decided to stop trying for a baby and get a dog we fell pregnant.” Neither versions were helpful and they all added to my worry rather than helped to alleviate it. . Today if anyone were to suggest that being less worried is the solution then I would remind them that hundreds of thousands of babies are conceived in the many war zones around the world. If stress (aka worry) was a cause of infertility that would not be the case. I know that being more relaxed will help: however, it will help in the sense that it will improve your general health rather than your fertility specifically. I only wish I’d thought of this response when I was in the midst of the barrage of “just relax” advice from all of the friends (and strangers) who all suddenly became endometriosis and fertility experts in the space of 30 seconds!

Brandi Lytle August 3, 2018 - 12:09 pm

Hi, Nicci! 🙂 Thank you for your kind compliment. It is lovely to hear that my words are “wise.” 🙂

I love your response that being less worried cannot possibly be the solution to becoming pregnant, as many people are able to do so under extremely stressful circumstances. Like you, I wish I would have thought of some of these responses when people said such things to us while we were trying. Perhaps someone in the midst of their struggle will read these blogs and comments, finding words that will help them speak up when others make such inconsiderate remarks.

I am so grateful to have found a tribe who gets it. Our community is amazing!

Sarah August 7, 2018 - 5:23 pm

Wanted to chime in on this, Nicci, as I’ve had some similar experiences. Early on like you I didn’t have my responses formed when I really needed them! It took me time to learn that there’s no evidence linking stress to infertility, and then to realize that women have been getting pregnant under extremely stressful circumstances since the beginning of human history. I’ve been able to fill people in on this truth on a few occasions and it seems to stop them in their tracks. If stress were a real deterrent to pregnancy, the world population would be quite a bit smaller than it is. Isn’t it funny how a little dose of common sense (when it finally has the space to come through amid the barrage you referred to!) can so easily bust these pervasive myths? Once our diagnosis came to light at the two and three year mark of our trying to conceive, it proved that high stress or low stress would not have swayed these road blocks one way or another. I’m sorry we all had to inform ourselves in the painful way we did, but glad we are armed to educate the general public when we can.

Sarah August 3, 2018 - 11:18 am

Hi Brandi –

Enjoyed stopping by your site and especially seeing your “Not So Helpful” series. Those of us walking this path deal with a constant stream of societally embedded myths and overt dismissals, that’s for sure!

I cringe at the psychic’s inappropriate words and inferences. I’m sorry you’ve had to go through that. I used psychics a couple of times during my TTC journey and I now refuse to engage with them for any reason. It ultimately turned out to be damaging and created a lot of pain. It wasn’t inferred I should relax, but one astrologer told me that getting pregnant was a matter of “believing that I can”. Good grief.

Brandi Lytle August 3, 2018 - 11:57 am

Hi, Sarah! Thank you for stopping by my blog and reading some of the “Not So Helpful” series. I do appreciate the support!

I, too, stay away from psychics and such at this point. In the midst of struggles, when searching for answers, it is easy to get swayed by them… Honestly, their advice is never helpful! I’m sorry you had to hear the hurtful words of “believe…” I truly hate it when people put the blame on the infertile for not being able to get pregnant. As if science has nothing to do with it!

I’m so glad to have found a tribe who truly gets it! What a blessing!

Jill August 1, 2018 - 2:36 pm

Hi Brandi! I’m really enjoying this series – thank you! Even though “just adopt” and “just relax” have not been said to me related to infertility, I’m learning great things by what you’re sharing.
The “just relax” reminded me of all the times friends, family, coworkers would chime to my singleness – stop trying so hard, do x, stop doing y, have you thought about online dating (really people? Do you think I don’t read, listen or consume any media to know that online dating is a thing?). These statements were – and still are when I hear it conversations – completely demeaning to single people. Add in that you’re facing what you believe to be the end of your fertility and you don’t have a suitable partner in sight – yeah, it’s pretty horrible.
I hope it’s OK that I share a similar blog post here that sums up my sentiments about singleness. It really helped me in recent years. It might be a helpful read for you single readers. These were written by Ali of the food blog, Gimme Some Oven. She did a series on what she learned as a single woman. All her posts on this topic are great!

Brandi Lytle August 1, 2018 - 4:47 pm

Hello, Jill! I’m so glad that you are enjoying this series!

And I’m so glad that you brought up singleness and the not so helpful comments people make regarding that. You made me smile with “Do you think I don’t . . . know that online dating is a thing?” That’s how I felt when people asked, “Have you thought about . . .?” Chances are, yes, I have.

Also, thank you for sharing Ali’s blog, as I, too, think it will be helpful to some Not So Mommy… readers. Being married, I know I have a different perspective, so I always appreciate resources which help shed light on other aspects of the infertility and childlessness.

I love that those in our tribe share a common bond, but are also uniquely ourselves. We each have a story to tell. Thank you for sharing part of yours!


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