The IVF journey is a challenge for even the most prepared individuals and couples. Unfortunately, no matter how much research you do beforehand, you simply can’t know exactly how it will feel until you’re in it.
While you have little control over the outcome, you definitely have control over how you deal with it. The other good news? There are steps you can take to make the process less stressful, and more manageable.
1. Manage your expectations
One of the hardest parts about IVF is the hope-disappointment effect.
Because there’s so much skin in the game and the results are quite literally life-changing, of course you’re emotionally invested. You’re not wrong for getting your hopes up.
As humans, we hold onto ideas – like a positive pregnancy test – as a way to maintain control over our lives. But not only is maintaining this control impossible, it creates a ton of anxiety.
We’re not suggesting you resist any feelings of excitement that come up, but it can be helpful to keep some detachment from the outcome of treatments. As psychotherapist and author Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D. suggests, detachment is the process of letting go.
Let go, detach from the outcome you want. You might be surprised at how this allows you to finally stop worrying about what happens.
In practical terms, we suggest you plan for the best but prepare for the worst. If there’s anything you’d need in place should the outcome be positive, you can set those things up. There’s no need to avoid practical planning. But keep in mind that a negative outcome is also possible. The conversations you have with your doctor can help to guide your expectations.
2. Form your circle
Like all challenging journeys, you are going to need quality support around you to lean on, perhaps as much emotionally as physically. We’re talking about a close circle – family, friends, a partner – who will listen to you cry, give you injections, or drive you to appointments.
Some helpful questions to ask yourself: Who’s in my circle? How much do I want to share with them if the outcome is positive? If it’s negative? What support can I ask for from each of them?
Maybe your partner is better equipped to give the injections, but your sister is the one you want to cry with. Consider what role each of your supporters can play, and talk to them about how they’d feel comfortable showing up for you during the process.
When the time comes, you might not have the energy to negotiate these demands, especially if you’re not so used to asking for help. This is why we suggest locking down this circle before you start treatment.
3. Communicate with your partner
If your partner is involved in the IVF journey, you can bet the process will test your relationship.
From financial troubles, to lack of communication, to conflicting coping methods, there are a number of factors that put pressure on a relationship during IVF. The imperative to schedule sex and perform on-command can squeeze the romance out of any relationship without the right coping strategies to offset it. On top of this, the disappointment when it doesn’t work and you’re forced to repeat the process in a few weeks is another source of stress.
A 2004 study found that men in infertile couples were less sexually satisfied, while the women were less satisfied with their marriages. For same-sex couples, even without the scheduled sex, fertility treatment processes can strain intimacy. A 2014 study of almost 48,000 women showed that couples whose fertility treatments are unsuccessful are up to 3x more likely to end their relationship.
How to escape these statistics? Establish healthy relationship habits early. We recommend strategizing communication with your partner before you start fertility treatments. Set aside regular time to talk together about how you’re feeling throughout the process.
Usually, each party in a relationship deals differently with these kinds of emotions, and how you deal with this contrast can cause tension and resentment, for example, if your partner accuses you of “overreacting”. You may also want to discuss how each of you deals with stress and difficult emotions like hope, inadequacy, or disappointment, which may come up during the treatment process.
4. Create space for yourself
One of the biggest complaints patients have during IVF is fatigue. Early morning appointments, invasive procedures, new hormones in your body, and an emotional rollercoaster can all add up and suck your energy.
While you may not be able to control the tiring nature of the process itself, you can plan ahead to create as much space as possible to rest and recharge while you’re in it.
Life will continue around you at its normal speed, unless you make deliberate arrangements to slow it down. We recommend setting up your work and home environments to reduce stress as much as possible during your IVF cycle. Maybe you avoid scheduling work projects during your cycle, or meal prep food to save time cooking later. The fewer external pressures and the more opportunities for rest, the better.
5. Plan for self-care
Beyond creating space around you during your IVF cycle, consider what might make you feel better when times get hard. Deliberate self-care will help you feel loved and supported, boost your mood, and give you the motivation to keep going when you have little left in your gas tank.
While it’s never too late to take up self-care habits, you can start the IVF journey on a very positive note by setting a self-loving intention before it even begins.
Loving self-talk is hugely important in setting the stage for a more positive IVF journey. If you already have a loving self-talk practice, lean into that. If it’s new to you, you can tell yourself things like: I will take care of myself during this time, no matter what happens. I will love myself, no matter what happens.
In more tangible terms of self-care, we suggest identifying the things that make you feel cared for in advance, and planning to do them during your IVF cycle. Maybe it’s reading a new book you’ve been itching to start, or getting a massage, or going to your favourite restaurant. Whatever it is, just set a clear intention to follow through. It’ll give you something to look forward to during what can be a difficult time.
6. Detox your social media
Finally, for all the benefits social media offers, it can also be very triggering if you’re struggling to conceive. If you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable and the idea of seeing new mothers or happy families feels too upsetting, it’s okay. You are not too sensitive, and you are not a bad person for being upset by seeing something you want but are struggling to achieve.
During your fertility journey, you might want to log out of your social media, at least until you feel ready to handle anything you might see. If that feels too drastic, consider unfollowing any accounts that are upsetting you.
Remember, your mental health is more important than any social shoulds and shouldn’ts you’re worried about. Take care of yourself, and leave the rest.
Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that will make the IVF journey a walk in the park. But putting in place the right intentions, mindset, and plans before you start one of the most challenging journeys of your life, can only help you.
If all you can control in life is how you react to it, then let this be your reminder to start practicing healthy ways to deal with whatever comes your way on your IVF journey. We promise it will make a world of difference.