The decision to go to the reproductive endocrinologist in the first place is a big one and we all hope they'll do a magic blood test that shows a simple supplement will change the course of our reproductive future. When you decide to do IVF it feels like you're putting all your chips on the table. No longer are you wondering around the slot machines of timed intercourse and trying to "destress". Everything is on the line.
However, there is an unexpected benefit of making the decision to do IVF. I frequently hear from women in therapy for infertility that "IVF feels like a true decision." Waiting to try to conceive at the exact precise time of the month is so worrisome! It is an action that takes very little time, but an ungodly amount of planning, thinking, strategizing, supplements, goo, anxiety, conversations, and stress in an entire month's time. Rarely do you get a break. Maybe there is some peace in the day or two after your ovulation window has closed. "Whelp, there's nothing left to do but wait!" But after a week goes by and you start hyperfocusing on possible pregnancy symptoms (which are also premenstrual symptoms) the doom sets in, your period arrives, and you begin the recovery cycle all over again.
Some women say that while it's scary to begin injectable shots, it feels like they finally have "purpose and action" in every day leading up to an egg retrieval or embryo transfer. One woman said it well: "I'm still rolling the dice, but this time they're loaded!" So getting started with IVF can feel powerful and decisive, it's still stressful. Here are some ways to manage the stress of IVF:
1. Get Organized. Transfer everything your reproductive endocrinologist's IVF coordinator tells you into a calendar that you regularly use. Set reminders in your phone. Figure out where to put your medications. Clean out the fridge if you're feeling motivated. Create a space there that feels clean and honors this new part of the journey to meet your baby.
2. Find a Hobby or Distraction. Now that you have a plan, let your stress live in your calendar. You now have spaciousness in your schedule - including your brain. Your brain may be tempted to fill that space with worry. That's truly a waste of time. All you need to know is that if for some reason the results of your retrieval or transfer are not what you expected, you will figure it out. You have up until this point, and you are not the same person right now as you will be 6 months from now, so snap back to the present with other activities. Some women throw themselves into work projects, declutter the house, read some fiction or nonfiction (if it doesn't have anything to do with the perinatal realm!)
3. Smile When Noticing. I know you know you can never truly escape from your mind, and your anxiety mind will be alive and kicking when you start the IVF process. The trick here is to practice changing your relationship to your anxiety mind. (This is a skill we really hone in infertility counseling). Imagine you're off doing your hobby and suddenly the thought "I hope I get enough embryos" creeps into your mind. When you notice that you've engaged with this thought, give yourself a little "half smile". Picture Mona Lisa's smile. It's a little recognition you give your anxiety mind. It's as if to say to your anxiety mind "I see you there." It's a peaceful and non-engaging action, and helps you to return to the task at hand. It will continue to creep in - but you are practicing the power you have to not engage with it.
4. Make Other Plans. If possible, set up some things to do with other people, especially on non-work days. Having something to look forward to that is more immediate than waiting to hear how many embryos made it to blastocyst stage can be helpful.
5. Talk To Your Partner. It's hard to say exactly how your body and emotions will respond to birth control and other IVF medications. Prepare each other by communicating and telling your partner you don't know what to expect, but you're going to try to ask for what you need in the moment. That might be hugs, time on the couch together, or to be left alone in the bathtub every night for a week. There's just no telling. Getting on the same page before hormones get in the way can feel like a helpful net if you need it.
6. Get Outside. It is much easier to get space from your anxiety mind when you're outside. Nature has it's own timeline, and everything is as it should be there. Take a walk in your neighborhood, or find a more remote greenspace to walk, breathe, and be.
7. Affirmations. Try not to judge affirmations - though they may sound cheesy - they work. Every night as you lay in bed before you fall asleep, become aware of your breathing and place your hands on your abdomen and say something to yourself like "I'm doing everything I can to meet my baby." You can come up with your own affirming words of course.
Infertility is a time-limited experience. You will get on the other side of it, we just don't know exactly what that looks like. IVF is something to get through. It doesn't necessarily feel cool or graceful. When you're in it, let it be an invitation to stay in the present moment and take good care of yourself. You're doing everything you can to meet your baby.
Allison Ramsey is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and fertility counseling specialist seeing clients online throughout North Carolina, Washington State, and internationally. She’s a member of Resolve, The Infertility Association and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Contact her to start feeling better.