How to Cope with the Stress of IVF
Joanna Buscemi, PhD, DePaul University
If you are about to embark on an in vitro fertilization (IVF) journey, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. The process is fraught with stressors, including concerns about cost, the IVF process itself, and whether the procedure will be successful – all while continuing to manage day-to-day obligations. Your decision to pursue IVF may also follow significant medical and pregnancy loss trauma and/or years of infertility. Coping with that trauma while beginning an intensive medical treatment with an uncertain outcome is a lot to manage.
While stress is an inevitable part of IVF, there are strategies available to help support you along the way. Here is a non-comprehensive list of tips to help you better cope with the stress of IVF:
Take it one step at a time. The IVF process is overwhelming. It starts with lots of baseline appointments, discussions about insurance coverage, and treatment decisions to be made before beginning a cycle. This is followed by numerous medications that you may not understand how to use showing up at your door, each requiring different preparation. Unless you are a medical professional yourself, mixing medications or loading up syringes will likely be a new task, and this can be difficult to learn while you are managing the myriad of emotions associated with fertility treatment. It is important to try to complete the checklist one item at a time rather than allowing yourself to become overwhelmed by the number of steps required from start to finish.
Prioritize self-care. Most of the time, normal life continues during your IVF cycle, and it can be difficult to manage what is required for IVF along with other stressors. While research suggests stress doesn’t have an effect on IVF success, your well-being is reason enough to prioritize self-care. It is extra important to make space to be kind to yourself when you can - before, during, and after the IVF cycle. What activities do you love to do? What brings you joy? What activities make you feel loved and cared for? Prioritize time for these activities as possible.
Practice distress tolerance. The uncertainty of IVF at each stage makes it difficult to feel at ease. There are techniques that can help you accept discomfort associated with loss of control and unpredictability. While it can be difficult to sit with the distress, it is an important practice that may translate to better overall distress tolerance skills in the future. You can find specific strategies for distress tolerance here.
Find your best 1-2 social supports, preferably other people who understand the stress of IVF. In vitro fertilization is personal and can feel like a lonely journey. It may be helpful to build a small but reliable and helpful network of people who have gone through the IVF process themselves. While their treatment protocols and experiences may differ from yours, having a couple of people who are willing to listen to how you are feeling or share their perspective can be really helpful.
Find a therapist who provides evidence-based care for people with fertility struggles. Therapists who specialize in infertility and/or pregnancy loss and fertility treatment are hard to come by, but are the absolute best experts to help you on your fertility journey. If you cannot find someone who specializes in infertility and/or pregnancy loss, it is important to find someone who has training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and evidence-based interventions for trauma. Consider asking your fertility doctor for referrals.
Be cautious of social media IVF groups. It can be tempting to join social media groups to seek support. Sometimes these groups can be helpful. In other cases, they fuel anxieties with pregnancy announcements or stories of failed transfers. They can also be a source of fertility-related misinformation. As an example, some members of IVF groups may suggest eating a pineapple core or drinking pomegranate juice will increase your odds of successful embryo transfer. While neither of those behaviors will hurt you, it’s highly unlikely to impact your odds of success. These groups sometimes lead to social comparisons that are not always helpful. Each treatment plan is unique, and outcomes vary drastically. Become aware of how you feel while engaging with these posts, then decide whether they are helpful or harmful.
Remember that stress does not affect IVF or pregnancy outcomes. Navigating the IVF process is stressful enough. Worrying that your stress is going to lead to a failed IVF cycle or harm your pregnancy only exacerbates overall distress. While using coping strategies to manage stress is a good idea, worrying about your stress levels is not. If you are experiencing stress, show yourself some compassion and remind yourself this is difficult. It’s OK to feel the weight of that difficulty as you move through the process.
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