How to Emotionally Survive the Stress of IVF
Fertility treatments, such as IUI and IVF, can take an emotional toll. Here are some tips on how to cope throughout the process.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is one of the most grueling and gut-wrenching experiences I’ve even been through in my life. And, I’ve ran marathons, started a business and supported my husband through cancer.
But, IVF might just take the cake.
IVF is an all-consuming process that’s emotionally intense, wracked with hormones and a lot of waiting. (Here’s my experience with IVF and infertility to get a better taste of what I’m talking about.)
Recently, a friend who was preparing to undergo IVF asked me about things I did (or wish I would have done) to survive the process. It was a great question — one I wish I had asked before I had started the process.
After all, fertility treatments, especially IVF, can take an incredible toll on you — physically, emotionally and financially. And honestly, I don’t think I was truly prepared for it when we started.
But now that I have been through it, I want to share what I learned in hopes it helps others survive the emotional rollercoaster of IVF.
Preparing for the Emotional Side of IVF
1. Talk to people who have gone through IVF.
Perhaps the most important thing that helped me was to talk to someone who had been through the IVF process. Although the doctors and nurses educate you about all of the steps involved, they don’t help you navigate the emotional side of the process.
I had a friend who had been through IVF multiple times and she was kind enough to meet up with me and let me text her with all sorts of questions. It was so helpful to get her advice about the process. Because there are so few people who “get it”, it was nice to commiserate with someone who did.
2. Get a therapist or counselor.
After experiencing multiple failed IUIs, I was stressed, tired and angry. My husband suggested I see a counselor. But, I thought I was fine and that I would just power my way through it.
But, I wasn’t fine. Not really anyway.
It wasn’t until my friend who had been through IVF recommended counseling that I finally recognized that it could be helpful. I met with Lauryn Gilliam, her therapist who specializes in people with infertility. Because Lauryn had also gone through IVF, she was a tremendous resource to me as I navigated through the process.
Even if you have a tremendous circle of support, it can be helpful to have someone in your corner whose sole purpose is to help you through the mental and emotional side of the process.
3. Find support groups, blogs or communities to join.
My fertility clinic had signs posted everywhere for the Resolve Support Group for people experiencing infertility. I never went. I just didn’t feel like I needed that. In retrospect, I think it could have been helpful to connect with others who were in the same boat.
However, toward the end of my IVF cycle, I discovered a Facebook group for fans of Matt & Doree’s Eggscellent Adventure, a podcast about a couple going through infertility. Even though I didn’t listen to the podcast, I found the group to be a great resource. It’s a place where people ask questions, get support and vent about the process. I only wish I had found this group — and others like it — much, much sooner.
Look for communities — online or off — that you can join to get support from people who understand what you’re going through. Here’s a list of infertility organizations and resources to consider.
4. Write or journal about your experience.
When we go through tough stuff, we often forget about the pain once we’ve reached the other side. Although the wounds have healed, there are still scars once the pain is farther in the rearview mirror.
One day, when I felt completely drained, foggy-brained and utterly awful, I realized I didn’t want to forget how I was feeling in that moment. I thought that journaling about how I felt during the process might help me better relate to others down the road when they were in that same place.
And while that has definitely been true, it was also really cathartic for me to get the thoughts and feelings out of my head and onto paper. Oftentimes, I felt so much better after writing.
Try writing or journaling about how you’re feeling. You don’t have to publish any of this. But, I think there is real power in acknowledging exactly how you are feeling so you can adequately address it and move on.
5. Try meditation.
I have never been one for yoga or meditation because I have trouble getting my mind to calm down and be still.
But, my fellow IVF friend gave me some meditations to try during the embryo transfer stage of the process. Each meditation was roughly 15 minutes long. I listened to them every night as I was lying in bed.
It really helped quiet the thoughts in my head and helped me focus on maintaining a positive outlook about the process. The meditations also helped me fall asleep better. I think doing this earlier in the process would have been immensely helpful to me.
I used Circle & Bloom’s FET meditations, but I know there are several others out there geared for IVF patients.
Find a program that works for you. I found that this was extremely helpful to me.
6. Rest and take care of yourself.
This likely goes without saying, but focus on resting and taking care of yourself. Give yourself permission to do things that are healthy and rewarding for you — and cut out the things that aren’t.
This might mean saying “no” to obligations that are draining to you or stepping away from relationships that aren’t positive or fruitful.
Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. It’s one of the best things you can do to show love and grace to yourself during a difficult time.
Take a nap. Take a walk. Take a day trip. Take a break from social media.
Do whatever you need to do refresh your mind and body. Focusing on your wellbeing will help immensely in getting through your treatments.
7. Find healthy distractions and reward yourself.
Months of doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and shots can leave you weary. That’s why it can be helpful to have something fun and positive to look forward to at the end of the process.
We scheduled a couple of short trips for the end of our IVF cycle and it really helped to have something fun to look forward to on the calendar. Plus, we thought it would be helpful for us to get away and have some time to ourselves — especially if the treatment failed.
I also think it would have been really helpful for me to find healthy distractions or ways to reward myself after each stage of the process. It could have been something like dinner at a nice restaurant, buying a new pair of shoes or treating myself to a pedicure. Having some positive things to look forward to might have helped me get through it a little better.
Everyone is different, but think about healthy distractions and ways you can treat yourself throughout the process. It can be a great way to keep your mind off of the stress of treatment.
8. Get the help you need.
If you’re like me, it might be difficult to ask for help. But, taking some things off your plate will alleviate some stress and free up some space for you to rest and take care of yourself.
Ask family or friends to help you with things around the house, such as walking the dog, doing the laundry, cleaning or cooking. Or, you can even hire people to do these things.
My mom came in town for my egg retrieval and she cooked a whole bunch of food for us during her stay. It was immensely helpful to have her care for us in that way.
Even if you choose not to get help, at the very least, give yourself some grace about keeping up with cooking and housework. Be okay with ordering takeout or letting the laundry pile up a bit so you can focus on taking care of yourself.
9. Tell the right people and set boundaries.
Although some people choose to be very open about their fertility treatments, most people I’ve encountered decide to keep quiet about it because they fear they will get insensitive comments or be faced with constant questions about the results.
That was certainly the case for me. I was didn’t want to tell people about IVF because I didn’t want to face the pain of telling people if it didn’t work. That’s why we only told our family and a handful of a few close friends.
But, even though this group knew when our embryo transfer date was, we didn’t tell them when we would have pregnancy test results. We told them we would let them know when we were ready because we didn’t want constant questioning about when we would find out. That really helped me.
There’s no right or wrong approach to this, but consider who you want to tell and then let them know how and when you want to talk about the subject. Maybe you don’t want people to ask you about it and you only want to discuss it if you bring it up. Or maybe you don’t want to talk about it at all.
But, you get to decide.
Set some ground rules so you can do what’s best for you.
10. Take one day at a time.
Perhaps the hardest part about IVF, or any fertility treatment, is the anxiety about whether it will work. It’s so easy to get consumed with questions about test results, side effects and whether you’re doing everything you can to get a positive result.
The reality is that it is all out of your control. And that is really hard to accept — especially when you want so badly to for it to work.
There will be a ton of waiting. A lot of ups and downs. Good days and bad days.
The best thing you can do is focus on taking care of yourself TODAY. That’s it. Think about what you can do to get through one day at a time.
One thing that helped me was using the Five Minute Journal every day. In the morning, it prompts you to identify three things you are grateful for and three things that would make today great. And in the evening, it asked you to identify three amazing things that happened that day and identify one thing you could have done to make the day better.
It wasn’t always easy, but these prompts really helped me focus on the positive things instead of dwelling on the anxiety of the process.
This certainly isn’t an all-inclusive list, but this is what helped me through the IVF process. I hope that it is helpful to you as you prepare for this process. I’m rooting for you!
If you have gone through IVF, what other tips would you add? And for anyone preparing to go through IVF, what questions do you have about the process? I would love to help!
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