Dealing With Fertility Treatment Stress

Couple walking on the pavement at sunset, trying to relax during stressful fertility treatments
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Feeling tense while going through IVF or another fertility treatment? Whether you're doing an IVF, IUI or Clomid cycle, fertility treatment is a high-stress, high-anxiety time. There are so many factors feeding into that stress from hormones to hopes and fears.

Hormones From Hell

Fertility treatment is stressful without adding unstable hormones to the mix. It's like the difference between standing in the sun for hours on a hot day, versus standing in the sun for hours underneath a gigantic magnifying glass. Hormones from the fertility drugs can be like the magnifying glass; they tend to make everything feel much more intense.

The hormonal changes some fertility drugs cause really can lead to mood swings. It's not just "in your head."

Just keeping this in mind can go a long way to making you feel less insane. Sharing with your close loved ones this information—like your partner or best friend—is also a good idea. (Though as always, consider carefully who you want to share your fertility challenges with.) This way, if you snap at them for holding the salt shaker in that absolutely annoying way, they'll be a bit more understanding.

Fertility treatment cycles are probably not the best time to schedule any stressful or emotionally trying meetings if you can help it. Don't get along so great with your cousin, but she's inviting you over for dinner in the middle of your IVF cycle? Perhaps you should pass this time. Supposed to talk to your boss about getting a raise? Try to reschedule the meeting for a few weeks.

Any situation where you need to rein in your tears or anger is best left until after your cycle. If possible, you may also want to allow time to recover from whatever news you get after the cycle. Rescheduling isn't always possible, of course. In those cases, just remind yourself to breathe deeply. Often.

Bouncing Between Optimism and Pessimism

One minute, you're full of hope.

"This cycle will be the one that works! This will be my miracle month!"

Then, the next minute, you may see only doom and gloom.

"What if this doesn't work? What if nothing ever works? What if I live the rest of my life lonely and depressed, a shivering mass of jelly relegated to the back corner of my bedroom closet, forever?"

Hold on a minute there. Take a deep breath. And another.

It's totally normal to fluctuate between feeling excited and feeling scared. Remind yourself—especially when you're in the doom and gloom phase—that this is just one cycle. Even if this is your third or fourth IVF cycle, it's still only one cycle.

Sometimes we forget that it's normal to take a few treatment cycles before achieving success. Sometimes we forget that more treatment possibilities lay ahead. Sometimes we think we're at the end of the road, but there are more options that we just don't know about yet.

Even if the worst happens, and you can't conceive the way you hoped, life will go on. It will be very hard at first. Very, very hard. But with counseling and time, you will survive this. Your life will not end at the end of your fertility treatment experience. Try to remember this when you're freaking out, especially during the two-week wait.

Finding Support

In addition to counselors, fertility coaches and consultants are also available and may be helpful. Check Resolve or Robyn for listings.

Give Yourself Breaks

Depending on the kind of treatment you're going through, and the amount of monitoring and procedures, your stress level may vary widely from day to day. The day you have an ultrasound to check on follicle growth? Probably a very high-stress day. The day you give yourself an injection for the first time? Another stressful day. The three or four days before you take a pregnancy test? Extremely tense.

Every day won't be a super stressor. It may sound odd, but you can actually get used to sticking yourself with needles. By the fifth day of injections, it's not as big of a deal.

Even monitoring won't always be as difficult to cope with as time progresses, especially if your treatment cycle goes positively (or eventually goes positively). Whenever you know you're going to have a very hard day, give yourself a break. If you must go to work right after a procedure, try to sneak in a visit to your favorite café for a cup of hot cocoa or a cup of comforting herbal tea.

Some clinics offer acupuncture treatments or other mind-body therapies which can be scheduled after appointments. If you can, take advantage of them.

Most people can't put their lives on hold just for treatments. Honestly, putting your life on hold probably wouldn't help. Then you'd have nothing to do but obsess over how the treatment is going.

At the same time, acknowledging the need for transitions between stressful treatment periods and back-to-real-life-periods is essential. Even if all you get is five minutes in the bathroom to cry before you head to your next meeting, take those five minutes. Pushing through and pretending you don't need some time to transition—or beating yourself up about needing that time—isn't good for your emotional health.

Stressing About Stress

It's one of those paradoxes of living with infertility. You don't want to stress during treatment as you're afraid it'll lower your chances for success. But treatment is stressful. Worrying that you're stressing out is stressful. So you get stressed out not only from treatment but just from, well, feeling stressed.

Research has found that feeling stressed about treatment doesn't ruin your chances for success. One large meta-analysis, conducted by Cardiff University's School of Psychology in England, looked at the data from fourteen studies, which included a total of 3,583 women. They found that the level of pre-treatment anxiety or depression did not affect pregnancy rates. The women with high anxiety were just as likely to conceive during treatment as those with lower anxiety.

In other words, you don't need to stress about stress. However, you shouldn't ignore your stress levels. Getting support, finding ways to cope, and seeking counseling are all good paths to take. Not because you'll boost your chances for a positive pregnancy test. You should do what you can to lower stress so you can feel happier and healthier, pregnant or not. ​

1 Source
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  1. Boivin J, Griffiths E, Venetis CA. Emotional distress in infertile women and failure of assisted reproductive technologies: Meta-analysis of prospective psychosocial studies. BMJ. 2011;342:d223. doi:10.1136/bmj.d223

By Rachel Gurevich, RN
Rachel Gurevich is a fertility advocate, author, and recipient of The Hope Award for Achievement, from Resolve: The National Infertility Association. She is a professional member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and has been writing about women’s health since 2001. Rachel uses her own experiences with infertility to write compassionate, practical, and supportive articles.