Looking after yourself during IVF
Going through IVF can also take its toll on you physically and mentally. Below are some of the most common physical and mental impacts that men and women describe that can occur, followed by tips to support looking after yourself during IVF – your mind, and your body.
Pain and discomfort
The IVF process involves two distinct phases for women – the stimulation phase and egg collection & transfer phase. Both involve a level of physical discomfort and possibly pain. One of the major physical challenges for women undergoing IVF is the fertility hormones. These synthetic hormones are required to help the eggs mature, stimulate ovulation, and prepare the lining of the uterus to receive fertilized embryos. Many women report side-effects of mood swings, bloating, hot flushes, and irritability while using the fertility hormones.
Many women report that the injections can be painful, although many also acknowledge the thought of them is worse than the reality. The egg collection procedure may also entail discomfort and pain. Women often report feeling tenderness around their ovaries following the procedure, which is not surprising given their ovaries have been working hard to develop multiple eggs.
Feeling worn out
The emotional highs and lows of infertility and IVF treatment for both women and men can be physically and emotionally fatiguing. Many people describe feeling worn out by their struggles with infertility before even embarking on their first IVF cycle. Physical fatigue can also impact your concentration and memory.
Disruptive impact on your lifestyle activities
While some aspects of IVF treatment are predictable, other aspects are quite unpredictable such as the timing of appointments and procedures, and how you are going to feel. This makes it difficult to make plans and commit to activities in the lead-up to treatment and while undergoing treatment. Similarly it might mean cancelling arrangements or pulling out at the last minute, which feels frustrating and unsatisfying, and may be financially costly.
Feelings that life is on hold
It is easy for individuals and couples undergoing IVF to find that their lives have become defined and consumed by it. Many months are involved in planning for a cycle, the cycle itself, regrouping after a failed cycle and planning the next one. It is easy for treatment to dominate your thoughts, conversation, time and plans. Sometimes people find they have put the other parts of their life on hold. This may occur through choice, because you don’t want to be distracted by other demands. Or it may occur inadvertently, because there is little energy or enthusiasm for other things.
Self-care during IVF treatment
Clear your schedule of the non-essentials
In the lead up to a treatment cycle review the months ahead and limit activities and commitments that add to your mental load. For some people this might mean declining an additional project at work. For others it could be outsourcing their cleaning, delaying their bathroom renovation, or work travel. Taking steps to take control of stress and pressure where you can is both empowering and beneficial for looking after yourself during IVF.
Prioritise self care
Self-care means different things for different people. Finding your preferred way look after yourself physically and mentally while going through treatment is important. Looking after yourself during IVF with self care might include:
- A meditation practice that is calming and helps you manage the waves of emotions.
- Making time for a pleasurable activity such as reading a book, listening to music, pruning the roses, walking in the bush.
- Caring for your body through exercise, yoga, massage or acupuncture
Relaxation training describes a range of techniques that focus on reducing muscle tension and calming the mind, and are a very accessible support for the physical and mental stress of IVF treatment. The goal is to produce the body’s natural relaxation response: slow down breathing, lower blood pressure, and create a feeling of calm.
Relaxation techniques include the more structured practices of deep breathing, meditation, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. These methods of self-care during IVF are all very accessible via some excellent apps, such as Headspace, or on the internet. There are many other repetitive, rhythmic self-care activities you can practice during IVF treatment that can also elicit the relaxation response, for example knitting, running and playing a musical instrument.
Build your support network
Whether you are going through the fertility process alone or with a partner it helps to have a broad support network. Identifying what you need is an important first step. It might be assistance with decision making, support at appointments, a friendly face when it feels too much, someone who can share the emotional load who is not your partner, someone who is just there to listen.