The IVF journey

Discovering and coming to terms with the notion that you are unable to naturally conceive can be stressful, and can leave you feeling angry, depressed and anxious.  It can also put additional stress on relationships, intimacy and your connection with others.

Over time, as this stress continues, it can take its toll and cause you to feel distressed or unable to take much more.  For example, women carefully monitor and plan around every cycle and, with each unsuccessful cycle, are left feeling distressed and disappointed.

It is so frustrating – you feel like your life is on hold.  Every cycle waiting for the window of opportunity to come, revolving your life plans around trying to conceive and then waiting in hope that you have fallen pregnant.  Then, with each failed attempt, you have to muster up the hope and optimism that you will be successful next time.  It is exhausting – physically, mentally, emotionally and on your relationship.

Similarly, it can affect men in instances where the fertility issues rests with them – which occurs in up to forty percent of cases.

I felt devastated.  I felt ashamed and like I had failed.  I always considered it my role as a man and as a husband to be a father.  But I had to look at it like any other physical condition and get the help we needed.

These feelings are often compounded by feelings of pressure from family, friends and others.  Many people describe experiencing stigma at being unable to conceive – further adding to feelings of disappointment and grief that you may experience at this time.

Understandably, you may find it difficult to talk about what you are going through with others and even being around others who have recently become pregnant or had a baby can be very hard.  This is completely understandable, so don’t be hard on yourself.

Coping with IVF

The process of going through IVF for months, and even years, can take its toll, as you may experience hopes and disappointments whilst managing the implications on your emotions, your body, your relationship and your finances.

As a result, it can be useful to consider and continually review how many cycles you are prepared to go through.  From a very practical perspective, this includes assessing how much money you can afford to invest.

You pay a fortune and put your life on hold for something that has a very good chance of not working.  And yet you do it.

Also, as you try to find a delicate balance of trying to remain positive and hopeful whilst persevering with IVF, it is important to remain aware of your emotional state along the way.

Whilst many couples hope that IVF will solve their problems with infertility, for some, IVF marks the beginning of a process of understanding about their specific needs and what is most likely to be effective for them given their individual circumstances.

The impacts on mental health

Given the range of challenges, it is not surprising that men and women in this position are more likely to experience depression and/or anxiety.

I had high anxiety during my pregnancy as, not only was my child IVF conceived, she was also a donor egg.  I had concerns about miscarrying due to my age and had experienced light bleeding up until the 13th week of my pregnancy.  I was so afraid something would be wrong with my baby.  At times, I was so tired too and was afraid I might not make it through the birth.

In addition, research shows that the process of assisted reproduction itself is also associated with increased anxiety, depression and stress and can impact on your self-esteem and confidence.  This may particularly be your experience after a failed IVF cycle – making the IVF journey a difficult time.

As well as the emotions that go with a miscarriage, with IVF, there is also a sense that you are right back at the drawing board – which adds a whole lot more to deal with emotionally.

Many hopeful parents describe the experience of trying to have a baby and being unable to, as ‘a silent hell, and experience that leaves scars’.

The exclusion from parent’s club..avoidance of baby showers…crying in my car on the drive home after yet another pregnancy announcement at work..switching over nappy ads on TV.

The effects of infertility is a traumatic experience for many people. It can cause relationship and financial stress, social isolation, obsession and self-criticism.  Over time this can become an ongoing process of coping with these intense emotions, which can impact on your emotional and mental health.

Getting help

Whilst we don’t know exactly whether stress, anxiety or distress is the cause or the effect when experiencing problems with fertility, there is evidence indicating that psychological treatments, such as cognitive behaviour therapy and support can not only improve these conditions but also improve the likelihood of becoming pregnant one year on.

Seeking support from others, particularly others in a similar position, can remind you that you are not alone, as this can be difficult to discuss with your friends or family who have not had the same experiences as you.

For some, it may be important to consider medication for the treatment of depression and anxiety at this time.  There is currently no research evidence to suggest this will negatively affect a woman’s fertility.  Further, if you do become pregnant, it is good to know that there are antidepressant medications which may be safely used in pregnancy.

If you are are experiencing distress, depression or anxiety, there are a range of supportive treatments available under Medicare.