Aha! The Origins of “Just Relax”

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You may recall me mentioning a book called Infertility Around the Globe: New Thinking on Childlessness, Gender and Reproductive Technologies.
While it’s not exactly light reading (though academic tomes rarely
are), it contains some intriguing research and ideas — some true gems.
9780520231375

In particular, I believe I’ve stumbled across a rosetta stone of sorts — can I get a drum roll, please?

Ladies and Gentleman …

The origins of “just relax”:

“…[the]
psychodynamic perspective, in which unconscious drives and unresolved
psychological problems generate infertility, was prominent in Western
psychological and medical thinking after World War II. For example, the
prominent gynecologist Kroger (1963) stated that hidden anxieties …
are the essential causes of infertility and that resolving these
problems would lead to pregnancy.”

Bollocks! Happily my
sentiment was echoed by the authors of this book who argued that the
lack of biological understanding and environmental influences in the early days led many doctors to
assume that infertility was self-inflicted by women who were stressed
out. Of course they were stressed out, you paternalistic morons of
earlier centuries, the women couldn’t conceive!

Newsflash: Not getting knocked up after one does what one learned from the “birds and bees talk” has a tendency to get one a little wound up.

It
appears the devotees of Freud and others — who assumed psychoanalysis
could get to the root of all ills — helped perpetuate “just relax” and
its variants. These pat, dismissive phrases, in turn, wormed their way
into conventional wisdom. Now we no longer need an arm-patched,
pipe-smoking, bespectacled man to led us to think it’s all in our heads,
we can rely on neighbors, colleagues and the local PTA president to
fulfill that irritating role.

Fortunately, Marcia Inhorn and her fellow researcher/authors are helping to debunk these and other myths associated with infertility.

fertilityauthority_logoAnd
if you’re looking for more in the way of trustworthy information vetted
by reproductive endocrinologists and other experts, a wonderful new site that I’m now associated with, Fertility Authority, formally launched yesterday. You can find my first Barren Not Beaten post here.

16 comments

  • Hi there, I just found your blog and wondered if you are familiar with the work of Weston A. Price? If so, I’m curious what you think of the idea of the Standard American Diet of our parents and grandparents playing a role in fertility.

  • Hi Pamela,

    Well, considering I don’t know a single person (myself included) who is relaxed about anything . . .!

    Thanks for doing your research here and for telling your readers about our new site, http://www.fertilityauthority.com. One of FA’s goals is to empower women with the accurate info they need to make the best decisions concerning their fertility. Pamela, it’s great to have you as one of our premier bloggers! I hope your readers will stop by and help spread the word about this new resource. If you have suggestions for the site, feel free to email me (laurie@fertilityauthority.com).

    Best,
    Laurie
    Executive Editor
    FertilityAuthority.com

    • lostintaipei

      Funny timing reading this one… My ex-BFF w/ a psych degree from Berkeley who once told me to “just relax” has just given birth to her first baby… via IVF#2. It took all the grace I could muster to not ask her, “How did all that just relaxing turn out for you?”

  • Well, that is quite interesting. Given that we still know so little about how viable pregnancies happen or not happen, it is no surprise the myth persists.

  • Lynn

    Also, the “just relax” theory is propelled by the many women who get pregnant when they are “on a break”, on vacation, or had given up trying. While this sounds hopeful, I just don’t think it’s true! Were these women NOT thinking about having a baby on vacation? …and how do you NOT think about trying even when you are “on a break”.

    I closed the trying to conceive door a few months ago – yet each month I STILL think “maybe it will happen.” I don’t know yet how to turn those feelings completely off. (However, at 44, I am sure Mother Nature will turn it off soon enough for me!)
    One thing is clear… you can do EVERYTHING right – and if it’s not meant to be – it’s not meant to be. Easy to say – yet so hard to accept.

  • The “just relax” thing is only second in irritation factor to “go on holiday – it always happens on holiday”. It doesn’t. And relaxing doesn’t always work. Don’t these people get it?

  • MLO

    Ah yes, the patriarchal nonsense called psychotherapy is responsible. Why am I not surprised ::snort::

    Sorry, but I think I’ve been in my cranky phase of late. It just seems that every time I turn around misinformation wins…

  • lostintaipei

    I checked out the beta for Fertility Authority and this looks like a great, accessible resource for all of us in the “Silent Sorority” 😉 I’m looking forward to using it and spreading the word.

    Keep up the great work.

  • my mom shared her history with me, explaining that it took her several years as a young bride in the 60s to get pregnant, and then several miscarriages before #2 and #3 (me). I was astounded to hear that her MD told her to “just relax” and she’d be fine. nice medical opinion, no?

  • So maybe we all should just sleep with our fathers. You know, to address the REAL conflict. Damn psychotherapy…

    This really is an interesting book. Thanks for recommending it. “The Empty Cradle” also explains the origins of the “adopt and you’ll get pregnant” myth. Not that anyone in the non-IF world cares when I try to explain this…. *sigh* Thanks for doing your part to inform the fertile world!

  • Love the history lesson! Once we understand that these things appear and evolve over time, it somehow puts them in their place. They are memes, that have gotten lodged in the grooves of unthinking minds.

  • Great detective work, Sherlock!! Isn’t it awful how these myths get perpetuated?

  • Great post. Very interesting. I saw Alexis Stewart on Oprah last year and I got the impression that she wanted to have a child even though she was not married. It showed her administering the shots herself, I believe she said it was very easy. She talked about how much money she had spent on IVF. I didn’t think her segment on the show gave the viewers a real look at ART and IF. I was angry at how the show turned out because I was really hoping Oprah would shed light on the crisis of IF.
    Now I see she is on this website. I’m confused as to what her situation is.

  • Bea

    Oh gosh. Medicine as it relates to women just went through the whackiest of phases for a while there, didn’t it? Perhaps we could start to get over the whole thing, as quickly as possible, please.

    Good work to the authors and congrats about the new writing position!

    Bea

  • Tania

    Great post!
    I just have my first BFP, after more than 2 years ttc, after a failed IUI, after a surgical remove of one of the tubes (with hydrosalpinx), and what I didn’t done was relax!!! It cost me and my husband V E R Y H A R D W O R K, lots of money in OPK, having sex when neither me or he are in the mood, just because one stick tells me that I’m ovulating!! Someone tell me please where the relax thing was??? I don’t know, and didn’t work for me… And I will beat the first person who came to me and tell me “I told you, just relax, see that I was right!”