The Physical and Emotional Toll of Infertility Treatment
Can You Take the Stress of IVF?
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant without success, you know how stressful infertility can be. Family and friends ask well-meaning questions that hurt, like, “When are you going to start your family? You’re not getting any younger, you know.” Although most causes of infertility are physiological—physical problems in the woman, or man, or both—the resulting emotional pain can cause major psychological problems.
Fertility treatments may add both physical and emotional stress to a relationship that’s already been through some painful times. Not to mention that the female partner usually will be prescribed fertility drugs which have physical and emotional side effects! Patients have rated the stress of undergoing IVF as more stressful than or almost as stressful as any other major life event, such as the death of a family member or separation or divorce, according to SART, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. Let’s look at some of the issues and how to cope.
Physical Challenges of IVF
One of the major physical challenges for women undergoing IVF is the effects of the fertility drugs which are needed to stimulate ovulation, help the eggs mature, prevent premature ovulation, and help the lining of the uterus prepare to receive the fertilized embryo or embryos. These are synthetic hormones, and they can make you feel like you have intense PMS. Mood swings, hot flashes and temporary weight gain/bloating are common, as are headaches, breast tenderness and nausea. The injectable drugs have to be, well, injected, so you have to get stuck in different spots depending on which drugs are prescribed. Some women will feel skin irritation at the injection site.
Psychological Challenges of IVF
Although the physical side of IVF is certainly no joke, the emotional stress is at least as serious. The first treatment cycle has been found to be the most stressful for patients, partly because it is a new medical procedure you haven’t dealt with before, and you don’t really know what to expect even though your fertility specialist explains the treatment. Stress peaks during the waiting period after the embryos are transferred, while you are waiting to find out if you are pregnant or not. Will you get lucky on the first cycle? Will it take more than one? What will you do if you have extra embryos?
Fertility treatment takes time, and may disrupt your work schedule and your routine at home. And the uncertainty of the outcome just adds more stress. Many patients describe IVF as an emotional roller-coaster.
The cost of fertility treatment is another cause of worry for many people. Couples may find themselves stretched financially and debating how much out-of-pocket costs they can afford.
You Can Cope
The best preparations you can make are to do your homework and plan ahead. Learn everything you can about IVF and plan for the decisions you will need to make. Gather information, talk to your reproductive endocrinologist and other members of your medical team, so you know what to expect throughout the IVF cycle. The more you know and understand, the less you will feel out of control or anxious. Discuss the decisions that may have to be made before you begin treatment. Some of those decisions may have moral or religious implications which you and your partner need to discuss and agree on.
Tend to yourself and your relationships. Struggling with infertility can make you feel isolated or depressed. If you find yourself feeling depressed or anxious, consider getting help from a counselor or therapist. Your fertility clinic may have a counselor or a support group to help you cope. Be kind to your partner and try to nourish that relationship. You are both going through a difficult time.
There are many resources for the financial aspects of IVF. Your health insurance, your company’s other benefits, savings, and lines of credit can all be part of financing your treatment. Read about fertility financing basics and health insurance.