One of the first things I will ask a patient in our first session is “What percent of your time would you estimate you spend thinking about your fertility journey?” This probably won’t come as a shock to you, but most people answer 100% or higher. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in women’s reproductive health, one of the goals I always have for my patients is to help them get those thoughts down from an all-consuming 110% to a more manageable 10%.

At the same time, I know it would be unrealistic for me to tell my patients that I’m going to help them not think about or stress over trying to conceive. I wish that I had a magic pill to make that happen, but I don’t. Nobody does. What I can help with, however, is giving them the proper tools so they can help themselves.

woman looking out at mountainous landscape

For many people, struggling to conceive may be the first time in their life they have faced a major challenge. Many of my patients tell me that they sailed through life before this: they were accepted to their first-choice college, got a great job, found the right partner, got married, and then life threw an obstacle in their way, infertility. If this describes you, give yourself grace. No one can be expected to navigate something so incredibly stressful without the proper tools. Infertility can make a person feel helpless and out of control. It is only natural for it to dominate your thoughts.   

My job is to help you breathe. In fact, stop right now and take a deep breath. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Inhale and count to ten. Exhale slowly. That small exercise should have made you feel better. Breathing is really important in helping us to feel in control and centered. Definitely add that to your daily “to-do” list!

Adding to your frustration might be the fact that you feel like you aren’t getting validated. You may feel as though you are doing everything that is asked of you, following all of the correct protocols, and making all of the necessary lifestyle changes, and you aren’t getting that A+ or gold star at the end. That can be incredibly disheartening. So many of us are taught to believe that if we work hard, we get a return on our investment, so to speak. But when you’re going through fertility treatments, you can do everything the doctor tells you to do, dot all of your i’s and cross all of your t’s, and you may still feel as though you are scrambling. It’s like banging on someone’s door that you know is home, and they still won’t answer just because. It’s maddening!  

Just like how everything else in your life takes up a piece of your life, your fertility journey should also take up a piece. It should be a sliver, not the entire pie. Draw out a pie chart of your life right now. What fills up the circle? Your chart may be filled with pieces such as your job, your partner, friends, and extracurricular activities. Trying to conceive should also be part of your pie, but we want to help you get it down to a piece so that you still have room for all of the other things that make you feel whole and human.  

Coping Mechanisms

Pie Chart Your Life

The pie chart exercise mentioned above is a great place to start. Draw out your own pie chart and see what makes up the pieces of your pie. This may lead to some awakening, and you may realize that you want to work on expanding your extracurricular activities or friendships because you have let them go in the process of trying to conceive. Use this activity to see what percent of your energy you are giving to each part of your life. Figure out how much you are giving right now to your fertility journey, and see if you are able to come up with some practical ways to dial it back.

neon "breathe" sign on an ivy wall

Set a Timer

Try the “timer” rule to help with controlling your consuming thoughts. Set a timer for 5 minutes, and let yourself feel all of your feelings. Then, distract yourself for an hour: read a book, watch TV, or cook a fun recipe. The goal is to eventually increase this time of distraction into longer stretches to let your mind rest from the stress of infertility.

Join a Fertility Support Group

Schedule dates to talk with your support system about your journey. These scheduled times should be where you can allow yourself to feel your feelings, honor, and validate them. Put these dates and times in your calendar. If you don’t have an “appointment” to talk about it, tell yourself this isn’t the time, and try and distract yourself with something else.

Journal Your Feelings

Journaling is also important. You want to make sure you are allowing yourself to feel your feelings and express them. If you are feeling overwhelmed and consumed with your thoughts, sit down and write them out; see where it takes you. 

More “proactive” journaling can also be helpful. Make a list of everything you have done on your journey to conceive so far and everything you are still doing. Make sure you include ways you are caring for yourself, your mind, body, and soul. Remember that everything is a piece of the pie that will lead you to your ultimate goal.

When put into practice, these tools should help you take your fertility thoughts down from 110% to 10%. Practicing mindfulness, letting other people hold space for your feelings, seeing a good therapist, reframing your thoughts, and working on your plans with your medical team should all help you to feel more in control and more validated on your journey which will, in turn, help those all-consuming thoughts go from a loud roar to a dull hum. 

If you are feeling frustrated, don’t get discouraged. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Go easy on yourself, and trust the process. If you are reading this, you have already started trying to take back control, and that is the first and most difficult step!

Be the expert in you.

Take the Quiz

calm woman eyes closed wind in her hair

I often share this story with patients, and I myself always think about it when I am having a hard time just letting things “be”:

“Once Buddha was walking from one town to another with a few of his disciples. While they were traveling, they happened to pass a lake. As Buddha was thirsty, he told one of his disciples to get some water from the lake.

The disciple gladly obliged and walked up to the lake. When he reached it, he noticed that a few people were washing their clothes in the lake, and right at that moment, a bullock cart was crossing through the lake. As a result, the water had become muddy and foul. The disciple couldn’t possibly take the dirty water to Buddha. So he returned to Buddha and told him the water was dirty and not fit to drink.

A half-hour later, Buddha again told the disciple to get water from the same lake. The disciple, though perplexed, obediently agreed and walked up to the lake. This time, however, the disciple noticed that the water was crystal clear. The mud had settled down and the water was fit to drink. So he collected some water in a pot and took it to Buddha. Buddha looked at the pot of water and smiled.

He said, “See what you did to make the water clean? You did nothing. You just let it be. The mud settled on its own and you got pure water. Your mind is exactly like that. When it is disturbed, just let it be. Give it some time. It will settle down on its own. You don’t have to put any effort to calm your mind. It will happen. It’s effortless.”

I often draw upon this story when I need to remind myself to be patient and trust that, over time, things will settle into the way they are meant to be.

Rena Gower, LCSW, is a New York-based clinician who started her work in the fertility space after her own struggle to conceive. She approaches her clients from a strengths perspective and helps them work to find the resilience and courage to carry on through the fertility journey. She fully believes that infertility sucks, but you aren't alone and we are stronger together. For more information, head to or @renamgfertility.