How to Emotionally Get Through an IVF Cycle
I was treating a patient last week preparing for her first IVF cycle when she asked me, “How do people get through this?” This particular patient, who I will call Emma, suffered a devastating miscarriage earlier this year and was plagued with so much guilt about not being able to provide her 5 year old son with a sibling. Emma is definitely not alone in these feelings, struggling with infertility and proceeding with IVF is undoubtedly stressful. So I thought I would compile my responses I use to support my patients during this difficult time.
It’s so important to take the entire IVF process day by day. There’s so many steps to it, the priming, the stimming injections, the retrieval process, fertilization, and then the transfer. It can be overwhelming if you think about all of it at the same time, so just focus on the step you are on right now and how you can make the most of it. Focus on what you can do on that particular day to improve your fertility, whether it’s making sure you are taking all of your supplements, going for a circulation boosting walk, getting in your laser/acupuncture session, eating enough leafy greens, or getting enough sleep. It can be reassuring for some to have Plan B’s and C’s, so plan your options but don’t overwhelm yourself with the details. Redirect your attention to what you can do to make your Plan A the most successful it can be.
IVF is a selfish time. Now more than ever it’s important to make sure you are taking the best care of yourself as you possibly can. Make sure you are giving yourself enough time to rest and process everything. Give yourself at least 20-30 min daily to do whatever it is that makes you feel grounded and calm, whether it’s reading a novel, playing an instrument, a luxurious bath, taking your dog for a walk. Whatever it is that brings you joy or relaxation, make sure you are factoring enough of that into your day.
It may also be a good idea to rethink the online support groups. Support groups can be incredibly beneficial to many, but for some of my patients it ends up causing more stress and anxiety. Emma dabbled in the IVF support groups on Facebook but would often compare her situation to the other members. She would wind up questioning her entire IVF protocol and stressing out about all of her numbers in comparison to everyone else's (AMH, antral follicle count, etc). It’s so much more important to trust your fertility doctor and the plan you’ve come up with them. If you have any doubts of questions at all, I encourage my patients to reach out to their doctor (never feel like you are bothering them, remember you are paying them and they are working for you!).
Counselling is another thing I often recommend to my fertility patients. Fertility struggles are painful and talking about it with an experienced fertility counsellor can be incredibly helpful. Emma started seeing a fertility counsellor a few weeks into her decision to do IVF and was surprised at how helpful it was. She also found it helpful to just talk about IVF with someone other than her partner and to someone that truly understands the process and the emotional weight. If you are struggling with feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, stress, or depression about your upcoming IVF, I highly recommend speaking with a counsellor that specializes in fertility and IVF. Check to see if your fertility clinic has any good references.
And of course, acupuncture. Acupuncture will not only help balance your hormones, improve egg quality and reduce IVF med side effects, but it can help regulate your nervous system. Acupuncture activates the parasympathetic aspect of the autonomic nervous system, the opposite of the fight or flight (sympathetic) response. Acupuncture can help lower cortisol levels and the stress that accompanies anyone struggling with infertility. Emma would say she always felt more calm and grounded after her laser/acupuncture sessions. Stress reduction is always a part of my fertility protocol when working with patients.