Research indicates that around 1 million babies were born in the United States between 1987 and 2015 through the use of IVF or other assisted reproductive technologies. These procedures have given couples new hope; infertility and IVF treatments cause many psychological, emotional, and physiological stressors. Given this, it is not surprising that men and women undergoing IVF experience elevated levels of anxiety, often due to –
Waiting / Fear of failure – Research shows that the level of stress increases with each new step in the process and that the highest level of anxiety is often experienced during the “waiting time” between treatments. Hope and anticipation of success typically grow with each passing day, but so does the possibility of failure. Uncertainty and low control are ever-present.
Fear of the Procedures – Some aspects of the treatment itself trigger anxiety, such as daily injections and hospital procedures.
Hormones – Additionally, the side-effects of hormone treatment can include physical symptoms of anxiety.
Financial – According to a 2018 report from Penn Medicine, the average cost of a single IVF cycle in the U.S. is between $10,000 and $15,000. Financial worries, coupled with uncertainty regarding the length of the process and the success, often result and may place pressure on the partners.
Fortunately, recent studies have indicated that this inevitable emotional distress does not negatively impact rates of success with IVF. They do, however, make an already difficult time more challenging. Some tips for coping with the anxiety that is inherent to the process:
Take care of yourself – For the partner going through the procedures, your life will involve daily hormone injections, blood draws and ultrasound monitoring, and your body and emotions are exhausted! The supporting partner will be waiting and help etc. Pamper yourselves – take naps, get massages, do yoga, be intentional in doing things that you enjoy with the people you love. Calm your mind and reduce body tension using deep breathing, meditation, guided imagery (mini-vacation in your mind!), and progressive muscle relaxation.
Find others who really understand – While you will often feel alone in this unfamiliar process, others are going through the same thing. Be open to share with and learn from others at various stages in the process. You may already know people who have struggled with infertility or are currently right where you. If you do not know anyone, ask for support group referrals at your IVF clinic, or go online for a support group.
Educate yourself – To make the unpredictable feel less out of control and scary, learn as much as you can about the process. Ask questions, learn the language so you can understand the results. Be careful to stay away from unreliable sources of information that can lead you astray and add to your anxiety.
“Shrink the Calendar” – Dealing with the millions of details surrounding IVF all at once may leave you feeling stressed about the process. If that happens, bring yourself back to the present and tell yourself to “shrink the calendar” and focus only on the next step – “What do you need to do today, this week?”
Lighten your Load – IVF is a time-intensive process, so you may need to cut obligations where you can to reduce the stress of trying to juggle too much at once. Delegate work or chores if possible. Learning to be more assertive about saying ‘no.’ Ask for help!
Remember who you were before infertility became the focus – Focusing on those areas in your life helps to balance out your attention and lower anxiety while you undergo treatment. Because what you are trying to accomplish is all-consuming and time-intensive, trying to conceive becomes your sole focus. Reflect on your life before this process began. What did you like to do for fun? What was going well in your life? Be intentional and add these good things back in, even if you are not feeling it.
Replace “worst-case thoughts” with more realistic, helpful thoughts – It is impossible to predict the future, but imagining the worst will increase your anxiety? Be aware of where your thoughts go! If you find yourself thinking negatively or playing out negative scenes, do not judge yourself for having those thoughts but try to visualize a more positive scene instead (seeing yourself relaxed and calm), receiving good news from your doctor. Replace those negative thoughts with more realistic ones like “every IVF cycle is a new opportunity with a potentially new outcome.”
Be aware of differences in processing stress in partners and give each other a little grace – some people many experience their anxiety by wanting to talk about it. In contrast, others may work to “fix it,” withdraw, or act out with frustration. Keep in mind that you are each doing the best you can and that both partners are stressed, but it just looks a little different.
Reach out for help if you need it – Many women and men need extra help during this difficult time. If your anxiety becomes unmanageable or if you’re struggling with depression, reach out for professional advice. A level of stress is a very reasonable response to the stressful experience of IVF treatment. Seek help if you experience any of the following: symptoms become more frequent or persistent, anxiety interferes with your work, relationships, or daily activities, consistent low mood or quality of life is reduced due to your anxiety symptoms.
References – Chandra A, Martinez GM, Mosher WD, Abma JC, Jones J. Fertility, family planning and reproductive health of US Women: data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. Vital Health Stat 23. 2005; 25: 1-160, 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, https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/fertility-blog/2018/march/ivf-by-the-numbers