How To Mindfully Approach Sex When Trying For A Baby
When my fiancé and I began talking about having a baby, I didn’t stray far from my type-A roots.
Six months before we decided we’d even start trying, I filled my bathroom drawer with ovulation predictor kits, and my phone screen was dotted with cycle tracking apps. After tracking for several months, convinced that doing the work in advance would enable a smooth entry into the world of trying to conceive (TTC), I realized the reverse might be true.
Obsessively peeing on sticks and taking my temperature immediately upon opening my eyes each morning? We weren’t even trying for a baby, and every unexpected temperature variation or undetected luteinizing hormone spike convinced me of worst-case scenarios ahead. I also began fearing how I was thinking about sex—already plotting dates on a calendar instead of considering its importance in my relationship.
Last month, ahead of actually trying, I threw away the remaining detritus of my attempted fertility hacking scheme and took a deep breath. I try to approach the rest of my life with mindfulness and intention, and I knew it would serve me better to approach TTC the same way. But even with tracking apps deleted, I wasn’t quite able to shake the planner in me. So I consulted UK-based psychotherapist Julia Hawkins for advice. Here’s what she had to say about mindfully approaching sex when trying for a baby, and staying in that mindful headspace throughout the uncertain TTC process.
Notice when you’re getting stuck in a negative feedback loop.
According to Hawkins, when having sex with the goal of making a baby, it’s easy to create a negative feedback loop. Any felt distance between partners “decreases desire, increasing the stress and pressure on having sex, further waning its appeal, leading to increasing the distance.” She reminds us that TTC is a stressful process, but awareness is the first step in preventing us from getting stuck in this loop with our partner.
“Carving out time to have an honest and open conversation with each other can help break this cycle, as it brings the attention back to the process by allowing you to pause and reflect on your own and the other’s experience of TTC so far,” she says.
Use guiding questions to have constructive conversations with your partner.
When approaching these conversations, Hawkins reminds us that even though partners are going through the same motions, everyone’s experiences are different. It’s important to be honest and listen without judgment, interruption, or negation of our partner’s experiences. She also suggests avoiding conversations when you may be speaking from a place of stress or anxiety.
Some reflection questions Hawkins shares that may be helpful before approaching a conversation with your partner include: “How does my partner’s experience differ from mine? What am I going through, and how does it impact me? How does my experience impact my partner and vice versa? What are we both going through?” She says, “This mental empathy matrix can leave you feeling more open and understanding before you walk into the conversation.”
Personally, because I’m the one in the relationship who (at least at this point!) has more emotions on the topic, I try to start conversations with something like, “I’ve had a thought about XYZ TTC topic, is now a good time to chat about it?” When I launch into it without warning, it can catch my partner off guard, and then I get upset he hasn’t been reading my mind—and we all know how that goes.
Reignite the spark after reconnecting.
Hawkins paraphrases psychotherapist Esther Perel, saying, “intimacy wants knowing, and desire wants mystery. However, the knowing of intimacy leaves little room for the mystery of desire!” She continues, “just as we carved out space to talk and get closer, we create situations for mystique.”
To reignite the sense of mystique that keeps sex fresh and fun for many couples, Hawkins suggests the following:
If you’ve been planning sex around ovulation, consider not telling your partner exactly when you’re ovulating. Instead, focus on creating a night of play.
Sext your partner throughout the day to build anticipation for sex.
Ask your partner to prepare a date night, so the pressure is off you to create a sexy environment.
Change the venue and time of sex! Try sex on the sofa or get a hotel room for a night or weekend.
These recommendations can help us to bring the attention back to the process rather than the function of sex.
Try to maintain your intentional mindset, even after your fertile window.
Even if you’ve managed all the above, there’s one more hurdle to overcome in every TTC process: the two-week waiting period before your period or positive pregnancy test.
While Hawkins recommends maintaining a bit of mystery while approaching sex in your fertile period, the opposite is true while you wait. She says, “Given that we don’t like the unknowns, create a consistent routine for yourself that is known. The predictability of the routine will give you a sense of control at a time when you feel you have none.” But of course, life happens (it is 2020, after all), so she recommends not having a routine so rigid that any unexpected setbacks will throw you completely off-kilter.
Consider a therapist or support group.
The TTC process can certainly become overwhelming, and Hawkins suggests searching “TTC” on Facebook and Instagram for available support groups if you feel like it may help to chat with others going through the experience. She also advises seeking a therapist if you want professional support.
“And finally,” she says, “this will look different to everyone. What you need will be different to your partner, and different to your friend who is also TTC. Support each other’s ways of coping—do not pass judgment. This is personal to each one of us.”
When I first started this journey, I was so adamant about taking as much of the guesswork out of TTC. I’d heard from friends and family members for whom the process of creating a baby took longer than expected. But while this made me nervous enough to buy half a shelf of products from the drugstore, it really should do the opposite. Think of all the couples who have been through this process and the vulnerable conversations—and sometimes less-than-perfect sex—that have created the humans we see all around us.
Megan Lierley is a writer and editor based in Northern California. She currently leads content for Cora, the women’s wellness company. On any given day, there’s a good chance she’s talking tampons, practicing yoga, writing her weekly culture and current events newsletter, reading a historical fiction novel, or eating a burrito in Dolores Park.