How To Survive The Emotional Stress Of IVF
IVF can be physically, mentally and emotionally brutal and unfortunately women are the ones who are having to take the brunt of it, which is why this post is focused on them. However, their partners have their own struggles too and so I will talk about that in a later post.
I am often asked by my clients whether IVF is something that they just have to get through or if there are ways to help mitigate the suffering that can come with it.
Suffering is a big word isn’t it but that is how I’ve had clients express the physical, mental and emotional experience they’ve had with IVF? Made worse of course if their IVF cycle hasn’t been successful.
The answer is twofold:
- Yes, there are lots of things that you can do to ensure that you are able to progress through your IVF treatment in a positive way.
- Whatever you do won’t take away the pain of IVF not being successful if that happens. I will deal with this in a separate post though because there are some IMPORTANT steps you will want to take should that happen, that will help you immeasurably.
So, this blog post will focus on answering point 1.
A couple of important points before I get on to that though.
IVF IS NOT JUST A PHYSICAL PROCESS
I am going to start here because I believe that this is often forgotten. Stuff is happening to your body isn’t it? You take drugs to manipulate what your body is doing. One to stop ovulation and then another to stimulate multiple egg development. Then the eggs are collected and fertilised and the best embryo(s) are placed back inside you.
It feels like it is all happening to your body doesn’t it? However, what’s actually being manipulated is your hormones and they are normally taken care of by your emotions through biochemical changes in your brain.
So, physically stuff is happening that is likely to make you feel uncomfortable isn’t it? Imagine putting one chocolate mini egg in your mouth (yummy) and then adding in another 20 – not such a great experience any more is it?
Add in messing with your hormones – well you can see why you might end up a bit of a mess as well can’t you? Because although emotions are what controls our hormones it makes sense that if we change our hormones then our emotions are going to be affected too.
Of course, we also have the fear of failure playing on your mind, and possibly the fear of the procedure and how it is going to impact you thrown in as well.
The good news is that what you will learn in this post will help you feel both emotionally in control and physically more comfortable too.
THE IMPACT OF STRESS ON IVF SUCCESS
I thought I’d talk about this next because there is a mixed bag of research around this. Some suggest that stress doesn’t affect IVF outcomes, whilst others show that utilising mind/body techniques to manage stress during a cycle of IVF can double success rates. Argh! What do you do with that information?
Personally, I like to look at it from a different perspective, and that is around taking care of you. Because I am sure you will agree that given a choice you’d rather feel more emotionally in control, less overwhelmed, able to manage the physical side-affects positively and generally move through your IVF cycle feeling like you are the one calling the shots, not just giving yourself shots (injections) and hoping for the best. From my personal experience of working with clients I can say that carrying out mind/body connection work does also improve success rates of IVF.
That said let’s take a look at the different ways that will help you to survive the emotional stress of IVF.
I don’t know about you but when I am dealing with something highly emotional even the simplest things can become too much to handle. So, planning ahead can really help. The best starting point is to think about what you normally do each day/week and decide whether they are things that have to get done whilst going through the IVF process. If they do, whether you have to be the one doing them.
I find ‘diet’ is something many of my fertility clients care deeply about and therefore you may want to do a batch of cooking so that you have a stash of easy go to food in the freezer, or buy yourself some prepared dishes. There are great places like Cook around these days that prepare food with all fresh ingredients, which means that you don’t have to compromise on quality when doing this.
It will also be useful to look at your IVF schedule and see how it fits in with your work schedule. Decide whether it may be easier to take time off work or explore the option of work being more flexible around this time.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT ALL ALONE
For various reasons couples often choose to keep their infertility struggles and choice to have IVF to themselves. This can cause them to feel very isolated. It becomes a double-edged sword of not wanting to share but at the same time wishing that they had someone to talk to about how they are feeling.
You don’t have to be alone though and there are a number of ways that you can get support:
- Often people turn to social media and there are some wonderful groups to join where you can connect with others who are going through what you are having to deal with. They are a great place to ask questions too. No question is too small or too silly and if you have been wondering about something, you can guarantee someone else has too and there will be answers readily available. Sometimes its not the obvious things that you get told by the medical care team that you want answers to is it?
- There are also often local support groups to attend should you like the idea of face-to-face.
- You may have a close friend that you can confide in. They may have had IVF themselves or perhaps they haven’t, but you know that they are really good at just being there for you. The kind of friend who will just listen without feeling the need to give you advice or attempt to make you feel better if you are struggling.
- Another option is to seek out professional help. It can be useful to work with a coach or therapist who specialises in the emotional impacts of IVF. In my opinion taking care of mental health and emotional well-being is severely lacking across all aspects of infertility and yet it can make a huge difference to how well you feel able to cope. A great bonus to feeling more emotionally in control is that because of the mind/body connection, clients who work with an expert in this way also report that they felt more physically comfortable with fewer side effects from the drugs also.
If you decide to work with a coach or therapist they will teach you a number of different ways to keep the stress and overwhelm at bay. The kinds of things that will help you are:
- Listening to guided meditations. These can either be purely for relaxation or you can also get mp3s that help you to prepare for the different stages of IVF.
- Journaling your experience can be useful because it gets stuff out of your head which can bring with it a great sense of relief. Writing things down also gives you the opportunity to really notice how you are feeling, to acknowledge what you are going through and to take any useful purposeful action to help you move forward.
- Self-care practices. I am not talking about a bubble bath or a spa day here. I mean making sure that you are putting yourself first. Say yes to things only if you want to - experiences and people that make you feel good and are enriching and rewarding for you. Say no to anything that you know will drain you, including being around certain people if needs be.
KNOW YOU CAN HANDLE IT
I want to end with this point because there is a lot of pressure on the outcome of IVF isn’t there with the biggest anxiety being “what if it doesn’t work?”
From a mind/body perspective it makes sense to focus on a positive outcome but that comes with a fear of setting yourself up for disappointment doesn’t it?
I always ask my clients if they believe that by not focusing on a positive outcome that they are really protecting themselves from that heartbreak. They aren’t, are they? Whether they set themselves a so-called realistic expectation around success or not, they are going to feel the pain if they don’t get pregnant at the end of their IVF cycle.
So, I will tell you what I tell them. You can handle that pain if it happens. You won’t want to, but you will, and you know you will because you’ve handled every shitty experience that life has thrown at you to date.
With that understanding I want you to know that the best thing that you can do for yourself as you progress through your IVF treatment is that for every step you take, every injection, every procedure whilst waiting post Embryo Transfer, etc. is to imagine success.
Don’t put pressure on it HAVING to work, because when we do that we can’t help but create anxiety around the situation and we inadvertently focus on the opposite of what we want.
- Your body responding as you want it to as you take the shots.
- Producing lots of top quality eggs.
- Being calm and relaxed at egg retrieval and embryo transfer.
- Your incredible embryo(s) being lovingly placed back into your body.
- Your body welcoming your embryo(s)
- How you feel when you find out you are pregnant.
I know that last point will have brought up mixed feelings for you. Remember though, you can handle it if that doesn’t happen.
However, I am sure that you will agree that there is no point in you going through IVF if you don’t have HOPE that you will get the result you want.