The most important thing to know is that having anxiety does not stop you from being able to get pregnant. Many women think if they are anxious this will stop them from having a baby. There is enough research now to say this is not the case.

Anxious feelings about fertility are common and likely to be related to distress at not having any control over getting pregnant, that others have high expectations of you, including sometimes your partner, and that your body is failing somehow and you fear there might be something really wrong and you will never be able to have a baby.

Is this you?

LEARN Consider the different stories and pictures below, listen to a podcast or check out the short video.

THINK Then, to understand more about what causes anxiety you can explore the different social, psychological and physical things that can increase anxiety. In this section you will find questions to ask yourself about each cause to see if it affects you.

DO Once you have explored the causes of anxiety then it is time to do something. Go to the ‘Toolkit’ to find a range of different tools to help yourself try and reduce anxiety.

View the causes of Anxiety for Fertility

Do you relate to these?


From friends
From parents
From in-laws
From grandparents
From aunties
From uncles
From cousins
From neighbours
From the grocer
From the hairdresser
From ‘helpful’ women at work
From ‘helpful’ men at work
From society
From the world
From myself

It’s my fault and if I don’t get this anxiety under control I will never get pregnant! 

"I have struggled and toiled for this child. I have longed and waited. I have cried and prayed. I have endured and planned over and over again."

"I am hurt and humiliated beyond endurance, seeing the wheat ripening, the fountains never ceasing to give water, the sheep bearing hundreds of lambs, the she-dogs, until it seems the whole country rises to show me its tender sleeping young, while I feel two hammer-blows here instead of the mouth of my child."
Frederico Garcia Lorca

Causes of anxiety for Fertility

What happens

Some personalities are more prone to anxiety. If you are a perfectionist or someone who focusses on goals or detail, then the struggle to become pregnant may challenge your ability to cope and manage anxious feelings. If you like control, then not being able to get pregnant can signal you have little control over your life. Or if you cope by trying to avoid confronting situations, having difficulty getting pregnant may cause you to be anxious.

Questions to ask yourself

Am I an anxious person?

How much do I like things to be perfect?

How much do I like to have control over my life?

How do I usually manage difficult situations?

What happens

Frightening or anxious thoughts can cause anxious feelings. It can be a thought that you don’t even notice, but it sets off a cycle of fear. You might have an unhelpful thought such as thinking something bad is about to happen, or you blame yourself when something goes wrong and say “I’m hopeless”. These thoughts are faulty and inaccurate but are difficult to challenge - you start to experience physical symptoms of anxiety such as a racing heart and fast breathing and all you want to do is run away.

Questions to ask yourself

When I feel anxious what are the kinds of thoughts that I can remember having?

Are these thoughts unhelpful or faulty?

For example, do I:

  • have only negative thoughts?
  • jump to the wrong conclusions?
  • use words like “should” or “can't”?
  • think something really bad is about to happen?

What is the evidence to support my thoughts?

What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is this?

What happens

You can feel judged when a pregnancy is not happening even though you know you are doing everything you can. People may tell you - “You are still young”, “There is still time”, “You are so lucky you don’t have to get up in the night”. While they may be trying to make you feel better, they can add to the anxiety you feel about whether you will become a mother.

Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I about what others think of me?

How anxious am I might be doing the wrong things?

Do I feel like others think I am a failure because I am not pregnant yet?

What happens

Many women have a negative body image. If you have a strong focus on your appearance and weight and then experience difficulties with fertility, you may have anxious thoughts and feelings about how your body is letting you down.

If you base a lot of your self-worth on looking and feeling young and well, then it can cause anxiety to discover your body is not behaving and you are struggling to get pregnant.

Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I about whether my body is failing me?

How do I feel about how fertility treatment affects my body?

How anxious am I about my appearance and weight?

What happens

If you experienced abuse, neglect or harm growing up or violence in your close relationships this can cause you to be vulnerable to worry. Any kind of abuse such as emotional, mental or physical can cause you to be anxious about dangerous or risky situations in different ways than others who have not had these experiences. You may react more strongly to criticism, be anxious that others do not like or value you and that your thoughts or feelings are not important.

Questions to ask yourself

Have I been exposed to violence:

  • as a child?
  • from people close to me?

Have I felt:

  • neglected?
  • threatened?
  • that I might be harmed at any time during my life?

Has maltreatment or violence caused me to be more anxious?

What happens

Having roles that give you meaning are important to your mental and emotional health and right now you want the role of ‘mother’ and it is not happening. Thinking you may never fulfil this role can be a distressing thought that saps your confidence and makes you anxious.

Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I about my identity if I cannot be a ‘mother’?

What other roles do I have that give me my identity?

Social causes →
What happens

Problems with your family can include lots of things. It might be your relationship with your partner has changed with the stress of trying for a family – that all you both focus on is getting pregnant, you are unhappy and don’t feel as connected as you used to be. Other family members may be pregnant, or expect you to be pregnant by now. Parents may be putting pressure on you to make them grandparents. Everyone has their own agenda and their expectations cause you anxiety and you can be distressed you won’t be able to deliver what they or you want.

Questions to ask yourself

Are there family problems that cause me to be anxious?

Have there been changes to my family that I am anxious about? If so, what are these changes?

How much has my relationship changed with my:

  • Partner?
  • Parents?
  • Other family members like sisters or brothers, cousins…?

Do family expectations cause me distress?

What happens

When you are trying to get pregnant, your relationship with your friends can change depending on what stage they are at in their lives. Some friends will understand what you are going through and be a support, and some will mean well but say all the wrong things. You can feel like you don’t know how to relate to them or talk to them anymore which is distressing.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I feel accepted by my friends?

Who accepts or does not accept me?

Which of my friends understand where I am at?

Are my friends at the same or a different stage in their lives to me?

Do my friends mean well but offer unhelpful advice?

What happens

Fertility problems can be a lonely, secret time. You don’t tend to talk about your struggles to outsiders and often you and your partner are going through all this on your own. Anxious feelings can increase when you feel alone and unsupported.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I have friends, family or people I trust who can be there for me?

Who do I have that I can turn to if I need them to support me?

Do I feel alone in this struggle?

What happens

You might be anxious about the changes happening in your life - will you ever have a healthy baby? - will you get to be a mother? – will this month be the one?

If you are dealing with other stressful life events at the same time, such as serious illness or the death of someone you love, then your anxiety levels can be very high. You can have an increased sense that bad things happen because you have your own struggles and you fear something bad might happen like your partner may leave you and find someone else to have children with.

This kind of stress can cause anxiety but it does not cause infertility.

Questions to ask yourself

How do I feel about change?

Have I experienced any stressful or difficult events recently?

How anxious am I about something else bad happening?

What happens

If you need to have IVF or further assistance like pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) the costs can really mount up. This can come at a time when you have a lot of other expenses - you may be just starting out as a couple and trying to get ahead, or now may not be the ideal time to be having a baby because your finances or jobs are unstable but you are running out of time. Anxiety about money and your situation can become quite overwhelming.

Questions to ask yourself

Are our expenses manageable?

How anxious am I about money?

Do we need one income or two incomes?

Will we be able to afford the costs of fertility treatment if we need it?

Community causes →
What happens

The community in which you live is important to your mental health. Feeling safe, that there are places to go, ways to get there and things to do can help you to feel connected to your community and that you belong somewhere. Not having a community that you feel safe in or that you belong to can cause distress about where you live. The health services in your community can be especially important at this time as local and easy access can help allay fear and anxiety.

Questions to ask yourself

How do I feel about the community where I live?

How safe do I feel in my community?

How connected do I feel and do I feel that I belong in my community?

Are there health services I can turn to in my community? If so, what are they?

What happens

Work can provide a source of anxiety particularly when you are also trying to get pregnant and feel unsure about what the future holds. You can be anxious about:

  • How safe and secure you feel in your job especially if you need to take time off for tests and procedures.
  • How important your job is to your finances and sense of self, balanced with your desire to be a mother.
  • How demanding it is of your time and energy and whether this affects your ability to get pregnant.
Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I about my work?

How secure do I feel in my job?

How supported so I feel by my boss and work place to take the time I need to have doctor’s appointments and tests?

Do I feel exhausted by my job?

Physical causes →
What happens

If you are using fertility drugs they can affect your hormones and hormonal ups and downs can cause mood swings making you more prone to anxiety.

Questions to ask yourself

Could changing hormones be making me more anxious?

Have fertility treatments made my hormones and my moods more unpredictable?

What happens

Your focus in an IVF cycle may be on drugs, hormones, tests and counting the days. All of this can tip from focus to anxious. Just before ovum pick-up and at embryo transfer are when you are most likely to feel anxious.

Questions to ask yourself

What stage of IVF am I up to?

How is the IVF process affecting my anxiety levels?

What happens

If you have a condition like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis you may already be anxious about your body and whether you can become pregnant or you may be anxious you have an illness you don’t know about which is stopping a pregnancy.

Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I that illness has affected my ability to get pregnant?

How anxious am I that illness has affected my health and my body?

What happens

If you have previously conceived but had complications or a miscarriage, then you are likely to feel anxious and fearful that these things might happen again or that you may not be able to conceive again.

Questions to ask yourself

Have I had previous problems in a pregnancy that now make me more anxious?

What happens

Women in 21st century Australian society wait longer to have babies than previous generations and sometimes other countries, yet, being older reduces your chances of getting pregnant. The combination of your expectations about the life you want, your way of life, your opportunities to date and whether you have left it too late to have a baby are often a recipe for anxious thoughts.

Questions to ask yourself

How anxious am I about my age and my ability to get pregnant?

What happens

Heavy use of alcohol and/or drugs may be a part of the way you live and cope but not only do they interfere with conception but their affects can also cause higher levels of anxiety.

Questions to ask yourself

Am I anxious about how much alcohol I drink or about any drugs I might take?

What happens

If your bed has become a focus for conception issues rather than sleep, rest and sex, then you may well be finding it more difficult to sleep. Being tired affects your ability to think clearly making it easier to be anxious. Everything seems more awful and frightening when you have had little sleep.

Questions to ask yourself

How much sleep do I get per night?

Is my ability to sleep affected by anxiety about whether I will ever be able to have a baby?

What happens

A diet with lots of sugary fatty foods combined with too little exercise can = more negative moods which can = more anxious thoughts and feelings.

Questions to ask yourself

Do I generally eat a range of healthy foods or do I consume too many fatty or sugary foods?

Do I have the time or energy to eat a healthy diet?

Do I exercise at least 3-4 times per week for more than 30 minutes?

Created on 18/08/2013 | Updated on 01/12/2015
References for this page

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About Jean Hailes

Jean Hailes is Australia’s leading and most trusted women’s health organisation. We believe in physical and emotional health and wellbeing in all its dimensions for all women in Australia throughout their lives.

We offer a range of free resources and easy to understand information on women’s health and wellbeing. Appointments at our specialist women’s health clinics can be made in person (East Melbourne and Clayton, VIC) or across Australia via our Telehealth consultation service. www.jeanhailes.org.au

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