How Reading Books About TTC Give Me Major Anxiety

A woman who is 'on the fence' about becoming a mom explains why she finally had to step away from the books—and turn inward instead.
fertility triggers

I’ve had writer’s block on my exploration into motherhood. I think this is mostly because I’ve completely lost interest in researching it.

This is not a new phenomenon for me; I find something that fascinates me, I dive deep, I am ravenous for information, and I can’t get enough until suddenly, out of nowhere, it is enough. In fact it’s more than enough, it is entirely too much, and all at once I am done. For a while anyway.

I read Matresence by Lucy Jones. Motherhood by Lisa Marchiano. Expecting Better and Cribsheet by Emily Oster. Getting Pregnant with PCOS by Clare Goodwin.

Countless studies cited in these books. Countless online forums related to these books. Books recommended by these books, then books recommended by those books.

You know when you discover a new song and become instantly obsessed? And you play it on repeat over and over and over, until one day you hear it and think, “ugh, not today, not again.

It’s like that. I have over-indulged.

But this time was different. This time, it wasn’t the usual culprit (boredom) that finally got to me. It was overwhelm. And I think the sudden decline in my interest started because I went a little rogue in my subject matter.

You see, my greatest motivation into researching parenthood is also the source of my hesitation: the circumstances surrounding motherhood itself.

What is demanded of you—of your body and your time and your finances.

What is expected of you—in society and your career and your relationships. What happens to you: your identity, your sense of self, your mental health, your core, your roots.

I can answer all of these questions in my life right now. I cannot answer them if I add a child to the equation. A classic fear of the unknown, though I fear plenty of the known too.

Like how the identity shift took so many of my friends by surprise, how lost and alone they felt for so long.

Like how my body will be a stranger to me for weeks, months, even years after carrying another child. Like the realities of the disappointing country I live in, full to the brim with impossible standards, conflicting expectations, and the glaring lack of federal and systemic support.

Like the swarm of politicians who create laws around my body in the name of their religion to disguise that they really do it in the name of power and control.

Like how the planet I leave for my children may not be able to sustain them. It’s a lot to contend with.

But even in the face of those sensible hesitations, I think I want to try this.

How wild. It honestly feels irresponsible.

A choice made from what can only be a purely emotional place (because it certainly doesn’t feel logical): despite all of that, I want to create a human with the man I love.

To embark on the adventure and rollercoaster of raising a person.

So I research; I research motherhood and how other people have handled adding a child to their equation. What they love and what they don’t. What they’d change and what they wouldn’t. How they’ve made it work.

Tell me tell me tell me how you’ve made it work in this infuriating country in a world that’s on fire.

Because I’d like to make it work too, but it feels like fighting an opposing current specifically designed to drown us all. I research in the hopes of figuring out how to swim, how to float.

But as my appetite for information picked up with freight train speed, the books I was reading strayed from motherhood itself to obtaining motherhood, which is where I went a tad off-book.

For instance, Getting Pregnant with PCOS is not about motherhood. It’s about conception.

And it turns out I really, really don’t enjoy books about conception.

I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS); you can give it a google if it’s both a mystery and of interest to you. It won’t do you too much good though – no one can agree on how it presents or what the root causes of it are, and no one is spending money on figuring it out.

I’m not even entirely sure that I have it—I fit some of the symptomology, but not all of it, but they say this is normal too.

Fifteen years after my diagnosis, not much has changed—a frustrating reality. Most of the discourse on PCOS goes like this: Your ovulation doesn’t happen normally (whatever normal is). This could be due to any number of factors, likely some sort of hormonal imbalance.

What kind of hormonal imbalance, you ask? It’s a mystery! Specific to you and only you! But here are the usual symptoms, you might have all of them or none of them, try to eat well and exercise some,  you will definitely have trouble conceiving, best of luck.

The book Getting Pregnant with PCOS had much more thorough information, and at first I was riveted. Finally, answers!

Someone actually put time into researching my syndrome! She covers what I should know and how I can mitigate symptoms!

But then the book…devolved. Or maybe I did.

It felt like the findings dissipated into sets of rules. Do this, don’t do that, eat this, don’t eat that, exercise like this, not like that, here’s a success story, though it’s specific to her experience and only her experience. Take these vitamins, monitor these symptoms, order these blood tests, keep an eye on your thyroid, your insulin levels, your weight, your stress levels. I didn’t see myself in it. I did start losing my mind a little bit though.


I had a very clear vision of how I wanted to approach this journey: with openness and curiosity. Calmly and slowly. Investigative yet soft. I always want so badly to be softer than I am.


But I am not. Openness and curiosity were replaced with anxiety and fear. Calm and slow were replaced with intensity and urgency. Investigation turned into self-judgement. Soft turned to vivid frustration. The more I researched conception, the more I saw rules like this everywhere, stretching from pre-conception to the fourth trimester and beyond. The more I saw these rules, the more stressed and confused and angry I became.


At the bizarre fear mongering that seems pervasive in conception and motherhood literature. At the rules and restrictions and denials and changes they suggest. At how…small it seems I need to make myself before motherhood even begins. Like I need to begin boxing myself up to make room for the title of “mom.” Less freedom, more fall-in-line. Less enjoyment of life as it is, more control to turn life into what the next phase requires it to be. Less of me to make more of my baby. Before it even exists.


I am familiar with stress and confusion and frustration. Being a woman in the United States means that you will be angry if you are paying attention. But motherhood – with all of it’s double standards and impossible expectations and, apparently, rules – adds another layer to it. I began to feel hyper aware, on pins and needles, head on a swivel, frantic almost, trying to keep up with everything everyone requires you to do and remember and be as a mother, followed by the subsequent anger I felt at those requirements.


And that’s just as a woman considering becoming a mother.


This is not how I wanted to do this, I thought. Not with a head full of stress and fire.


I’m still not quite sure what to do with fire. When I got a tattoo of a phoenix six years ago, I didn’t even depict it rising through flames, the literal essence of phoenix lore –this is how socialized I’ve been to keep any kind of big feelings at bay, especially anger and frustration. No, flames are too heated, too aggressive. My bird is rising from a field of flowers instead.


Be softer, Renee. No fire, just flowers.


I always want to be softer than I am, but I think that motherhood is not soft. I think it has its moments, but it also has teeth. It is not for the faint of heart; you must love and you must fight. For your child, sure, but mostly for yourself. I think perhaps motherhood requires fire. I think if I become a mom, I will need it. If only to burn down the absurd, contradictory expectations and make the journey my own. This is how we change things.


But I’m not in the mood for fire right now. Or at least I don’t know how to balance it quite yet; to stoke it so it keeps me warm but not so much that it wipes out the forest. I also don’t need it yet. Getting swept up in the books and the research and the rules (and the subsequent deluge of uncomfortable feelings) had me forgetting something:


I am on the fence. I have the strange gift of ambivalence.


Motherhood has never been a necessity for me. It is not something I’ve dreamt of since I was little. It is not a requirement for me to feel as though I’ve lived a fulfilled life. Nick feels the same about fatherhood. We’d love it and enjoy it and make the most of it, but we don’t need it.


But somewhere in the research, other people’s longing and precision and planning became my longing and precision and planning. Empathy swept in and blurred the lines.


Or perhaps it swept in and showed me I might care about this more than I think. That some of that longing is mine. That if we cannot have kids, there might be more grief than we thought. I can’t tell; I’m too in it, you know? But if I wait until I figure it out to write about it, you’d probably never hear from me again. And I don’t only want to write about how to work through hard things and arrive at shiny new places. Arrivals are fleeting. I want to write about winding my way through the mess, because that’s mostly what life is anyway.


So I’ve started a list called when you’re worried it won’t happen and I’ve been filling it with the things Nick and I love to do. Things that bring me joy in the here and now. Our road trip playlist. Rewatching Pride & Prejudice or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Camping in the van with the dogs. Visiting Boone, where I fell in love with myself. Visiting San Diego, where Nick and I fell in love with each other. Going on long walks around my favorite local neighborhood. Sipping a cocktail on a terrace somewhere nearby. Writing it all out in bed on a Saturday morning so I can make sense of my feelings and my life.


And thus I believe I have reached the threshold, where research is all well and good, but it can only take you so far until experience needs to step in and tie up the loose ends. I have lost interest in researching motherhood because I have done what I can do for now, and my body is telling me to pause. That it is time to simply sit with and breathe through the feelings it brought up. Time to return to my life in the present; to remember how very full it is, here and now, if I pay attention.


This journey into exploring the intimacy of motherhood is not what I thought it would be. I expected a sense of pragmatism and that lovely calm openness I alluded to earlier. Delighted curiosity! Simple musings! Perhaps even a relaxed feeling for researching so early and slowly and deliberately. But instead it’s been all grief and nerves and anger and confusion and surprise. Fewer flowers. More fire.


That’s a lot how healing looks, a friend said to me when I shared this.


I should have known, I thought.


So it does.


  • Renee Hartwick

    Renee Hartwick is a Squarespace designer and educator, collaborating with heart-centered businesses on soulful website designs that help them to feel empowered and authentic online. She is also the writer of the Substack Renee on the Road. If you enjoyed this post, click here to subscribe.

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