Young marriage with health problems at doctor's office

Discussing IVF

Sally Coombs from Inner Mind Therapies

If there is one thing most of my clients tell me about IVF, it is that it’s a rollercoaster ride with many emotional and psychological obstacles to contend with. So here I am going to talk more about these challenges based on my own work as an easibirthing® fertility practitioner.

My aim is to help mentally prepare you whether it’s your first or subsequent IVF cycle.

IVF is a major life experience. The better informed you are, the more resources you will have to help you stay calm and positive through your IVF cycle, and be happily together with your partner along your treatment journey. If you want to read more, or get more advice then my book The Infertility Experience (available on Amazon at http://ow.ly/Qdwi3080YXR) covers this subject in more depth.

Mixed feelings about IVF treatment
If IVF or ICSI has been recommended to you as an infertility treatment, you may well have mixed feelings before you start. You will hope that it will work for you, but you may also feel fears as well: uncertainty about the unknown if it’s your first cycle, or apprehension of what lies ahead if you are going through a subsequent treatment.

You may know all about the procedures involved and the statistics about IVF outcomes, but that doesn’t really tell you what it’s actually like to go through IVF.

IVF is a great success story, with over 5 million children being born over the world as a result of IVF. But the success can conceal an experience for couples who are trying to conceive of emotional highs and lows, uncertainty and worry, hopelessness and courage, heartache and joy.

Why IVF is so hard
Everyone’s experience is individual, and there are different types of IVF from natural to super-intensive.

So why is IVF such an emotional and mentally challenging experience?

I believe this is to do with the nature of the treatment itself, which can feel alien and unpleasant and the sense of uncertainty which inevitably accompanies a cycle of IVF.

The emotional challenge of IVF
Invasive treatment – IVF is an intense and invasive procedure with even more fertility-related testing for you and your partner before you start the cycle, and then ongoing monitoring throughout the cycle to assess your response to treatment.

IVF involves different medical procedures designed to maximise your chances of conceiving – for women; drug medication at the de-regulation and stimulation stages often administered by needles, anaesthetic at the egg collection stage, and scans, and for men with no sperm in their semen, ICSI can involve surgical procedures.

IVF is an investigative process as well as treatment and your fertility as a couple is quite literally under the microscope from a team of specialists.

The whole treatment cycle is time consuming with frequent clinic visits, travel time and juggling appointments with work and family commitments and life in general. It’s expensive if you are paying for it privately, and you may experience uncomfortable side effects from the drugs.

Being Medicalised – If you have already been through many years of trying to conceive, with fertility tests and investigations, other types of treatment or pregnancy loss, you may already feel that your experience of trying for a baby has been medicalised and depersonalised.

IVF can reinforce this; the whole process of conception is artificial, in a clinic setting scrutinised by lots of professionals and involving medical procedures you don’t understand, dislike or may even be fearful of – a far cry from an intimate and private act of love making to create a baby.

Dealing with Uncertainty – IVF involves a series of stages, each of which needs to be successful in order for the whole cycle to be completed. You don’t know how you are going to respond to the different stages, or what the outcome will be, so there’s an unpredictability to each step in the cycle.

And there’s some nerve-racking waiting involved; after the egg-collection stage for instance, when you waiting to find out how many eggs have been produced and whether they have fertilised and developed, and then for up to 2 weeks after embryo transfer until it’s time to do the pregnancy test.

All this can stir up a range of emotions including anxiety, worry, fear, hope, excitement, elation, stress, joy or heartache.

The whole IVF cycle requires emotional resilience, a positive and flexible attitude, physical stamina and reliable and compassionate support. You will need strong relationships as you may have to deal with disappointment and distress when things do not go to plan or new problems are uncovered, or to make difficult decisions and to cope with the heartbreak of an unsuccessful outcome.

What you can do to make this better

Ok . . . time to take a breath.

I know this hasn’t been very joyous reading so far, but the positive message is that there’s plenty you can do to help yourself with these challenges, and to find your own way through IVF.

So, let’s jump into these right now:

Get yourself in tip top shape – get prepared for IVF in a holistic way prior to starting IVF by getting your body in good shape with regular exercise, a nutritious fertility boosting diet and a healthy weight, (a BMI of over 30 or under 19 is likely to be considered a problem with IVF) – see Zita West’s Eat Yourself Pregnant: Essential Recipes for Boosting Your Fertility Naturally http://ow.ly/ns7T30810qJ and Jenny Blondel’s The Holistic IVF Diet Guide http://ow.ly/BlWU3080Z7T

Get informed – read about IVF, I would recommend Bianca Smith’s book IVF, a detailed guide: Everything I Wish I had Known Before I Started My Fertility Treatments is based on personal experience http://ow.ly/ZjQn3080Zbt or for a comprehensive, holistic approach try Zita West’s Guide to Fertility and Assisted Conception http://ow.ly/up453080Zdc

Visit the Clinic – visit fertility clinics you are considering prior to starting your treatment to get a feel of the environment and view the facilities for you and your partner. Clinics often have open events for this purpose.

Prepare for the initial consultation – think together as a couple about the questions you want to ask at your consultation and use this meeting proactively. Zita West has examples of questions you could ask in her book Fertility and Assisted Conception and I cover the issue in my book The Infertility Experience. Tell the clinic if you have any anxieties or specific issues about aspects of the treatment such as needles, drugs, anaesthetics and how staff can best support you. Get a contact number for the clinic for dealing with your queries and also one for emergencies.

Prioritise your time and commitments – If you have a very busy life or have lots of things to juggle, think about some ways to reduce these commitments whilst you are doing IVF. Prioritise with your partner what is really important and what isn’t. Managing your time in this way can help reduce the pressures on you.

Map out a rough timeline for your IVF cycle on a large piece of paper, including all the different stages so you can see what’s ahead of you, and think about what support you’d like at each step, which appointments you and your partner want or have to go to together, and other options for support during key points of your timeline.

Connect with your support team – Give some thought to what support you would like during IVF, practical, financial, and emotional and who’d be best to give you this support. It could be a regular phone call, an encouraging text before or after a treatment, some time out sharing a treat, a holistic treatment timed around a specific aspect of your treatment. Then think about your support team and who’d be best to give you this support – family, friends, a trusted colleague, staff at the clinic?

Ask for Help – if you don’t have a support network Fertility Friends, the Fertility Network UK or IVF connections all offer online IVF forums.

For individual counselling support, all fertility clinics have a fertility-related counsellor or you could source your own support via the British Infertility Counselling Association at http://bica.net or through your doctor.

If you have an intense or irrational fear of needles or other aspects of medical procedures, search for a local hypnotherapist who works with phobias to help you deal with this at http://www.hypnotherapists.org.uk

Or you could find out if a milder or more natural form of IVF would meet your needs.

Holistic support during the IVF cycle

Alternatively you may prefer a holistic service to support you during IVF, Zita West has a affiliated network of fertility acupuncturists at http://www.zitawest.com/network or for specialist fertility hypnotherapists visit this link for the UK: http://www.easibirthing.co.uk/practitioners/fertility-specialists or for an international practitioner visit: http://www.easibirthing.co.uk/practitioners/international-specialists

Put self-care and self-love at the top of your agenda – make time for daily activities you enjoy and find nurturing, and prioritise your own needs.

Make time for relaxation – do meditation, mindfulness, self-hypnosis, use calming breathing exercises, or if you prefer, do something active but relaxing, such as yoga or walking.

Look after your mindset – practice mindfulness, visualisation or self-hypnosis to keep your mind in a positive mental place. You can find some very useful positive affirmations and visualisations in the chapter on dealing with IVF in my book.

Confront negative thoughts – be aware of your thinking, if your thoughts are negative, flip your thinking to a positive statement or affirmation about yourself.

Know that you are resourceful – remember you have a toolkit of personal resources as an individual and as a couple that have got you through past life challenges – calmness, confidence, being open minded, keeping positive for example. Consider how you can use these resources during IVF.

Focus on positive outcomes – visualise positive IVF outcomes such as the embryo(s) developing, implanting in the womb, the womb being a safe and nurturing environment for the embryo/s. My book The Infertility Experience (available on Amazon at http://ow.ly/Qdwi3080YXR) has several examples or you can get an audio download from me www.innermindtherapies.co.uk or see a fertility hypnotherapist for help with this at www.easibirthing.co.uk/practitioners/fertility-specialists or an international practitioner at www.easibirthing.co.uk/practitioners/international-specialists

Take care of your relationship – listen to yourself and be honest about your own needs, but also listen to your partner, empathise with their viewpoint, communicate honestly with each other, make decisions together, learn from each other and together, be realistic about the financing of IVF, know your strengths as a couple, limit your stress levels, be aware that we all deal with things differently, stay strong together.

Arrange a treat together – going through IVF doesn’t mean the whole of your life has to go on hold or you can’t enjoy yourself. In fact, it’s really important that you do something together that’s fun and takes you away from it all.

Be Solution Focused – know that for every obstacle there is a way through. Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the way: The Ancient Act of Turning Adversity to Advantage http://ow.ly/oWOA308119S is a gem of a book on exactly this.

I hope these ideas and suggestions serve you well. You can get more help, including these self-hypnosis audios at my site www.innermindtherapies.co.uk

My Self-Hypnosis Audios to help your IVF journey
My Special Relaxing Place
Stress Free
Healing Sun
Fertility Garden

 

Sally Coombs is an easibirthing® Fertility Practitioner and author of ‘The Infertility Experience’.

She can be contacted on:

Telephone: 07890 964288
Email: sally@innermindtherapies.co.uk
Website: www.innermindtherapies.co.uk